Bulgaria is a truly beautiful country with some interesting off the beaten path places to discover.
I asked other travel bloggers to share their top hidden gems in Bulgaria: Those special places and attractions that most visitors don’t know about, but are well worth a visit.
This is the list you want to save for when you plan a trip around Bulgaria and want to see some lesser-know and less touristy places.
Unique places to see in Bulgaria
Koprivshtitsa, gently nestled in the valley surrounded by Sredna Gora mountains, was founded in the 14th century but gained importance a few centuries later as one of the centers of the April 1876 uprising against the Ottoman Empire.
The town, located some 110 km east of the capital, is actually one of the prettiest places in Bulgaria, known for its beautiful 19th century Bulgarian Revival Architecture.
There are almost 400 buildings in that style in Koprivshtitsa and many of them were restored to their former glory.
Some of the houses are open for tourists as they host museums today, mainly memorial houses to great Bulgarians who were living here or who had some connections with the town.
The best thing to do in Koprivshtitsa is to wander around cobbled streets, admire the beauty of the place, and feel its vibe.
Getting to the town isn’t too difficult. There are direct trains from Sofia, the journey takes around 2 hours.
The train station is located some 10 km away from the town but there are buses connected with the train schedule so the journey is actually very smooth, even if it requires a change.
By Kamila Napora from Kami and the Rest of the World
Balchik is a hidden gem in Bulgaria, a small beach town on the Black Sea coast and a popular resort located in the north-eastern part of the country.
It is a safe place for solo travellers. Needless to say, Bulgaria is one of the best countries to travel alone in Europe.
Getting to Balchik is not a hard task. Bus and taxi services are available or you can rent a car to get to Balchik which is just 40 km away from Varna.
Balchik is a very small Bulgarian town, but it has plenty of things to do and tourist attractions for its visitors.
You can see the difference once you reach this town. You must admire the unique shape of the buildings, unusual houses painted in red, white, yellow, and the lovely botanical gardens.
One of the most visited tourist attractions is Balchik Palace. The castle was built in 1926 to accommodate the Queen Marie of Romania.
It is small in size, but the gorgeous architecture and interior of the palace are very impressive.
There is a magnificent Botanical Garden right next to the palace. It is a great place to see flora and home to hundreds of roses, shrubs, cactus, and other flora species. Balchik has three beaches on the Black Sea coast.
You can just relax on the beaches or enjoy a shimmering sunset. If you want to enjoy beautiful flora, bright sun in charming weather, spring and summer are the best time to visit this off-beat Bulgarian town.
By Trijit Mallick from BudgetTravelBuff
Smolyan is one of those places that have the potential to be an all-year-round tourist destination, but still remains off the beaten path. It is one of the best kept secrets of Bulgaria.
If you are road-tripping in Bulgaria, make sure you include Smolyan on your itinerary.
Located in South Bulgaria, in the heart of the Rhodope Mountain, Smolyan spans a few kilometres along the bends and turns of Cherna River.
It’s made up of two parts – the so-called Old Downtown and New Downtown. The New Downtown is a good example of communist architecture and city planning from the 1970s – 80s.
When in Smolyan, do not miss the local historical museum which tells the story of the region and has an amazing collection of costumes from the 19th – beginning of the 20th century.
Another attraction in the city is the Planetarium, where you can enjoy various star and space shows.
In Dolno Raykovo, one of the oldest neighbourhoods of the city, you can find lovely historical houses in the architectural style typical for the mountains.
Smolyan is a paradise for the nature lover. Numerous hiking trails start in the city or nearby. Some of the most famous ones lead to the Waterfalls Canyon, the Nevyastata cliff, and the Smolyan lakes.
Just a few kilometres to the north of Smolyan is the famous ski-resort Pamporovo.
By Daniela Koleva from Ipanema travels to…
Melnik is officially Bulgaria’s smallest town with its 385 inhabitants.
The city is known for an array of beautifully preserved historical houses, Bulgaria’s no. 1 wine, and unique rock formations.
Those are so called Melnik pyramids. Created by erosion doing its work on sensitive sandstone and clay, unique cone-shaped formations have sprung up near the town.
You can see a few lining Melnik’s northern side, but it’s even better to take an hour long walk towards the North to an area full of these pyramids.
Red wine is the main thing that makes contemporary Melnik residents proud.
There are several wine cellars, where you can go for a tasting session. You can enjoy the local wine at any of the many restaurants in Melnik.
Melnik’s architecture shines through houses lining the main road. A few of the most exquisite ones are even open to the public as ethnographic museums.
Visit e.g. the Kordopulov House of a rich merchant, which was built 260 years ago. The house features an underground cellar too, and you can taste a few wine samples there as well.
You can reach Melnik from Sofia by car in 2,5 hours. There’s one daily bus between the cities too – it leaves at 2pm and takes 4 hours.
For avid hikers, Melnik is a highly recommended stop in between hiking the mountains of Rila and Pirin National Parks.
By Veronika Primm from Travel Geekery
One of the most notable hidden gems in Bulgaria that certainly deserves more attention is the city of Ruse, located right by the Romanian border in the north of the country.
Ruse is the fifth-biggest city in the country and home to beautiful neo-baroque buildings, thanks to which the city is often referred to as Malkata Viena (“Little Vienna”).
Moreover, the city is only 90 km away from the Romanian capital of Bucharest, making it possible to go on a day trip to Ruse from Bucharest.
