Bulgaria is an interesting country. Sandwiched between the Balkans with Turkey in ear shot, this is a melting pot of a place with a strong identity AND a stretch of Black Sea coast for that all important sun, sea and sand.
It’s got a rich history too, with its storied capital – Sofia – dating back to the 5th century BC and numerous ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins and relics strewn around the country. If that doesn’t interest you, there’s always the opportunity to ski here, too. Take your pick.
However, though it all sounds good, not everything is great in Bulgaria. With its reputation for vacationers going there for its cheap booze and nightclubs, as well as the issue the country has with thieves targeting foreign visitors, as well as dodgy taxis, Bulgaria isn’t 100% safe.
With that in mind we have decided to create this epic insider’s guide to staying safe in Bulgaria. In it you’re going to find just about all the information you need – from how to deal with taxis to stopping thieves in their tracks – to help you achieve top marks in savvy travel here.
Table of Contents
- How Safe is Bulgaria? (Our take)
- Is Bulgaria Safe to Visit? (The facts.)
- Is it Safe to Visit Bulgaria Right Now?
- Bulgaria Travel Insurance
- 21 Top Safety Tips for Traveling to Bulgaria
- Keeping your money safe in Bulgaria
- Is Bulgaria safe to travel alone?
- Is Bulgaria safe for solo female travellers?
- Is Bulgaria safe to travel for families?
- Is it safe to drive in Bulgaria?
- Is Uber safe in Bulgaria?
- Are taxis safe in Bulgaria?
- Is public transportation in Bulgaria safe?
- Is the food in Bulgaria safe?
- Can you drink the water in Bulgaria?
- Is Bulgaria safe to live?
- How is healthcare in Bulgaria?
- Final thoughts on the safety of Bulgaria
How Safe is Bulgaria? (Our take)
Bulgaria sits on the Balkan Peninsula and, though a popular tourist destination for its Black Sea beaches and resort towns, holds a whole host of other interesting things to do. From exploring its capital, Sofia, one of the oldest cities in Europe, to hiking in the countryside, there is lots to keep visitors to Bulgaria busy. Bulgaria is great for backpacking and package holidays alike.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria has established itself as a spot for people looking for affordable holidays by the seaside in summer, and skiing in its mountains in winter.
Actually, Bulgaria is relatively safe; there are low levels of violent crime and it’s thought to be no less dangerous than any other European country. That said, like many places in the world there are some issues and other worries that potential visitors to the country might want to be aware of.
Pickpockets working on buses and in markets, as well as youth gangs of pickpockets operating in city centres, can be more than just an annoyance and could ruin your whole trip.
There is also the notorious beach resort that is Sunny Beach. Sunny Beach, not necessarily the whole of Bulgaria, has a whole load of issues, not limited to an increase in thefts and dodgy taxi drivers. Organised crime and corruption also plays a part in Bulgaria and is quite deeply ingrained.
It’s not just humans, however: nature plays its part, too. Wildfires, floods and even earthquakes form a triple threat for travellers to Bulgaria, meaning you may want to do a little more in-depth research on how to tackle natural disasters.
Let’s look into the nitty-gritty of the safety in Bulgaria and see what’s going on…
Is Bulgaria Safe to Visit? (The facts.)
Despite the country having a few issues, many international tourists see Bulgaria as a safe place to visit. Tourism is, in fact, critical to the country’s economy.
In 2018, 9.3 million international tourists visited Bulgaria, a number which is up 4.4% on the previous year. People come for the nightlife, nature, the skiing, the beaches on the Black Sea and the Danube River, as well as the history of the place.
The biggest portion of tourists to Bulgaria in 2018 came from Romania (1.3 million), followed by Greece and Germany. Either way, in total it outweighs the population of Bulgaria itself, with 7.5 million inhabitants.
Tourism is growing at a rapid rate and is very important to the country. In fact, it comprises 11.7% of the country’s GDP and, in 2018 as well, around 11% of all jobs in the country were related to the tourist industry.
Sofia was named by Mastercard as “one of the top 10 fastest growing destination cities in the world for international overnight visitors” (measured from 2009 to 2016).
With all those tourists, we imagine you’d be thinking that Bulgaria has to be pretty safe… Surely?
Well, the murder rate in Bulgaria in 2018 was 1.8 per 100,000. However many of these are linked to (or believed to be) contract killings by organised crime groups – something that has been causing issues within the past 20 years – with corruption also being scrutinised, and many locals feeling frustrated with corrupt officials.
