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The Most Fascinating Small Towns to Visit in Bulgaria

Maria Angelova

Maria Angelova is in love with Bulgaria, fortune-telling, photography and talking to strangers. She is the author of several travel books in Bulgarian and English, including “50 Secret Places to Discover in Bulgaria’ and “203 Travel Challenges. Travel the World. Explore Your Inner Self.”

According to Bulgarian law, a ‘small town’ has fewer than 30,000 inhabitants, while a ‘very small town’ is one with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants. If you want to delve deeper into the Balkan state and truly understand it, add a few of these charming historical settlements to your Bulgarian itinerary.


Melnik is officially the smallest town in Bulgaria, with fewer than 400 inhabitants according to the latest census. It is also known as the town of Bulgarian winemakersand the capital of the Melnik wine region. Highlights of your visit should include the scenic vineyards and white curves of the Melnik Earth Pyramids surrounding it. While you walk along the streets, friendly locals will offer you their homemade wine and local produce. The area is full of wineries happy to open their doors and cellars for visitors. Follow the Melnik Wine Route for a pre-organized itinerary of the region’s vineyards and tasting rooms.

Melnik, Bulgaria


Koprivshtitsa is the heart of Bulgarian Revival architecture. In the 19th century, the town was at the center of the April Uprising, one of the most important revolutions in Bulgarian history. Walk down ancient cobbled streets lined with colorful 200-year-old houses, many of which have been turned into museums – peek inside to get an idea of what life used to be like almost two centuries ago. It’s easily accessible, making Koprivshtitsa one of the most popular day trips from Sofia and Plovdiv.

Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria


Lovech is another hidden gem worth visiting on your trip around Bulgaria’s small towns. It’s home to the only covered bridge in Bulgaria built by the prominent 19th-century architect Kolyu Ficheto. The bridge is surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colorful houses on both sides of the Osam River. Start your tour of Lovech here before climbing up the steep labyrinth of cobblestone streets towards the town’s old section. Here you can explore the town’s historical Revival houses (some of them accessible as museums) covered in lush greenery. Climb all the way up to the top of the hill to see Lovech from the foot of the gigantic monument of the Bulgarian national hero Vasil Levski, or explore the medieval fortress right next to it.

Lovech, Bulgaria


The town has long been known for its woodcarving and icon painting masters. Tryavna’s artists have a unique style you will quickly learn to recognize. Take a walk along the craftsmen street where craftsmen create their masterpieces of wood and leather. Stop off and admire some of the galleries and then continue to the clock tower that makes an impressive photo opportunity. It’s worth spending a night in Tryavna instead of rushing to your next destination. The quiet mornings over a cup of coffee here are priceless.

Tryavna, Bulgaria

Photo by : Andrey Andreev



Ivaylovgrad used to be one of the main silk farming centers in Bulgaria until synthetic silk was introduced. Long before that, in the middle of the 1st century AD, it was the place where a rich Roman governor built his sumptuous palace villa. You can still find traces of the Roman governor’s lavish lifestyle through one of the best preserved mosaics in Bulgaria. Visiting Villa Armira, as it’s known today, is reason enough to drive all the way here. Owing to its remote southern location and distance from other major attractions, Ivaylovgrad is an off-the-grid destination that rarely makes it onto typical road trip itineraries, making it the perfect place to experience true Bulgarian culture.

Ivaylovgrad, Bulgaria


Balchik is buzzing with people in the summer and a true off-the-beaten-path gem in winter. The small seaside town, located in the northern section of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, is a magnet. It’s home to an eclectic palace complex that once belonged to the Romanian Queen Marie. It consists of residential buildings, beautiful gardens, and places of worship for several different religions since the queen was known for her spiritual searching. Right next to it, the Botanical Garden in Balchik will take you on a round-the-world trip through its vast collection of plants. The two attractions alone will take you almost a whole day to explore, after which you can spoil yourself with a dinner by the Yacht Port as the sun sets in the background.

