Top 5 Reasons Why Bulgaria is Europe’s Best Kept Secret

by Gerry Botchoukova-Farkova

There is a pretty good reason why Bulgaria is not one of the first destinations that come to mind when planning a Euro trip, when it fact it SHOULD BE! It is Europe’s best kept secret and one that might be getting out soon.

St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria
St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria. Photo by Andrey Andreev

In the past few years, Bulgaria has steadily increased in popularity among young and adventurous travelers, and is quickly becoming the new hot spot east of Prague. 

As the oldest state on the old continent and one that has kept its present-day name and place on the Balkan Peninsula for over 1,300 years, it is a real wonder how Bulgaria has successfully managed to stay off the mass tourism radar. If you have always wanted to be a modern day Magellan, Vasco Da Gama, or Marco Polo, listen up because this might just be your last chance to explore a little known piece of Europe. Plus, that many years of history and culture are bound to have left plenty to discover.

So if your appetite for travel adventures has been sufficiently whetted and you are ready to take on a challenge that will earn you real bragging rights as a 21st century explorer, join me in counting down the TOP 5 reasons why Bulgaria is Europe’s best kept secret and a study abroad destination that should NOT be missed! 

5. Your Budget’s Best European Friend

Europe can be quite expensive and you are probably wondering: “Would I be able to afford Bulgaria on a rather small travel budget?” Let’s get the money question out of the way first. After all, isn’t that what decides where you go, how much you do, and what you see? In this case, you are in luck! Bulgaria is a great value destination. Seasoned world travelers, such as Wandering Earl who has been on the road for 5,026 consecutive days (as of this Halloween) and has visited 87 countries to date, write that Bulgaria might even be the best value destination on Earth! 

After all, there might be something true to that. Take for example Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital and most expensive city. It ranks in the top four most impressive, yet affordable European cities and received TripAdvisor’s most affordable European city award for 2013, which easily makes it EU’s most affordable capital by far. Did you count how many times the word “affordable” was used in the previous sentence? That’s because it really IS, but certainly that is not all. To put things in concrete terms, while studying in Sofia students can easily live on under $25 per day (lodging and meals included).

In short, you can afford studying abroad in Bulgaria (especially with Boren Awards!). Add her to your itinerary and she will make great friends with even the tiniest of travel budgets.

Cool fact alert: Bulgaria’s capital is the only place in Europe where right in the center of town you can see a Christian Orthodox church, a Catholic cathedral, a Synagogue, and a Mosque forming a rectangle of tolerance that takes up an area of less than 1,100 sq feet /100 sq meters. Now, how is that for impressive?!

4. Authentic Beyond Belief 

If you are the type of traveler who goes abroad in hopes to find the authentic spirit of a place and to have a true local experience then welcome to Bulgaria. Authenticity matters and for better or worse, Bulgaria has plenty of it. Some find it exciting, others not so much. Either way, navigating through a country like Bulgaria, where the language is Slavic and the alphabet Cyrillic can be a bit of a challenge, but as the saying goes “no pain, no gain”. So do your homework before you leave home. 

Grab a dictionary, get a map, learn a word or two, and don’t forget to pack your best manners. Authenticity awaits you as soon as you set foot in Sofia International and there is no need to stress. Keep in mind that you wanted an adventure and this is your chance to be a true explorer. When you lose your way (that is known to happen) just ask for help. Bulgarians are known for their hospitality and willingness to lend a hand. And although they might not speak English, they will make sure you find your way, even if that involves personally walking you there. 

Cool fact alert: Bulgaria gave the world one of the most widely used alphabets- the modern day Cyrillic alphabet. 

3. Gorgeous and Full of Natural Wonders 

Similar in size to that of the state of Tennessee, Bulgaria is not a huge country in terms of physical space. Still, don’t let that fool you as size does not always matter when it comes to gorgeous scenery and natural wonders! From aromatic rose oil, to mineral waters with healing qualities, and unique rock formations, this rather small country is jam-packed with natural wonders. For some of the most breathtaking views head out of the major city centers and into the picturesque towns and villages comfortably nestled deep into the Rhodopi, Balkan, Rila and Pirin mountains. The Rose Valley, Belogradchik’s fortress, Hisar’s mineral baths, Melnik’s wineries, Veliko Tarnovo’s Tsarevets royal complex and a long list of many more will have you criss-crossing the country in search of the next wondrous place, and at that point you might just be quite thankful that Bulgaria is not the size of Texas! 

Cool fact alert: The price for one kilo of pure Bulgarian rose oil, an important component in the worldwide perfumery industry, is equal to the price of gold! Something more, it takes three and half tons of rose petals from Rosa Damascena, grown in the Bulgarian Rose Valley, to extract one kilo of the “liquid gold.” 

2. Delicious and Super Nutritious 

The Bulgarian cuisine is to die for and you don’t have to spend too much to eat like a king! On average, a sit down three-course meal at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant that includes a soup, a main dish, and a desert would cost you anywhere between $7 and $10 depending on the city that you are in. And while the price alone can be quite impressive, what is really astonishing is the high quality organic food that you get for it. Kebapcheta, kufteta, lukanka, banitsa, tarator, ayrian -- look them up and try them all! The bursts of flavor will leave your taste buds craving more, while your stomach will certainly be thankful. You can even study culinary arts in Bulgaria too!

Cool fact alert: Bulgarians love french-fries sprinkled with crumbled white Bulgarian cheese (feta style). It’s delicious! Give it a try!  

1. Unparalleled Archaeological Endowment 

At last, here is the top reason why Bulgaria is Europe’s best kept secret and a destination that you cannot afford to miss: it’s one-of-a-kind, rich archaeological endowment. Be the next Lara Croft and explore the ancient treasures and cultural adventures that lay scattered all throughout the land. Depending on how adventurous you are willing to be, you will have the opportunity to follow in the steps of the Thracians, Romans, or ancient Bulgarians by entering unearthed tombs, climbing the steps of 2,500 years old ritual complexes, or simply visiting any archaeological museum’s treasures exposition. With something for everyone, you are guaranteed to return home with your very own collection of unforgettable memories, fascinating stories, and priceless photos.  

Cool fact alert: Bulgaria is home to the oldest golden treasure in the world, which is 6,000 years old and consists of 3,000 pieces. Now, that is something you won’t see anywhere else! 

So now you know! If you are craving more than the familiar Western European study abroad experience, and Paris, Rome, or London are not exactly your cup of tea, get on a flight and study abroad in Bulgaria instead. Begin your journey of discovering Bulgaria, while it is still Europe’s best kept secret!