When it comes to the 2019 Global Peace Index, Bulgaria ranks a respectful 26 out of 163 countries analysed. That’s just below Romania, but above Chile and the very popular tourist destination which is Croatia. That shows you that, overall, visitors to this country shouldn’t have too much to worry about when it comes to their security.
Is it Safe to Visit Bulgaria Right Now?
Bulgaria is safe to visit right now and, for the most part, has been since the dissolution of Soviet Union in 1990, with which the People’s Republic of Bulgaria was closely aligned with.
Nowadays, Bulgaria is pretty much politically stable, but there are social issues at play in the country. There are protests across Bulgaria that continue infrequently across the country, the most recent (September 2019) being a rally of journalists protesting over freedom of speech issues.
There were also recent protests in the capital against the low standards of living. These blocked main roads and even border crossings to Serbia, Romania and Turkey. This resulted in over 4,000 security personnel being deployed to disperse crowds.
Needless to say, though “stable” politically, civil unrest at this political “stability” cannot be ruled out…
Another threat to visitors in recent years is targeted robberies and attacks on tourists to city centres and coastal resorts. These take place especially in crowded places, in busy streets and on public transport. For example, the bus from Nessebar to Sunny Beach has seen an increase in thefts recently.
Sunny Beach also has issues with taxi drivers who exhibit threatening behaviour, as well as dodgy taxis in Sofia. But we have a whole section on taxis later on in our safety guide to Bulgaria.
Earthquakes, though unpredictable, do affect the country and small tremors can be felt throughout the year. The last significant string of quakes was in 1928. They can happen and often do so in clusters, with pre-shocks and aftershocks proceeding and following strong seismic activity.
Flooding is seasonal and comes after heavy rains – this can be severe. On the other end of the spectrum, wildfires are a regular threat to Bulgaria and can be large scale and spread at a fast rate throughout the summer and early autumn.
Do you need Travel Insurance for your trip? Even if you’re only going for a few days, that’s more than enough time to get buggered by wicked men or smote by wrathful angels. Have fun in x, but take it from us, overseas medical care and canceled flights can be seriously expensive – insurance can, therefore, be a life-saver.
Travel mishaps can and do happen and it is well worth thinking about insurance before you leave home.
We use SafetyWing who specialise in covering digital nomads and backpackers. Why not get a quote from them yourself?
Do be sure to read the terms and conditions to make sure that the policy covers your needs.
Getting an estimate from SafetyWing is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
Bulgaria ranks highly as one of the world’s more “peaceful” countries and has a relatively low level of crime. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues tourists will face here – especially when it comes to visiting, and staying in, popular destinations. In order to help you stay as secure as possible when you visit, we have decided to put together a list of top safety tips for travelling to Bulgaria…
- Be aware of pickpockets – these operate in crowded areas, in large city centres, and transport hubs
- Keep belongings close to you – having a bag that’s easily snatch-able isn’t a good idea, make sure straps go across your body
- Consider a money belt – best way to stop thieves in their tracks! (And we have a great recommendation for you later…)
- Don’t take valuables to the beach – with thieves targeting tourists at beach resorts, having any valuables on the beach is not a good idea
- Make sure your hotel room is secure – there has been a rise in robbery from hotel rooms (especially in Sunny Beach). Make sure doors look securely, windows close and can be locked, that you have a safe, and that it’s in a good area of town
- Be wary of strip clubs – people overcharge wildly and use aggressive techniques in Sunny Beach, Sofia, Bansko and Borovets
- Don’t leave valuables in your car – theft from rental cars and from cars with foreign number plates is common
- Be careful where you park – tires can be deliberately punctured, distract the driver, then steal your stuff; it happens across the country
- Avoid stray dogs – feral dogs, especially in packs, are common and can be aggressive; they often have rabies
- Keep away from drugs – the penalties are severe
- Don’t get too drunk in public – “hooliganism” like this is treated severely, maybe more so than in your home country
- Be aware of public displays of affection for LGBTQ+ travellers – there isn’t much tolerance here, especially in more rural areas; even Sofia Pride needs heightened security and police presence
- Don’t take pictures of military installations or government buildings – even if they look cool (and some of them do). Ask permission before you do so; snapping a structure without asking is a sensitive issue
- Don’t cover your face in public – garments that cover your face are prohibited in public; there’s a fine if you’re caught doing so
- Cover yourself up in rural areas – arms and legs; tick-borne encephalitis is a risk, and mosquitoes can be rife, too
- Try not to look like a tourist – pickpockets don’t target locals, only tourists, so avoid looking obvious. See how other people are dressed and follow suit; casual is best, not designer sports gear, SLRs and gold jewellery
- Look confident – like you know where you’re going; looking lost will single you out as a tourist and, therefore, a target
- Speak a bit of Bulgarian – it’ll be good to know a few phrases to get around, ask directions
- Learn to read Cryllic script – even if you don’t know what the meaning is, being able to read place names and menus will be handy
- Understand head gestures – nodding is “no,” shaking your head is “yes.” Why? We don’t know, but you should remember this!
