Bulgaria: tourism by yourself or excursions?


Is it worth it to travel in Bulgaria on your own?

Most tourists come to Bulgaria to relax a bit on the sea, sunbathe on local beaches, going to Sunny Beach for the vibrant nightlife, explore its ancient history through visiting ancient ruins and going to museums and to have a dinner at local restaurants.

Many want to come to Bulgaria to see deep in the country but without enduring long and exhausting journeys and other tedious formalities that you encounter from guided excursions. In this case, going on a DIY tour or a self-guided tour is an ideal option. You just need to go to a bus stop at any time that is convenient for you, just patiently wait for the bus (you can find a bus schedule in Bulgaria), mention to the operator the city that interests you and pay for the ticket. In just a few hours you can enjoy the new city and its sights without any snags that  you may encounter with guided bus tours.

The best places in Bulgaria to do a self-guided tour?

Unfortunately, a lot of interesting corners of Bulgaria located in the depths of the country. In Sofia, Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo or in the Valley of Roses it is necessary to go for all day, and the bus schedule is not convenient for tourists. It is also necessary to book a hotel on the spot to have an overnight stay.

So the ideal option is to see the small coastal resorts, many of which can surprise you not only with their ancient excavations, but also with a rich and varied range of attractions.

For 14 days, we stayed in Nessebar (Sunny Beach is literally close to it) which is practically in the middle of the coast. Therefore, we could visit both the northern and southern parts of Bulgaria. Let’s see where it’s worth to go to see the country all by your lonesome:

  • Balchik – the city itself was not so impressive overall, but the nearby botanical gardens are rightfully considered one of the main sights of Bulgaria. You really have to see it! I had to go to Balchik from Nessebar with a transfer in Varna. The journey took about 3 hours and cost 18 levs in one way.
  • Pomorie – it is a rather small but surprisingly cozy town where you can find the monastery of St. George. It is worth to come here for the Orthodox shrines, excellent seascapes, fruit markets and cheap and good quality shopping. Not far from the city there is the Pomorie lake which is famous for its healing mud and a wild beach on the spit, which we liked very much. It is simple to get to Pomorie from Nessebar  – almost any bus to Burgas will help you. The road takes about 20-30 minutes and costs 3 to 3.5 levs. We even went to Pomorie on our foot, but it’s more than 20 kilometers — but this is where we were able to witness more beautiful spots.
  • Nessebar – if you live somewhere in another city, be sure to come to Nessebar. It is one of the most beautiful resorts in Bulgaria with many interesting sights. Sunny Beach is just near it — you can easily walk to it, get on the tourist train or arrive there by boat.
  • Burgas – it is a big city with a lot of ancient temples and monuments. Many tourists goes to Burgas for shopping (and the Bulgarian tourist ministry actively promotes it as kind of a “shopping mecca” in the country). However we don’t recommend Burgas for shopping – the choice is great, but the prices are also very high. Burgas stands out with the Primorsky Park. More than 10 kilometers of diverse and really interesting park elements stretches along the sea (there are a very few people on the beach), and you can see the sand sculptures, made by sand art masters from many Bulgaria as well as countries. Each year the sculptures are different. It takes about an hour to get to from Nessebar to Burgas (sometimes little less than an hour, depending on the traffic). The ticket to go there costs 6 levs.
  • Varna is a large modern city with an amazing number of curious places and sights. There are many small parks and squares, shops with reasonably priced goods and large shopping centers for tourists. In Varna, we recommend you go visit the Dolphinarium where you will get to encounter cute and intelligent dolphins. It takes about 2 hours to get from Nessebar to Varna. There is a big bus station in the city from which you can go to any part of the country and even abroad.

Places we don’t recommend you to visit if your main purpose is sightseeing – Obzor, Ravda, Aheloy, Saint Vlas, Elenite and other seaside cities. In most cases, except for hotels, you will not see anything there.

Sozopol deserves special mention, though. Despite the fact that it is actively recommended by travel agencies and sites on the Internet, in fact the resort turned out to be very similar to Nessebar, only with much lesser number of sights – this so-called “Bulgarian Jerusalem” did not impress us.

How much can you save from traveling by yourself?

A self-guided tour will cost you about 2-3 times cheaper than a guided excursion. At the same time, you will not be bound by rigid time frames and set itineraries, you will be able to go where you want and when you want.

