If you’re thinking of travelling to Bulgaria with kids (or without!), this post highlights three places to visit, with things to do in each city, tips for travelling around Bulgaria and everything you need to create a week, two weeks or 10 day Bulgaria itinerary.
Bulgaria is one of least known countries in Europe and is often overlooked by tourists. In fact when we told people where we were headed, many had to ask “Where’s that?” While being off the tourist radar has some advantages, it also makes it harder to find information and plan your travels. And when you’re travelling with young kids, it’s a good idea to have a general idea of where to go and some things to do!
Located in Eastern Europe, Bulgaria is bordered by Romania, Greece, North Macedonia, Turkey, Serbia and the Black Sea. The Danube River forms the northern border of Bulgaria, while the Black Sea creates the Eastern border and in between lies two large mountain ranges.
We spent 10 days in Bulgaria as part of our adventure through Eastern Europe. To be honest, we could have spent much more time exploring this wonderful country though!
Exploring Bulgaria with kids is a fantastic experience. From ancient ruins to small villages, sunny beaches to mountain ranges and even a fortress to explore, there’s lots for families to see and do. Bulgaria is rich in history and there are historical sites to visit everywhere you look in the country. Being off the tourist radar means these sites aren’t too busy, which is great when you’re travelling with young kids. If you’re not travelling with young kids, you can take advantage of the natural beauty and get out hiking! (We definitely plan to return when the boys are a bit older and able to hike longer distances.)
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Bulgaria Itinerary at a Glance
- Day 1-3: Veliko Tarnovo
- Day 4-7: Plovdiv
- Day 8-10: Sofia
If you’re short on time and only have a week in Bulgaria, our suggestion is to spend 2 days in Veliko Tarnovo, 2 days in Plovdiv and 3 days in Sofia.
But if you’re fortunate to have a bit more time to add to your Bulgaria itinerary, you could add a few days in Varna on the coast of the Black Sea, or spend a few more days in Plovdiv and Sofia and do some additional day trips. Day trips suggestions are added in each city listed below.
10 Day Bulgaria Itinerary
This 10 Day Bulgaria itinerary is a point to point route, from Veliko Tarnovo to Sofia but can easily be made into a round trip. If you’re renting a car and need to return to the start to drop the car off, it’s only a 2.5-3 hour drive from Veliko Tarnovo to Sofia (where it’s easiest to rent a car).
This itinerary can also be done in reverse! We visited Bulgaria after two weeks in Romania, so Veliko Tarnovo was our first stop. However, if you are flying to Bulgaria, chances are you will land in Sofia, at the international airport or if you are entering Bulgaria from a neighbouring country to the west, Sofia will be also probably be your first stop.
How to get around:
Public transport in Bulgaria is reliable and inexpensive. We took the train and the bus at different times, and were pleasantly surprised at how efficient it was! Car rental is an option as well, but as we were travelling through Bulgaria and not doing a circular route (plus mom was nervous about driving with Cyrillic signs), we opted for public transport.
Important to Note:
Bulgaria uses the Cyrillic alphabet. For those unfamiliar with the alphabet, it may be tricky to read any of the signs (including street signs). To add to the confusion, tourist maps and some signs in the tourist areas may be printed in English, but Google maps will show the Cyrillic words.
Bulgaria’s currency is the leva. ATM’s are common in the cities we visited but may not be in some of the smaller towns. Visa is accepted in some places, but many restaurants, especially smaller ones, may not accept credit cards. Be prepared with cash or check before ordering.
But let’s get on to our Bulgaria Itinerary!
Day 1-3: Veliko Tarnovo
Veliko Tarnovo is one of Bulgaria’s oldest towns and is often referred to as the “City of Tsars”, as it was once the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Ottoman-style houses are seemingly stacked on top of one another, rising from the banks of the river, which winds its way through the town. While the streets of the Old Town are a delight to wander down, the biggest attraction in Veliko Tarnovo is the medieval Tsarevets Fortress that overlooks the Old Town. A few times a month, there is also a Sound and Light Show so be sure to check the dates and see if you can time your visit to experience the show!
Things to do in Veliko Tarnovo:
- Explore Tsarevets Fortress
- Experience the Sound and Light Show
- View Asen’s Monument
- Walk along the oldest street, Ulitsa Gurko
- Shop for traditional crafts at Samovodska Charshiya
- Walk across the Stambolov Bridge
We spent 2.5 days in Veliko Tarnovo and only started to explore this amazing town. One full day was spent walking around the Tsarevets Fortress, admiring the views, climbing the stairs and walking along the paths. Although I had other plans for the day, the boys were having such a good time (and the weather was amazing!), and we ended up spending the whole day here. It could easily be done in a half day though and use the other half day to explore more of the town. If you have the luxury of more time, this would be a great place to spend a few more days!
