For decades, mostly those east of the Iron Curtain really knew about the golden beaches that lie on Bulgaria’s coast. Today that’s not the case, with an increasing number of visitors from Western Europe and the UK choosing to spend their summer holidays soaking up the sun on the Black Sea. A big factor in the rush to Bulgaria’s beaches is the country’s affordability, being one of the cheapest destinations in Europe. Considering the ever growing number of tourists and rising prices of holidays in Adriatic and Mediterranean spots like Dubrovnik and the Greek Islands, Bulgaria has become an inviting alternative.
Since there are so many options along the country’s extensive coast line, here is a rundown of what the main spots along Bulgaria’s coast have to offer.
There’s a reason that Old Nesebar is one of Bulgaria’s busiest tourist spots along its coast. This small historic port town situated out on an islet in the Black Sea is exceptionally scenic. What draws people to this town is its picturesque 19th century houses, numerous Roman and Byzantine ruins and close proximity to some of the country’s best beaches. Essentially, Old Nesebar has something for everyone.
Nesebar’s history dates back over 3000 years, when it was a Thracian settlement known as Menebria. However, in the 6th century BC it was colonised by the Greeks. From there it fell under Roman rule for a while and centuries later became a very important Byzantine coastal city during the Middle Ages. As such, throughout the town you will find ruins from each of these distinct periods. In fact, Old Nesebar is one of only a handful of spots in Bulgaria listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Among the ruins, Old Nesebar has an abundance of preserved churches, as the city was once a regional centre for Christianity. The most striking of the churches is the Hagia Sophia Church, which dates from the 5th century, still has its brick arched columns and the main apse intact. Looking at the remains, you can very easily picture what the church would have looked like.
The most charming aspect of the town is the style of houses found in Old Nesebar. Most of the houses are in a style from the 19th century known as “National Revival”, which refers to the time period when Bulgaria regained independence in 1878. If you choose to stay in Old Nesebar it will likely be in one of these buildings that has been converted into a boutique hotel.
Perhaps the main shortcoming of Old Nesebar is its beaches. Rather than the soft sand beaches found at Sunny Beach and New Nesebar, the beaches by the old town are rather small and gravel. Luckily, both Sunny Beach and South Beach are close enough that you could walk, but taking the bus would be easier. There’s also the option of taking the regular boats that run between Old Nesebar and Sunny Beach.
Staying in Old Nesebar, you’ll find many reasonably priced hotels as mentioned earlier. There’s also plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants serving local and international cuisine. Unfortunately, the prices at restaurants in the old town are higher than those found in New Nesebar and the restaurants tend to be more touristy. And speaking of touristy, you won’t be able to walk 10 metres along any of the main streets without coming across souvenir shops. Still, these businesses seem to do a cracking trade, so there must be demand, even if it’s not my thing.
Old Nesebar is a fascinating destination on Bulgaria’s coast, with its broad history and prime location. Those looking for a little more than just sitting by the beach will be decidedly pleased.
Getting There: Burgas Airport is the nearest airport to Old Nesebar, only 25km away. Regular buses run between Burgas Airport and Nesebar and their are plenty of airport transfers available. For those coming from within Bulgaria or neighbouring countries, buses can be taken from the cities of Burgas or Varna. Bus Information can be found here.
For those looking to escape the crowds or save some money, New Nesebar is your best bet. The new town to Old Nesebar is found across the causeway on the mainland with modern low rise buildings and a subdued atmosphere. While quiet, it’s home to plenty of cosy cafes, affordable restaurants and an immensely pleasant beach.
While Old Nesebar is a historic and visually enticing place, New Nesebar is simply functional. The town was built in the 1920s and feels like a quiet seaside town, rather than some tourist hotspot. In the centre part of town, you can walk down the middle of the road in a singlet and shorts and look perfectly at home. It was this relaxed, simply atmosphere that appealed to me during my visit and I ended up spending over a week here.
Despite its slow pace, New Nesebar does see quite a few tourists. This seems to be where many Bulgarian and Eastern European tourists choose to stay. Also, since there is finite places to stay within Old Nesebar, it’s inevitable that people visiting there will end up staying in the new town. As New Nesebar is located between Old Nesebar and Sunny Beach, both are easily accessible on foot or by bus. You’re removed from the action bus it’s close by.
