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Adventures in Bulgaria: A Thrillseeker’s Guidebook

Bulgaria Adventure Travel

The breathtaking mountains, glacial lakes, and unique geographical features scattered throughout Bulgaria can provide enough eye candy and excitement for a lifetime, making the southeastern European nation an outstanding destination for explorers of all appetites and interests. Before putting together an itinerary for a Bulgarian adventure, consider these options that highlight some of the best places to thrill-seek in Bulgaria.

Finding utopia for rafters and kayakers in Bulgaria.

Not far from Sofia, the Iskar Gorge in western Bulgaria is a terrific place to find some adventure without going overboard. Particularly suitable for beginners, Iskar River rafting is known for having a handful of legitimate thrills but also for a very scenic trip through the heart of the gorge, which is dominated by striking forests and rocky bluffs. From spring to the early part of summer, adrenaline levels tend to be elevated due to the increased speeds of the river, although the rafting remains spectacular all the way through the very colorful fall.
A couple of hours south of Sofia by car, near the southwestern corner of Bulgaria, the Kresna Gorge is where the more experienced rafters congregate for a whirlwind trip down the Struma River. Starting at the Vitosha Mountain and emptying into the Strymonian Gulf in the Aegean Sea, Struma is known for providing some intense rafting experiences through the Kresna Gorge that can be as challenging as they are beautiful to behold. Kresna Gorge also offers some excellent hiking, and the entire area is teeming with plant and animal life that are also major draws in the region.
Back to the more peaceful side of the adventure spectrum, kayaking down the mostly calm Kamchia River can be another exciting way to enjoy the Bulgarian countryside. Kayakers who paddle the Kamchia River Reserve on the way to the Black Sea enjoy thick forests, lush backdrops that seem lifted from a daydream (or painting), and plenty of great stopping points to break out a picnic lunch or camera.

Hiking to the famous Seven Rila Lakes.

Starting more than a mile above sea level, the Seven Rila Lakes are a natural attraction for Bulgarians looking to escape the summer heat and disappear into the lush green and blue landscapes the region is known for. A little more than an hour north of Sofia in western Bulgaria, it’s a hiker’s fantasy of mountain paths leading up to some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, with green-coated bluffs hovering over the crystal-clear lakes that each come with unique and unforgettable features. Although swimming in glacial lakes like the Rila is typically only for the brave, the clear waters are a wonder to see once they thaw in June until the weather turns again in October. It also helps that the peak of summer is when the area sees a marked drop in storm activity.
Although it’s effortless to link up with a hiking tour company, it’s just as easy to independently put together a hiking trip from Sofia or one of the well-rated resorts or rentals of Sapareva Banya, a sleepy little town at the base of the mountains. For those who make it to Lake Peak and still aren’t done enjoying the scenic area, a separate trip to the Skakavitsa waterfall—the highest in the mountain range—is a thrill in itself merely due to the astounding power of the water’s plunge.
The Seven Rila Lakes aren’t the only source of terrific hiking in the area either, particularly for those hunting for an experience bordering on harrowing. From Govedartsi, hikers have an assortment of paths to choose from, including one that will take you to the so-called Scary Lake. Not only does the lake itself look like the backdrop of a horror movie but thunderstorms that rip through are naturally amplified by the setting, making for spectacular booms that have turned the lake into a legend (don’t worry, there’s a large and safe shelter right at the waterfront). The nearby Musala trail is also where you can find the highest point in Bulgaria, a stunning peak above the Borovets ski resort that is challenging but very doable for most regular hikers.

Hunt for a waterfall in a cave.

You can find Devil’s Throat Cave in southern Bulgaria nearly all the way to the Greece border, a scenic region in the Rhodopes mountain range that has all sorts of picturesque forests, blue lakes, and stream-spanning stone bridges. A stone’s throw from Trigrad Gorge, Devil’s Throat Cave isn’t for the claustrophobic, but visitors are typically enchanted with the experience of plunging down a winding, narrow path to the “Hall of Thunder” (or “Booming Hall“), where you can take in the roar of an underground waterfall. The descent is also filled with ominous rock formations that showcase the dark sense of mystery that has forever surrounded the cave.
With its nefarious rock formations and eerie setting, there are plenty of myths that have popped up about the cave, most notably that it’s the place where Orpheus descended into Hades chasing after his lover, Eurydice. Whether you believe any of the legends is up to you, but the journey tends to be one that piques the imagination and gives thrillseekers a memorable jaunt down into one of the unique settings you’ll encounter in Bulgaria.

Adventures along the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast.

The Black Sea Coast is gorgeous enough to make many visitors want to just lounge and chew on the exotic backdrop, yet the adventure-traveler has more than a few options to spice things up a bit. The scuba diving season between April and November has also really started to catch on in recent years as a major draw for divers, mostly thanks to the spread of different shipwrecks that are known to be clinging to the sea floor. Historical artifacts have been found in Bulgarian Black Sea waters from as far back as 3,000 years ago, although a variety of shipwrecks from the 20th century are also natural draws for divers.
One of the most popular spots is just off Varna, where you can spot a Roman port wholly submerged. There are also submarines, Russian destroyer ships, and plenty of other vessels that reached their demise in the Black Sea, with many coming during WWII. While you’ll need to find a certified diving academy to get started no matter your experience level, there are plenty of great dives for beginners not quite ready to head all the way down to the famous shipwrecks. The marine life is also known for being outstanding in the Bulgarian Black Sea, showcasing anything from seahorses and needlefish to all kinds of shellfish that make for an inspiring and colorful dive.

Final thoughts and ideas before the trip.

