Top 10 Things To Do While Studying Abroad in Bulgaria

by Gerry Botchoukova-Farkova

Choose to follow the road less traveled and study abroad in Bulgaria! Bulgaria is a 1,300 year old, rather small by territory and population, jam-packed with history and culture, Eastern European country. You are in for an exciting adventure studying in Bulgaria, and one that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Study abroad in Bugaria.
Cafes line up  both sides of boulevard Vitosha, a pedestrian oasis in the center of Sofia. Photo by Gerry Botchoukova-Farkova

Perhaps you are still considering your study abroad options, and Bulgaria has caught your attention and is slowly climbing up on your “study abroad destinations” list? Either way this article, compiled by a local with tons of study abroad experience, is for you! It should be noted that, while there are some very popular tourist destinations and activities listed below, this is truly a study abroad resource which will lead you to an authentic experience of Bulgaria, both its culture and people. So, without further ado, let the countdown of the top 10 must see and do things while studying abroad in Bulgaria begin:

10. Go on a walking tour of Sofia, Plovdiv, and/or Varna with local students. 

Get to know the city that you will be living in for the next few months or maybe even a full academic year. In all likelihood you will be studying in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria. But, there is also a good chance that you could be studying abroad in Plovdiv or Varna, the second and third largest metropolises in the country. What better way to get acquainted with your new home than on foot and in the company of very knowledgeable local guides?! What makes it even better is it won’t cost you a dime, and it will give you a pretty good crash course on your surroundings. From that point forward it will be entirely up to you to write the story of your own study abroad in Bulgaria. 

9. Take to the cafes! 

Time has a different meaning in Bulgaria and one of the best ways to get into the rhythm of life there is through coffee. Sitting down at a café and ordering a frappe (this is not your regular Starbucks Frappuccino) will get you acquainted with the Bulgarian rhythm of life more than you can imagine. During any season you will find cafes full with patrons enjoying a cup of “joe” in the company of friends, colleagues, or business partners, and often times for longer than an hour. Forget the phrase “coffee to go,” as the only place you would be able to get coffee on the go would be from vending machines that dispense it in small plastic cups, fully outfitted with a stir. 

8. Get authentic banitsa for breakfast.

Unlike coffee, breakfast, or zakuska in Bulgarian, is often on the go. Just look around, or better yet follow your nose, and you will easily find a “breakfast kiosk” dispensing hot and savory Bulgarian delights for breakfast. Order anything that spikes your interest, but banitsa is a must. Banitsa, although it can have many variations, is most often prepared by layering filo dough with whisked eggs and Bulgarian feta-style cheese, and then baking it in an oven. Pair your piece of this Bulgarian favorite with ayran, a cold yogurt drink, and experience the flavor of a traditional Bulgarian breakfast. 

7. Make local friends and get invited to a Bulgarian holiday or wedding. 

There is no better way to gain a true understanding of your host country and its culture, than through its celebrations. Luckily, Bulgaria is quite rich in that aspect and you will most certainly have a number of opportunities throughout the fall and spring to come in touch with the local customs and beliefs. Although some may be familiar, such as Christmas Eve, you will find each holiday is celebrated in quite a different way. Bulgarian weddings are also packed with traditions, and should you be able to score an invite to one, it would certainly be a must go event during your study abroad program. 

6. Visit Bulgaria’s archeological sites and treasures. 

After Italy and Greece, Bulgaria is third in Europe on the list of countries with the most archeological sites. The country’s long history has endowed her with ancient architectural marvels, such as the Thracian city of Perperikon and The Thracian Temple Complex at Starosel to name just two. Visit the National Museum of History in Sofia to take a peek at the Panagyurishte Treasure and to learn about the archeological sites that are open for visitors near your study abroad program location.

5. Explore the Black Sea coast.

The entire eastern border of Bulgaria, from the tippy-top to the very bottom, lays on the Black Sea. It is a popular destination with all Bulgarians and hundreds of thousands of international visitors every year. It is no wonder, as the Bulgarian Riviera offers great variety; from picturesque ancient settlements full with history and charm, such as Nessebar and Sozopol, to bright and flashy party resorts, like Sunny Beach and Golden Sands. Plan to arrive early for your semester studying in Bulgaria to catch the end of the summer season in late August and early September, or leave late in early June when things are just starting to heat up. Experience the Black Sea, a huge part of Bulgarian culture, any way you like: take a sunset boat tour around stunning Sozopol, make a wish on the marble throne of queen Marie in the beautiful gardens of the Balchik castle, or visit the medieval fortress of Kaliakra, where one of the most popular Bulgarian legends still lives and dolphins can easily be spotted in the waters beneath.

4. See the Light and Sound Show at Tsarevets! 

Get on a bus and get out to Veliko Tarnovo, (that is if you are not already living and studying there) and enjoy the Light and Sound Show on the walls of the medieval fortress of Tsarevets. In the Middle Ages during the second Bulgarian kingdom, Veliko Tarnovo was the capital city of Bulgaria, deemed by some as the Third Rome, and served as such until its fall to the Ottoman Empire on July 17th, 1393 after a three-month siege. The Light and Sound Show recreates the end of that siege by reenacting the last battle and final moments of the second Bulgarian kingdom. It is truly an experience you cannot miss!

3. Explore the outdoors! 

Endowed with so much natural beauty, Bulgaria is truly a nature-lover’s paradise. Leave the city for the countryside and discover a new favorite place. From the mystical beauty of the Rhodope, the mountain of Orpheus, and the Renaissance villages of the Balkan range, to the mineral waters of Pirin mountain and all the way up to the Seven Lakes in Rila mountain, there are tons of opportunities to hike and explore nature while studying abroad in Bulgaria.  

2. Visit the Rila Monastery. 

Often referred to as Bulgaria’s holiest place, the Rila Monastery, is the country’s most visited destination and an architectural feast for the eyes. Located in the heart of the tallest Bulgarian mountain, Rila, it is only a one hour and 45 minute drive from the capital city of Sofia. The Rila Monastery is a perfect day-trip with a healthy dose of breathtaking scenery, historical importance, and unrivaled sense of spirituality.

1. Eat!

The number one thing you should do while studying in Bulgaria is eat your way through the savory and delicious local cuisine. Generally speaking, food is quite inexpensive here when compared to Western Europe or the U.S. Even on a tight student budget, you will still be able to eat out and eat well. Start by finding a mehana (a folk-style Bulgarian restaurant) in your host town or city. This shouldn’t be hard, as they are local favorites and therefore are in abundance. You will easily recognize them by the homey, traditional ambiance and décor. Make sure to try the following from the menu, the shopska salad, tarator (cold yogurt soup with cucumbers and dill), kebabche from the grill, and like a true local, order your side of fries sprinkled on top with Bulgarian feta-style cheese. 

Happy travels and welcome to Bulgaria!