Accommodation in New Nesebar seems to come in two speeds, budget hotels or large semi-resorts. While the semi-resorts are fairly expensive by local standards, being generally on the beach, the budget hotels are several streets back from the water. These hotels are great for budget travellers, with rooms at comfortable budget hotels for less than 20€ a night.
There’s also a more obvious local community, which means you can find many bakeries, fast-food shops and reasonably priced places to eat. Most of the restaurants and cafes also do cheap breakfasts, further helping backpackers save money. While things are generally cheap in New Nesebar, there’s also some quality spots to go to. My favourite place to have coffee, lunch or dinner was the Foyer Cafe and Bakery down near South Beach. While generally a little dearer than other places nearby, the staff are super welcoming and it has a really pleasant outdoor seating area.
New Nesebar lacks any real attractions of its own, aside from South Beach. South Beach stretches quite a ways down the peninsula, alternating between free public beach and paid sun lounge sections. While generally busy, the beach was never full. At the far southern end of the beach near the headlands is a nudist section. South Beach doesn’t have beach bars so much as it has cafes and bars that are beach adjacent and usually part of a hotel.
It may not be the flashiest, or particularly beautiful, but New Nesebar can be great value for money and thoroughly peaceful.
Getting There: Burgas Airport is the nearest airport to New Nesebar, only 25km away. Regular buses run between Burgas Airport and New Nesebar and their are plenty of airport transfers available. For those coming from within Bulgaria or neighbouring countries, buses can be taken from the cities of Burgas or Varna. Bus Information can be found here.
When it comes to resort towns in Bulgaria, there’s none bigger than Sunny Beach. The fact that it’s better known by its English translation rather than its Bulgarian name speaks volumes. Stretching along a large, golden beach in the middle of Bulgaria’s coast are a string of resorts, hotels and apartment towers that host many of the country’s beachgoers. In particular, Sunny Beach seems to be the top choice for Brits – they almost exclusively visit here in Bulgaria it seems. This is reinforced by countless chalkboards advertising Full English Breakfasts and Premier League viewing hours outside of many restaurants and bars.
When it comes the beach here, Sunny Beach earns its name. Sunny Beach had I think the best beach I came across along Bulgaria’s coast. The beach stretches forever, so there’s heaps of space and the sand is soft. There’s also plenty of beach bars and cafes to pick from, meaning you really don’t have to leave the beach all day.
Because the town runs along the beach, it spans several kilometres end to end, with a loosely defined town centre. This isn’t so much a problem as you generally find restaurants, cafes, bars, mini markets throughout Sunny Beach. If you do want to head into the centre or get about, frequent buses run right through town and only cost 1.3lev (0.65€). Also popular for getting about are electric scooters which you can rent nearly everywhere, which usually cost 20lev (10€) for an hour.
Now I have to admit I’ve read some articles that don’t look favourably on Sunny Beach. While I have no personal insight on the party scene, a large majority of people I saw in Sunny Beach were families. Also, when I visited the beach was certainly not full of either people or sun lounges and there was plenty of space. This was in late June, ie. the start of Summer, so I can’t imagine it drastically changing. I had been told right across Bulgaria that tourists numbers were low this year, so perhaps that had some bearing.
All of this is of course if you even want to leave where you’re staying. In Sunny Beach, you can find many all-inclusive options, making seeking out restaurants and mini markets purely optional. Most also have large swimming pools, so you won’t even need to make the short walk to the beach if you don’t want to.
Basically, if you’re looking for a simple, comfortable holiday by the beach in Bulgaria, Sunny Beach is a no-brainer.
Getting There: Burgas Airport is the nearest airport to Sunny Beach, only 25km away. Regular buses run between Burgas Airport and Sunny Beach and their are plenty of airport transfers available. For those coming from within Bulgaria or neighbouring countries, buses can be taken from the cities of Burgas or Varna. Bus Information can be found here.
I don’t think the city of Varna is not the most obvious of destinations to visit across Bulgaria’s seaside. Varna is actually the third biggest in Bulgaria and is often known as the country’s maritime capital. This is due to its thriving merchant port and the headquarters of the Bulgarian Navy. However, what it has to offer tourists is lovely beaches combined with the convenience and facilities of city living.
