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Ditch the noisy capital and go on a weekend getaway in the quiet, pristine Rodopi Mountains or visit the gorgeous rose valley in Karlovo, or embark on a whitewater rafting adventure outside of Blagoevgrad. There’s so much more beyond Sofia’s walls.
Instead, eat everything weird and unfamiliar. Drink boza with mekitsi for breakfast, sazdarma and salam on your sandwiches and gyuveche with pitka for dinner. Bulgarian food will haunt you long after you’ve left.
Souvenirs may be a waste of time elsewhere, but not here. A bottle of quality rose water or oil is an amazing and cheaply-priced, natural beauty trick. The wooden figurines at the Oreshaka museum are beautiful in their complexity and will fit perfectly into your carry on. If you’ve got room, might as well get a hand-crafted, embroidered goblin as an exotic wall decoration back home.
A secluded temple built all the way back in 927 that’s been a shelter to hundreds of national heroes, the Rila Monastery is the top choice of many couples to wed at, probably because of the grandeur of the Rila Mountains, wood carvings and unique frescoes, or maybe just the fresh air, clear skies and winding roads. Then there’s the ancient village of Etara, a century-old town with gracefully-preserved canals and houses, which would bring you back in time.
If anything, seeing how pathetic the Sofia trams are, you’ll forever and always appreciate the public transportation in your own country. The metro will get you where you need to be cheaper than a taxi, but be prepared to engage in a battle for a seat. Hey, it’s a local experience.
Absolutely no point in visiting the over-populated, touristy Cacao Beach while 100 miles down the coast there’s the more intimate village of Chernomorets, where you can arrange a homestay for a quarter of the price of a luxurious resort and twice as close to the beach.
Sipping wine in a lodge in Pamporovo or shredding fresh powder in Borovets are only two of the things you can do in Bulgaria in the winter. Our slopes are well-cared for and we’ve even produced great winter athletes such as the biathlon champion Ekaterina Dafovska.
Learn your zdrastis or nazdraves. This is what separates a traveler from a tourist.
Don’t be surprised if your Bulgarian friend gives you the most direct, brutally-honest feedback you’ve heard in your life. We’d rather come across as rude than lie to your face. When your banitsa isn’t good I’ll tell you, so just don’t take it personally. It’s constructive, caring advice.
The store owned by a 75-year-old baba in Zheravna and Arbanasi will never have the technology to process credit cards, so go buy yourself some leva. Cash is a must.
Creamy, fresh milk from the nearby farm, crumbled feta cheese melting as soon as it touches the surface of the milk, followed by pieces of fluffy, oven-baked bread, a little sugar and a few pieces of thick, boiled macaroni. Feels like you’re eating a heavenly angel for breakfast.
The sea washing up against the rocks of Kamen Bryag, the hidden village of Kovatchevitsa, engulfed in summer greenery, where birds chirp and crickets jump under your balcony as you sit around a long table covered in kozunak, sarmi, vino, shunka, and other Bulgarian delicacies are moments you’d want to capture and hold on to forever. Oh, and you know that thing about our women being the most beautiful in the world? Make sure you’ve got your camera at all times!
Renowned for our hospitability, we will treat you like a king. First, we’ll serve you rakiya or vodka aperitiv with meze, then we’ll invite you to talk about yourself as much as you’d like and we’ll be your biggest fans. At some point we’ll inevitably start mocking each other and you’ll most likely laugh the night away, after which you’ll dance some and go home late.
Why stay at a cookie-cutter Mariott and veg out in front of the TV, when you can book an AirBnb and stay with a local tour guide, a chef or a traveler? They might want to become your friend, feed you home-made honey and invite you again, so it’s definitely worth the experience.
We don’t get a million tourists every day, and we’ve perpetually suffered economic breakdowns, not being able to go places, so naturally, we are super intrigued with foreigners. We care a lot when an outside person expresses interest in our everyday life and want to make the best impression, which is why we’ll try to integrate you, finding out everything about you and you’ll be the topic of conversation for weeks to come.
“Work hard, play hard.” Except we only like to play hard. We love partying, and hanging out in big groups, so don’t even question why we spend hours eating sunflower seeds on benches at the Sofia ploshtads.
Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).
Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of IndependentTraveler.com. Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.
The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."
Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."
Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"
Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."
Even the most experienced traveler can sometimes be tripped up by tipping etiquette. Sure, you know you’re supposed to tip your tour guide something — but how much? When you’re calculating the tip for your dinner, do you need to include taxes and that pricey bottle of wine? And is it ever acceptable to withhold a tip for poor service?
For help, we turned our tipping questions over to an etiquette expert. Lizzie Post is an author and spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute, an organization that promotes etiquette in the U.S. and around the world. Lizzie, who is the great-great-granddaughter of the famous manners maven, shares secrets for tipping right every time (and reveals why bribing the maitre d’ won’t get you the best seat in the house).
Q: What’s the most common tipping mistake?
A: To not tip. That’s probably the worst tipping mistake. Usually if you know to tip, you’re tipping around 15 – 20 percent so you know you’ve tipped something, and that’s great. But not tipping at all is probably the worst mistake.
"I've been taking people on journeys from their homes. From the beaches of Colonsay to the Isle of Tiree - a spot of armchair tourism," Sam says.
As for Casper, it seems he is content in staying local.
"It's safe to say he's blissfully unaware of what's going on right now."
For some, the prospect of a trip away may be further away than others. Emma is a travel and disability blogger - she is in the 'high risk' category, and following advice to shield for 12 weeks.
"I miss having the freedom to go out, and I can't see my family. That's been really hard," she says.
Emma has muscular dystrophy which is a muscle-wasting condition that involves needing a wheelchair to get around.
A lot of her blog is aimed at accessible travel for other people with disabilities.
Recently, she has posted tips on how to stay healthy during lockdown.
"It seems as if myself and all of my readers now have found some common ground in this lockdown - I'm not going out, and neither are they," Emma says.
"My blog raised awareness of conditions like mine before. Now, I think it puts a human face to those who are 'high-risk'.
"Your choice to not social distance may have huge consequences for people like me."
The aim of Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) Travel Advice is to provide a source of information and advice about foreign travel – including terrorism and other risks you may face overseas – so that you can make better-informed decisions about your own travel. The FCDO doesn’t advise against travel everywhere that terrorists operate.
The FCDO constantly reviews the threat to British nationals from international terrorism using all of the resources and information available, including information gathered by the intelligence services. There may sometimes be constraints on the extent to which intelligence can be reflected in public information.