• Alexander Nesky Cathedral in Sofia
  • Bulgarian Cultural Performance
  • Rila Monastery
  • Plovdiv Ampitheater
  • Nesebar on the Black Sea
  • Veliko Tarnovo

Tour Questions? Call 425-608-4217

Best of Bulgaria in 12 Days Tour

Bulgaria is a land of fascinating contrasts, with a European identity that’s rooted in a unique blend of Ottoman, Orthodox, and Soviet soil. You'll marvel at Roman outposts, mystical medieval monasteries, and a dazzling collection of prehistoric gold. All along the way, your Bulgarian Rick Steves guide will connect you with people who make their country’s history, art, culture — and hospitality — come to life. You’ll be warmly welcomed in neighborhood cafés, rustic mountain villages, and humble monasteries. Join us for the Best of Bulgaria in 12 Days! 

What's Included

  • A small, friendly group of 24-28 people — half the size of most tour groups
  • Full-time services of a professional Rick Steves guide and local experts who will make the fascinating history, art and culture of Bulgaria come alive for you
  • All tours and admissions — at no extra cost — covering at least 16 group sightseeing events • Alexander Nevsky Cathedral tour • Sofia walking tour • Meet with government official • Roma village visit • Rila Monastery tour • Wine tasting • Plovdiv walking tour, including Roman Theater • Cultural performance • Kazanlak Thracian Tomb • Nesebar walking tour • Varna Archaeological Museum tour • Madara horseman visit • Arbanasi visit • Veliko Tarnovo walking tour • Tsarevets Citadel in Veliko Tarnovo • Traditional village visit...and more
  • All group transportation from Sofia to Sofia
  • 11 nights accommodations in memorable, centrally-located hotels
  • All breakfasts and half your dinners
  • All tips for guides and driver
  • Free stuff including a Bulgaria guidebook, moneybelt and earplugs
  • Guaranteed tour price, locked in the moment you make your deposit
  • Optional single supplements — this tour has a limited number of private rooms for solo travelers for an additional fee
  • Tour alum discount of $50 for each tour you've taken prior to 2015
  • 50% discount on a consulting appointment with our in-house experts to assist with your pre- or post-tour travel plans
  • Flexibility should you need to transfer, or cancel/interrupt your tour
  • Fine print: You are responsible for the cost of your drinks and free-time sightseeing. See our Tour Conditions Agreement for important details regarding everything listed above

Itinerary

Daily Activity Key

  • Light = 2-4 miles of mostly level walking throughout the day.
  • Moderate = 2-6 miles walking throughout the day with some hills and stairs.
  • Strenuous = 2-8 miles walking throughout the day with lots of hills, stairs and uneven terrain.

Day 1: Welcome to Bulgaria

Join your guide and group at 4 p.m. today in our Sofia hotel for a "Welcome to Bulgaria" get-together. We'll take a neighborhood stroll, visit the Alexander Nevsky Memorial Cathedral, famous for its gilded domes and masterful mosaics and then enjoy our first taste of Bulgaria's rich cuisine over dinner together. Sleep in Sofia (2 nights). No bus. Walking: light.

Day 2: Exploring Sofia

Today we'll take a walking tour to uncover Sofia's intriguing past and present. We'll visit the Parliament building, where we'll stop for the changing of the guard, as well as the Sofia Synagogue and the Banya Bashi Mosque. We'll wrap up our day by meeting with a government official, who will answer questions and tell us about issues facing Bulgaria today. Then you can "follow the yellow brick road" (Sofia has one) to explore the new City Museum of Sofia (built over the former public baths), the bustling market hall and more of the city's center on your own. No bus. Walking: moderate.

Day 3: Rila Monastery

We dive headfirst into Bulgarian culture today with a visit to a Roma (gypsy) village, where we'll be welcomed by these fascinating people, visit kids at a local school, and learn about their history and culture. Later, we'll drive through the scenic Rilska Valley, passing traditional villages en route to our destination high in the mountains: the remote and mystical Rila Monastery. We'll take a walking tour of this 14th-century architectural treasure and its fabulous frescoes when we arrive, and sleep as guests in the monastery tonight — with no expectation of hot water or plush beds (1 night). Bus: 4 hrs. Walking: moderate.

Day 4: Bessa Valley Wines

You'll have time to appreciate the tranquility of Rila Monastery (even attend an early prayer service) this morning. We'll leave mid-morning for the city of Plovdiv stopping where merchants from Troy journeyed 4,000 years ago: a Bessa Valley winery. We'll learn the history of some of Europe's oldest vineyards — from ancient times to the Communist "collective era" and the entrepreneurial present — and enjoy a tasting. Then we'll continue on to Plovdiv, one of Bulgaria's most delightful cities, where we'll enjoy dinner together. Sleep in Plovdiv (2 nights). Bus: 6 hrs. Walking: moderate.

