General Information you need to know before you travel to Bulgaria

General Information

Location

Bulgaria is situated in Southeast Europe and occupies the eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. To the North it borders Romania, to the West the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Serbia, to the East the Black Sea, to the South Greece and to the South — East Turkey’s European part.

Area

110 993,6 sq km. The territory of Bulgaria is about the same size as that of Portugal in Europe, Jordan in Asia, Liberia and the Republic of Benin in Africa, Guatemala and Cuba in Latin America, the US state of Ohio in North America.

Population

Bulgaria has a population of approximately 8 million people.

Capital and main cities

Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria and the largest city in Bulgaria with approximately 1.5 million residents. The motto of Sofia is "It Grows but Does not Age". The city has approximately the same latitude as Rome, Madrid, Chicago and Beijing. Other main cities in Bulgaria are Plovdiv, Varna, Bourgas, Ruse, Stara Zagora and Pleven.

Local time

GMT +2 hours

Relief

Extremely varied: large plains and lowlands, low and high mountains, valleys and lovely gorges. The Balkan Mountains cross the country reaching to the edge of the Black Sea. The land is covered with forests and rivers. The Black Sea resorts have some of the largest fine sand beaches in Europe and heavy snowfalls in the winter are virtually guaranteed in the mountain ski resorts, considered amongst the best ones in Europe.

Climate

Bulgaria’s climate is temperate continental, the Mediterranean breath often being felt in its southern parts, the Central European air — in its North–Western regions, and the air of the Russian Steppes — in its North–Eastern territory. Cold, usually snowy winters with average January temperature around 10° C, long hot summers with temperatures rarely exceeding 30° C, mild autumn and spring.

Language

The official language is Bulgarian, a member of the Southern branch of the Slavic language family. The most widely spoken foreign languages in Bulgaria are English, German and French. The Bulgarian language is related to Russian, because both of them use the Cyrillic alphabet and that is why many Bulgarian people can understand and speak Russian quite well.

Alphabet

The Bulgarian language is the earliest written Slavonic language. It dates back to the ancient Bulgarian alphabet — "Glagolitsa" created in 855 by the brothers Cyril and Methodius, which was gradually replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet "Cyrillica" over the following centuries. Signs along international motorways, main roads, cities, airports and resorts are also spelled in Latin letters.

In short the Bulgarian language belongs to the Slavonic family of languages and uses the Cyrillic alphabet.

There are 30 letters in the Bulgarian alphabet:

Bulgarian alphabet

The words in Bulgarian are pronounced in the same way in which they are written. The transcription of the Bulgarian names in Latin alphabet is sometimes difficult because of the difference in the phonetic symbols. Here are some common useful Bulgarian words and phrases so that you could get an idea how our language "look like".

English Bulgarian The words and phrases in Cyrillic
Hello! Zdravei! Здравей!
Good morning! Dobro utro! Добро утро!
Good afternoon! Dobur den! Добър ден!
Good evening! Dobar wecher! Добър вечер!
Good night! Leka nosht! Лека нощ!
How are you? Kak si? Как си?
I’m fine, thanks! Dobre, mersi! Добре, мерси!
Thank you (very much)! Mnogo blagodaria! Много благодаря!
Excuse me ... Izvinete ... Извинете!
Do you speak (English / Bulgarian)? Govorite li (angliiski / balgarski)? Говорите ли английски?
Can I help you? Moje li da Vi pomogna? Мога ли да Ви помогна?
What Is This? Kakvo e tova? Какво е това?
How much is this? Kolko struva tova? Колко струва това?
What time is it? Kolko e chasat? Колко е часът?
You’re welcome! Dobre doshal! Добре дошъл/дошли!
Good bye! Chao! / Dovijdane! Чао! / Довиждане!
See you later! Do po–kasno! До по–късно!
Nice to meet you! Priatno mi e da se zaposnaem! Приятно ми е да се запознаем!
What’s your name? Kak se kazwate? Как се казвате?
My name is ... As se kazvam ... Аз се казвам ...
Where are you from? Ot kade ste? От къде сте?
I’m from Balgaria. As sam ot Balgaria. Аз съм от България.
One moment please! Edin moment, molia! Един момент, моля!
Good luck! Uspeh! Успех!
Happy Birthday! Chestit Rojden Den! Честит Рожден Ден!
Merry Christmas! Vesela Koleda! Весела Коледа!
Happy New Year! Chestita Nova Godina! Честита Нова Година!
One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten еdno, dve, tri, chetiri, pet, shest, sedem, osem, devet, deset 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Religion

86% of the population are Orthodox Christians, 10% are Muslims, Small Roman Catholic and Jewish communities (4%). The Bulgarian Church is autonomous and headed by a Patriarch.

