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  • Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, Bulgaria
    Alexander Nesky Cathedral in Sofia
  • Bulgarian Folk Performance
  • Rila Monastery, Rila Mountains, Bulgaria
    Rila Monastery
  • Ancient theater, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
    Plovdiv Amphitheater
  • Nesebar, Bulgaria
    Nesebar on the Black Sea
  • Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
    Veliko Tarnovo

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Best of Bulgaria in 12 Days Tour

from $2,795 per person + air

Single Supplement $625

See Dates & Prices

Bulgaria is a land of fascinating contrasts, with a European identity that's rooted in a unique blend of Ottoman, Orthodox, and Soviet soil. On this 12-day tour, you'll marvel at Roman outposts, mystical medieval monasteries, and a dazzling collection of prehistoric gold. All along the way, your 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!

Dates & Prices

2022

What's Included

You'll get at least 17 group sightseeing events — at no extra cost!

Here's what you'll see and do on our Bulgaria tour:

  • Sofia walking tour
  • Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
  • Meet with government official
  • Dupnitsa Roma community visit
  • Rila Monastery
  • Winery and tasting
  • Plovdiv walking tour, including Roman Theater
  • Dzhumaya Mosque
  • Kazanlak Thracian Tomb
  • Nesebar walking tour
  • Varna Archaeological Museum
  • Madara Horseman
  • Arbanasi
  • Veliko Tarnovo walking tour
  • Tsarevets Citadel
  • Folk performance
  • Meet with Glogovo villagers

Plus you'll get all this, too.

  • 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 group transportation during our tour
  • 11 nights' accommodations in memorable, centrally located hotels
  • All breakfasts and half your dinners
  • All tips for guides and driver
  • A tour kit including a guidebook (when available) and a moneybelt
  • Guaranteed tour price, locked in the moment you make your deposit
  • Tour alum discount of $50 for each tour you've taken prior to 2022
  • 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 your tour

Fine print: You are responsible for the cost of your drinks and free-time sightseeing. See our Tour Conditions for important details regarding everything listed above.

Group sightseeing events subject to change.

Itinerary

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 before enjoying our first taste of Bulgaria's rich cuisine over dinner together.

Light walking: 2–4 miles throughout the day on mostly level terrain. No bus. Sleep in Sofia. 

Day 2: Exploring Sofia

Today we'll take a walking tour to uncover Sofia's intriguing past and present. We'll visit the President's Building, where we'll stop for the changing of the guard, as well as the Sofia Synagogue. We'll also tour the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, famous for its gilded domes and masterful mosaics. Then you can "follow the yellow brick road" (Sofia has one) to explore the bustling market hall and more of the city's center on your own. We'll wrap up our day by meeting with a local politician and economist, who will answer questions and tell us about issues facing Bulgaria today.

Moderate walking: 2–6 miles throughout the day with some hills and stairs. No bus. Sleep in Sofia.

Day 3: Rila Monastery

We dive headfirst into Bulgarian culture today with a visit to the Roma community in the town of Dupnitsa, where we'll visit kids at a local school and learn about Roma history and culture. Later, we'll drive through the scenic Rilska Valley en route to our destination high in the mountains: the remote and mystical Rila Monastery. We'll take a tour of this 14th-century architectural treasure and its fabulous frescoes before heading to our countryside hotel near Rila, where we'll enjoy dinner together.

Moderate walking: 2–6 miles throughout the day with some hills and stairs. Bus: 4 hours. Sleep near Rila.

Day 4: Bessa Valley Wines

This morning we depart the countryside 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" to 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.

Moderate walking: 2–6 miles throughout the day with some hills and stairs. Bus: 6 hours. Sleep in Plovdiv.

Day 5: Renaissance Plovdiv

Once the capital city of ancient Thrace, Plovdiv is actually older than Athens and Rome, with archaeological relics dating back 7,000 years. We'll start our day with a walking tour of Plovdiv's old town, including Trajan's second-century Roman theater and its commanding view of the city. We'll also visit the structures that Plovdiv is proudest of: the old town's unique collection of elegant, pastel-pretty "Bulgarian Renaissance" homes from the 19th century, and the Dzhumaya Mosque, the oldest in Bulgaria. The remainder of the day is free for you to explore more of this cultural and cosmopolitan city.

Strenuous walking: 2–8 miles throughout the day with lots of hills, stairs, and uneven terrain. No bus. Sleep in Plovdiv.

Day 6: Kazanlak and Nesebar

We'll drive to the Black Sea today, stopping in Kazanlak en route to visit some of the greatest examples of early Hellenistic art: a fourth-century BC Thracian tomb covered with magnificent murals, and another 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.

Light walking: 2–4 miles throughout the day on mostly even terrain. Bus: 7 hours. Sleep in Nesebar.

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, Bulgarian, and Turkish 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.

Moderate walking: 2–6 miles throughout the day with some hills and stairs. No bus. Sleep in Nesebar.

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.

Moderate walking: 2–6 miles throughout the day with some hills and stairs. Bus: 3 hours. Sleep in Varna.

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-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.