- Get a sim card – not getting lost in cities, being able to call restaurants and accommodation, and everything else, is a good thing
Bulgaria is not exactly a crime-ridden place, but it still pays to know a few tips for staying as safe as possible when you visit here. The thing you’ll have to worry about the most, probably, is being pickpocketed in Bulgaria – plus not being too drunk and disorderly. As long as you make sure you try to blend in, don’t look obvious, and stay aware of your surroundings, most likely you’ll be fine in Bulgaria.
Keeping your money safe in Bulgaria
One of the most annoying things that can happen whilst you’re travelling pretty much anywhere in the world is to lose your money – or, worse, to have money actually stolen from you. More than just being annoying, it can your dream trip short.
In Bulgaria, unfortunately, there is more than a little risk when it comes to pickpocketing. In city centres, crowded areas and especially beach resorts, pickpockets do operate and it is possible to be caught off guard, no matter how cautious you think you’re being.
Keeping your money safe in Bulgaria can, therefore, be an issue. However, a very simple and effective solution to this problem is to use a money belt.
The thing with money belts is that they aren’t perfect. A lot of money belts out there are overcomplicated, can be uncomfortable to wear, and can certainly look obvious when worn underneath clothing.
Our favourite money belt, therefore, is the Active Roots Security Belt.
The best thing about this awesome money belt is that it actually just looks like a normal, everyday belt – not obvious at all. It’s got a secret zipper pocket where you can stash your cash and, well, that’s it! We love the simplicity involved here.
Wearing a money belt will stop would-be pickpockets in their tracks because you’ll have nothing in your pockets to steal anyway!
If you’re not a fan of belts, however, there are other options – think infinity scarves with a hidden pocket where you can put your supply of money for the day.
Travelling solo can be amazing anywhere in the world. It’s the ultimate in freedom, allowing you to travel at your own pace, see what you want, stay where you want and do what you want.
Bulgaria is a great place to head off on your next solo travel trip. There are loads of places to see, a ton of accommodation, and so many things to do. Like anywhere, travelling solo can come with some risks, however, so here are few tips to make sure your trip goes smoothly.
- You should choose your accommodation wisely. Depending on what kind of thing you want, you could opt for a hostel (there are many in Bulgaria), where you can meet other solo travellers, get involved with group activities and have a lot of fun. Make sure to research thoroughly, to ensure that where you’re going to stay has been well reviewed by other solo travellers before you.
- Make full use of tours. In Plovdiv and Sofia, for example, you can get free tours which will help you get to grips with the city, learn about the place you’re travelling, and talk to local. You might even get to meet other travellers this way, too.
- Speaking of which, don’t be afraid to talk to locals. Younger Bulgarians, especially in larger cities, generally can speak pretty good English and will be happy to chat to you, talk to you about your trip, and give you a few local tips, too.
- Plan your activities and what you want to do according to the season. Whilst Black Sea beaches are great in summer, they can be perhaps too crowded for you; then again, low season may be too cold or feel not buzzing enough for you. Again, research is important.
- Don’t get too drunk. This just is not a good plan, especially if you are by yourself. You could put yourself at risk of being a victim of crime, not find your way home, or even find yourself in trouble with the authorities.
- If you want to meet other travellers, think about getting in touch with them before you visit. Hit up Facebook groups and other places online and ask questions about what people have done before, get ideas on itineraries, that sort of thing.
- Ask the staff at your hostel, hotel or guesthouse for their recommendations. Where is safe to go, where isn’t safe to go, what are good areas to explore, what local, hidden gems they might know about that your guidebook may not have any information on at all. Locals know the score.
- Don’t travel around with too much stuff. Not only is this not fun (trust us), but lugging many bags around with you at one time could put you at risk of being targeted by petty criminals.
- Keep people in the loop. Make sure your relatives and friends back home know what your travel plans are. Consider sharing your itinerary with them and tell them if it changes. Having somebody know where you are and what you’re doing there (and when) is much safer than going off grid.
- Have different ways to access your money. Savings are all well and good, but you should consider opening another bank account so that if you lose one card, you have a back-up pool of money to dip into. At the same time, an emergency credit card may be a good idea for, well, emergencies.
