After travelling in Romania, we wanted to make a few stops in Bulgaria before heading into Turkey. After lots of research I decided on the scenic town of Veliko Tărnovo up in the Northern mountains and the small coastal town of Sozopol on the South East Coast. We decided not to go to any major cities (due to lack of time) so we decided against Sofia and Plovdiv and decided that instead, we wanted to make the most of our time by stopping at a few places that were maybe a little different, but also possible to do in 5 days without having a car.
The places we decided on aren’t that commonly travelled between by tourists, not non-local ones anyway! Thing’s didn’t always go to plan; hopefully you can learn from our mistakes! So here’s how we did it:
1. Bucharest (Romania) to Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria)
Firstly, we were to head into Bulgaria from ‘Bucharest Gara Nord‘- the train station in Bucharest, Romania. The train station is easily reached from the city centre as it has it’s own metro stop, so we simply got the metro from Piatra Uniiri 1 near our hostel, to Bucharest Gara Nord.
On arrival we queued up to buy our tickets only to realise when we got to the front of the queue that we were in the wrong place. The lady at the desk looked confused when we asked for 2 tickets to Veliko Tarnovo, she couldn’t speak any English and was pointing for us to go back outside. We realised eventually that there must be a separate part for international tickets- This part is just to the left of the station and is called ‘Casa 1’ international ticket booth – this is a little ticket booth at the far left of the room, where we purchased our tickets easily here and they cost 68 Romanian Lei each. The train’s final destination would be Sofia, so we would have to change trains at Gorna Oryahovitsa later in the day.
There is a little supermarket at the train station to grab supplies for the journey; ours consisted of mainly bread, cheese, fruit, crisps and water and a cheap coffee from a little old coffee machine before boarding the train – the carriage we were on was full of other backpackers heading to Sofia, it was a really nice train, it even had plug sockets to charge our phones!
The Train left bang on time at 12.50 and 2 hours later we were at the Romanian border. We stayed on the train as our passports were checked and approx 40 mins later the train started to move again. We entered Bulgaria and the train crossed over a big river, shortly followed by another 40 minute border control on the Bulgarian side.
At about 6.30pm we arrived at the little quiet station of Gorna Oryahovitsa where we were to change train. The little train was already waiting on platform 4 and as the train started up 20 minutes later, I put my head out the train window in the sunshine and enjoyed the wonderful views.
Eventually the plain flat terrain very quickly became hilly and beautiful, lush and green, huge mountains and blue rivers. I was constantly taking photos in excitement, until we pulled into Veliko Tarnovo train station 20 minutes later.
Top Tip! If you do decide to walk from the station, make sure you have a map or know the correct way to go from the station!
We went left out of the station and up a hill; the complete wrong way. We ended up trudging along the ring road for a few miles, single file across the main road, running across the highway in-between cars to cross over. We wandered through the industrial estate side of town, getting sweaty and dusty as we walked. We walked through the suburbs, with the huge grey high rise flats. We walked for over an hour before I even started to recognise we were eventually in the beautiful old town of Veliko Tarnovo.
As you wander the cobbled streets, you may notice locals around offering rooms for you to stay in, however as we had already booked ‘Hostel Pashov’ this was no good to us. One lady approached us and even made us believe her house was Hostel Pashov, so we went inside…
As we entered we were instantly hit by the strong smell of onions and garlic as I squeezed into the tiny gap between the door and the staircase and followed her up, the staircase and shelves and everywhere were lined with onions, garlic and lemons, when we reached the top of the little staircase there was a living room and bedroom all in one ’10 Euro’ she said ‘with terrace’ pointing outside!
A few moments later we luckily found the correct hotel and were lead by the owner of Hotel Pashov to a beautiful clean room which smelt of fresh linen, it had wooden furniture that looked medieval and 2 big wooden shutter windows that overlooked the mountains. We agreed this was the best room yet of the trip.
Recommendations in Veliko Tarnovo
To eat and drink:
We went 2 nights in a row to the same restaurant – Restaurant Shtastliveca, which we highly recommend. On the first night we shared a mixed grill, it was like a huge stir fry of meat as well as local bread, rice and egg. We were seriously hungry after the long ‘trek’ but this was what I claim to be the best meal of our whole trip. I felt so happy that evening, eating this meal and overlooking the mountains I could have cried! And one of the best bits, the whole meal including alcoholic drinks came to approx £10. It isn’t the cheapest place in town to eat, but the food and the views are seriously worth it.
Our favourite bar in town was Tequilla Bar. A small bar close to the Shtastliveca Restauarant also also close to our hostel. It was full of young locals and had a great, friendly atmosphere. The staff were really nice to us, one man kindly explained to Shaun about each and every one of there many types of beers, and the lady behind the bar even gave me fruit and ice in my wine!
We loved our accommodation – Hostel Pashov. The location was perfect, close to the main road and also to the fortress. It was spotlessly clean and was cheap; approx £15 a night for our double room with shared bathroom. The room also had a TV and AC. The owners were really lovely, I was sat on the terrace one afternoon enjoying the views and the lady and her friend were enjoying fruit on the terrace and she got me my own plate with some fruit for me to enjoy with them.