Besides neo-baroque architecture, Ruse is nothing short of noteworthy sights. The perhaps most stunning example is the Sveta Troitsa Cathedral, an impressive 17th-century cathedral that houses numerous holy relics and intricately painted wooden iconostasis, attracting plenty of pilgrims.
The cathedral is not far from the Regional Historical Museum of Ruse, where you can learn all about the history and traditions of the region.
And if you have more time left, a visit to the rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo just outside of the city is a must!
Ruse is easily reached from other Bulgarian cities by public transportation and from Romania via the Ruse-Giurgiu Friendship Bridge that connects the two countries over the Danube River.
By Arabela from The Spicy Travel Girl
When people hear about Bulgaria, they often think about the large sea or mountain resorts, and maybe about the capital, Sofia. However, Bulgaria is a diverse country that has a lot of hidden gems well worth visiting.
One of those gems is Veliko Tarnovo, a charming town in northern Bulgaria. It was the capital of the country in medieval times and Tsaravets fortress is there to prove it. Veliko Tarnovo is located on the Yantra River, on three hills.
Walking through the historic center is the best way to discover this charming town. The streets in this area are filled with traditional houses and craftsmen opening up their workshops and selling unique items. Samovodska Charshia and Gurko Street are the best places to explore for this authentic feel.
The best time to visit Veliko Tarnovo is at the beginning of the summer when the flowers are in bloom, the weather is fine and it isn’t very crowded yet. You can visit Veliko Tarnovo on a day trip from Sofia or Plovdiv, but it’s also a good idea to spend a couple of days there, exploring the surrounding area. There are hiking trails, places to go rock climbing, and the traditional village, Arbanassi, all close by.
By Anda Bartos from Travel for a while
Al Adzha Monastery
The monastery of Al Adzha is located close to Varna and unlike the impression the name gives it is not a single building but rather a series of churches and living quarters built within a cave system. The entire place is carved from solid rock which makes it really impressive.
The monastery is located 17 km north of the beautiful beach city of Varna and 3 km from the very touristy Golden Sand Beach Resort.
It is located right next to Golden Sands nature park, which is the best way to experience this beautiful place and makes the entire visit very intriguing.
This cave monastery system has been around since the 4th century A.D and the more conservative locals still consider this area and its surroundings sacred.
The monastery, its multiple residential rooms and three churches are painstakingly carved into an almost 40 metres high limestone rock which was then fixed with an external system of stairs.
The monks showed their devotion beyond the simple act of building which is reflected perfectly in the name of the monastery. The name flavones from a Turkish word which means bright due to the bright colours used in the wall paintings and frescoes on its wall. Most of these paintings and frescoes have been lost to time, you can see some remnants though.
Getting to the monastery is quite easy both from Varna or Golden Sands and it is a must do spot whenever you’re in Bulgaria. You can explore it in a couple of hours but it is recommended to enjoy its serenity with ease of time to appreciate the Marcel this place is. Don’t forget shoes with good grip and be ready to climb some stairs, it will be greatly rewarded. It is after all built for peace, quiet and contemplation.
By Ucman Scher from BrownBoyTravels
Located about 50 miles outside the capital of Bulgaria, lies the quaint town of Kostenets.
This beautiful town is mountain paradise with rolling hills and a hot spring, located right at the bottom of the mountain. For avid hikers and wellness retreat seekers, Kostenets offers both.
In fact, the hot springs, Therma Kostenets, is the closest natural hot springs to Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital.
When planning a trip to Therma Kostenets, there are a couple different ways to arrive at the hot springs. If you’re planning a day trip, the easiest and fastest route is renting a car, then driving to the hot springs. Another option is taking the train to the city and then taking a taxi to the spa.
Thermea Kostenets offers a couple different pools to relax in. Inside the facility is a beautiful mineral pool, including a small waterfall and hydro massages.
While the outside deck hosts another swimming pool that overlooks a green forest. Pack your favorite swimsuit, towel and flip flops as you embark on this mountain escape.
The spa is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11 am to 8 pm. I highly recommend visiting in the morning for a more intimate experience and beating the local crowds.
By Ciara Turner-Ewert from Wellness Travel Diaries
Troyan is an old town located on the Beli Osam river, 160 km from Sofia.
Surrounded by the Balkan mountains, it expanded slowly and retained the charm of a tiny village.
Right in the town centre there’s a nice pedestrian area and a Museum of Crafts. The collection includes some strange items used for rituals on special occasions.
Troyan is also home to the third largest and important monastery in Bulgaria, built in the 17thcentury, while the country was under Ottoman occupation.
Locals come here to pray to a miraculous icon of Mary with three silver hands. Next to the monastery, there’s an outdoor market with handmade products, like pottery and wooden objects.
The ceramics are painted with motives specific to the area. One can visit the craftsmen in Oreshak district, learn more about the craft and model a plate or cup. On the outskirts of Troyan, there’s a beautiful waterfall, Skoka Lapushnika.
Only 15 km away lies Chiflika, a small mountain resort with thermal springs little known out of Bulgaria.
It can be visited all year long. Depending on the season, one can go hiking in the surrounding areas trying to spot edelweiss, soak into thermal waters or take part in the Festival of the Plum.
By Raluca from Travel With A Spin
Know any other hidden gems worth visiting in Bulgaria? Share them in the comments below!