- Don’t take anything valuable to the beach and definitely don’t leave anything unattended on the beach. If you’re by yourself and you go swimming, even something like leaving your phone in your shoes is not a good idea.
Bulgaria is actually a really fun country to travel by yourself. If you want to get to know other people doing what you’re doing, then you will benefit from the relatively large number of solo (and groups of) travellers making their way through Bulgaria.
Hostels here often have social events that they put on, such as gigs, bar crawls and movie nights. These make it pretty easy to get to know other travellers. However, if you want to simply go it alone, there’s no reason you can’t do that either. Just keep your wits about you.
Is Bulgaria safe for solo female travellers?
For solo female travellers who want to hit up Bulgaria, you shouldn’t actually have much trouble travelling this European country. There aren’t too many alarming difficulties that you will come across here that will stop you having an amazing time on your solo trip.
Like pretty much anywhere in the world, however, there may be some unwanted attention at times – possibly more so from other travellers than locals themselves. To make sure that you have a safe time and understand the problems that might come up during your trip, we have put together this tailor-made list of tips for solo travellers in Bulgaria. It’s all about travelling savvy and we’re here to help.
- Bulgarian women don’t tend to go out to bars and nightclubs by themselves. With this in mind, if you want to go out as a solo foreign lady, you should be aware that you will probably attract some attention and may get a few unwanted advances. If you want to avoid that, find some travel buddies to go out with.
- Speaking of which, a good way to meet likeminded travellers – male or female – is to stay at the right accommodation. The key here is research, mainly reading reviews of hostels and hotels that have been written by other female travellers. Make sure they’re nothing short of glowing and you’ll probably find yourself staying somewhere fun, social and secure.
- Dress to fit in with wherever you are. If you’re staying at a beach resort or in a big city, then things are more modern and free. In the countryside, however, women in Bulgaria tend to cover up in more modest clothing. Take a look around, see what other ladies your age are wearing, and try to follow suit – a good way to not get unwanted attention.
- Be culturally sensitive. In some churches and religious sites for example, women have to cover their head (or hair) and have their shoulders and knees covered. These sorts of coverings are usually on offer at places of worship for women to borrow, but having your own scarf to quickly throw on could come in handy.
- Do not walk around by yourself at night time. No matter how short the journey, walking by yourself at night in an unfamiliar place, in a country you’ve never visited before, is not a clever thing to do. Don’t take the risk and make sure you either have someone to walk home (or around) with or simply get a cab.
- Get yourself on a tour. There’s nothing wrong with hiring your own guide or going on a tour and can in fact be a good way to get to grips with a country, get some insider knowledge, see things you may not have seen otherwise, and to generally make you feel more comfortable. You may get to meet other likeminded travellers, too.
- Be firm with people who may approach you with unwanted attention. Men in Bulgaria can be quite “macho” and might whistle at you, be loud about it and make comments/compliments at you as you pass you by. These are best ignored, but for people who approach you directly, especially when you’re out at bar or on the beach, a firm no should be enough.
- Don’t tell people every detail about your trip – or your life. No stranger needs to know anything about you, really, so if you don’t feel comfortable telling you or the questions are a bit searching, then know that it’s perfectly fine to lie.
- Make sure you have good apps downloaded on your phone to help you in a sticky situation. Things like sharing your location with somebody on Google Maps, having Google Translate, having emergency numbers saved in your contacts (with a symbol at the front so they appear at the top of your contacts), and even an offline maps app like Maps.me – it’s all very useful.
In general, Bulgaria is a pretty safe country for solo female travellers. There is a ton of super interesting sights, excellent experiences and amazing adventures for you to get stuck into without you having to worry all that much about your safety. It’s a well trodden destination.
Having said that, however, it’s all too common for women to be looking over their shoulders – wherever you are in the world, and especially if you are travelling solo. One of the top tips would be to simply not put yourself into risky situations, so trust your gut.
One of our favourite things to do before we go anywhere is to ask fellow female travellers out there what their tips are. Online groups can be great places to ask travellers who’ve been to Bulgaria before for advice; you may even be able to meet other solo female travellers, too.
Is Bulgaria safe to travel for families?
Families are a huge part of the culture in Bulgaria and you will feel very much welcomed if you travel to this European country with your family.
Another thing to bear in mind is that for a while now Bulgaria has been a firm favourite for many European families looking for a budget beach holiday – so it’s already geared towards families.
You are going to be able to find a whole lot of family friendly restaurants, accommodation and activities to get involved with on your trip to Bulgaria. In the countryside, for example, you can get stuck into cycling excursions, wildlife-watching experiences and even horese-riding; most towns and cities have big public parks and children’s playgrounds.