Other possible day trips include a visit to nearby Arbanasi, home to several 17th century churches or about an hour’s drive away are the rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo.
There are many hotels in Veliko Tarnovo but if you are visiting in the summer, they will book up quickly! We stayed at the quaint Hotel Stambolov, which although it had quite a few stairs, our room provided an amazing view over the Asen Monument.
Bus or drive to Plovdiv: The bus was pretty inexpensive and took about 5 hours. Driving will take about 3 hours. Alternatively, you could hire a taxi or private transport, but those options will be more expensive.
Day 4-7: Plovdiv
Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe and was the former capital of Bulgaria. The city is set on seven hills and it’s teeming with history, from Roman ruins in the middle of the Old Town to ruins high on some of the hills, like Nebet Tepe. In 2019, Plovdiv was the European Capital of Culture and many people consider it the cultural capital of Bulgaria. We only spent three days here but easily could have stayed longer! Besides the historical ruins, there are quite a few parks and play areas for kids to take a break from sightseeing.
Things to do in Plovdiv:
- Walk along the pedestrian-only Knyaz Aleksander I Street
- Have a seat in the Roman Stadium
- Take a free Walking Tour
- Explore the Roman Amphitheatre
- See the Ancient ruins inside H&M
- Climb Nebet Hill
- Visit the Tsar Simeon Gardens
Plovdiv was our favourite city in Bulgaria. There wasn’t a specific reason, but something drew us in and captured our hearts. Unfortunately we weren’t able to extend our stay, but we would definitely return in a heartbeat. We loved wandering around the Old Town, climbing the ruins on Nebet Tepe, and just the general welcoming feeling in the city.
Restaurant Recommendation: Located at the bottom of Nebet Tepe is this AMAZING restaurant, Rahat Tepe. It’s definitely a welcome spot to stop in after watching the sunset from the top of the hill. Many traditional Bulgarian dishes on the menu, including satch and there’s a menu of different types of Rakia to try!
If you have a few extra days in Plovdiv, spend a day to explore the Rhodope Mountains, visit the Rose Valley or tour a few wineries in the Thrace region.
Bus or train to Sofia: We opted to take the train to Sofia, which took about 3 hours. Trains run almost hourly and are fairly inexpensive. Buses also run just as frequently and take between 2.5-3 hours for the journey. Alternatively, if you are driving, it will be about 1.5 hours.
Day 8-10: Sofia
Sofia is the capital city of Bulgaria and one of the oldest cities in Europe. Originally founded by the Romans and called Serdica, the area has been inhabited for nearly 7000 years. While constructing the metro in 2010, remains from the Roman city were unearthed and can be viewed just outside the Serdika metro station. Today, the city of Sofia, named after Sveta Sofia Chruch, is a lovely capital city, filled with churches, museums, historical ruins and plenty of green spaces to explore.
Things to Do in Sofia:
- Visit Aleksander Nevski Cathedral
- View the Changing of the Guard at the President’s Building
- Head inside the courtyard to see St. George Rotunda
- Take a Free Walking Tour
- Fill your water bottle at the outdoor fountains next to the Mineral Baths
- Wander through the excavated Ancient Serdica Complex
- Admire Sveta Sofia Church, from which the city received its’ name
- Relax and let the kids play at Borisova Park
>>Read more about what to do in Sofia with Kids
Sofia, while it’s a busy capital city, is still full of sights to see and things to do. You could easily spend a few more days here exploring the historical sites, or take a day trip to the Rila Monastery. The UNESCO Heritage Site is about an hour from Sofia and there are organized day tours, or you can take the bus from Sofia.
Accommodations will not be hard to find in Sofia. As it’s a large city, you may want to stay close to the centre. We stayed at the Rila Hotel, which was conveniently close to the centre and just steps from the Sofia City Garden.
I hope this Bulgaria itinerary has inspired you to visit the country! Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or if we can help at all with planning your visit to Bulgaria!
There’s far too much information to share every detail in this post, but you can check out more detailed ideas of what to see and do (especially with kids!) in our other posts that we’ve linked below. If you do end up visiting Bulgaria, let us know in the comments below or tag us on social media @threeisus! We’d love to hear how your adventure goes!
Other Bulgaria Posts:
- Bulgaria Facts for Kids