Explore Bulgaria

Bulgaria – Family holiday guide

From the magnificent Balkan Mountains to its sunny Black Sea coast, Bulgaria doesn’t put a foot wrong for family holidays. Gorgeous seaside resorts in summer are matched by Europe’s lowest cost skiing from December to April. Choose pretty Plovdiv for an urban break with festivals, ancient history and breathtaking architecture and then drop in on Sofia too – both cities are less than two hours apart. Or head for the hills and pick from an unfair number of Bulgarian ranges where everything from mineral spas to extreme mountain biking are part of the adventure.


Why go on holiday in Bulgaria

  • Direct flights from the UK to Sofia all year round take just over three hours.

     

  • Direct flights from the UK to Varna and Bourgas access all Bulgaria’s Black Sea summer holiday resorts, north and south.

     

  • Black Sea beaches enjoy sunshine and temperatures of between 22 and 25˚ from May to September.

     

  • Bulgaria’s ski resorts open in December, remain snow-sure until April and offer some of the best value family ski holidays in Europe.

     

  • Stara Planina or the Balkan Range, runs across Central Bulgaria for outdoor adventure holidays less than two hours drive from Sofia.

     

  • Plovdiv, in Southern Bulgaria, is the country’s ‘second city’ but considered more captivating than the capital. It’s under two hour’s from Sofia and hosts many of the country’s annual festivals and events.

  • If you’re travelling with older kids or teens, the Istanbul Night Train from Plovdiv to the Turkish capital is an iconic journey. Trains leave every evening at 9.15pm and arrive in Istanbul at 8am.



Where to go

Sofia

The Bulgarian capital’s a long way from making it on to the list of great urban holidays. But if you’re taking advantage of the country’s good value skiing, there’s sport to be had less than 10km from the city centre on Mount Vitosha. So, Sofia’s a good base for a winter break and, when you’re past the traces of Communist era dreariness, it can also be surprisingly charming.

  • Sofia’s city centre is now a lively and bustling hub thanks to a decade of regeneration: fun for shopping, eating and hanging out with older kids and teens.
  • Don’t miss: the National Gallery of Fine Arts; Eagles Bridge; Sofia Mineral Baths; Borisova Gradina; National Palace of Culture; Vrana Palace.

Golden Sands, Black Sea Coast

Bulgaria’s famous Black Sea resort has 3.5km of beach that’s up to 100m wide at some points and drenched in sunshine from May to September. Average summer temperatures of 25˚ are another crowd pleaser and you’ll find the country’s highest concentration of water sports, waterparks, outdoor activities and big, beachy hotels here too.

  • Golden Sands is busy in high-season and doesn’t tick any Bulgarian heritage boxes, if that’s what you’re after. But everything’s geared towards good value holidays and pretty much non-stop entertainment – on and off the beach.
  • Just 20 minutes away, the lovely Baroque city of Varna is where to find history, 19th century seaside charm, pretty promenades, cool shopping and one of the world’s most fascinating archaeological museums.

Nesebar, Black Sea Coast

Fly into Burgas from the UK, and the southern Black Sea resort of Nesebar does beach holidays with Bulgarian character. At 3200 year’s old, it’s one of Europe’s most ancient towns and wears the past with pride. Which doesn’t stop it coming good on cove-like shores and lively spirit: history just adds a lot more interest and it’s difficult not to be won over by the authentic atmosphere.

  • Legendary Sunny Beach is right next to Nesebar for kilometres of blonde sand, aquaparks, restaurants, resort hotels, beach clubs, water sports and sun loungers as far as the eye can see.
  • Don’t miss: the Byzantine churches and monuments in Nesebar Old Town; the ancient city walls and fortifications; 17th century frescos in the Temple of Sveti Spas; a multi lingual guided tour of Ancient Nesebar Museum.

Sozopol, Black Sea Coast

With its remarkable wooden architecture, charming seafront, winding old town streets, ocean views and intriguing coastline, 7th century Sozopol is Bulgaria at its loveliest on the Black Sea. The beaches here are quite small, and busy in summer, but bigger and emptier sands lie just to the north and south of the town centre. A backdrop of lush, green countryside adds an element of outdoor adventure into the holiday mix for older kids and teenagers.

  • Sozopol is less than 30 minutes south of Burgas Airport
  • There are several four star resort hotels, pretty holiday villages and excellent family campsites overlooking the long golden beach just north of Sozopol.
  • Don’t miss: Ravadinovo Castle; Sozopol’s historic quarter; the Southern Tower Complex; Sozopol waterfront restaurants and cafés.

Bansko, South West Bulgaria

The Pirin Mountain resort of Bansko is a couple of hour’s drive from Sofia and the top place to ski in Bulgaria. A combination of large modern hotels and cosy, traditional inns keep the charm level high. But 14 lifts and gondolas, 70km of runs, snow-sure slopes from December to March and some of the best prices in Europe are what UK families find most attractive about ski holidays in Bansko.