On the Black Sea coast there is a whole host of great resorts that welcome families. These sorts of places have kids’ clubs, deals for families with young children, and family rooms; they have things like cots available to use and children’s meals on offer, too.
When it comes to what to pack, don’t worry: you won’t have to bring literally everything with you. You can get a hold of many children’s products in big supermarkets across the country – things like nappies, powdered milk and medicines.
Even in restaurants you won’t have to worry too much, as many restaurants have high chairs, children’s menus and even facilities for children, too.
The main problems you will probably face when you’re travelling around Bulgaria with your children are to do with nature. Protecting them from the sun (slather on that sunscreen!) and covering their arms and legs to stop ticks and mosquitoes in their tracks, is all very important in summertime. Beach safety during this time is also something that you need to be aware of.
It’s important to tell your children that they shouldn’t go anywhere near stray dogs wandering around, as rabies is present and can be much more dangerous for children than adults.
Safety standards across the country may not have the same standards as, say, the UK – things like balconies and pools, for example – but that’s not to say that Bulgaria isn’t safe for families with children. It just means keeping an extra careful eye on what your kids are getting up to whilst you’re lounging around the pool!
There’s a laid back atmosphere here, plenty to do, loads of places to visit, and the chance to both ski and hit the beach on the same country. No doubt you will all have a blast here.
Is it safe to drive in Bulgaria?
If you are thinking of driving in Bulgaria, we would say it’s good idea. It gives you the freedom not only to get around at your own pace, but to also reach off the beaten track destinations that you wouldn’t be able to get to otherwise.
However, it is important to be aware of the fact that there are a few dangers surrounding driving yourself around Bulgaria. A proportionately high fatality rate on the roads is an indicator of this; in 2018, 682 lost their lives on the road in Bulgaria, amounting to 9.7 road deaths per 100,000 – compare this to the UK’s average of 2.8 per 100,000 in the same year, and you get the picture.
There are some things you should note if you’re wanting to hit the road with your own wheels in Bulgaria.
Many of the roads in Bulgaria are in poor condition – in fact, said to be some of the most dangerous in Europe – and driving standards are not that high in general. You should take your time and take extra care when you’re driving, paying attention to erratic and aggressive driving – as well as the roads themselves.
In the summer months particularly drink driving increases, even though it’s illegal, and can be a real danger, contributing to more than a few accidents. The blood-alcohol limit is 0.05%, just so you know.
The speed limit on main roads is 90kph and, even though there are speed cameras and traffic police, speeding is not uncommon at all.
If you do choose to drive, one quirk is that you will have to drive with your headlights on at low beam, even in the daytime. There are also compulsory items you should have in your car, including a fire extinguisher, a warning triangle, a first aid kit and a reflective jacket.
If you are driving between the months of November and March, winter tires are often compulsory; carrying them in your car during this time period is also compulsory.
Driving in Sofia or along the Black Sea coast can mean stressful traffic jams. These aren’t the ideal conditions for people who haven’t experienced driving abroad before.
Although highways are in pretty good condition, more rural roads or away from the main roads in general, there is often a combination of potholes, construction and even horse and carts to contend with. Needless to say, driving at night time just isn’t something we advise.
If you want to head into the mountains, you should leave with plenty of time to spare and not rush. The narrow, winding roads and the risk of rockfalls can make it pretty hairy – and on top of that, sometimes the roads don’t have any markings.
Be aware also that, if you have children, children under 12 years of age cannot sit in the front seat.
It’s not likely that you will find any signs in Latin script outside of tourist sights and big cities; these will be in Cyrllic. Learning how to at decipher this script, or just recognising what your destination looks like in Cryllic, will help. An up-to-date GPS system will really, really help you.
Remember that corruption we mentioned earlier? Well, there are still cases of corrupt police extorting foreign drivers with on-the-spot fines. If something seems suspicious you should insist to pay at the police station or ask for a receipt.
Driving on the highways involves obtaining a highway toll sticker (or “vignette”); this needs to be purchased and can be bought at big petrol stations, post offices and at international border crossings. It has to be displayed, otherwise you’ll get a fine.
Be careful where you leave your car. Due to a prevalence of thefts from foreign and rental cars, you should make sure that you park in a safe place and don’t leave anything on display. Remove valuables from your car or keep them very well hidden.
Aside from all of that, driving in Bulgaria is do-able. It might not be the safest place in the world to drive, but if you have some experience of driving, especially on mountain roads, then you’ll be able to access some really amazing parts of this country.
