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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

Tour Questions? See our FAQ | Email tour@ricksteves.com

Best of Bulgaria in 12 Days Tour

from $2,995 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

2023

What's Included

You'll get at least 19 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
  • Q&A with a local
  • Dupnitsa Roma community visit
  • Rila Monastery
  • Tsarska Vistritsa royal residence
  • 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
  • Koprivshtitsa walking tour
  • Meet with an Eastern Orthodox priest

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 with us
  • 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, 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'll 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, learn about Roma history and culture, and eat lunch together in a local restuarant. 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'll visit the countryside residence of the Bulgarian Royal family, Tsarska Bistritsa. After lunch together, we'll 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: 4 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 Burgas

We'll drive to the Black Sea today, stopping in Kazanlak for lunch together and 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 port town of Burgas. Enjoy a post-dinner stroll through the city's historical center or follow the picturesque promenade on Burgas Bay.

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

Day 7: Nesebar and the Black Sea

This morning we'll hop aboard our bus and head for the little island town of Nesebar, connected to the rest of Bulgaria by a narrow isthmus. We'll take a time-tripping walk through the old town, learning about its important Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Turkish past — a lot happened in this tiny place! We'll enjoy free time for lunch and exploration then drive along the Black Sea coast on our way to the Naval capital of Bulgaria — Varna. We'll settle into our hotel and get oriented to this bustling city before setting you free 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. Bus: 3 hours. Sleep in Varna.

Day 8: Treasures of Varna

We'll start our day with a tour of the Varna Archaeological Museum where we'll marvel at the oldest gold jewelry ever discovered. Then we'll enjoy a short walking tour, admiring the city's beautiful architecture and elegant churches. 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. No bus. 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 town of Koprivshtitsa. In this postcard-perfect setting, ringed by the Sredna Gora mountains, we'll walk the cobblestone streets and visit a few houses that have been turned into museums to learn about those who once lived here. Then we'll stop at the local Eastern Orthodox church, where we'll enjoy the unique opportunity to chat with the priest over lunch. This afternoon we'll return to Sofia and have a festive final dinner together, sharing travel memories and toasting new friends.

Light walking: 2–4 miles throughout the day on mostly level terrain. Bus: 6 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

Donald

Tour: 09/18/22

Overall rating: rating 4 of 5

Overall a very good tour. Lots of surprises in Bulgaria for us, especially the extensive accomplishments in unearthing and displaying of ancient Roman (and other) historical remains. Great museums througout.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Not a particular moment, but the city of Plovdiv throughout was an eyeopener."

John

Tour: 09/18/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

It was a wonderful experience. It was what I had hoped it to be. To see what I can in the short time I was there, see the country and learn. I was excited that I was able experience more than the typical tourist sites and see things like neighborhoods schools, places of work and a local community center where people danced traditional dances just for the fun of it.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The many literal layers of civilizations that make up Bulgaria. The people of Bulgaria have built on top of civilizations after civilizations more than any I experienced in Europe, from the Thracians to modern times. This became apparent very early on in the tour when we toured the basement of St. Sofia church during our free time where there were centuries of tombs and crypts. This theme of living along side of structures from the past was constant during the whole trip."

Stephanie Loel

Tour: 09/11/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Very happy with the the tour

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Lunch at the mayor’s home cooked by his wife. Ate in the courtyard."

Chris

Tour: 09/11/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

This is the first organized tour we've been on. Prior to this, we've traveled on our own throughout Europe using RS guidebooks but we thought it would be easier to travel in Bulgaria with a RS tour. The tour conducted by Yuri was excellent. He made every effort to give us the best experiences, including the unscheduled train rides and the impromptu visit to the Trabant collectors car lot complete with rides in a Trabant! It was a fast paced 12 days and somewhat exhausting.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"There were many but we especially enjoyed the visit to Borovets & the countryside royal residence (we would like to have stayed there 2 days and done some walks in the beautiful forests), Rela Monastery, the Church of the Nativity in Arbanasi, and the folk dancing at the Gorna Oryahovitsa Culture House."

Susan

Tour: 09/11/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Great! Well organized ! An amazing tour guide, Yuri.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Visiting a school -the kids were ‘ rehearsing ‘ for the 1st day of school. Flag parade, singing and a recorder performance. We also had a great tour of the school and were able to visit the classrooms and talk to the teachers."

