Bulgaria Tourist Information and Tips
The Bulgarian unit of currency is the Lev (лев, abbreviated "лв", plural: Leva), comprised of one hundred Stotinki. The Lev is pegged to the Euro at 1.95583 Lev for one Euro. 1 Lev is roughly US$ 0.75 and UK? 0.46.
Shopkeepers and other businesses in Bulgaria will usually not accept foreign money though many will accept the euro. Bulgaria remains a largely cash economy in the rural areas but in major cities credit cards are generally accepted.
In most cities there are many money exchange offices which are marked with signs that say "CHANGE". Most are legitimate, but some may rip you off. It is much safer to exchange your money at a bank. Banks apply little or no commissions, and generally offer good rates. Higher commissions may be applied to traveller's cheques. Old, dirty or very worn bank notes may be refused. Never exchange money out on the street. Beware of people on the street who offer high rates of exchange or who may ask you to make some change for them.
Over the past years the ATM network in Bulgaria has grown considerably, making it relatively easy to obtain cash from the numerous ATMs in Sofia, as well as in all other major cities and resorts. The national credit/debit card circuit BORICA, to which all ATMs in the country are hooked up, accepts VISA/Plus, Visa Electron, MasterCard/Cirrus, Maestro, American Express, Diners Club, and a number of other cards.
Prices in Bulgaria for some items are around half that of Western Europe, and good bargains are to be had on shoes and leather goods as well as other clothing. Note that clothes from famous international brands, perfumes, electronic equipment, etc. often are more expensive than in other parts of Europe.
In Sofia and a few major cities you can find branches of international hypermarket chains like Kaufland, Hit, Billa, Metro, and other. There are also many local supermaket chains like Fantastiko, Familia, and Picadilly. All Bulgarian supermarkets sell products of European quality.
Bulgarian cuisine is a representative of the cuisine of Southeastern Europe with some Turkish and Greek influences, but it has some unique elements. The relatively warm climate and diverse geography produce excellent growth conditions for a variety of vegetables, herbs and fruits, Bulgarian cuisine is particularly diverse.
Famous for its rich salads required at every meal, Bulgarian cuisine is also noted for the diversity and quality of dairy products and the variety of wines and local alcoholic drinks such as rakia, mastika and menta. Bulgarian cuisine features also a variety of hot and cold soups, an example of a cold soup being tarator. There are many different Bulgarian pastries as well such as banitsa.
Certain entries, salads, soups and dishes go well with alcoholic beverages and the alcohol of choice for some is Bulgarian wine.
Restaurants serving international cuisine have also made a presence in the country, offering various options such as Chinese, French, Italian, and international contemporary.
Salads made of organic vegetables are very popular in Bulgaria. Three vegetarian dishes that are commonly available are боб чорба/ bob chorba (warm minty bean soup), таратор/ tarator (cold cucumber yogurt soup), and Шопска салата/Shopska salad. Fresh tomatoes and peppers can be found in many markets and are some of the most flavoursome in the world. American vegetarians may be surprised to find meat inside innocent-looking breakfast pastries.
Popular local dishes
The most popular Bulgarian salad is the shopska salad , which is a mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, raw or roasted peppers (preferably roasted), and sirene. Traditionally it is dressed only with salt, sunflower or olive oil and vinegrette. Another popular salads are the snow white salad, the shepherd salad and the lyutenitsa.
As a main course you can have moussaka (a rich oven-baked dish of potatoes, minced meat and white sauce), gyuvetch , sarmi (rolls with vine or cabbage leaves), drob sarma (lamb liver and lung with rice), kavarma (minced meat with tomatoes), mish-mash (fried peppers, onion and eggs).
Traditional bakeries prepare different kinds of pastry products. Banitsa and mekitsa are the favorites. Pizza, dyuner (doner), sandwich or hamburgers are also very easy to be found at the streets. There are also many local and international fast-food chains.
There are more than six hundred mineral water springs around the country, so this is something you'd better taste and drink.
Ayrian (yogurt, water and salt) and boza (millet ale) are two traditional Turkish non-alcoholic beverages that you can also find in Bulgaria widely.
Grape growing and wine production have a long history in Bulgaria, dating back to the times of the Thracians. Wine is, together with beer and grape rakia, among the most popular alcoholic beverages in the country.
Some of the well known local wine varieties are Mavrud, Pamid, Gamza (red dry), Melnik, Dimyat, Misket, Muskat, Pelin, Kadarka (red sweet) and Keratsuda (white dry).
Beer (bira: бира) is consumed all around the country. Excellent local varieties like Kamenitza, Zagorka, Ariana, Pirinsko and Shumensko, as well as Western European beers produced under license in Bulgaria like Heineken and Amstel, are readily available mostly everywhere.
Rakia (ракия) is the Bulgarian national alcoholic drink and is served neat, usually at the beginning of a meal with salads. Its powerful (40% vol), clear brandy that can be made from grape, plum or apricot. In some villages people still distill their rakia at home; it is then usually much stronger (>50% vol).
Another quite popular drink is mastika (мастика) (47% vol), a drink closely related to Greek Ouzo and Turkish Raki. It is usually drunk with ice, with water in a 1:1 mixture.
Menta (мента) is a peppermint liqueur that can be combined with mastika.
Bulgaria is generally a safe country, and people are quite friendly. You should however behave according to common sense when you are outside of the main tourist areas, i.e. don't show too openly that you have money, don't dress too much like a tourist, watch your things, don't walk around the suburbs (esp. those of Sofia) at night, avoid dark streets at night. Stepping in a hole is a much greater danger in Bulgaria than getting robbed.
Emergency phone numbers
The pan-European standard number 112 for all emergency calls is working everywhere in Bulgaria since September 2008. If, for some reason, you can not connect to 112, dial 166 for police, 150 for ambulance and 160 for the fire department.
Organised crime is an issue, however it usually does not affect tourists and ordinary people. Car theft is probably the most serious problem that tourists could confront. If you drive an expensive car, do not leave it in unguarded parking lots or on the streets.
Bulgaria is safer than most European countries with regard to violent crime. However, pickpocketing and scams (such as taxi scams or confidence tricks) are present on a wider scale, so be careful, especially in crowded places (such as train stations, urban public transport).
Stray dogs are relatively common all over Bulgaria, and are usually little more than a nuisance. However, they have been responsible for several deaths, so it is best to keep your distance. Recently stray cats started to appear in major cities, but they are not a problem.
Wild bears and wolves can be seen sometimes in woods, so be careful.
Eating and drinking
Most food is quite safe to eat. Of course, try to avoid eating at places that are obviously not too clean.
Tap water in Bulgaria is very safe to drink and natural mineral water is also cheap and widely available. Since Bulgaria is a mountainous country, natural springs are quite abundant and many villages have one or more mineral springs.
Conditions in Bulgarian hospitals may vary - from the very clean and sparkling, with all the latest technological utilities, to the downright drab, dark and cold. There are some new hospitals, and some very old, with old technology. Medical personnel is very good in their job.
Citizens of the European Union are covered by Bulgarian's National Healthcare System as long as they carry an Eurocard (or European Health Insurance Card), obtainable from their own national healthcare authority.
Dental procedures in private clinics in Bulgaria are of an excellent quality. Many people from Western European come to Bulgaria to have their teeth done for the quarter of the price they pay in their home country.
Bulgarians are incredibly friendly and very interested in talking to foreigners. Bulgarians tend to be far more open than some other Eastern Europeans and engaging in dialogue with these people is much advised and worthwhile. In smaller cities, especially in the Rhodopes, people may invite you for lunch or even to sleep over.