Besides, when you get enough information about the prices of bus fares, food and other amenities and pleasures, you will be able to budget your trips by your own.

But there are also disadvantages. For instance, if you try to include excursions that are far deep from the usual tourist spots, it is difficult to reach them by public transport. For example, if you try to visit the monastery of Aladzha, Rila Monaster, Ropotamo, Broken Stones or Cape Kaliakara, you cannot find an available public transport for you to get there.

If you really want to visit this places – we recommend you to rent a car, it’s still a bit more comfortable and cheaper than an excursion. But be sure to keep in mind that the roads in Bulgaria are not simple, often with limited visibility.

How to go around Bulgaria by public transport?

The public transport system in Bulgaria is mostly very simple and accessible. Almost at each bus stop you can find routes and a schedule of buses that pass through it. At the bus station, you can ask the manager, but the price will be exactly the same.

You just open the map of the country, find where you would like to go, go to the bus stop, take the bus and ride to your destination.

How to rent a car and what are the advantages?

You will not be bound by strict time frames and limited itinerary when you rent a car. Furthermore, you will be able to see exactly what you want, even places deep in the country.

Of course, comfort is not cheap, but prices are still quite acceptable and start from $10 per day.

Can I travel by taxi?

Of course you can — if only money is no object! In our experience, riding a taxi in Bulgaria costs you about 4 lev in kilometer. And the counter revolves much faster than the wheels do, especially when going to ritzy places such as Sunny Beach.

But if you’re the stingy type, you can (and should) bargain with taxi drivers, so you can bring the fare down several times. But still, compared to public transport, it is considered very high.

In general, we do not advise you to travel by taxi, although for the wealthy people this is really the most convenient option.

An exception to this rule would be a transfer from the airport. If you fly by yourself, you will have no choice but to ride a taxi. But a taxi at the airport is very expensive. In such cases we recommend you to book a taxi in advance, such as Uber (to the resort on the day of arrival and back in a couple of weeks). So it goes cheaper at least a third.

Advantages and disadvantages of excursions and guided tours in Bulgaria

The main advantage of going to guided excursions is convenience. Get on the bus and you will be taken to the most interesting sights. The guide will tell you information about the tourist spots, organize the itinerary and everything else. Excursions also allow you to visit such places that cannot be reached by foot alone or by public transport.

But there are also disadvantages:

  • Excursions cost several times more than a self-guided trip.
  • There is always little time to enjoy the beauties of the country on excursions – you will have to adhere to a fixed schedule.
  • You will see exactly what the travel company wants, and this is usually far from the most interesting places in the country.

When and where is the best to choose guided excursions in Bulgaria?

Excursions in Bulgaria are the best if you want to visit the central regions of the country (Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv, Rose Valley), which are difficult to reach on your own. A good option would be an excursion to Istanbul.

Most resorts on the coast are easier and cheaper to visit by public transport.

There is also another option: individual excursions by car for a certain number of people. Of course, they cost a bit more than going for the tourist bus for a larger group. However, there are also advantages by choosing this option: the tours have a more individual approach and are the duration is usually two times longer, and you’re able to choose what you want to see. Unfortunately, in Bulgaria the choice of such excursions are limited but the options are quite attractive.

Where can you buy individual tours of Bulgaria:

Is there a big difference in the excursion fees?

As far as we know, there is no significant difference in the prices for the excursion. It depends on your travel agent.

We noticed that in Sunny Beach excursions are more expensive than in Nessebar or Pomorie. Well, the price level there is generally very high.

So which is better — excursions or self-guided tours?

In most cases, independent tourism will cost you 2-3 times cheaper than an excursion. You will not be limited by time, you will be able to see exactly what you want.

But there are also disadvantages. To travel independently, you have to spend a lot of time on the route and determine the most interesting sights for you. Unfortunately, there is little information about Bulgaria on the Internet, and it may have a lot of mistakes, inaccuracies and hidden advertising.

Another disadvantage you should not ignore is that not all the sights can be visited by public transport, you have to rent a car.

Both excursions and self-guided tours have their own advantages and disadvantages. As a summary: if you want to see the seaside cities and resorts – it’s better and cheaper to do it yourself, and if you plan to go deeper into the country, we recommend you to get a tour.

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