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What to see and do in Bulgaria – a guide to notable attractions and landmarks

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With a history to rival any country in Europe, Bulgaria is alive with ancient rituals, proud monuments and traditional mountain towns. From fire dancers to spiritual lakeside ceremonies, the people of Bulgaria find exciting ways to celebrate and savor life. If you’re a fan of the great outdoors, the natural landscapes here speak for themselves – from the silent presence of the Belogradchik Rocks to the azure waters of Silistar Beach.

Milena Raikova

My Destination local expert on

Bulgaria

Rila Monastery

 

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and Bulgaria’s oldest and largest monastery, this iconic landmark is an ancient Christian complex hidden in the thick forested slopes of the Rila Mountains. An ever-popular Bulgarian attraction, Rila Monastery is a feast for the eyes, with humbug-striped columns, delicate wood carvings and famous gold-plated portrait rooms. Built by monks in the 10th century, the intricate interiors of this monastery now attract almost one million visitors annually. You can even spend the night, gaining first-hand experience of a monk’s life.

 

Belogradchik Rocks

 

While a bunch of rocks may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, these are no ordinary rocks. Found on the western slopes of the Balkan Mountains, near the town of Belogradchik, these sandstone monuments were slowly carved by 200 million years of natural erosion. The rocks form unusual shapes, some almost human-like in appearance, and several are named in local legends as frozen creatures or people. A cluster of rosy boulders also loom over Belogradchik Fortress, an equally striking attraction.

 

Veliko Tarnovo

 

The country’s capital until 1393, Veliko Tarnovo reveals the fascinating history behind ancient Bulgaria. Exploring the twisting narrow streets of the Old Town transports you back through the centuries, while battling to the top of the steep Tsarevets Hill presents you with the town’s medieval fortress. This restored complex is now one of Bulgaria’s most iconic landmarks, and the site of the unique Light and Sound audiovisual display, which illuminates the ancient walls with startling colors.

 

Witness the Paneurhythmy ritual

 

Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains are the setting for the sacred ritual of Paneurhythmy, a concept established by the Bulgarian spiritual master Peter Deunov. Believing the only way to reach God was through ‘supreme cosmic rhythm’, Deunov invented Paneurhythmy as a celebration of nature and a way to become at one with the universe. Today – the biggest event is in August – thousands follow his lead, camping near the crystal clear waters of the Seven Rila Lakes and dancing in enormous white circles as the sun rises.

 

Explore the Black Sea Coast

 

Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast is rapidly growing in popularity with holidaymakers looking for a cheap beach break, with clean safe shores and a buzzing nightlife. But coastal Bulgaria is great for traveler-types too, with deserted aquamarine coves like Silistar, plenty of campsites and a liberal scattering of cultural and historical highlights in ancient seaside towns. The sleepy settlement of Balchick harbors a creeper-festooned royal palace and gardens, while the southern town of Sozopol is the proud home of the relics of St. John the Baptist.

 

See the fire dancers

 

One of the oldest Bulgarian folk traditions, the rite of fire dancing is still performed in several isolated villages in the Bulgarian Mountains. Witnessing a performance is a startling event, as dancers dress in traditional clothing and traverse glowing coals with intricate, barefoot steps. The ritual is carried out to the ancient notes of a goatskin bagpipe accompanied by a drummer, with the village of Bulgari in the Strandzha Mountains one of the best places to see fire dancing – they have a special celebration every June 3rd.