Is Uber safe in Bulgaria?
Although a few years ago Uber was operating in Sofia, it only lasted a month or so. The taxi companies in the Bulgarian capital weren’t happy with the competition and, as a result, the government banned it.
Uber may have been safe in Bulgaria, but we’ll never know; it’s not an option for your trip.
That means you’ll have to rely on…
Are taxis safe in Bulgaria?
Taxis are a good way to get around in Bulgaria: they’re cheap and there are a lot of them.
They definitely vary in terms of reliability and the condition of the vehicles, however.
The best taxis to pick up are the yellow metered taxis, which are pretty well trusted. You can flag them down at the road when they have a green light. Make sure to check that they have a license sticker and that they have their tariffs displayed in the window.
The tariffs will show you the taxi rates, which again can vary. It displays the rate per kilometre, the cost of a pre-ordered taxi, a starting fee, and a per-minute waiting cost. If you get into a taxi, make sure that the tariff displayed isn’t showing super inflated rates; be sure to make a note of the tariff so you’re not overcharged.
It’s not a good idea to get a taxi that’s parked outside a tourist area or hotels. Why? They are often unlicensed. There has also been an increase in unlicensed taxis at Sofia Airport, which overcharge passengers.
Foreign passengers, unfortunately, are the targets. The old “the meter doesn’t work” trick is a common scam here, but they have to be switched on, by law, so you should insist on them using it. If they don’t, find another taxi – there are plenty.
The safety of taxis in Bulgaria really depends on where you are; this is mainly a comment, however, on the resort area that is Sunny Beach. Taxi drivers can be aggressive and threatening, so it’s a good idea to use taxi companies only recommended to you by your accommodation.
If you are really worried about getting a reputable taxi, know that you can call up and book one in advance, which means a higher likelihood of getting in a safe taxi. It can be hard an unlicensed taxi as they often just look exactly the same as a regular taxi.
Many of the taxi companies have apps, so you can book one in advance without any language issues and keep up with how much it’s going to cost, too. TaxiMe, for example, is a taxi app for Sofia and provides a cashless way to get around the city; another is OK Taxi Sofia, an app for OK Supertrans (a major cab company in the capital) – check against the Cryllic to ensure you’re getting in the right car.
In general taxis in Bulgaria are safe, however, and will be much cheaper than in your home country (probably). The most important thing is to be aware that sometimes people will be out to get your money – avoid scam-y taxi companies and you should be alright.
Is public transportation in Bulgaria safe?
Public transport in Bulgaria is generally pretty safe, but it obviously varies throughout the country. For example, in Sofia, there’s the metro, trams and buses to use, whilst other towns barely have a bus service.
Let’s start with the capital. Sofia has a metro system made up of just 16 stations and is currently still under construction. The current 16 stations can be used, however, and they to major attractions around the city.
Along with the trams and trolleybuses, the metro makes it pretty easy to get around. As in major cities around the world, it’s important to watch your belongings on public transport in Sofia – especially when it’s crowded. Areas around stations and stops can be rife with pickpockets too, so stay vigilant.
Train travel is also an option to get around Bulgaria as a whole. There are some pretty scenic journeys that you can make – the journey between Plovdiv and Sofia, for instance, and the route between Sofia and Vratsa.
The thing about train travel in Bulgaria, however, is that it can be quite slow (especially compared to buses). Learning, or reading, some Cryllic can definitely help you discern where you’re going and which train services are faster.
A good tip for using the Bulgaria State Railways is to hit up their website: www.bdz.bg. This is a good place to go to find out about routes, and fares, and plan your journeys, as the train service can be useful to get around the country; most large towns and cities are connected across the 4,000 kilometres of track.
Trains in Bulgaria are not always the most polished affairs and can be a bit shabby and grubby, but are usually safe. You may come across things like pickpocketing or drunk travellers on the overnight trains, but these can be avoided.
For example, you should choose to sit in a carriage with other passengers, rather than a compartment by yourself, and if you’re travelling overnight, opt for your own compartment rather than a couchette. Take care and keep your valuables safe – don’t let anything out of your sight.
Buses provide a faster way to get around Bulgaria. Minibuses trundle between small towns and villages along the Black Sea coast, connecting you with cities and resorts. You can usually pick these up from public bus stations.
Another form of transport are the matrushkas that shuttle people between city centres and suburbs. More like shared taxis, these run along set routes and can be squashy and sketchy but very cheap.
Most towns have a bus system that you can use, but they’re usually quite busy as it’s how locals in towns and cities get to and from work.