Balchik, Bulgaria


Ever since the Bronze Age, Nessebar has been an important port on the Black Sea coast. Thracians, Ancient Greeks, and Romans have all left their marks in the town. While you amble in the old part of Nessebar today, it’s like a walk through the centuries. Many historical churches (mainly from the 12th and 13th centuries) still dot its streets, and you can also see samples of the typical seaside wood-and-stone Revival houses. Many of these houses are restaurants and family hotels, which means you can spend time in them and absorb the past.

Nessebar, Bulgaria

The Best Free Things to Do in Sofia

Maria Angelova

Maria Angelova is in love with Bulgaria, fortune-telling, photography and talking to strangers. She is the author of several travel books in Bulgarian and English, including “50 Secret Places to Discover in Bulgaria’ and “203 Travel Challenges. Travel the World. Explore Your Inner Self.”

Sofia is a fantastic destination for budget travelers. Here’s Culture Trip‘s list of the best free things to do in Sofia.


Sofia has been named one of the best-value weekend destinations in Europe. The city offers cheap food and accommodation, but it also has many exciting things to do and see for free. Travelers on a budget should aim to visit during the summer, when its zero-budget entertainment list grows even bigger – you can literally spend no money other than for food and your hotel room.

Join a free tour

Some of the best guided tours in Sofia are free. You can explore the main landmarks with a local guide, taste its delicacies on a culinary tour, discover its graffiti scene, or enjoy it while pedaling on a bike. Like most free tours, it’s customary to tip the guide at the end if they did a good job.

Explore religious tolerance at four places of worship

This is a free open-air history lesson in the very center of Sofia. The Bulgarian capital’s religious history is implied in what is called the Square of Religious Tolerance: a small patch of land with four places of worship on its four corners (St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral, the Sofia Synagogue, St. Nedelya Orthodox Church, and Banya Bashi Mosque). If you want to delve into the history of these buildings, you can visit them for free (except for the synagogue, where you will have to pay a small fee).

Make a wish come true

Making a wish come true is a piece of cake when you are in Sofia. All you need to do is write your wish on a piece of paper and leave it in the Russian Church’s crypt. It is where Archbishop Serafim’s grave is located. Locals believe that when he was on his death bed, he said to one of his disciples not to worry that he’d be gone and to “send him letters.” These words of his became famous, and still today, almost 70 years after his death, people write letters and prayers to him.

3, Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd, Sofia, Bulgaria


Drink mineral water from a street drinking fountain

While you are in Sofia, you don’t need to buy a single bottle of mineral water. Sofia was founded as a roadside settlement where tired travelers could stop and relax at the mineral springs. Today, you can obtain free mineral water from the street drinking fountains located just across from the Sofia History Museum and Banya Bashi Mosque. The water is warm, but this fact doesn’t discourage the locals.

37, Ekzarh Yosif Str., Sofia, Bulgaria

Read books for free

There are several cozy book cafés in Sofia where you can buy a coffee or a cappuccino and spend hours reading Bulgarian and foreign-language books. Chitalnyata is a tiny building in the park in front of the National Theater. You can read Bulgarian literature in English, look at photo albums by local artists, and learn about the country’s fascinating history. Other options are the Peroto Literature Club, which is located in the building of the National Palace of Culture, and the Orange Cafe-Bookstore, which is on the last floor of a historical building near Slaveykov Square.

Attend a free jazz festival in the park

Summer is a busy season in all the major parks in Sofia. Live music concerts, cultural events and art festivals take place every week. The event that gathers the biggest number of people is a three-day celebration of jazz and world music. A to Jazz Festival held in South Park has been the most popular summer outdoor event in Sofia for several years, and for good reason: it’s free, it’s family-friendly, it introduces jazz to people who never thought they’d like it, and it has a laid-back vibe, with thousands of people picnicking and enjoying the warm starry evenings in the grass.

Watch free open-air cinema

Cinema lovers can enjoy a movie night outdoors for free. Blok Kino is a series of free screenings that take place in parks and other open spaces in Sofia’s neighborhoods. It shows Bulgarian movies – both documentaries and recent cinema hits. Bulgarian National Television also organizes free screenings of Bulgarian movies that tour the whole country. The tour usually starts and ends in Borisova Gradina Park in Sofia. Places like Kino Cabana and the G8 Cultural Center host open-air screenings, too, with affordable tickets (around BGN10/US$6).

