Bulgaria at a glance
Let’s see how much you know of Bulgaria and the gap between your expectation and what actually is out there 🙂 I’m sure you’ll find something for your taste as there are both summer and winter options. Burgas, Nessebar and Varna would require half a day while you need one whole day for Sophia with the sightseeing points listed below. No need to speak of duration for Bansko; just know it is good enough to host World Cup skiing and snowboarding events and yet affordable at the same time.
To your surprise, Burgas is one of the largest cities in Bulgaria and is situated on the Black Sea shore, 130 km from Varna. Burgas is an attractive destination for tourists with marine, cultural, health - SPA and wine - degustation tourism options.
Marine Park is located along the coast for 7 km, repeating curves and natural topography waterfront.
Walking down the busiest street Alexandrovska, you will find pubs, ice-cream shops, cafes, restaurants, also, not to forget the street musicians.
Troykata Square (trine - named after the historical high electric pole with three lamps), which is the place of many concerts, performances, cultural and sporting events, and the imposing monument of the Soviet Army (Alyosha). Talking of which,during summer, the city is a host of multiple literature, musical and folklore festivals, bringing it international fame.
You can also encounter ”Kilometer Zero” (a particular location from which distances are traditionally measured) located in the center of a large compass on this pedestrian street.
As for history, the earliest finds in the region are dated back to the Bronze and the Early Iron Age. There are multiple archaeological finds from the Thracian period (4th century BC).
The cathedral church St. Cyril and St. Methodius is one of the most often visited sites in the city. The central entrance is decorated with mural, which depicts the brothers Cyril and Methodius. Church being built by the wealthy citizens, made it possible to use the services of the best artists - painters, woodcarvers and stone masons.
In Ezero Park, on an area of five decres, right next to the beach, every summer a sand festival is organized. Movie heroes theme had sand figures like Batman, Superman, Avengers, Penguins of Madagascar, Star wars and many more.
It was a surprise to see the Turkish-Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink’s spirit living on, on the walls of Armenian Saint Cross’ church in the city. A plaque of him who was campaigning for the rights of ethnic Armenians, was apparently placed here in 2015, eight years after his assassination.
Cultural treasury of Bulgaria, Nessebar is located on a small peninsula, only 35 km from Burgas. The landmark of Nessebar is the famous windmill at the entrance of the old town, located on the waterfront.
The millennia old town is on a rocky peninsula, connected to the mainland via a narrow isthmus. The first signs of humans date back to the 6th century BC, when there was a Thracian settlement. Valuable monuments such as the remains of the Roman and Medieval walls, old Byzantine and Bulgarian churches, Ottoman fountains & baths, antique houses from 18th & 19th century, are preserved. here The greatest treasure of this UNESCO World Heritage Site are its numerous churches. Indispensable are;
- Church of St. Sophia, also known as the Old Metropolitan, the biggest church to have ever been built in Nessebar and dates back to 5th century.
- Church of St. John the Baptist from 11th c is distinguished for its cylinder dome.
- Church of Christ Pantocrator is one of Bulgaria’s best preserved churches of the Middle Ages. This medieval Eastern Orthodox church has lavish exterior decoration made of stones and brickwork.
- Church of St. Stefan is one of the most important monuments of Bulgarian cultural heritage, with its iconostasis, frescoes and remarkable mural paintings (258 mural paintings with more than 1000 figures).
There wasn’t any prominent guidance, so take my word and mark these on your map. So lamentable that I skipped some when they were only hundreds of meters away. I guess you call it a grim experience when you don’t do the research yourself and count on others.
Also a party destination (for young party-goers), the 5km long Sunny Beach awaits you after a 10-minute drive, with its rather cold water, watersports, water & amusement parks, sun and sandy beaches to enjoy.
Varna is often described as Bulgaria’s “Summer Capital”, the coastal city that people from Sophia and tourists mainly from Russia & Germany escape to when inland temperatures shoot up in July and August.
Primorski Park, aka, Sea Garden stretching for 5 miles, is the largest of its kind in Europe. I was really surprised to see how big it was and apparently is the biggest in the continent! Kraybrezhna Aleya, in fact, is the name of the coastal lane along, don’t get confused. You’ll find all sorts of attractions like Dolphinarium, zoo, beach facilities and night life.