Light walking: 2–4 miles throughout the day on mostly level terrain. Bus: 5 hours. Sleep in Veliko Tarnovo.

Day 10: Veliko Tarnovo

Today 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 to just 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 to enjoy a fabulous folk performance.

Strenuous walking: 2–8 miles with lots of hills, stairs, and uneven terrain. Bus: 1 hour. Sleep in Veliko Tarnovo.

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.

Light walking: 2–4 miles throughout the day on mostly level terrain. Bus: 5 hours. Sleep in Sofia.

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 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.

Physical Demands

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 (possibly several blocks) 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.

Reviews

Charles

Asheville, NC

Tour: 09/22/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

It was an excellent experience. Extremely informative and educational.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Realizing that the archeological skeletal seen in the museum in Varna with many many gold accompanying artifacts was 7000 years old, predating the pyramids by thousands of years."

Victoria

Indianola, WA

Tour: 09/22/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

We had a wonderful experience on our second Rick Steves tour. We liked how the tour was organized with the variety of experiences we had. Bulgaria is a very interesting country. Stefan was a great tour guide, so knowledgeable and fun to be with!

Favorite "WOW" moment

"I loved meeting the Roma students in Dupnitsa at the local school and hearing them speak in English, sing and dance for us. They were wonderful and our lunch in a Roma home was good. After that we visited the Rila Monastery which was amazing experience even in the misty rain. My husband Lee liked Varna city where we watched the sunset on the Black sea. His wow moment was after the sunset we found people dancing in the square to Bulgarian music, having a great time. We watched for over an hour."

Mary

Houston, TX

Tour: 09/22/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Thoroughly enjoyed it. Learned so much history and our guide was very informative with any questions asked. I definitely would recommend this tour.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"There was more than one "wow". I enjoyed watching and then joining the folkloric dance group. Nessebar and the Black Sea were awesome. Wine tasting is always a plus at Bessa Valley and of course all the museums and archeological sites!"

Peter

Peruibe, SP

Tour: 09/08/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Excellent, even though our expectations were high given the positive reviews. HOTEL COMMENTS START HERE (not enough room below!) Hotel Crystal Palace: Room excellent. Breakfast excellent. Evening meal Sep. (paid by R.Steves) was average, and of limited quantity (unusual for Bulgaria). Ramada Plovdiv Trimontium: Room basic. No safe. No A/C first night, but worked second night. Breakfast v. good. Meal out first night paid by R.Steves was excellent. Hemingway meal was also excellent. Go to 11.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The view from Hotel Gurko, Veliko Tarnovo, but there were many others close. For example, the economic review by Prof. Krassen Stanchev was outstanding."

Risë

Vancouver, WA

Tour: 09/08/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Favorite "WOW" moment

"It was less a moment than a regular feature, during bus rides Stefan shared information on the history and his personal history in Bulgaria that made the trip so much more meaningful."

Susan

Columbia, CA

Tour: 09/08/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

This fifth RS trip was so special! I now have a better understanding & appreciation of Bulgaria - its history, culture, geography & present issues. The trip was well-paced, and experiences were varied. This trip takes a deep dive into the dramatic history of this land. Our guide Stefan is passionate! This shows his dedication to his homeland. His ability to make the connections between the past and the present was critical for a successful trip. We were eager laarners and he was there for us.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"As always, one "wow" is impossible. Should I say the sunset on the Black Sea, the Bulgarian Renaissance architecture, or the monastery in the mountain mist? I choose Stefan's story about how the Bulgarian people rose up and stopped the train to save Jewish lives bound for death camps. Definitely!"

Donna

Galena, IL

Tour: 09/08/19

Overall rating: rating 4 of 5

the history of Russian rule was quite informative. The churches were quite interesting.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The Cathedral in Sophia was fantastic. So were a lot of other churches."

Matthew

Los Olivos, CA

Tour: 09/08/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Everyone asked us.."Why Bulgaria?" My answer now?....Because it is AWESOME!!!! We were looking for a tour that was off the beaten track, to an area that might not have the huge tourist impacts that so many destinations in Western Europe are experiencing. As the old Eastern Bloc countries shed the shackles of communism, and reach to the West as their economies grow and the countries begin to prosper, we thought it was a perfect time to make a visit. This Bulgaria Tour was the perfect choice!

Favorite "WOW" moment

"WOW was commonplace on this trip. We enjoyed the larger cities of Sofia, Plovdiv, and Varna (on the Black Sea). The cities were inviting, friendly, and beautiful. There was a big contrast between the elegant and colorful Baroque architecture and the stark ugliness of the buildings built under communist occupation. The Old Town area of Plovdiv was incredible. We LOVED the small town of Koprivshtitsa, Nesebar on the Black Sea, and a big WOW came with the serenity and beauty of Rila Monastery."