Richard J

Tour: 09/11/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

What set this tour apart from others we have taken was the spirit of adventure and serendipity of our guide, Yuri. Some tours stress the de rigueur highlights. With Yuri there were several deviations from the written itinerary and they were unfailingly special and illuminating. Twice we were able to hop on a train -- where we spoke with locals and enjoyed the romance of the rail.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"After Tuscan Plovdiv, we crossed the Thracian Valley to the mysterious 2500 year old Thracian tombs, the spectacular 19c Russian church at Shipka, then an ascent of the Balkan range to the weirdly compelling monument to Communism at Bulzundja of 1980s, thousands of feet up. Remarkable time travel. At Shumen: a serene mosque and a mountaintop monument to the Founders of the Bulgarian State, hearing our bus driver's bagpipes drone amid its open air, spooky, paranoid, and monumental sculpture."

Richard

Tour: 09/11/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Many highlights, many of them unanticipated and fascinating. The sites and the history are truly phenomenal.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The icons in the churches and the schoolchildren's impromptu performance."

Beth

Tour: 09/11/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

There was so much packed into a relatively short time. It was our first Rick Steves' tour, first organized tour of any kind so I was apprehensive. We tend to be independent travelers. Yet, our guide (Yuri) and the other tour members made the experience memorable. The activities and sites selected for this tour were quite varied. We saw religious sites, Roman sites, Medieval sites, and Communist-era sites as well as experiencing the Black Sea coast and the beautiful Bulgarian countryside.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"As a former history teacher, my "wow" moments centered on the Roman ruins we visited with the mosaics at the Bishop's Basilica in Plovdiv as the highlight. The other "wow" moments were visiting old Communist-era sites: The photo opportunity at Buzludzha (the abandoned monument to the Bulgarian Communist Party), the in-depth tour of the Soviet-made submarine near Varna, and experiencing a gaida solo by our bus driver at the Founders of the Bulgarian State Communist-era memorial near Shumen."

Jacqueline

Tour: 09/04/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Outstanding!! From the organization to execution, everything was so carefully planned. Our tour guide, Stefan, did an amazing job monitoring the needs of the group. Everyday we knew what we were doing for the day and what to expect the next day. Our guide was so knowledgeable about every site we visited. Often we had time on the bus to talk about Bulgaria and ask many questions about the country’s culture and current challenges. Our accommodations were wonderful and the food was incredible

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The Church of the Nativity in Arbanasi. We had already seen many churches and frescos on the tour. This church was truly special. This was my first Rick Steves tour. I’ve created several of my own vacations with Rick’s books. I’m not sure if I would have driven to this little town to see this church if I was on my own. I’m so glad the tour took us there. The beautiful frescos are so colorful and impressive. It is an experience I will treasure."

Rollin

Tour: 09/04/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

This was an excellent tour to Bulgaria. A country I knew little about previously. Our guide, Stefan, did a great job showing us his country and explaining the culture.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The Cathedral at Veliko Tarnovo."

Denise

Tour: 09/04/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

loved Bulgaria and Stefan he is awesome

Favorite "WOW" moment

"too many to pick one really"

John

Tour: 09/04/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Amazing I’m always fascinated by the history of European countries and their cultural heritage is

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Probably when the hotel owner and our guide sang a duet during a cooking demonstration"

Margaret

Tour: 09/04/22

Overall rating: rating 4 of 5

Good group of people, interesting, easily accessible and not over-crowded sights. Beautiful country with lovely and numerous green areas.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Beautiful gardens"

Will

Tour: 09/04/22

Overall rating: rating 4 of 5

Good trip. I really appreciated the knowledge and enthusiasm of our guide. Itinerary had nice variety.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Tie - stepping into Rila Monastery and Church of the Nativity in Arbanasi"

Susan

Tour: 09/04/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

There was so much to learn. Bulgaria is a fascinating place with an important history.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"There were so many. The Bishop’s Basilica in Plovdiv was one WOW moment. The mosaic tile floors were amazing. And the history of the basilica was fascinating."