State government

Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic since 1990. The 240-seat National Assembly, whose members are directly elected for a maximum of a four-year term by proportional representation and holds legislative power. The Assembly elects a Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister. The Council of Ministers assists to the President of the Republic, who as head of state wields supreme executive power and is also directly elected for a five-year term.

Bulgarian Food & Cuisine

The Bulgarian cuisine is rich in southern vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, aubergines, courgettes and fruit such as apples, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, pears are abundant. Dishes are often baked in ovens and seasoned heavily with herbs and spices. Meals are often a social event, often accompanied by an excellent traditional drink named "rakiya" (plum or grape brandy) and red wine.

Bulgaria is a country of lively traditions and there are three very special food items, which are unique to Bulgaria and have always been a part of its cuisine:

Bulgarian Food

White Cheese "Sirene" — a particular variety of the white (Feta) cheese found in many places. "Sirene" has been around since the medieval times, and the way it is processed today remains faithful to the original. It is a brined cheese, produced from goat, sheep or cow milk. Commonly served in soft blocks, the white cheese has a slightly grainy texture. It is used either plain or as an essential part of other dishes — from "shopska salad" to "banitza".

Yoghurt — again, a particular variety of food, produced by the Lactobacterium Bulgaricum bacteria, which grows nowhere else in the world. Yoghurt (or as it is called here "kiselo mlyako" — literally meaning "sour milk") has a very important role in many Bulgarian dishes. Make sure you try the wonderfully rich, buttery-tasting buffalo yoghurt ("Bivolsko mylako") produced from the milk of the water buffalo. It is most commonly found in the mountain areas — e.g. around Shipka pass in the Balkan mountain and the town of Gabrovo.

Chubritsa (Savory) — This plant, which botanists claim to be a species of the herb "Satureia hortensis", appears to grow particularly well upon Bulgarian soil. It also shares certain characteristics with the so-popular Oregano (Origanum vulgare). The savory dried leaves are crushed and sprinkled on top of many kinds of dishes, or ground into a fine powder and used on a slice of bread-and-butter.

Key Tourism Destinations

From a tourism perspective, the most popular destinations are along the coastline, the Ski resorts and the Spa & Wellness resorts.

The Black Sea coast offers some of the finest beaches in Europe and it is dominated by the larger and most popular summer resorts — Albena and Balchik, Golden Sands, Sts. Konstantin and Elena, Sunny Day in the North and Sunny Beach, Nessebur, St. Vlas, Pomorie, Sozopol in the South, serviced by the two main airports situated in Varna and Bourgas.

With four ski areas — Borovets, Pamporovo, Bansko and Vitosha Bulgaria is a fast-growing skiing destination. Snowfall is consistently heavy from December until April and provides plenty of variations for the novice, intermediate and experienced skier & snowboarder. Off-piste skiing is good and cross-country skiing is becoming increasingly popular, with many trails leading through pine forests. Great alpine atmosphere, large capacity lifts, modern ski equipment and facilities, top class accommodation, welcoming bars and clubs, original folklore, delicious food and fine wines — this is what you can expect from your winter holiday in Bulgaria with us.

Spa & Wellness — Bulgaria’s hot mineral springs have been noted for their healing effects ever since the ancient Thracian, Greek and Roman times. Over 800 hydro mineral springs clustered in over 240 water formations, rich in hot and cold mineral water with temperatures varying from 37° C up to 101° C, spout out from a depth of over 2000 metres. Bulgarian hydrothermal, bioclimatic, mud treatment, sea cure and other health resources are ranked among the best in Europe.

Bits of culture

Beauty is a part of the Bulgarian heart and soul, and the Bulgarian people have a tradition of working to create beauty. Architecture, house interior, tools, dances and crafts — all of these harmoniously combine colours and sounds, warmth and comfort. Every culture that has inhabited Bulgarian lands has left its cultural heritage to the subsequent generations.

Bulgaria’s diverse folklore is a blending of Thracian, Slav, and Proto–Bulgarian traditions. Customs, rites, national costumes and songs are specific to each region, but are united by the 13 — century history and have helped to the preservation of the Bulgarian national spirit throughout the centuries.

Elements of some pagan rituals are still to be found in the national customs (kukeri, fire-dancing). Other pagan holidays were transformed into Christian ones so that both pagan and Christian elements have persisted through the centuries. A lot of the calendar holidays are of pagan origin. Bulgarian custom of making "Martenitzi" out of white and red threads for good health is truly unique. Bulgarians have borrowed cultural elements from the numerous Balkan invaders and conquerors. Thus they have enriched their traditions in costume, lifestyle and rites — even during the long dark years of Ottoman rule.