April

Plymouth, WI

Tour: 09/08/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

We now have a much better understanding of Bulgaria's history, culture, geography, and present issues. We were fortunate to not only have Stefan, an enthusiastic and passionate Bulgarian as our main guide but also Eszter, an enthusiastic and passionate Hungarian as an assistant guide, and because of this, we learned not only about Bulgaria but also Hungary and how both dealt with the past and are presently dealing with current issues. We appreciate the balance between organized and free time.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Stefan has to be our WOW moment. He is one of the best guides we've EVER had on a tour anywhere in the world. Several other wow moments were wandering about Plovdiv and in the village of Koprivshtitsa, listening to Stefan's stories and Professor Krassen Stdsnchev's economic review of not only Bulgaria but Eastern Europe and Europe in general, and the school visit to the small rural village of Dupnitsa."

Garry

Coeur D'alene, ID

Tour: 09/08/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Another great tour experience. I can now certainly answer the question: "Why Bulgaria." The tour was well paced and the accommodations were great.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The principal "wow" moment was the visit/lunch with a Roma family. It broadened my understanding of these people."

Irma

Coeur D Alene, ID

Tour: 09/08/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

It was a terrific experience, full of pleasant surprises. So much variety: architecture, languages/alphabets, food, cats, terrain, etc.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"My wow moment was visiting the two schools. They are proof that kids are the same everywhere. My haunting moment came after their presentation when they were answering our questions and asking their own. One of the questions from a young man was whether or not it was true that American teachers had to carry guns. He had seen that on the internet. We assured him they don't. But the fact that our gun violence evoked the question from a young man in Bulgaria is unsettling."

Jennifer

Morgantown, WV

Tour: 08/25/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

We had a lovely time in Bulgaria. Our tour buddies were inquisitive and our guide, Stefan, was engaging and enthusiastic about introducing us to his country and culture. We enjoyed the lack of tourist crowds and the friendly Bulgarian people.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"My "wow" moment was listening to Stefan recount the story of how Bulgaria saved its Jewish population during WWII. He spoke with such passion and feeling that I got tears in my eyes!"

Susan

Newport Beach, CA

Tour: 08/25/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

This was an amazing trip exploring a part of Eastern Europe that few Americans even think about visiting. Our guide Stefan was incredible - his enthusiasm was infectious and his love for his country was clear. I learned so much from him, not only about the incredible depth of history this country has but also about the challenges they face today and the resiliency of the people. The diversity of geography was amazing - mountains, arid stretches, farmland and the Black Sea coastline.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"My "wow" moment was watching the folk dancing and singing presentation at the cultural center outside of Veliko Tarnovo. They were not professionals, but they were so very good. The enthusiasm and intricacy of the dancing, the beautiful traditional costumes, and the music were all incredible."

Susan

Bellevue, PA

Tour: 08/25/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

The Best of Bulgaria tour was great. I really enjoyed this tour. I enjoyed walking through the various cities and towns, learning about the history and culture. Bulgaria is an ancient land and I loved how they preserved their history. The tour had a nice balance of organized activities and free time which allowed me to do some exploring on my own. The Bulgarian people were very friendly and seemed pleased when I attempted a few words in Bulgarian. And our guide Stefan was superb.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"It is difficult to pick just one as there were so many amazing experiences. But I think the visit to the school in Dupnitsa has to be placed at the top. When we arrived one adorable little girl came running up to greet us - with a huge smile on her face, so excited to meet us. The children sang and danced for us which I thoroughly enjoyed. We also got to talk to their teacher, an amazing woman who obviously cares deeply for her students."

Lance

Seattle, WA

Tour: 08/25/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

This was different than past tours in that it seemed more educational. Stephan's talks about the country's history and political changes were very interesting. The only complaint, which RSE is not responsible for, is the many cases of diarrhea in the group and the bed bug attack at the monastery.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The poverty witnessed at the Roma part of town (forgot which town). I'm glad it was included in the tour."

Miles

Oakland, CA

Tour: 06/23/19

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Stefan and our bus driver conducted a very efficient and interesting tour. Fellow tour members were friendly, cheerful, and helpful. Sofia is a beautiful, vibrant, and historic city. All of Bulgaria seemed very beautiful to me. The historic places we visited were all very interesting and worth the visit. I couldn't grasp ahead of time why we'd stay overnight at Rila Monastery, but I found out it was an amazing experience!

Favorite "WOW" moment

"There were several, of course, but I was happily surprised to visit the beautiful Russian Church on a hillside where we ate a "bag lunch" one day. And Nesebar was VERY much more than just a resort town on the Black Sea. My secret mission for the trip was to swim in the Black Sea which I accomplished there. And the sunsets there were gorgeous!"

When To Go & Weather

May, June, and September are the best months for visiting Bulgaria, with pleasant weather, lighter crowds, and the full range of tourist fun.

Bulgaria/Sofia

Hotels & Flights

Tour Hotels

In case you wish to book pre- or post-tour hotel accommodations, the contact information for the tour's first and last hotels is included in your tour confirmation email as well as in the Itinerary section of your tour account. One month prior to the tour departure, you'll find the directions to your first tour hotel and a complete list of hotels where we'll be staying while on tour in the Documents section of your tour account.

Flights

Our tours don't include airfare, so your flight arrangements and transfers are completely up to you.

Most tour members arrange to fly into and out of Sofia (SOF).

We suggest arriving a day or two before your tour begins to allow ample time to get over jet lag and be well-rested for the first few days of your tour.