Michelle

Tour: 06/19/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Very knowledgeable guide. No hassles. Great group of tour companions. What a beautiful country.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Rila monastery and the 7000 year old jewelry in Varna"

Antonia

Tour: 06/19/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

I was pleasantly surprised by every aspect of Bulgaria. After listening to the Rick Steves Audios with Stefan Bozadzhiev, I remarked- I would give anything to have him as my guide. So happy he was our guide! Stefan brought Bulgaria to life for us and our group of friendly travelers.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Rila Monastery,and the Black Sea"

Katherine

Tour: 06/19/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

We selected this tour sort of randomly, as it was one of the only ones left with space. I am SO GLAD we did. Bulgaria is pretty amazing! Our tour guide, Stefan, was top notch. A real ambassador for his country.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The Rila Monastery is an obvious wow moment. Additional wow moments came from side conversations with Stefan about what it was like, growing up in n communist Bulgaria, and the mind blowing changes that have occurred during his lifetime. It’s hard for us to imagine, as Americans."

Julie

Tour: 06/05/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

I had no expectations about this tour. Everything about it was an unexpected delight, from the things we were supposed to see, to the special places that no visitor would experience without being on this tour and having such a guide that knows every inch of the country. The lodging was great and the food was incredible.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"We were the special guest of a folk dance performance that went nonstop for nearly an hour. The musicians played and played as one folk dance after another was performed."

Deborah

Tour: 06/05/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

We knew virtually nothing about Bulgaria when we booked this tour. Our tour guide was AMAZING. We learned so much about the country - history, religion, important sites to see, cultural experiences, etc. Our group was small and comfortable. Hotels were great, food was wonderful, and we came away feeling like it was well worth our time and money!

Favorite "WOW" moment

"I loved the carpet weaving factory tour, Plovdiv (and the Bishop's Basillica), and wandering the streets of Nessebar."

Mary

Tour: 06/05/22

Overall rating: rating 4 of 5

Wonderful tour group to learn about the ancient history of Bulgaria, to explore its many monuments and cities, and to meet its wonderful, fun-loving people.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The Rila Monastery was my first but not my last "wow" moment. Its setting in the mountains was awesome, the richness of its accommodations impressive, and the artistry of its decorations was purposeful (designed to keep people from straying into evil ways)."

Jacob

Tour: 06/05/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

The Best of Bulgaria tour is the perfect blend of larger cities and small villages. Our guide Stefan brought his country to life through his seemingly unending knowledge of Bulgarian culture, art, and history. The food we had on this tour was amazing, as was the Rakia. Our accommodations were all very nice and conveniently located in each city we stayed in. I would recommend this tour to anyone, as it is an awesome way to explore this beautiful and unique part of Europe.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"My "Wow" moment was on the last day of our tour on our way back to Sofia, we stopped in the small village of Asenovo where we ate lunch at the mayor's house, cooked by his wife. Their hospitality and generosity were truly incredible, as was the food."

Michael

Tour: 05/22/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Very good guides and a good itinerary

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Riding the old Soviet era trains"

Roger

Tour: 05/22/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

Tour guides were very informative and fun. They had or would find answers to your questions. Beautiful Country.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"Taking the communist train, visiting Russian Sub and Glass manufacturing"

Melody

Tour: 05/22/22

Overall rating: rating 4 of 5

I did not know what to expect from Bulgaria, so was very pleasantly surprised at all I saw and experienced. It is a beautiful country, and each day just got better and better as we progressed through the tour. The topography includes mountains covered in gorgeous deciduous forests, vast areas for agriculture, vineyards, Damask rose fields, the Baltic coastline, large cities and small villages, and very rough roads!

Favorite "WOW" moment

"The evening of superb folk music and dance and costumes; walking in the deciduous forests; sampling a Bulgarian train ride; exploring a Russian submarine; visiting a school on awards day when the students put on a musical program for their parents; homemade lunch with a priest in a picturesque little village; Veliko Ternovo, Rila Monastery... every day had it's wows"

Pam

Tour: 05/22/22

Overall rating: rating 5 of 5

We were the first tour in 2 1/2 years. Our guide, Yuri, made this trip great, because he was so flexible and able to provide the best overall experience.

Favorite "WOW" moment

"There wasn’t one particular wow moment, since our activities were so diverse. Rila Monastery was spectacularly beautiful as well as the Church of the Nativity. The folk dance presentation, the school children’s presentation as well as having lunch with the priest were also high points."

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.