Bulgarian music

It is no wonder that Bulgarian folklore attracts world attention as "A musical miracle". It was here in this ancient Thracian land that Orpheus, the great hero of Greek Mythology was born, the son of the Muse Calliope and King Oeagrus. The Bulgarian unique sound was universally acknowledged — when the popular Rhodopean folk song "Izlel e Delyu Haidutin", sang by the talented singer Valya Balkanska, was recorded on a gold record then sent as a message to outer space on the American space station Voyager in 1977.

Official Holidays

Here is a list of the national holidays in Bulgaria:

Christmas Eve (24, 25 and 26 December)
Bulgaria’s Orthodox Church follows the Gregorian calendar, which means its religious observances are in keeping with those in the West. The Christmas celebrations start on 24th December and continue for three days.

New Year (31 December, 1 and 2 January)

Liberation Day, National Bulgarian Day (3 March)
March 3, Bulgaria’s national day is dedicated to the Liberation of Bulgaria after almost 500 years of Ottoman rule.

Easter
Easter is a moving feast and one of the most significant holidays in the Bulgarian calendar. It is popularly known as "Velikden", which literally means "the faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ". In tune with the Orthodox traditions, bright red colored eggs and Easter breads known as "kozunak" are the prominent symbols of Easter in Bulgaria.

Labour day (1 May)
International Labour Day

National day of the Bulgarian Education and Culture and Slavic Script (24 May) — the official Day of the Holy Brothers St. Cyril and St. Methodius — the Byzantine scholars who created the first Slavic alphabet in 855 A.D. and translated into Bulgarian language the Bible and the religious literature of Orthodox Christianity.

Bulgaria’s Unification Day (6 September)

Bulgarian Independence Day (22 September)
On September 22, 1908, Prince Ferdinand (1861-1948) of Bulgaria declared the country’s independence from the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which had ruled since 14th century.

National Day of the Bulgarian Enlighteners (1 November)
Holiday for all educational institutions. Across Bulgaria, the National Enlighteners Day is a holiday for all educational institutons and an occasion to pay tribute to all those committed to culture and education, including historical figures and present-day enlighteners.

Bulgarian traditional customs

Here is a list of some of the most interesting traditional customs, which you may find interesting:

International Festival of Masquerade Games "Surva" (Koukeri Festival) (end of January & the beginning of February every year)
"Surva" is the biggest and most significant event of traditional folk dances, games and rituals with masks in Bulgaria and on the Balkans. It takes place in the town of Pernik and since 1985 it is an international event with more then 5000 participants from Bulgarian masquerade groups and guests from all over the world.

The symbolic meaning of the winter and pre-spring rituals performed by single men is related to the end of the old year and the advent of the new and to the upcoming awakening of nature for new life. These rituals represent the wish for a rich harvest, health and fertility for humans and farm animals. They are intended to chase away the evil spirits and prepare people for a new beginning.

Traditionally, no women are allowed to take part as all roles are played by men wearing different masquerade costumes. The dance of the masked men is a mystic unity of rhythm, sound, and color. They move in a special way, filling the air of the villages with the sounds of hundreds of bells while whispering blessings and wishes for prosperity. Only at the "Surva" festival at Pernik you can see masks from every ethnographic region of Bulgaria.

Bulgarian traditional customs

Trifon Zarezan (14 February)
The ancient festival of the wine growers Trifon Zarezan is celebrated all over the country with the vines being pruned and sprinkled with wine to ensure a bounteous harvest.

Chestita Baba Marta (1 March)
Every year at the end of February Bulgarians make or buy for their families and friends "martenitsa"-s — white and red threads, weaved in different ways. On the first day of March they put the "martenitsa"-s on their clothes or wrists and wish each other health and happiness with the words "Happy Grandma Marta!" (the name derived from the Bulgarian word for "March" — "mart"). According to the tradition, early in the morning on 1st of March, the women must sweep the house and hang on the balcony a red cloth, in order for Grandma Marta (in Bulgarian — Baba Marta) to be happy and to smile so the Sun can shine and warm up the land! This is an ancient Bulgarian tradition (existing, perhaps, for more than one thousand years), which symbolizes the end of Winter and the coming of Spring ... "Martenitsa"-s are supposed to be worn until one sees a stork, returning from the South, or a fruit tree in blossom. Then they have to be tied to the tree or put under a stone. Grandma Marta is famous for her changing moods — that is why the days in March are so diverse — rainy and cold, sunny and warm.