Day 5: Renaissance Plovdiv

Once the capital city of ancient Thrace, Plovdiv is actually older than Athens and Rome, with archaeological relics dating back 4,000 years. We'll start our day with a walking tour of Plovdiv's old town, including Trajan's 2nd-century Roman amphitheater and its commanding view of the city. We'll also enjoy the structures that Plovdiv is proudest of: the old town's unique collection of elegant, pastel-pretty "Bulgarian Renaissance" homes from the 19th century. The remainder of the day is free for you to explore more of this cultural and cosmopolitan city. No bus. Walking: strenuous.

Day 6: Kazanlak and Nesebar

We'll drive to the Black Sea today, stopping in Kazanlak en route to visit one of the greatest examples of early Hellenistic art: a 4th-century BC Thracian tomb covered with magnificent murals and packed with beautifully-preserved gold and bronze artifacts. We'll end our day with dinner together along the seaside in the lovely little island town of Nesebar — dotted with Byzantine churches and even a windmill — and connected to the rest of Bulgaria by only a narrow isthmus. Sleep in Nesebar (2 nights). Bus: 7 hrs. Walking: light.

Day 7: Nesebar and the Black Sea

This morning we'll take a time-tripping walk through Nesebar, learning about its important Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Turkish and Bulgarian past — a lot happened in this tiny place! The rest of the day is yours to relax on the beach, stroll around town, take a boat ride on the Black Sea or sample the local catch direct from the fishermen. No bus. Walking: moderate.

Day 8: Treasures of Varna

We'll drive along the Black Sea coast to the resort city of Varna where we'll stop to tour the Varna Archaeological Museum and marvel at the oldest gold jewelry ever discovered. We'll get oriented to the bustling town of Varna and settle into our hotel. The rest of the afternoon and evening are yours to explore this modern town and stroll the extensive, waterfront park and promenade. Sleep in Varna (1 night). Bus: 3 hrs. Walking: moderate.

Day 9: Over the Balkan Range

Today we'll drive up and over the green Balkan Range to one of Europe's most dramatically-situated towns: Bulgaria's medieval capital of Veliko Tarnovo. En route we'll see the Madara Horseman, carved high into a rock cliff 13 centuries ago, and stop to tour the stuck-back-in-time village of Arbanasi. Tonight we'll enjoy a hearty dinner together, and admire the striking night view of Veliko Tarnovo's illuminated citadel across the valley. Sleep in Veliko Tarnovo (2 nights). Bus: 5 hrs. Walking: light.

Day 10: Veliko Tarnovo

We'll walk from one hill to the next, learning about Veliko Tarnovo's role in the medieval birth of the Bulgarian Kingdom, its 14th-century fall to the Ottoman Turks, and the 19th-century uprising that led to the end of Bulgaria's Ottoman occupation. As the story unfolds, we'll wind our way along narrow cobblestone streets, meeting local artisans along the way, then finally conquer the ruins of one of Europe's mightiest citadels. After our trek together you'll have free time to continue exploring this unique town or work your way back through the medieval streets to where we started. We'll meet up later this evening and drive to a nearby community center and enjoy a fabulous folk performance. Bus: 1 hr. Walking: strenuous.

Day 11: Village to City

This morning we'll visit the remote village of Glogovo — a community that converted to Islam under the Ottoman Turks, and has kept that faith ever since. We'll have lots of opportunities to interact with local school kids and adults. In fact, the villagers are preparing a traditional lunch for us today! This afternoon we'll return to Sofia and have a festive final dinner together, where we'll share travel memories and toast new friends. Sleep in Sofia (1 night). Bus: 5 hrs. Walking: light.

Day 12: Tour Over After Breakfast

Breakfast is provided, but there are no group activities today. Bulgaria's international airport is just outside of Sofia, or you can hop a nearby train to other European cities. Your guide will help get you pointed in the right direction. Radvayte se na pytuvaneto!

Itinerary specifics subject to change.

Activity Level

Our tours are physically active! It’s an essential part of the Rick Steves tour experience. On our Best of Bulgaria in 12 Days tour — among other things — you'll need to happily...