Forming one of the city’s postcard scenes, Varna Cathedral (Cathedral of the Assumption of Holy Mother) is situated on St. Cyril and St. Methodius Square(here, it’s not the name of the cathedral unlike Burgas’) in the center of Varna. The name was in fact was chosen for the dedication to the Russian Empress Maria Alexanrovna, benefactor of Bulgaria and aunt of the Prince. Modelled on the temple at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, the cathedral was built with cut stones from the ruined fortress walls.
Bulgaria’s third-largest city is also famous for the "Gold of Varna," Thracian jewelry discovered in Necropolis, is displayed inside the Archaeological Museum. It is said to be the oldest processed gold, dating back 6.000 years.
If you’re up for more beach time, Golden Sands is the place for you. With bars and nightclubs, next to a broad strip of the golden sand that gives this resort its imaginative name, this beach is probably a cheaper version than its European alikes.
This fast growing and modernizing city is not only the capital of Bulgaria but also once held that calling briefly for Roman Empire. Once a Thracian settlement called Serdica, it is one of the cheapest travel destinations in Europe as with other Bulgarian cities listed above.
Starting from east, continuing to west looks like a good route, so I’ll lead you in that order. So, first, the most impressive of all, Alexander Nevski Cathedral, is one of the world’s largest eastern orthodox cathedrals. Topped with the characteristic round domes of the Neo-Byzantine style, and with mosaic gems and gold leafs, it entices you. It was built in memory of the soldiers who died in the independence war in 19th century.
Just across the road from the cathedral, 5th century brick Basilica of Saint Sophia, stands in the middle of an ancient necropolis where once used to be a Roman theatre. Check the newly excavated Roman Ruins down in the crypt area if you have time.
I found the Tzar Samuil Monument, right in front, pretty scary, which means they’ve done a good job perhaps, lol.
Walking west to the city center, on the way, we find Ivan Vazov National Theatre,named after the writer who is considered to be the Patriarch of the Bulgarian literature. It stands in one of the most vivid places in the city. The fountain and the garden (Gradska Gradina) in front of this Viennese styled building, make it a perfect area to relax and enjoy a break.
Continuing on to Cathedral Church St. Nedelya, we find one of the city’s major landmarks, noted for its rich, Byzantine-style murals.
St. George Rotunda Church is Sophia’s oldest preserved building. Dating back to the 4th century, this tiny one-room chamber was constructed to mark the arrival of the Emperor Constantine here in the 4th century. It stands amid the ruins of the old Roman town of Serdica which is also surrounded by the buildings of Presidential Palace.
Dominating the busy city center and replacing the statue of Lenin, is St. Sophia, a bronze and gilded monument, with an owl - representing wisdom - perched on her outstretched left arm.
The miniature orthodox Chapel of St. Petka reflects a humble style due to the Ottoman rule that there could be no churches taller than houses. It looks unusually small surrounded by the big government buildings.
Next, heading up north for a couple of minutes, we come across the Regional History Museum housing its permanent exhibition in the former Central Mineral Bath building. It has several other branches such as the underground museum at St. Sophia Basilica, the Tomb of Knyaz Alexander I Battenberg, the Triangular Tower of Serdica and others.
Right in front of the museum, we see Banya Bashi Mosque built by the great architect Mimar Sinan, deriving its name from the phrase Banya Başı, meaning many baths. The most outstanding feature of the only active mosque is that it was actually built over natural thermal spas; one can even see the steam rising from vents in the ground near the mosque walls, they say.
Halite - Central Market Hall, across the street, is a good spot to get familiar with Bulgarian staple foods and shop for souvenirs.
Sophia Synagogue, behind, is the largest synagogue on the Balkan Peninsula. It has viennese influence not only on the architecture but on the inside with gorgeous brass chandelier (weighing over 2200 kilos), the large candelabra and other decorations imported from Vienna.
Finally, if you continue west about 10+ minutes, you’ll see perhaps the the prettiest church with beautiful gold domes; Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker. Built in Russian revival style, it obviously was designed by a Russian architect, Preobrajenski.
Bansko is a town at the foot of the Pirin Mountains in southwest Bulgaria. With country’s largest ski and snowboard slopes on Todorka Peak, you get more alpine landscape at the high-altitude Vihren Peak, with forested ridges and striking glacial lakes.
The UNESCO-protected old town centre has cobbled streets full of stone clad buildings with terracotta tile roofs, and yet one of the largest churches in Bulgaria, The Holy Trinity Church. The new town is lively with bars, nightclubs, restaurants and nice hotels mostly built in the last 15 years.
A great value for money, Bansko is definitely a great choice for skiers, boarders of any level with a 75km of piste, rising to an altitude of over 2500m.
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