Varna has what you’d come to expect from a moderately large city. In the city centre you’ll find large pedestrian areas lined with the usual conveniences and even several large shopping malls. If you want to spend your days shopping, relaxing in cafes and people watching, then Varna can give you that. Considering the size of the city, it’s a good thing Varna has an easy to use bus network. Simply hop on the bus and a ticket lady will come by and will give your ticket for just 1 lev.
While Varna has a long and storied history dating over 2500 years, there are only a few remnants left. Found in the city centre are two ruins of Roman Baths, the Large and the Small Roman Thermae. From later periods, you will come across the occasional Ottoman house, but for the most part the city reflects its 20th century history. That said, there are a number of museums that delve into the city’s history, from the city’s Archaeological Museum to its Naval Museum.
For those that enjoy interesting architecture, visitors can find buildings in a range of period styles, from Art Nouveau to Neo Baroque. These buildings tend to be found on the city’s lively pedestrian streets and squares. One particularly beautiful building is the city’s Opera Theatre.
The city of Varna has several stretches of beach along its extensive coastline, the most popular being at the end of the main pedestrian street, Bulevard Slivnitsa. These wide open beaches are open to the public with plenty of space. Along the main beach you will find the usual plenty of beach bars and clubs, with the restaurants mostly grouped at the northern end of the beach. What joins each of the beaches together is Primorski Park, a long park that runs alongside the beach and a pleasant space for those looking to stroll in the shade. While Varna’s main beaches are public, the city does have its own resorts on the coast somewhat nearby at Golden Sands.
Compared to the other destinations on this list, Varna’s great strength is the comforts that come with being in a major urban centre, while still being able to spend time at a nice beach.
Getting There: The city of Varna has its own airport with connections across Europe. Regular buses run from Varna to many parts of Bulgaria and up to Constanta in Romania. There are even occasional buses running to Bucharest. Bus Information can be found here.
Sozopol has a lot going for it. In a sense, Sozopol is quite similar to Nesebar. It has a historic old town surrounded by the sea and hosts many beautiful revival houses. What makes it different is that it mostly lacks the touristy stuff and the crowds, allowing you to soak in its charms in peace. This is in large part due to the fact that it is yet to draw much attention from tourists, overshadowed by the towns and resorts to the north.
The town as it is today dates back to Ancient Greece, when it was known as Apollonia after its impressive temple to Apollo. For the Greeks it was an important trading port on the Black Sea, something that hasn’t changed over the centuries. Throughout the following thousand or so years it passed hands between the Byzantines, Bulgarians and Ottomans the same as the rest of Bulgaria. With the return of the Bulgarian nation, much of the Greek population was removed in 1912-13.
The main tourist attraction of Sozopol is to simply wander its cobbled streets and admire the 19th century houses. There is also the stone promenade that runs along the south side of the peninsula which has wonderful sea views and a reconstructed ancient gate. You’ll only find the occasional ruin, there’s one by the entrance to the old town and one at the point of the peninsula.
Sozopol is quite easy to get around with the gap between the Old Town and New Town being relatively small. This means you can move between the two easily on foot. This matters because quite a lot of the accommodation – and also the beaches – are in the New Town.
South of the Old Town there are a series of coves, each with their own beach. Between the nearest two, there was no real difference in quality or facilities. Like the other beaches above, the beaches have both sections of sun lounges and free public area. There is another beach further along the coast, accessible by one of those little tourist trackless trains.
The majority of the restaurants can be found by the water, either overlooking a beach or on the Old Town promenade. In the middle of the New Town you’ll find bakeries, supermarkets, plus the occasional restaurant. While not as cheap or budget friendly as New Nesebar, there’s still good value to be found in Sozopol.
If you’re looking for something more off the beaten track, with a mix of cultural experience and beach time, Sozopol is a great choice.
Getting There: Burgas Airport is the nearest airport to Sozopol, 35km away. Buses to Sozopol only come from Burgas, so you will need to transfer there if coming from the airport, within Bulgaria or neighbouring countries. Bus Information can be found here.
Have you spent time on Bulgaria’s coast? Where would you recommend people stay and visit? Please share in the comments below.