(Photo by Dennis Jarvis)
Caption: The inside of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is as glorious as the outside.
Nine Amazing Reasons to Visit Bulgaria
It boggles my mind how many people do not have Bulgaria on their list of places to see. It seems as if Bulgaria doesn’t get much tourist respect. I don’t know if it’s because of its past links to communism or because it’s surrounded by more-popular tourist destinations, such as Greece and Turkey. Who knows? I do know, however, that if you are one of those people boggling my mind, I’m going to present nine reasons that will change yours! Bulgaria is an absolutely beautiful country, with glorious landscapes and a historic past wonderfully present in its culture. Friendly people, centuries-old traditions, great places to see – all of this adds up to a wonderful vacation. All of this adds up to Bulgaria!
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral: I talk about many different architectural styles in my blogs, and Bulgaria’s capital city, Sophia, offers one of the world’s best examples of Neo-Byzantine architecture. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is an ornate building completed in 1912 to honor the deaths of more than 200,000 Russian soldiers who fought for Bulgaria’s independence. The church’s golden and green domes, gigantic bell towers, and countless arches elegantly house an indoor crypt, murals, and a religious museum.
- Saint Sophia Church: Another must-see church in Sophia is the Saint Sophia Church, which is named after Saint Sophia, naturally. The city of Sophia did not become Sophia until the 14th century. Prior to that time, it was known as Sredets. The church lent its name to Bulgaria’s capital and lends its glory to its parishioners and visitors. Inside the basilica, you’ll find three altars, stunning frescoes, and some astounding mosaics. What does this church symbolize to its city? Love, faith, and hope.
- National Gallery for Foreign Art: You know me: I always list at least one museum or gallery in my blogs because that’s really part of traveling, in my book, spending time appreciating art and history. While in Sophia, we must make time to visit its National Gallery for Foreign Art, which was founded in 1985. What makes this gallery unique is that many of its works, both permanent and temporary, feature art hailing from Africa, China, and India, some wonderful and often under-appreciated artistic countries!
- Belogradchik: Let’s leave the glamor and splendor of Sophia to indulge ourselves in the small-town charm of Belogradchik. This hidden Bulgarian gem sits in Northwestern Bulgaria at the base of the Balkan Mountains, so I’m certain you can imagine that the views that surround Belogradchik are simply wonderful. It is also home to the Belogradchik Fortress, a medieval compound, and Magura Cave, which takes us back to prehistoric times with its cave paintings. Beauty and history are all in one small town!
- Boyana Waterfall: Located approximately two hours outside of Sophia, the Boyana waterfall is 49 feet of cascading water and astounding beauty. Aside from just being such a glorious example of nature, what makes the Boyana waterfall even more special is that there are several different hiking paths you can take around and to the top of the fall. Some of these nature paths are quite peaceful and offer uncompromising views of the waterfall, Boyana Lake, and the natural surrounding areas.
- Melnik: When I say Bulgaria has it all, I really mean it! It has continental cities, prehistoric caves, charming small towns… and sand dunes! What’s cool about these sand dunes, however, is that people actually live in the village of Melnik under them. These are some huge sand dunes! Melnik is an architectural reserve, and only 385 people call it home. I’m not sure if it’s because living under a sand dune might be a little dusty or if it’s because most of its buildings are monuments. I do know there’s some fantastic wine there, so drink up!
- Rila National Park: Let’s head over to Southwest Bulgaria and Rila National Park. Home to Bulgaria’s highest mountain, Musala Mountain (at 9,500 feet), Rila National Park offers serious mountaineers a summit challenge and those of us just wanting to enjoy the simple outdoors some amazing flora and fauna. Rila is home to 282 different types of moss (I had no idea there were that many types of moss!) and 233 types of fungi. Bats, deer, eagles, goats, owls, and other wildlife also call Rila their home.
- Shiroka Laka: In keeping with our outdoor theme, Shiroka Laka is a historical village that screams 17th century culture. Musically oriented, the village has plenty of bagpipes, called gaida in this region, and singing to please your ears. The music you’ll hear is traditional Bulgarian tunes dating back centuries. You’ll also notice that the architecture in Shiroka Laka reveals much about Bulgaria’s past. Lined up alongside the river are Rhodopean houses, tiered as they were many moons ago.
- Varna: Now we are heading over the Black Sea to visit the charming city of Varna, home to numerous notable Bulgarian museums. Within Varna’s city limits is the Varna Archaeological Museum, which includes the Gold of Varna exhibit; Ancient Roman baths; the Battle of Varna Park Museum; the Naval Museum; and the Museum of Ethnography. There is also a marine park and the beautiful Sveti Konstantin beach on the Black Sea, one of the best beaches the country has to offer!
See? There are a ton of amazing reasons to visit Bulgaria… and you thought I was just kidding! Bulgaria might fly under the traveling radar just a tad, but I find that some of the best places on earth generally do. You really do have it all when you visit Bulgaria. Whether you like the big city, with all of the arts, culture, and entertainment it comes with, or the great outdoors, Bulgaria will welcome you and pacify your every whim. Visit Bulgaria, and when you get back, give us some more amazing reasons to go to this European gem!