Unusual Things to Do in Plovdiv

Maria Angelova

Maria Angelova is in love with Bulgaria, fortune-telling, photography and talking to strangers. She is the author of several travel books in Bulgarian and English, including “50 Secret Places to Discover in Bulgaria’ and “203 Travel Challenges. Travel the World. Explore Your Inner Self.”

Discover Plovdiv beyond the mainstream attractions with Culture Trip‘s guide to the most unusual, quirkiest things to do and see in Bulgaria’s second biggest city.

Plovdiv is best known for its Old Town dotted with brightly colored traditional houses, but there is much more to explore. Read on to explore Plovdiv beyond the obvious.

Feel tiny at the foot of the giant monument of Alyosha

Climb one of the Plovdiv’s hills (Bunardzhika) to get panoramic views of the city while standing at the foot (or rather the feet) of the monument of Alyosha, formally known as the Monument of the Soviet Army in Plovdiv. The statue’s nickname is derived from the diminutive for Aleksey, the real name of the Soviet soldier who was the model for the monument. As with most Soviet-era statues, Alyosha is controversial – locals either love or hate it.

Alyosha monument, Bunrdzhika, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Whisper gossip into the ear of Milyo

Several decades ago in Plovdiv, there was a man named Milyo. Almost all the locals knew him. He was considered crazy, but harmless and would stroll from café to café telling strangers his amazing stories. Even though they were probably made up, people would offer him a meal or cigarettes in return. His image has been so well preserved in the collective memory, that today there’s a monument devoted to him on the main walking street of Plovdiv. You will recognize him by his big ears and his posture, as if he’s trying to overhear the latest gossip in town.

Milyo’s Monument, 30, Knyaz Alexander I Str., Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Ride the children’s train up a hill

Several generations of locals fondly remember riding Plovdiv’s Children’s Railway. The tiny train passes through a tunnel, travels beneath a canopy and reaches a panoramic spot at the final station. The best part about it is that it is open to children of all ages (including grown-up children), which means you can buy a ticket up the hill and back to your childhood.

Children’s Railway, Mladezhki Hill, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Walk on water at the Singing Fountains

During the summer months, the Singing Fountains in Plovdiv are a favourite hangout spot among locals. The water sprays dance in time to popular and local hits. During the day, the fountains are silent, but a small area beside them is equipped with mini-fountains where you can always see children and grown-ups cooling down while running through the sprays in the shallow water. For the exact hours of the show, it’s best to ask at the Tourist Information Center.

The Singing Fountains, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

See a concert sitting in the original seat of a governor from the 1st century AD

The Ancient Roman Theater of Plovdiv has been remarkably well preserved, especially considering its age of more than 2,000 years. You can visit it as a tourist attraction, but you can also get a ticket and watch a concert or an opera performancein the summer when it regains its original function. What makes the experience unusual is the fact that many of the stones used for seats are original, and if you look closely, you can even see a name of one of the ancient nobles to whom the seats were inscribed back then.

4, Tsar Ivaylo Str., Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Get framed

When you are walking up the main Saborna Street in the Old Town, look out on your left side to see the statue created by the local artist Tsanko Lavrenov. He was a famous painter and one of the main activists for the preservation and restoration of the Plovdiv’s Old Town. Landscapes and old houses from Plovdiv were some of his favorite subjects. Become part of the picture by posing in the empty frame of the statue.

Watch the sunset on the hill where life hasn’t been interrupted for 6,000 years

Life on top of Nebet Tepe hasn’t ever stopped since it was inhabited for the first time around 6,000 years ago. The hill is the natural end of your walk exploring the Old Town of Plovdiv and the locals’ favorite place to watch the sunset. Very little is known about the earliest settlers of the hill, but you can still see remains of a fortress. Climb up to the top to get the best views of Plovdiv and the Maritsa River.

Nebet Tepe, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

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