Anyone who thinks Bulgaria is a place to find a beach without breaking the bank hasn’t considered the country’s many outstanding highlights—particularly for the traveling adventurer. No matter where you go in Bulgaria, the stunning natural backdrops and the long list of activities provide more than enough ways to fill up your itinerary, however long your trip happens to be. While many of the top spots for adventure are best experienced in the spring, summer, and early fall, the fantastic skiing spots (e.g., Borovets, Pamporovo, and Bansko) also give a thrillseeker four seasons of possibilities. Although you may not need as large of a budget as some of Europe’s other top destinations for thrillseekers, Bulgaria more than holds its own and is ideal for letting an adventurous spirit run wild.

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Finding the Best Romantic Getaways in Bulgaria

Romantic Bulgaria Getaways

From colorfully unique summer festivals and outdoor adventures to spa getaways at chic adults-only locales, the options are endless within one of the formerly overlooked gems of southeastern Europe. Here are only a few of the options to consider for anyone targeting Bulgaria as the perfect romantic escape.

A variety of romantically-tinged options along the Black Sea at places like Golden Sands.

The Black Sea coast is where many couples from around the world come to spend nights of romance. In the energetic resort town of Golden Sands, romance-seekers have an assortment of options at their disposal, from secluded getaways lapped in luxury to an exciting nightclub scene that can be a perfect fit for the right couple. There are also miles of beaches featuring locally famous tiki bars, water activities, and world-class restaurants that make Golden Sands one of the most popular destinations in Bulgaria.
The many highly rated hotels and resorts cater to just about any type of couple there is, with the panoramic Black Sea views offering peerless backdrops for romance. Some of the most popular hot spots hold pool parties all summer long, befitting a great place for couples that moonlight as beach partiers. But for those looking for a more subdued experience with a loved one, there are plenty of accommodations that offer a more tranquil and intimate oasis far from the party scene.
With more than 230 miles of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, however, Golden Sands is also far from the only beach town worth considering, as other standouts like Nessebar also have plenty of great opportunities for romance. No matter what a couple considers paradise, the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria is sure to have a place that fits the description.

Go rose-picking in Rose Valley.

One of the classic Bulgarian traditions is on full display each May/June outside the town of Kazanlak in central Bulgaria. Amid the warming weather of late spring, the famed Rose Valley is flush with festivals and activities as locals and visitors alike hit the countryside looking for the perfect rose. While you can link up with groups for a customary rose-picking ritual that involves traditional Bulgarian dancing and music, many couples prefer to head off on their own to hit one of the countless rose fields that dot the area, spending afternoons getting lost in colorful rows of Bulgaria’s national flower. The enormous Rose Festival Parade is also a sight to see, as locals dress up in vintage Bulgarian garb and take onlookers on a trip into the country’s national pastimes.
While nearby Kazanlak has some character of its own and is a fun place to stay during the festival season, heading a little north will take visitors to hike the Shipka Pass for some exquisite views of the mountainous region. History lovers will enjoy learning about the unique Buzludzha monument (better known as “The Spaceship”) and the battles that took place there between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, but it’s also an ideal place for romantics to escape for afternoons of fresh air and sprawling green countryside. 360-degree panoramic views from the top of Freedom Monument are one of the highlights, and couples can cap off a Shipka Pass hike by heading to a rose brewery to try local brews made from rose water.

The treasures of Bulgarian wine country.

The many vineyards of southwestern Bulgaria are a major draw for couples looking for a tranquil romantic excursion. A flourishing region once again on the rise, Bulgarian wine country has a series of great towns and small cities worth visiting, most notably places like Melnik and Plovdiv. A cozy town nearly hidden by the neighboring Pirin Mountains, Melnik is technically the smallest town in Bulgaria by population but also has a variety of great resorts and independent boutique hotels that act as stepping stones for exploring the regional vineyards.
Offering a slightly different experience, Plovdiv in the Thracian Valley is the perfect starting point for a wine tour whether you rent a car and do it all yourself or join a group heading out to the best vineyards. The second most populous city in the country, Plovdiv has a spread of great wine bars exclusively featuring local nectars, letting you enjoy one of Bulgaria’s cultural hubs in between winery visits. Widely acclaimed restaurants like the jazz-infused Vino Culture offer a world-class wine-tasting experience along with an impressive menu that will make you forget you’re in a wine bar. As a city with a true international feel, Plovdiv offers of other luxury dining experiences featuring cuisine from around eastern Europe and beyond, and it’s known for being a great walking city for visitors who prefer to use two feet whenever possible.
The wine in the area also taps directly into the recent history of Bulgaria, a country that faced a major transition at the end of the Cold War. After becoming the fourth biggest wine-producer in the world by the 1980s, Bulgaria wine had a major decline in the 1990s as vineyard ownership was shuffled, but that gave way to a major resurgence over the last two decades that has brought back the romanticism of the area. These days, travelers from around Bulgaria join plenty of international visitors who come to southwestern Bulgaria to peruse nearly 150,000 of pristine vineyard acres.

Final thoughts before planning a romantic trip to Bulgaria.

Bulgaria is definitely a country where weather can be a significant factor, which is why you will want to do your research about what to expect from the region you’re targeting. Inland at places like Melnik, visitors can expect average highs in the low-to-mid 90s (°F) during the peak of the summer, which means that you’ll want to get up and get moving if you’re planning a trip in July or August. Nearby in Plovdiv, you can expect cooler weather and the same goes for the Black Sea coast, where temperatures rarely rise above 85 (°F) even during the hottest parts of the year.
Bulgaria is also well-known for being one of the most affordable European destinations, which it’s particularly attractive to couples looking to splurge a bit on high-end accommodations without the sticker-shock you would expect elsewhere. With an abundance of natural beauty and romantic possibilities all over the country, exploring Bulgaria is simply a great option for anyone looking for a unique romantic holiday.