Chestita Baba Marta

Nestinarstvo (celebrated on Sts. Konstantin and Helen Day — 21 May)
This is an ancient mysterious ritual that can be traced back to the Tracians. It is also known as "fire dancing" during which barefeet dancers perform on burning embers. Believed to be one of the oldest pagan rituals on the Balkans, Nestinarstvo has defied persecution by both the Christian Church and communism and is still practiced in some Bulgarian villages of the Strandzha Mountains. One of these remote settlements is the legendary Bulgari village, where people still dance on hot coals, just like their ancestors have done thousands of years ago.

The enigmatic ritual of Nestinarstvo begins at sunset, when the chief nestinar (fire dancer), wearing a white shirt and red sash wrapped around his waist, arrives in Bulgari’s square and begins spreading the hot embers in a circle. Street lights are turned-off and all the villagers gather around the scorching dancing ring, accompanied by the sound of bagpipes and drums. The nestinari begin dancing around the circle, carrying religious icons, and then suddenly walk through fire, their feet lightly touching the red-hot embers, sometimes pressing down hard in circular motion. The dance continues until the nestinari put out the blaze with their feet.

The most amazing thing about Nestinarstvo is that medical examinations of the nestinari have revealed that the skin of their feet is tender and presents no traces of burns. Another curious fact is that objects that fall on the smouldering embers, like head — scarves of the women nestinari, never catch on fire. Eyewitnesses have even reported stories about fire dancers who tripped and fell on the hot coals, but simply got up and continued their dance like nothing had happened. According to the people of Bulgari, not anyone can perform this ritual, you have to be born nestinari. They are special people who must have complete faith in the good, and wish no evil to anyone. This apparently keeps them safe, but requires a lot of mental preparation to master.

This religious and mystical ritual is performed in order to expel illness, for health and fruitfulness and is one that must be seen to believe in.

The National Festival of Roses (the first weekend of June every year)
A lovely festival celebrated in the in the Rose Valley, picturesquely situated between the towns of Kazanlak and Karlovo and sheltered by the Balkan Mountain Range. During the time of the celebrations of the Rose Damascena, that only grows in the Rose Valley in Bulgaria, a Queen Rose beauty contest is held in several rounds. Artists, actors, circus performers, writers and singers gather to Kazanlak and Karlovo at the start of June to take part of the festivities and the numerous games, dance competitions and workshops.

National Bagpipe Festival in Gela village, Rodope Mountains (every year at the beginning of August)
The Holiday of St. Elias takes place in the first weekend of August in a beautiful area, next to the small village of Gela in the Rhodope Mountains. There, by the tiny St. Iliya chapel, pipe players from Bulgaria and all over the world come to play on their pipes over the green mountain slopes. People hold hands and dance the Bulgarian folk dance "Horo" or just chill in the shade and enjoy the mastership of the pipe players. The festival is a rare chance to hear the awesome sound of "Sto kaba gaidi" — one hundred bagpipes playing together. Nature and music blend together creating an intoxicating atmosphere!

Bulgarian Music

Festival of the national costume in Zheravna (every year on the first weekend after the 15th August)
The Festival of the national costume traditionally takes place on the first weekend after the Feast of the Holy Mother of God — 15th August, at the village of Zheravna in the central part of the Balkan Mountain range. Thousands of people from all over the world and from all parts of Bulgaria come here to celebrate with dances and folklore music, the way it was done 150 years ago. The only requirement for attending the festival is to wear a traditional costume. It could be authentic, theatrical, or custom-made. It could represent any region, social status, profession, or craftsman guild. The guests take part in various workshops, among which old-style wrestling, "kukeri" parades, "nestinari" dances. The ceremonies are accompanied by traditional bagpipes, kettle drums, and cymbals as well as by dance performances from professional folklore ensembles and troupes from all Bulgarian ethnographic regions and other Balkan countries. The use of modern devices and technology, even of chairs, forks, and watches is very restricted in order to ensure the authenticity of the experience. The Festival of the National Costume in Zheravna is a truly magnificent reincarnation of the Bulgarian culture and heritage. This festival received Europe’s hallmark for authenticity "Bona fide".

The Bulgarian National Festival of Folklore at Koprivshtitsa (at the beginning of August every five years)
The Koprivshtitsa festival belongs to the most important folklore events not only in Bulgaria but on the Balkans as well. The tradition started in 1965 in the small town of Koprivshtitsa and has been held every five years since. The festival is held at the beginning of August in the beautiful "Voivodets" rolling meadows above the museum village of Koprivshtitsa in Sredna Gora mountain. It usually lasts 3 days, and is the culmination of local folk festivals held throughout Bulgaria in the preceding months. The winners from these festivals flow to the village of Koprivshtitsa to perform in front regional folk experts. Amazing festival with breathtaking stage settings and performers coming from as far away as Japan and Australia!

Where to go & what to see?

You need to upgrade your Flash Player
  View larger map