What are the best tourism sites in Bulgaria?
With its stunning location in the forested valley of the Rila Mountrains, the Rila Monastery - Bulgaria’s largest and most famous monastery – ranks among the most famous Bulgarian tourist attractions. On top of its epic size and surrounds, the Monastery models a colourful, almost kitsch exterior alongside vibrant wall paintings in its striking interior. The site dates back to the 10th century, though most of what’s displayed today is from the 19th century, when the site was rebuilt following a devastating fire. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 and we can definitely see why. It’s a visual feast.
Situated amid a cluster of strange shaped rocks, and almost blending in with them, the Belogradchik Fortress is one of Bulgaria’s top visitor attractions and among the most famous. Originally built by the Romans, it was later expanded by the Byzantines, Bulgarians and Turks. The natural landscape, combined with the buildings themselves, make Belogradchik an atmospheric, almost haunting site to visit. And its history reflects this - with the fortress having been the site of many battles, as well as seeing a series of brutal executions during the Belogradchik uprising of 1850.
One of Bulgaria’s most fascinating places and UNESCO-listed, Boyana Church definitely highlights that it’s what’s inside that counts. A relatively dark, lacklustre church hides some of the most spectacular medieval frescoes in the whole of Europe. They’re an historical treasure and a brilliant example of the art of the period. This obscure gem is nonetheless one of the most remarkable tourist attractions in Bulgaria and definitely worth making the effort to see. Visitor’s tip: access to the frescoes is limited and by guided tour only so be sure to purchase your tickets from the nearby Boyana Church Museum to gain access.
An imposing fortification, the Baba Vida Fortress is probably the best-preserved Medieval castle in Bulgaria. It only needs some real-life knights and our medieval fantasy would be complete. It was first built in the 10th century and has withstood a variety of attacks and sieges over its lifetime. Other epic episodes to think about while walking through the rooms and towers of Baba Vilda are its capture by the Hungarians and the Ottomans. Then there’s the legend surrounding its name – “Baba Vida” refers to three Bulgarian sister princesses, two of whom married and squandered their inheritance and the last of whom remained single and built this fab castle.
With stunning views that will live long in the memory, the medieval Rozhen Monastery - whose history stretches all the way back to the 9th century AD - is arguably one of Bulgaria’s best tourist attractions. Perched atop a lofty mountain, with panoramic views across the region, the medieval monastery is known for its beautiful wood carvings, stained glass windows and elaborate murals, some of which have survived from the 15th century.
Visit this ancient burial site to behold Bulgaria's best-preserved artistic masterpieces from the Hellenistic period (from the 4th century BC to be precise). The murals are remarkable, with their splendid portrayal of horses and couples embracing. The tomb of Kazanlack is definitely the best known of the burial sites from this period, but there are a number of other tombs in the area which are worth exploring.
Once you’ve explored Bulgaria’s current capital, Sofia, why not venture to the country’s original, medieval capital Pliska? This archaeological site, with its complex system of fortifications, was the main city of the First Bulgarian Empire from 681AD until 893AD. A particular highlight is the church known as the Big Basilica. Pliska might not be large by modern city standards, but the ruins still spread over 23 square kilometres, so be sure to pack comfy shoes.
Not necessarily what you think of when you consider the visitor attractions on offer in Bulgaria, but the country actually boasts a wealth of ancient remains. Prime among these, the ruins of Perperikon are worth visiting as much for what they represent as what they still show today. Inhabited since 5000BC, Perperikon housed the Temple of Dionysus, legendary for being the place of great prophecies. One of these involved Alexander the Great, who was told he would conquer the world in 334BC, prior to his invasion of Persia. Gaius Octavius, father of Emperor Augustus, also apparently consulted the oracle in 59BC, and learned his son would rule the world. Various empires have occupied Perperikon over the centuries, most of whom left their mark. Hunt down remains of public buildings, tombs, houses, altars and more.
Tsarevets Castle is one of Bulgaria’s most interesting tourist destinations. Located in the city of Veliko Tarnovo, this medieval fortress was the centre of the Second Bulgarian Empire from the 12th century AD. It was then captured by the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century, though it continued to flex its muscles for centuries to come. Now visitors can enjoy walking around Baldwin’s Tower, which offers great views across the region. And if you time your trip really well, you might be able to take in one of the entertaining sound and light shows.
10. Djumaya Mosque
A slightly more unusual one on our list of the top ten tourist attractions of Bulgaria, the Djumaya Mosque nevertheless very much deserves its place. It’s one of the oldest mosques in Europe and dates back to around the 14th century, with a design considered typical of mosques from the era. Services are still held at Djumaya, so be sure to check in advance to find a good time to visit as you will definitely want to see the floral motifs and medallions bearing Koranic texts that decorate its inside. That said, it’s also an excellent excuse to see the ancient city of Plovdiv, where it is located, which houses many delights including a Roman amphitheatre.