In many respects, Bulgaria is the best travel deal in Europe. Many of the prices I’ve cited below are the cheapest you’ll find on the continent (for any place visited by travelers anyway).
Some of that advantage is offset by the language barrier and alphabet though, so it can be better to pay a bit more and have some guidance than to learn enough Bulgarian to do it completely independently. If nothing else, bring a good phrase book.
This is primarily a rural country with small towns and villages. The second-largest city after Sofia has fewer than half a million people and it drops off fast after that. Come for nature, adventure, skiing, history, and hearty food at bargain prices. This is a great country for hiking, with hut-to-hut options at reasonable prices. Skiing is half the price of the Alps, but with some very high mountains to swoosh down.
You can read a nice feature story I wrote after my trip through the country in late April here: From Red to Green in Bulgaria.
Exchange rate at the time of this post was close to 1.5 lev to the U.S. dollar and 2 to the euro. Easy math, but I did it for you below into dollars.
Hotel & Hostel Prices in Bulgaria
Where foreigners go, there are plenty of cheap places to stay to choose from. Off the beaten path though, you may end up with a homestay or simple guesthouse. This is a place where two/three people traveling together can up their comfort level significantly: a private room for two/three is generally just double/triple the cost of a hostel bed. Internet is usually included, often breakfast is as well.
Hostel bed or private double in a cheap hotel: $9-$16 per person.
Basic room at a monastery: $20 – $24 double
Guesthouse room near a national park: $15 – $30 double
Mid-range (3-star equivalent) independent hotel – $35 – $60 double
International chain hotel: (mostly in Sofia) $70 – $160 double
Food & Drink Prices in Bulgaria
Some of the cheapest beer in Europe, tasty food grown near where you’re eating it, and a wide array of firewater for bargain prices. You won’t spend a lot of money to eat well or have your own private party when traveling through Bulgaria. What’s not to like? Well if you’re a vegan or a tea-totaler, a lot. Everything is served with cheese or yogurt and alcohol is cheaper than soda.
Otherwise, there’s plenty to look forward to here. Portion sizes are as huge as in the U.S. and it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a second plate to split an order.
Street food and sandwiches: 50 cents – $2.
Typical restaurant meal: $4 – $10 for several courses.
Typical menu prices for food: soups/salads $1.50 – $3, mains $2 – $6, desserts 50 cents to $1.50.
Beer: 50 – 80 cents a liter in stores, $1 – $2.50 in a bar/restaurant for a liter depending on decor.
Wine: $1.40 – $2.50 a liter for homemade or a house wine glass in a restaurant, $4 – $8 in a restaurant for a typical bottle, $8 – $14 for the best. Bottle in stores $3 – 8 average.
Liquor: As little as 75¢ for a shot of raki (firewater distilled from grapes or plums) in a bar, but generally $1 – $2. Local vodka $2, imports $3 – $9.
Non-alcoholic drinks: herbal tea & water cheapest (40-80 cents), coffee $1 or so, soda usually more than beer or raki.
Fruit & vegetables – sold in season, not much imported, generally $1.40 a kilo or less for peppers, cabbage, potatoes, greens, grapes, plums, peaches, turnips, etc. Strawberries and fancy mushrooms more.
Dairy products – yogurt around $1 a liter, milk $1.50, cheese $4 – $6 a kilo fresh, $8 – $10 aged.
Transportation for Travelers in Bulgaria
Once you figure out how to get to where you’re going here, transportation is very cheap. With the local minimum wage being around 120 euros a month, many public transportation options are subsidized to keep them affordable to locals.
Taxi fares: 40 – 70¢ per kilometer
Local buses, metro, and streetcars: 75¢
Inter-city trains: The longest regular route is the $25 Sofia/Varna round trip in 2nd class. Sofia to Plovdiv is under $10 one way. 1st class is around 40% more.
Inter-city buses: prices are roughly the same as the train at $3 to $12 one-way, but are faster on some routes.
Admission Charges and Activities
It won’t cost you much to go sightseeing here. Only the Rila Monastery gets busloads of foreign tourists and that’s free (like all churches and monasteries here) unless you want to visit the museum or tower. I visited stunning caverns, amazing citadels, and a great ethnographic village, all for 4 lev each (<$3),
Museums & attractions: most $1.50 – $4 adult, half for kids/students.
Churches & monasteries – free
National park trails: free
Skiing: $12 – $15 rentals, $20 – $38 for walk-up all-day lift ticket.
Bike rental: $1.50 – $4 an hour, less for all day.
Other Travel Prices in Bulgaria
You can go river rafting, rock climbing, ice climbing, or cycling here on tours to suit your interests. Here’s a link with typical prices for booking adventure tours with a local expert.
If you’ve got money to invest, real estate prices here are among the best values I’ve seen anywhere in the world. I frequently saw houses for sale for under 20,000 euros and really nice places in prime areas almost never topped 100K euros in the real estate office windows. More on that later in my annual “cheapest places to live” post, coming next week.