  1. Carry/roll your luggage over uneven pavement (several blocks possible) and up stairways to reach your hotel; then up several flights of stairs to reach your room.
  2. Be on your feet, walking and standing for up to three hours, indoors and outdoors, in all weather conditions.
  3. Sleep with street noise and no (or weak) air conditioning.
  4. After orientation and transportation lessons, be able to navigate towns and cities on your own.
  5. Walk up steep streets to the Tsarevets Citadel in Veliko Tarnovo.
  6. Be content with rustic conditions during our one night stay at the Rila Monastery (possibility of sharing bathroom facilities and shortage of hot water).

Reviews

Richard

Walnut Creek, CA

Tour: 09/22/13

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

My overall experience was OUTSTANDING. It compares to all other RS tours I have been on. Our tour guides did an extremely good job in making sure we had the information needed for each place visited. Their knowledge on each subject was top notch. Questions were always welcomed and answered with enthusiasm.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"I had two "wow" moments. The first was our visit and sleepover at the Rila Monastery. The second and more eye opening was our visit to the Roma school and the Roma quarter."

William

Seattle, WA

Tour: 09/22/13

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

We liked our ETBD Eastern Europe tour and decided to go further east, to Bulgaria. As hoped, we encountered great people, beautiful scenery and fascinating history. The history and culture are more ancient and the conditions less primitive than we expected. We were fascinated with the many Orthodox churches, icons, frescos and architecture, but other tour members might have been overloaded. The group was full of experienced ETBD travelers, a delightful group. Our guide Stefan was terrific.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"1. Seeing the historic, beautiful Rila monastery and staying overnight in a monk's cell. Cold but really cool. 2. Visit to the Muslin village with kindergarten visit, meeting with the mayor and a great lunch with fantastic family folk music. 3. Seeing the world's most ancient worked gold at the Varna museum. 4 Learning enough of the Cyrillic alphabet to get around beautiful Bulgaria."

Phyllis

Rockville, MD

Tour: 09/22/13

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Bulgaria tour was very educational while also being enjoyable. Particularly appreciated the variety of experiences [i.e., staying at Monastery, visiting 2 schools, meeting with economist and village major]. Could have reduced museum time.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The Monastery visit - all aspects - spending the night, tour of church, morning prayers, & tour of private upstairs rooms. Would have liked a few hours for a walk through beautiful country side"

Patricia

Portola, CA

Tour: 09/22/13

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

The history of Bulgaria is mind- boggling and Stefan was more than equal to it! He is the son of two history teachers and must have grown up with a steady diet of his country's colorful past. History can be dull, but not with Stefan expressing it. I highly recommend this trip!

Favorite "WOW" moment

"My "wow" moment was the Rila Monastery. In spite of the fact that I had a miserable flu, I loved the beauty of the mountainous setting and the beauty of the monastery itself."

Louis

Alameda, CA

Tour: 09/22/13

Overall rating: rating 3 of 5

I really enjoyed the tour. It was just what I expected. Interesting days filled with great travelers. Great itinerary! Would gladly go again and will do so!

Favorite "WOW" moment

"I love staying at and visiting the monastery in Rilla."

Paul

Kirkland, WA

Tour: 09/22/13

Overall rating: rating 3 of 5

I enjoyed seeing Bulgaria. The people and food are great. The country does not have the 'polish' of a France or German so we saw more of the old communist left overs, including the monolithic apartment buildings, the old street cars and the need for repairs in many places. It's an eye opener to what post WW2 life was like.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The Rila monastery was wonderful! Veliko Tarnov very enjoyable. I really liked the old castle."

Lois

Seattle, WA

Tour: 09/22/13

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Overall the tour was better than I had expected. I really like the format -blend of structured time and independent time. The group was very compatible and the guides were always available without being intrusive. I loved the time at the Rila Monastery. Despite the antiquated plumbing and lumpy beds, it is a magical place. The village visits were very interesting and gave us the opportunity to hear first hand about everyday life and contemporary issues for the people in these small communities.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The Rila Monastery. Seeing such an amazing structure in the middle of mountain wilderness and hearing about the history of this place was amazing. I really liked being there overnight when there were so few people around."

Donald

Portola, CA

Tour: 09/22/13

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Knowing little about Bulgaria and its rich history made this travel experience outstanding. Our guide Stefan was a true encyclopedia. His love of his country, his extensive knowledge of its history and his ability to take us into the Roma and Muslim Villages and meeting with the active politicians made it one of our best. This would be a great selection for anyone who wishes to know the results of a Communist presence and the feeling of those who lived under it.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"it is hard to say as I wasn't sure what to expect. It probably was the evening we spent in the question and answer session in Sofia with the extremely well informed 'politician'. His introduction to his country was magnficent."