  • Investment in Bansko since 2013 has been considerable and skiing here’s inexpensive but not a compromise anymore.
  • Good for families with snow parks, multi-lingual schools, over 50% intermediate runs and a fully upgraded fast lift network, including gondolas.
  • Kids tuition in Bansko is roughly half the price it is in the French Alps.
  • Surrounding scenery’s stunning and the historic town of Bansko is still very pretty and quaintly Bulgarian.

Borovets, West Bulgaria

Beautiful Borovets is just 70km from Sofia and Bulgarians have been skiing here in some style since the late 19th century. The resort’s surrounded by the densely forested Rila Mountains and it’s held on to a traditional elegance while still making room for luxury hotels, chic chalets and a wide choice of shops, restaurants and activities. Weekend skiers from the city love it here, so it can get busy. But that’s not much of downside when you have a 58km ski area, snow-sure slopes from November to April, fast lifts and reliably competitive holiday costs.

  • Borovets has 24 runs: 58km downhill and four kilometre night skiing.
  • Over 50% of runs are red or black and 33% are intermediate.
  • Several award winning ski schools offer multi-lingual instruction and rates of up to 50% less than France.
  • There are direct flights from the UK to Sofia during the winter ski season and Borovets is just over an hour’s drive from the city airport.

 

 


What to do

  • Central Balkan National Park
    This national park is one of the largest protected landscapes in Europe and covers an area of over 72,000 ha and is hugely accessible for days out and longer outdoor activity holidays.
  • Action Aquapark, Sunny Beach
    Family waterpark close to Nesebar’s long and sandy Sunny Beach. Extreme rides, chutes and slides; kids splash zone and miniature zoo.
  • Aquapolis, Golden Sands
    Bulgaria’s first ever waterpark and the one with pole position in the country’s most popular Black Sea resort.
  • Pirin National Park, South West Bulgaria
    40,000ha national park and UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for woodland and mountain hiking trails and Bansko ski resort.
  • Rusenski Lom Nature Park, North East Bulgaria
    Wild and lovely eco-park, famous for Danube tributaries, river terraces, magnificent rock formations and UNESCO World Heritage Ivanovo Rock-Hewn Churches.
  • Belogradchik Cliffs, North West Bulgaria
    One of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’ finalists this 30km limestone cliff complex is a natural phenomena like no other in Bulgaria and one of the country’s biggest visitor attractions.
  • Tsarevets Royal Complex, Veliko Tarnovo
    Developed between the 3rd and 14th century this exceptional royal ‘city’ within the historic quarter of Veliko Tarnovo contains the Tsaravet Royal Palace and an exceptional collection of artefacts and treasures excavated in this area since the 1930s.
  • Dolphinarium, Varna
    The Dolphinarium at the heart of Varna’s lovely Sea Garden is one of a kind in Bulgaria and the only place kids can swim with Dolphins on the Black Sea Coast.
  • Etar Open Air Museum, Gabrovo
    For over 50 years, Etar Open Air Museum has been bringing the country’s heritage to life for visitors to central Bulgaria. More like walking through a series of film sets than a heritage park and fascinating for kids.
  • Port of Varna
    Varna’s beautifully restored waterfront is part of the reason the city’s being considered as a European Capital of Culture for 2019.


Educational value for kids

  • Varna’s famous for its seaside resorts now, but the Varna culture is one of Europe’s oldest. The enormous collection of gold jewellery and artefacts in the Varna Archaeology Museum goes back 6000 years and pre-dates any other in the world today. The children’s education museum is fascinating for older kids.
  • Plovdiv’s 2nd century amphitheatre is one of the world’s best preserved. During summer it’s the setting for plays, performance and outdoor movies. Take a multi-lingual guided tour with kids.
  • Visit the Golden Sands Nature Park just outside Varna, it’s the smallest in Bulgaria but important as the site of 10th century Aladzha Monastery: one of only two rock monasteries in Bulgaria and remarkably persevered right down to the individual monk’s cells.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Boyana is a small, 13th century church at the foot of Mount Vitosha in Sofia. It contains 90 murals, considered to be the finest example of Bulgarian medieval art in existence. Visitors are only allowed to stay for 10 minutes and the ticket price includes entry to the city’s National History Museum.
  • Spend a morning at the Clock Tower Market in Varna for a glimpse of the historic holiday city’s more ‘local’ side.
  • Bulgaria is the world’s number one lavender grower and every year the town of Karlovo, on the south eastern edge of Central Balkan National Park, holds a Midsummer Night festival in celebration. Lots of traditional costume, customs, music, dancing, eating and enchantment for families.
  • Kokolandia Adventure Park on the outskirts of Sofia is one of the few where children as young as six can get involved in confidence-building rope challenges, rock-wall climbing and tree top adventures.

 

Getting around with kids in Bulgaria

Bulgaria isn’t a huge country but, once you’re outside cities and towns, it becomes quite rural, very quickly. Public transport isn’t great and almost every journey is probably more of an expedition than you want with kids. So unless you’re sticking in and around one of the Black Sea resorts, hiring a car is the way to go here. On the plus side, it’s an incredibly beautiful country to drive through and the roads are never too busy.



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