Unveiling Bulgaria: 12 Mind-Blowing Fun Facts That’ll Amaze You!

isa painting the sea - artwork located on the road to Varna, Bulgaria

“Bulgaria is the Country you don’t expect:

a Jump in the Europe of the Last Century!

– LOST ON THE ROUTE –

Last spring, we took our self-made orange campervan and from Italy we slowly zigzagged all the Balkan countries until reaching Turkey and Cappadocia.

On our trip, we noticed that several Balkan countries, given some marked differences, share an underlying similar culture, languages and cuisines.

This is true, especially for ex-Jugoslavian countries such as Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.

Said that, on our route, we crossed a country completely different from all others and surprisingly special in its way: Bulgaria!

In this article, we would like to share 12 Fun Facts and Curiosities about Bulgaria that we discovered on our two weeks through the country.

Have a good read,

and let’s dive right in! 😀

 

MOST POPULAR ROUTES FROM BOURGAS

12 Interesting Fun Facts and Curiosities

about Bulgaria!

1. In Bulgaria there’s a Cave

where you can find the Eyes of God!

Prohodna Cave Bulgaria - the "Eyes of God"

This was one of the most memorable sights of our journey through Bulgaria!

Driving about 80km North-East of Sofia (the capital city of Bulgaria), hidden in the vast countryside of Bulgaria with nothing but green fields around, there’s an enormous cave still waiting for an UNESCO recognition, that will leave any traveler speechless: the Prohodna Cave!

The cave it’s impressive: the walls are round-shaped, over 80m tall, and the openings on both sides of the cave are gigantic!

Said that in the middle part of the cave (which btw is not very long, just about 3-400m) there are two holes in the ceiling which, when you turn your face to watch them, seem to be watching you back too!

The two openings are indeed so well eye-shaped that it’s crazy: they look like the eyes of nature itself! 

The day before we visited the cave, it had rained a bit, and when we were staring the ceiling there were also some raindrops penetrating the ground and falling from the two “eyes“, making it a surreal experience.

 

TIPS TO VISIT THE PROHODNA CAVE:

  • If you’re landing in Bulgaria with a flight, check out TransferBulgaria for a safe and reliable airport transfer or a taxi to get you closer to your destination
  • If you self-drive, you can simply follow Google Map to the Prohodna Cave.
  • You will reach a giant unguarded and slopy parking lot in the grass.
  • Leave the car, and walk.
  • The cave is 5 minutes away from the parking and access is free.
  • Be careful as the way is a bit rocky and might be wet (sport shoes are a good idea!).
  • The visit to the cave takes about 30min-1hour.

2. In Bulgaria there are still Villages,

of which you won’t find a single photo on Google!

Garden in the village of Ruyno - Bulgaria

On our journey, we were invited by a Bulgarian friend (Hakan) to visit the small village of Ruyno, in north Bulgaria.

To our surprise, we found out that the place is barely signaled on Google Maps, but there weren’t any photos about it on Google. 

Googling a bit more places nearby, to our surprise we discovered that was not only Ruyno, but many villages on the way didn’t have any single photo of them on Google!

Once we drove through those little countryside roads and visited our friend, we found out why: many villages in the country-side live an extremely rural life, communities are rather close, and modern technology still struggles to reach (we were amazed seeing some old cathode ray tube TVs too!).

Bulgaria still has today many uncharted areas where tourists are a mirage.

If feeling like an explorer and driving out of the maps is your thing, and perhaps you want to get a feeling of a last-century Europe, Bulgaria might be the best place in Europe to adventure into the “digitally unknown” 😉

 

3. In the City of Varna,  there’s a Secret Monument

that all Travel-Addicts will Love!

varna - monument - all capitals of the world in a round on the ground - with city stems

Walking the seaside roads of Varna, the largest town of Bulgaria on the black sea coast, we crossed this incredible place by pure chance!

I know: if you’re watching the previous image, you might be wondering: where is the monument exactly?

The answer is: on the ground!

The square, despite its name, looks pretty round, as all stone bricks are shaped to create concentric circles toward the center of the square.  

Spread out between the bricks, there are some metal tiles, which without a curious eye are super-easy to miss.

While I was walking, I threw a casual eye to one of them and I read: “Phnom Phen”. Then, my traveler’s mind started rushing: why is written here the capital city of Cambodia? Has it something to do with Cambodia?