Deborah

Seattle, WA

Tour: 09/22/13

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Tour was great with the right amount of scheduled time and free time. Was impressed with the overall history of the country and how the people are trying to hang on to their heritage and still move ahead and join the modern world. People were very open and friendly and was impressed with how many young people spoke English.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Hard to pick just one. Going to the Roma school and then to the Muslim school and had the children "entertain" for us was great fun and then we got to "entertain" them with no rehearsal. The kids loved it and so did we. Also enjoyed Stefan "cooking" demostration. He has a second career as Bulgaria's "dancing" chef."

Judi

Avalon, NJ

Tour: 09/22/13

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Because the dollar went so far with the Lev (about 1.44 levs per dollar) it was a bargain. Especially when I walked into the first hotel and exclaimed to my roommate who'd never been on a Rick Steves trip before, "this is not the usual R.S hotel". Our guide was outstanding--he loved his country and knew EVERYTHING. When he asked for questions we were like what's to ask, you've told us so much. Visits to the schools, the Roma community, mayor--I don't think you'd find that on most tours.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Roma school concert they put on for us and then we performed for them. Also the folk music performance. The churches were magnificent and the icons at the Rila Monastery breathtaking."

Patricia

Novato, CA

Tour: 09/22/13

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

This was our sixth tour and we have had great tours and excellent tour guides. This one ranked right there at the top! Bulgaria with all of its richness and antiquity has so much to offer we were grateful for the opportunity to visit this wonderful country! The people and the sights were amazing! This tour exceeded our expectations!

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Every day was a gift and one "Wow" moment after another so it's really hard to pick one special one. It was just a wow kind of trip!!"

David

Kingsport, TN

Tour: 09/08/13

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

The tour was a great introduction to a country i knew little about relative to other european destinations. Our guide made the trip more interesting with her personal stories about growing up in communist times. the food was great, the group we toured with was easy to get along with, and the history(particularly thracian and communist) was very interesting.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Seeing the thracian chariot and staying at the beautiful rilla monastary are my favorites."

Julia

Denver, CO

Tour: 09/08/13

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

The Bulgarian tour was fun, informative and educational. All this happened because of our outstanding tour guide Luyba! This lady so full of passion for her country, give us tour members history lessons, insight as to how things were in Bulgaria when the Communists left and she found herself without a job! Luyba was able to jell the tour group into a caring family of looking out for each other and keeping to our schedule. She was the best tour guide we have had in our 3 Rick Steve'tours.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Attending an evening concert in Plovdia at the Romon ampatheater. Amother was the Rila Momstary. Actually I loved the kindergarten classroom. How can one choose?"

Weather

Weather Key

Bulgaria/Sofia

Pre-Tour

We've put together some specific information on what you should know about this tour before you go. You'll also find more general information about "Getting Ready for Your Tour" on our Tour FAQ.

Trip Resources

Learn more about Bulgaria: Check out a collection of Rick's TV shows, radio interviews and articles, plus find a list of recommended books and movies.

Transportation

Prior to your tour departure, you will receive detailed directions on how to get from the airport to your first tour hotel, as well as contact information for your first and last hotels in case you wish to book pre- or post-tour hotel accommodations.

Many tour members arrive a day or two before the tour begins — and those who don't, wish they had. This allows you ample time to get over jet lag and make the most of the first few days of the tour.

There is more than one way to get to and from your tour. Most tour members will fly in and out of Sofia, using another European airport (for example, London or Frankfurt) as their “hub” to connect with flights to and from the USA. Your travel agent can help you find what works best for you.

Sofia is becoming a key transportation point in the Balkans, making additional travel plans before or after your tour surprisingly easy.

For information about flying within Europe, ask your travel agent or check Rick's list of European budget airlines

Read Rick's train travel and rail pass tips to decide if your travel plans merit a rail pass.

If you have additional European travel or tour questions, contact the Tour Department at 425-608-4217 or email tour@ricksteves.com.

Sightseeing On Your Own

If you arrive in Sofia before your tour begins, ride the public transportation, try out a few words of Bulgarian, and get over your jet lag with lots of fresh air and exercise.

Here are suggestions for sightseeing in Sofia that we will not be doing as a group: National Art Gallery, Ethnographical Museum, National Museum of Military History.

See your guidebook for more pre- and post-tour sightseeing possibilities. Your tour guide will also be happy to help you with post-tour plans.

Packing

We will be visiting many Orthodox churches throughout the tour, where women are expected to cover their heads with scarves. You may want to bring one along or purchase a scarf upon arrival in Sofia.

For more advice on what (and what not!) to pack, see Rick’s packing tips.