If you are looking to travel long distance on a bus, our advice would be go with a private company; these cost a little bit more but they’re larger and less cramped than public buses. You can find both bus and rail schedules on bgrazpiesanie.com/bg.
To conclude, public transport in Bulgaria is safe (if not slow); you just need to keep your belongings close to you and watch out for pickpockets in more touristed, busier cities.
Is the food in Bulgaria safe?
Bulgarian food is a delicious mix of Greek, Turkish and Balkan cuisine and this may mean that you have never tasted anything quite like it before. Bulgarians love kofte as well as kebapche (skinless sausages) and there’s a lot of fresh, delicious salads to try out along the way.
Though there are many tasty things to indulge in on your trip to Bulgaria, not every eating establishment is going to be top notch – nor will they have the best hygiene standards. With that in mind, we’ve got some tips for the food in Bulgaria to help you eat like a pro here…
- Hit up little bakeries in local neighbourhoods for breakfast (or snacks). In these sorts of places you will get to try out some typical Bulgarian pastries like banitsa (feta pie), kifla (sort of like a croissant) and milinka (looks like a tear-and-share). It’s an easy way to ease yourself into Bulgarian food.
- Don’t be afraid of small restaurants in towns and cities – you know the type, local affairs down backstreets that have been there forever. This is where you’ll get the best food.
- However, just make sure that where you do end up going is busy with locals. This means that it is a favourite among people who actually live here, the food is trusted and it’s unlikely to make your stomach feel strange.
- Don’t shy away from fast food joints. We’re not talking about the classic North American kind, but domestic fast food chains where you can pick up Bulgarian food cheaply and quickly.
- When it comes to food in the countryside, however, things are a lot different. Life moves at a slower pace, so meals take longer, but what you’ll be eating is likely to be both very traditional, very fresh and very delicious.
- Keep away from tourist traps. These places are the worst. The main cause of overinflated restaurants catering to tourists is the probable fact that making money is more of a priority than repeat business, and therefore service, hygiene or tastiness. Watch out for English signs outside or touts trying to get you in.
- Make sure the meat that you eat is freshly cooked and hasn’t been sat around all day. If it’s piping hot when it arrives at your table, that’s probably good; lukewarm food both won’t cut it and will possibly leave you feeling ill.
- Don’t go all in straight away. Even if you think you’ve got a strong stomach or if you just like eating, chances are that a change in diet can do crazy things to your stomach. Ease into Bulgarian cuisine slowly, maybe falling back on regular stuff like bakery items and a few familiar foods.
- Wash your hands. The last thing you want to do is be the one to make yourself ill, so ensure that you wash your hands before meals – especially if you’ve been on public transport or touching things at a market, or even been sitting on the beach all day. It’s a basic tip, but it works.
Get stuck into Bulgarian cuisine. It’s actually very tasty and most likely to be quite unlike anything you may have tried before, being – as it is – a good mix of its neighbours and with a whole load of salad thrown in. Salad fans will appreciate that fact.
Sofia, being the capital city, is awash with places to eat and drink. There’s even international cuisine like Indian, Japanese and Italian restaurants and eateries mixed in with the traditional (and not so traditional) Bulgarian cuisine, making for a melting pot of goodness.
Can you drink the water in Bulgaria?
The tapwater in Bulgaria is safe to drink – in general, at least.
Some people, however, are not keen on the taste of the water. Bottled water is widely available (and is very affordable), but this just adds to the plastic waste problem of our planet.
We recommend bringing along a refillable water bottle, with its own filter if you feel like it, and just fill that with water when you need it. If you’re feeling extra paranoid, feel free to boil the water (1 minute, vigorously) to purify it even more.
Is Bulgaria safe to live?
Bulgaria is not only a safe place to live, but it’s a great place to live. There’s a great climate, the cost of living is low, there’s rich history, some lovely natural landscapes and a fairly laid back lifestyle.
This has actually led to a fair number of “expats” moving to settle in the country permanently. Bulgaria is quite a peaceful place; there’s not too much disruption to daily life, the weather isn’t too crazy (typhoons? not here) and the locals are welcoming and friendly – generally speaking.
Crime is, of course, a factor to consider whenever you are thinking of moving to live in a new country.
Most of Bulgaria’s crime is concentrated in the country’s urban sprawls and is not usually focused on foreign citizens (foreign tourists, however, are often targeted).
There have been concerns more recently about the location of Bulgaria, being at a meeting point of North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Basically, it’s a border of the European Union, since Turkey isn’t in the EU, and as a result has seen a spike in legal and illegal migration related to the Syrian (and others) conflict.