Then I checked out the other tiles nearby: “Bangkok”, “Hanoi”, and “Beijing”… those were all the capital cities of countries near Cambodia: Thailand, Vietnam, and China.

Then, I took a further look at the whole picture: each and all metal tiles of this square report the city stem and the name of the capital city of the world. But that’s not all!

The central city reads “Varna”, while all the tiles around it are positioned in the direction pointed toward where that other capital city of the world is located!

The distance from the center of the square represents the distance of each Capital city from the place where you’re currently (Varna, Bulgaria).

Useless to say, I think I spent 30 minutes jumping from one tile to another like a little kid in the playground and taking photos of the different tile patterns.

Probably, people passing by, thought I was crazy as it seemed I was photographing the thin air! ahah).

All in all, though, this curious installation (of which I haven’t found info nor a name yet) is a soul-enchanting ode to all of those who feel travelers on Earth and love the world and its geography.

 

TIPS TO VISIT THE “ATLAS MONUMENT OF VARNA”

  • We haven’t find this fantastic place listed in any blog, nor on Tripadvisor (wow!), so we named it ourself the “Atlas Monument of Varna”. Here is how to reach it:
  • Google “Sevastopol Square Varna” or “Sevastopol Park Varna”.
  • Find the giant restaurant called “Happy Place”.
  • In front of this restaurant, on the crossroad, you will find this installation.

4. In Bulgaria, Alcohol is like Water,

and Rakia with Salad is a common way to Start a Meal!

plates of salad with Rakia - Typical Bulgarian Meal

No matter where you travel in Bulgaria, alcohol will be there for you!

Bulgarians have one of the highest alcohol consumption per capita in Europe.

To give you an idea: for males, the average is 26L/year of pure alcohol, which roughly translates to 1750 cans of beer a year, or 5 cans a day!

Said that it’s important to underline that beer is not the drunkest alcohol in Bulgaria (although it’s very popular and in supermarkets you can find giant 2,75L bottles!!) and that almost 50% of the whole national alcohol consumption belongs to Rakia.

For those who don’t know, Rakia is a hard liquor from the brandy family.

It is made from fermented grapes, plums, or virtually any fruit with sugars in it.

Its alcohol content varies from 40% for commercially sold liquor to 70-80% for pure firewater for home-produced rakia.

On our journey, we ate both in fine city restaurants and in friends’ grandmas’ countryside homes, and the water on the table was never there.

Instead, there was always a bottle of rakia and beers!

A curious dish we decided to try (our Bulgarian friend forced us to try it), is the traditional salad with Rakia.

Our Bulgarian friend explained to us that, to stay healthy, clean the stomach, and have an “honest” meal with your friends, it’s tradition in Bulgaria to start a shared meal with a plate of salad and drink a shot (or two!) or Rakia with it.

As an Italian, I found it funny at first: we normally drink spirits at the end of the meal, not before getting even started!

Said that the combination of the savory salted salad and the Rakia, is explosive and truly tasty: if you’re traveling through Bulgaria, I would 100% recommend you to give this salad a shot! (ah…the irony! 😉 ).

5. Bulgaria is the Cheapest Country

to Visit in the European Union

Streets of Sofia - Bulgaria

According to the European Commission Statistics 2023, Bulgaria is today the cheapest country in Europe in terms of cost of living, which is about half of that of Germany and France.

The local currency, the Bulgarian LEV, trades at about 2:1 with the Euro.

During our trip, we were many times surprised by how good prices can be in the country!

To give you an idea, gasoline is around 1,3Euro/Liter (a dream for those who drive!), a 4-people private transfer from Sofia Airport to the City might cost you 35Euro, a two person sushi meal in a central restaurant for 35Euro, or beer prices in supermarket, where you could buy a giant 2,75L beer for one Euro and few cents!

The low prices are of course proportioned to the average salary of the country, which lies roughly at 1050Euro/month.

6. Sunny Beach in Bulgaria is a crazy destination for parties,

and it has been renamed the “New Magaluf”

sunny beach in bulgaria

Located in the southern part of the country, facing east on the Black Sea, the touristy town of Sunny Beach is one of the hottest summer destinations in Europe right now!

Sunny Beach has become increasingly popular in the past years, for youngsters (especially German and English) looking for crazy pool parties and disco clubs.  