An obvious one, go to the Tsarevets Fortress! We only had to walk 5-10 mins from our hostel before the incredible views of the fortress came into view. It was a really great place to spend the afternoon, I was NOT expecting anything like it. The photo’s don’t do the place justice.
2. Veliko Tarnovo to Sozopol
So next we were to head to the old seaside town of Sozopol. Our main draw to Sozopol was that we wanted to go to a place with a beach and lie around in the sun for a few days. I know parts of the Bulgarian Coast are packed with package holidays from the UK, so after a bit of research I thought little Sozopol looked perfect. Particularly, as being on the South East coast, it was in the right direction for us heading into Istanbul afterwards and it was also close to the major seaside town of Burgas, which would mean it is well connected.
Whilst we were in Veliko Tarnovo we visited the tourist information office, which informed us of the 7.30am bus to Burgas. We would then need to get a bus from Burgas to Sozopol. So we got a taxi to the bus station at 6.45am the next morning and arrived around 7am. The lady in the ticket booth couldn’t speak any English but we gathered that she would not sell us a ticket. However she did keep pointing outside to the bus stop which also had lots of locals with suitcases waiting outside. We were slightly concerned, as everyone else had a ticket and when the bus arrived it was only a minibus, so we didn’t know if there would even be room for us. Once the driver had let everyone else on, there were luckily 2 seats left at the front for us! We paid the driver, our tickets cost us 23 Lev each.
The journey only took about 3 and a half hours, although the driver wasn’t great at looking at the road and kept turning his head round to talk to passengers which made for a few close misses and the journey a little frightening! There was one quick toilet stop in a small rural town where we also grabbed a yummy cheese and meat pastry.
When we arrived at Burgas, it was not clear at all at first how we would now get to Sozopol. We headed inside the ticket office and spoke to a lady who when we said to her ‘Sozopol’ she held up a ready made sign that said ‘You are at west terminal- you need to go to southern terminal on bus no 4’. We headed back outside and wandered around searching for a bus number 4, about 20 minutes later it appeared. We paid 1 lev each when we got on the bus.
At the southern terminal (which is also right next to the train station) the signs were mainly all in the Bulgarian alphabet and we ended up in a queue for 15 minutes for tickets for the wrong bus; that was going to Sofia! We were told in the end to get the bus from departure gate 5 – this is outside, just behind the ticket office, and costs 4.50 lev per person. These buses leave every half an hour and you will arrive in little Sozopol about 30 minutes later.
Recommendations in Sozopol:
To eat and drink:
As our hotel was nearest to the Harmanite beach front, we ate both nights in restaurants along this beach front, rather than one of the more upmarket and supposedly nicer restaurants further north. The food we had here was nice although we didn’t have any amazing meals here so i’m not going to recommend a certain restaurant for food. There are plenty of places selling kebabs on the streets anyway, which can be grabbed for really cheap!
So one place here that did stand out and we had a really great time was The Baracuda bar/ restaurant which was full of locals and served mainly fish food. We didn’t eat here but we did drink here for hours and it was great! During the whole evening, there was a live band on and the locals were doing Bulgarian dancing all around the room, at one point Shaun was dragged up to join in too!
We stayed at Hotel Muzite, which cost us £18 a night including a buffet breakfast. The room had a private bathroom, TV, AC and a balcony! We really wanted a hotel with a pool and this hotel was perfect for us to lounge around on sun loungers by the pool with a glass of beer/ wine 🙂
- Visit the beach – There are 2 beaches in Sozopol. One smaller one near the old town that was nice but slightly crowded and the Harmanite beach which was near our hotel and not so crowded.
- Wander around the old town and make a visit to the harbour, it was really pretty, there were also lots of market stalls around the old town which were good for buying gifts
- Finally, make sure you catch the sunset. Whether it is from a restaurant with a view, or just from the beach like we did
3. Sozopol (Bulgaria) to Istanbul (Turkey)
From Sozopol, get back on a bus exactly where you got off when you arrived. They run every half an hour.
In Burgas, we went straight into the the Southern bus terminal and went to the Nishkili bus company ticket office which is inside the bus station and asked for a ticket to Istanbul. I had read online that the Nishkili ticket office is not actually in the bus station and the bus doesn’t leave from the bus station, but this is not true anymore. The office is inside the bus station and the bus leaves from just outside. The bus to Istanbul was at 1pm, they also had options for night buses. The tickets cost us 40 Bulgarian Lev each and we were told to be back here at the bus station for 12.30pm, when someone then came to collect us and led us onto the correct bus.
It was the best bus journey I have ever taken on any of my travels in Europe. It was spacious and comfortable with AC, we each had our own TV screen, with movies, music and games. Were given free ice cream and coffee. It didn’t have a toilet however, but it did stop twice; once at the border and then again at a service station.
It only took an hour to the Turkish border, the border process took 35 mins. And then it was about another 3 hours to Istanbul Otagar bus terminal. We were now in Turkey, where from here travelling in the country seemed much easier and set up for tourists. Bulgaria had been great, it was only a few hours away but seemed very different to Turkey. That night we went straight out for Kofte and Turkish Tea.
Are you looking to travel to Bulgaria? Have you been before and found a beautiful unique place that you would like to share? Share your thoughts/ questions in the comments below!