What should I know before visiting Bulgaria?
Depends on your life experience, current location, the length and the purpose of your visit.
Bulgarians are honest and straight to the point. We don't possess the fake British politeness; their irony and passive-aggressive behavior is unknown here. Yes, we don't smile on the streets which is valid for all other ex-communist countries. Many of us complain about everything. Soon you will realize that your Bulgarian fellows are actually good people, that they live better and have more relaxed-style than what you have thought. We just demand more from life and the environment. This won't change soon. Despite that Bulgarians are warmer than the northern nations, so developing reliable friendships here is quite possible if you are open enough. Those who are 15-40 speak English, while most of those who are older usually don't. When compared to England poor doesn't always mean savage. For example, those who are poor in England are usually miss-educated, marginalized and don't even read books. In Bulgaria it's just the opposite - those who work in the Bulgarian academy of Science for example get much lower salaries than a sales-person at the mall.
Big cities and transport system:
Most of them are pretty and well developed. Burgas for example meets all western standards, Sofia is improving a lot too. Veliko Turnovo, Plovdiv, Nessebar are quite beautiful. Unlike USA you can survive in Bulgaria without a car. There are busses to almost everywhere, the tickets are VERY cheap, most of the busses are new. Sofia's metro system is strikingly luxurious compared to other European undergrounds.
Things as: Internet access, spa, massage, hair-styling, dental health, plastic surgery, Botox are the cheapest in Europe, while their quality is above the average.
Politics and bureaucracy:
Low regulations and low taxation on all levels. Bulgarians live in a free society. The level of your salary is your only limit. It's simple as that: High salary - high standard of living - nice car, night life, trips, etc. while low salary means zero fun for you. State support for unemployed people is insufficient. What helps those people is that most of them live in their own flats and houses. Not having to pay a rent on a monthly basis means a lot. Fortunately, the unemployment rate is low ~9%.
It's quite warm, sunny and fun by the seaside during the summer. But it's quite cold in many parts of the country in winter months. Sofia in particular and the cities, situated above the Balkan mountain range (Veliko Turnovo, Russe) are freezingly cold in January and February. Places as Sandanski in south-western Bulgaria, Hissar near Plovdiv or Burgas on the seaside are comparatively warmer during the winter (usually above 5-8 degrees Celsius when it's under the zero in Sofia). So, bring your coat, gloves and a hat if you visit during the winter.
What to try and see in Bulgaria:
Wine, local dishes, caves, ancient cities, the seaside, the ski resorts, the mountains.
- Learn the Cyrillic alphabet before arriving. It's easy.
- Exchange currency at bank offices only.
- Don't bribe anyone.
- If you come from USA you will be pleased to know that what you see on the price tag is what you actually pay. All taxes are included and there aren't any additional fees.
- You don't need to give a tip if you are not happy with the service. Tips are optional.
- Walk away from beggars - most of them are not hungry - it's just acting.
- Each city has some major local taxi companies. Inform yourself which are they and hire a taxi by those companies only. You will recognize them by the stickers with the logo of the company. It's even better if you hire via the phone. Some self-made taxi drivers charge a lot more than average. Avoid them by all means.
- You don't need to hire a taxi from Sofia Airport to the city centre (!) Sofia undeground has a brand new shiny station near Terminal 2 of the airport that will bring you to the city centre for 0.82 EUR only. Sofia Airport Metro
At the end if you come for a week only check out my answer to this question:
But if you are about to spend some extra time here check this answer too:
I've been living there for over 6 months, basically like a local. Here's what you should know:
- If you're going to the seaside, avoid Sunny Beach
It's the most popular destination and perhaps also the worst one. The water isn't clean, barely enough room for a towel between all the beach chairs, super touristic and noisy. It's a place for party, nothing else.
2. Instead go to these beaches:
- Irakli / Vaya Beach: open to wild camping, beautiful beach, clear water, quiet, with a river flowing in the sea (you can swim there as well)
- Veleka beach: close to Sinemorets, it's really beautiful, also with a river flowing in the sea
- Sozopol: a great alternative to Sunny Beach. The old town is really beautiful too and you can find the best pancakes there.
3. Learn the basics of the language
Even if you don't want to interact with the locals (which would be a shame, they're really welcoming), understanding how to read the cyrillic alphabet will be a big help. The young speak English, the older ones don't. Not all restaurants have pictures and English translations on their menu.
I'm not a tourist, but I have lived in Bulgaria for the last 14 years.
You should be aware of the scary women who are working at the stores xD most of them are always mad, sad or angry about something. Well, they show sadness with the anger. You should give them a big smile and block the bad vibes.
I would say Bulgaria is a pretty safe place, but if you drop your wallet or phone somewhere and realize that that has happened, well....it's gone forever in most cases. Some people may inform the police but most of them would take the money, throw the useless stuff away and just keep going with their lives...
If you're coming during winter, it's really cold and dry. So, a big comfy sweater and some cream would be really good to have with you.
Well....I honestly can't think of more stuff now, but I may write more comments here.
People are very warm and friendly here, but only the younger speak English,German, Spanish, etc.. You pay in BGN (Bulgarian Leva). I would advise you to travel by car or bus, as trains are the slowest means of transport here. One very important advice is to exchange money only at the bank. Avoid using exchange bureaus you will see plenty of on the streets.