Some of them, refer to it as the “New Magaluf” (comparing it to the crazy Magaluf sin town in Mallorca, which in recent years put a stop to all-you-can-drink and happy-hour formulas to reduce drunk tourism).

Sunny Beach, is not only for party-goes though, it’s a much larger reality, which boasts family-friendly hotels, high-end restaurants, and chill-lounge bars too! 

The town itself is not super-scenographic (there are several ugly buildings from the ’80s), but the sandy beach is gorgeous and so are its waters.

TIPS FOR VISITING SUNNY BEACH

The high season is May-October.

Traveling out of season, it will look a bit like a ghost town, as winters are pretty cold.

The closer airports are Bourgas (just 30minutes), and Varna (90minutes).

Take a Airport transfer from Bourgas or a Airpost Transfer from Varna – cheap, fast and convenient!

 

7. When you Drive in Bulgaria,

your windshield looks like a Mosquito Carnage

mosquitos on the windshield - bulgaria

We are not serial killers. Or at least we try not to be!

In the past two years, we traveled with our campervan across 21 countries in Europe, and I think we never accidentally happened to cause carnage like we did on the roads of Bulgaria!

Bulgaria is probably the greenest country in Europe we crossed.

Outside of the cities, 35% of the landscape is covered in forests, and the rest are fields and grassland. Nature is everywhere, and human settlements are quite sporadic and nevertheless non-intrusive.

During the two weeks we drove there, our windshield became a memento to the worst splatter horror movies on Earth: so many insects!

When I was a child in Italy, I remember the windshield of our car used to turn such on long trips, but today not anymore.

In Bulgaria, it is still like that today, and it’s a positive sign for the country: it attests to the good health of the natural ecosystem, the low pollution, and the low use of pesticides in agriculture.

8. Bulgaria is the 1st Rose Oil producer in the World,

and you find it everywhere!

bulgarian rose oil - making of

Taking a stroll on Vitosha Boulevard, the main shopping street in Sofia, one thing that is easily noticeable is the vast presence of “Rose Oil” shops.

All souvenir shops too, have at least a pink shelf or two dedicated to “Bulgarian Rose Oil”.

After googling it up, we discovered that Bulgaria is the 1st producer in the world of Rose oil… and they are super proud of it!

If you’ve never heard of “Rose Oil” before, don’t worry, me too I didn’t know it before traveling to Bulgaria!

Throughout history, rose oil has been used as a cicatrisant (wound-healing) ingredient, and many still use it for this purpose today.

In addition to that, rose oil is known to have a regenerative effect on cell tissue, making it especially beneficial for sensitive, dry, or aging skin.

Last but not least, inhaling it is believed to ease pain, decrease anxiety and stress, and even stimulate sex drive!

 

9. To Drive in Bulgaria, you need to Buy a Vignette,

no matter which road you take! (it’s cheap)

 

vignette bulgaria for driving

In many European countries (in Eastern Europe especially!), to use motorways without getting fined, you need to purchase a vignette (once, they were stickers to stick on your car’s windshield; nowadays they are all digital/electronic!).

While in other countries, a vignette is needed to use toll roads such as highways and motorways, in Bulgaria you need a vignette to use any public road that is asphalted and non-rural.

In a few words, you need a vignette to move around yes or yes!

Luckily the prices are very accessible and are as follows:

  • Weekend – 9 BGN (4,50 Euro)
  • Week – 13 BGN (6,50 Euro)
  • Month – 27 BGN (13,50 Euro)
  • Quarter – 48 BGN (24 Euro)
  • Year – 87 BGN (43,50 Euro)

All vignettes can be purchased online on the official Bulgarian Electronic Toll System Website, where you will have to insert the number plate of your vehicle (e-vignettes are checked with automatic cameras on all major roads).

If you’re renting a car in Bulgaria, the rental company will provide you already with an e-vignette and you won’t have to make it yourself 🙂

10. Bulgaria is in the EU, but not in the Eurozone:

the national currency is the LEV

country of varican inside of rome

Bulgaria is one of the 27th members of the European Union.

Said that extra-EU citizens should be careful in making assumptions as not all EU countries have yet the same currency, or immigration regulations.