In everyday life, however, violent or serious crime isn’t all that common. Criminal activity is usually located in certain districts or areas of cities or towns, which can be easily avoided (and should be at night). Organised crime in Bulgaria, whilst present, has been decreasing since arrests of four major gangs and doesn’t affect people’s lives as much as it once did.
A daily life thing to consider are the fact that many European tourists come here for a cheap getaway, often involving drinking, especially in the form of stag and hen-dos. This can be somewhat daunting with loud, drunken behaviour being an issue; conflicts can kick off in bars and nightclubs because of this. Football matches, too, see their fair share of rowdy activity.
Protests do happen, especially in Sofia, but it’s not recommend that, as a foreigner, you get involved. It shouldn’t affect you too much, however.
What will affect your life is road safety, as we mentioned earlier. Aside from main roads and highways, the rest of Bulgaria’s road network is not well developed, up there as one of Europe’s worst in terms of quality; driving standards are also very low. This is something that you can get used to, but it doesn’t stop it being unsafe.
Bulgaria, with its history, strong national identity and traditions, is a pretty nice place to live. Choosing where to live is important: whilst Sofia offers up an almost multicultural feeling, the Black Sea coast offers up a place to live by the water. You should definitely travel to Bulgaria first and shop around, to figure out the best place for your lifestyle.
As ever, research is important, so make sure you reach out to other expats, former foreign residents and such on forums and other online groups – ask advice, get some tips and make an informed decision.
How is healthcare in Bulgaria?
Healthcare in Bulgaria varies throughout the country. Bulgarian hospitals on the whole, however, are most likely not going to be the same quality as you’re used to in your home country. They often lack specialised equipment, for example.
Even though the conditions themselves can be basic, the standard of service and medical care is generally pretty good. Bulgarian doctors and medical staff are trained to a high level, but it’s the infrastructure that’s the problem; there’s a low number of nurses, for example, and Bulgarian healthcare is generally underfunded.
Government hospitals can be found in major cities and towns and, though they have an acceptable level of treatment, are not the best way to get what you need. Private hospitals, therefore, are often favoured by foreign visitors.
Private hospitals and clinics are well equipped and of a high standard, in general. They’re often much cheaper than private hospitals available in Western Europe, too.
When compared to public hospitals, where it’s not common for staff to speak English, doctors in private hospitals are usually bi-lingual and will be able to communicate with you in English.
If you are from any EU country (or EU+), you should carry your EHIC Card with you – this entitles you to the same medical treatment as a Bulgarian citizen. These may also be accepted in private hospitals and clinics, but you should definitely check to make sure before treatment.
You shouldn’t rely on your EHIC Card, however, as in a worst case scenario you would have to be repatriated or evacuated to a neighbouring country, so you should definitely have a good medical travel insurance plan that covers this.
Some private facilities have been known to overcharge foreign payment, so make sure that the price is correct – and that you agree or are told the price before treatment – before you pay over the odds.
If you have a minor ailment, illness or injury, pharmacies can be found across the country and in many neighbourhoods. These are usually open between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. – in larger urban centres and big cities, these will sometimes be open 24 hours a day.
Quite often, pharmaceuticals and medicines will be cheaper in Bulgaria than in other European countries, with many prescription medicines actually available over the country.
If you have an emergency and need medical assistance during your time in Bulgaria, you should dial 112 and ask for an ambulance.
To sum up, the public healthcare in Bulgaria isn’t great, but the private healthcare should be fine for most issues.
Final thoughts on the safety of Bulgaria
Bulgaria is safe country. It scores high marks on the Global Peace Index of 2019, a general low level of serious crime, no real political upsets and a lack of any terrorist threat. It is generally quite a laid back, friendly with a welcoming population of people. Given its position in the far reaches of what is classically “Europe,” it’s even more surprising how stable it is.
There are problems in Bulgaria, however. There are problems everywhere in the world, of course, but in Bulgaria there are certain things that may affect your time here. The resorts along the Black Sea can be all kinds of crazy and not in a good way (case in point: Sunny Beach). There is a genuine issue with thieves targeting tourists. The roads here are also notably bad, very bad, in fact. Taxis are sketchy.
These are the things you’re going to basically have to deal with when you’re Bulgaria. The best way to avoid most of them is not take yourself to the tackiest, craziest beach resorts; try your best to not look like a tourist when you’re here (smartphones away, no SLRs, casual clothes, please); and generally use your smarts. There’s nothing stopping you from travelling to this country – it’s just a heads-up.
Of course, like anywhere in the world, get yourself some travel insurance before you come to Bulgaria.
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