To start with, Bulgaria is part of the EU, but doesn’t use the Euro: the national currency is the LEV (BGN), which trades at roughly 2 LEV for 1 Euro.

In the same fashion, Bulgaria is not yet into the EU Schengen Area (although it might enter very soon – in 2024/2025), which allows people and goods to move from one country to the others without a stop through the border police.

Because of that, if you enter or exit Bulgaria by land, you’ll find blocks at the frontiers where your vehicle will be controlled.

We entered Bulgaria through Greece, exited and re-entered from Romania, and exited once more to enter Turkey: all frontier control have been easy and stress-free.

Sure the small controls do take those 10-20minutes more, but they’re not a reason not to visit Bulgaria! 😉

 

11. Bulgaria uses the Cyrillic Alphabet,

but English is widely spoken in main cities.

varna written in cyrillic alphabet

English, like most languages spoken in the EU, uses the Latin alphabet (the classic one we all know, from “A” to “Z”).

Bulgarian instead, is the only official language of the EU that uses the Cyrillic alphabet, like Russian, Uzbek, Turkmen, or Ukranian.

Reading the signs or the names around cities can sometimes be quite confusing, as while some letters might be similar between the two alphabets, the meaning, and phonetics might be entirely off.

For example in the picture above, my brain would immediately read “BAPHA”, while that’s the name of the city of “VARNA”.

Luckily for us travelers, in cities, most people speak English, and writings are often translated for everyone to grasp.

In the countryside on the other end, communication might be harder as almost no one speaks English.

Luckily, as I often love to say, “We live in the future” and with Google Translate on our side, communicating in foreign languages is today not only possible but can also be pretty fun! ahah ;D

13. In Bulgaria, you shake your head for Yes,

and Nod the head for No

Bulgarian reverse communication - nod for no - shake for yes

In the whole world, people nod “yes” (which is like a little bow – showing respect), and shake their head for “no”.

But not in Bulgaria!

If you’re wondering why is that, we tried to dig into it and do some research, but nobody seems to have a clear answer.

It seems to be just a deeply ingrained cultural norm about which, even knowing that’s different from everyone else, Bulgarians themselves don’t wonder too much about.

The most accredited theory explaining why Bulgarians have turned their genetic gestures upside down dates back to the 5th century when the country was under Ottoman rule. 

When the Ottomans conquered Bulgaria, they forced locals to accept conversion from Christianity to Islam, killing them if they refused.

Because of that, as the legend goes, Bulgarians tacitly agreed to swap the two “Yes” and “No” signs, so that when they were asked if they wanted to turn Muslim, they nodded while meaning “No” in their soul.

Whether the legend is real or not, the fact remains that the signs in Bulgaria are reversed, and that might cause a lot of confusion.

If a beggar for example would approach you asking for money, and you would instinctively shake your head, he would at first, get the wrong message and expect something from you.

After he understand you don’t have the intention to give him anything, he might then also realize you’re a tourist, and perhaps become even more pushy as foreigners are often seen as “wealthy”.

Last but not least, with many Bulgarians traveling abroad nowadays, many are starting to adopt the universal nod/shake signs, and in large cities it’s common to encounter both the old and the newer yes/no codes used, adding an extra layer to of complexity to the visual communication!

Conclusion

on a tractor in Bulgaria

And here we come at the end of this article 🙂

In this article, we have seen 12 Curiosities, Fun Facts, and peculiar things to see and experience in Bulgaria.

In conclusion, we believe that self-driving through the country has been the right decision to experience the slow life of Bulgaria at the right pace and reach those remote visit-worthy places that almost no tourists ever reach!

I hope you had the chance to get a small feel of what Bulgaria is like throughout this article: of course, there’s much much much more to say and explore (we just scraped the surface!), and I will write more articles in the future if you’d be interested to read them 😀

Before going, I would like to ask you:

Did you enjoy the article?

Do you have any doubts, or know any other curiosities that could make it to this list?

Have you been to Bulgaria before? Would you like to share your experience with us and the other readers?

Let us know in the comments below!

Note: Writing articles for us content creators is fun, but it becomes truly rewarding when we receive written feedback about our work, and we love to exchange ideas with fellow travelers! It makes us truly happy 🙂

Hereafter I will leave you a few articles that you might be also interested in checking out:

Thank you a lot for reading, and as always,

see you in the next article! 🙂

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