Are you looking for an attractive destination in Europe to visit, one where the costs for travelers are far lower than where you live? Come to one of the best bargains in the world. See these vacation travel prices in Bulgaria and you’ll want to come spend one week, two weeks, or more hiking and exploring.
In most respects, Bulgaria is the cheapest place in Europe to travel, for sure the cheapest destination that wasn’t involved in the Balkan conflict of the ’90s. Transportation for a pittance, bargain meals, and glasses of wine for $1.50 allow you to travel well for cheap. Despite the bargains, there aren’t many foreign tourists here outside of the Black Sea in summer and a couple of ski resorts in the winter. You can visit some sites and be one of the few visitors there.
Attractions in Bulgaria include imposing castles, charming villages, intact historic city centers, and the beaches of the Black Sea coast. Nature is the best asset. Hiking is good in warm weather and there are places to stay along the trails for about $13 a night. In the winter, you can also go skiing in the mountains, where an all-day lift ticket is half or less what you’ll spend in the Alps.
Historic and picturesque cities like Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo (pictured at the top) lure many travelers into staying days longer than they had planned–or inspire them to start looking a the cheap cost of living in Bulgaria.
Sofia may not rival Prague or Budapest for architecture and culture, but it’s no slouch either. The Byzantines, Slavs, and Turks all made their mark here, and then the city really took off at the end of the 19th century and became more European. Sightseeing is interesting and the National Opera and Ballet Theatre offer cultural performances at bargain prices. See more on visiting Sofia here.
Some of the advantages of cheap travel prices in Bulgaria are 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 phrasebook or app.
This is one of the cheapest places to travel in Europe, but understand that you don’t come for an urban vacation. 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. On the plus side, that means lots of colorful Bulgarian traditions and local festivals. If you keep your schedule loose and your senses open, you’ll probably get to experience them yourself.
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 a fraction of the price of the Alps, but with some very high mountains to swoosh down.
You can read a nice feature story I wrote after touring through the country in different mountain ranges: From Red to Green in Bulgaria.
Unlike most western European countries, this is a destination that has actually gotten a tad cheaper in dollar terms between the 4th and 5th editions of my The World’s Cheapest Destinations book because of a favorable currency exchange rates environment. I went back in 2022 and spent three weeks in Bansko, at a time when the dollar was closing in on parity with the euro.
As I write this, the exchange rate for the dollar and the euro are roughly equivalent so either will get you 1.95 Bulgarian lev. It’s easy math to just look at menu or grocery prices and just cut them in half you get your dollar/euro equivalent. Rates below are in euros when it’s the official price, dollars otherwise, but for now they’re the same anyway.
Hotel & Hostel Prices in Bulgaria
Accommodation costs in Bulgaria are some of the lowest in Europe and long-term stays are especially well-priced. Where foreigners go, there are plenty of cheap places to stay to choose from in Bulgaria. 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. With only your loved one snoring beside you instead of a stranger.
The average price of hostel beds has actually come down in price in the past decade as competition has increased. Hostels can be as little as $5 per person along hiking trails but are commonly $7-$15 in the capital and a bit more in resort areas during the summer. Often this includes breakfast, plus some will do bus station pickups and/or daily beach shuttles gratis. You’ll find the best selection of hostels and private rooms in inexpensive hotels on Booking.com. That link goes directly to the Bulgaria section.
Double rooms or suites in a private home are sometimes the best bet at $5 to $20 per person—prices are much lower in smaller towns than in the cities. Airbnb and VRBO offer the best selection these days if you are 2-3 traveling together. When I pulled up random summer dates in Plovdiv I found 44 apartments for $30 or less per night. Follow this link for apartment and house rentals in Bulgaria.
If you’re sticking around a month or more you can find a better deal on a decent apartment. I paid 260 euros (plus about $25 in cleaning fees and electricity) for a whole month in a one-bedroom one in Bansko.
You can sleep in a monastery for $20 to $24 double and guesthouse rooms near a national park average a bargain $15 to $30 double. Unless you stay at an international 5-star chain, a deluxe hotel room should cost $50 to $100, complete with room service, minibar, TV, and a pool. There are very few hotels in the whole country where you can spend more than $200 double and that should get you a spacious suite with luxe amenities, even in the city center of Sofia.
Bulgarian Food Prices and Bargain Drinks
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. Nearly 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. Bulgarian food is a mix of influences, including Greek and Turkish, and most of it is quite flavorful. Most of the fruit and vegetables will be just one or two euros per kilo, even some olives, so you can really feast well for not much money if you’re cooking yourself.
Eating on the street on in local markets will only require a few coins: cheese-filled breads for 25¢ to 50¢, small pizzas for 50¢ to a dollar, or a sandwich and soda for $1.50 to $2.50.
A typical mid-range restaurant meal in Bulgaria will cost a bit more because it generally comes with some atmosphere in an interesting building, courtyard, or patio: figure $4 – $10 for several courses and a drink. Above is a typical set-up in Bansko that was $7. Cheesy garlic bread, a big salad, a hearty stew, and a beer.
Typical menu prices for food: soups/salads $1.50 – $3, mains $2 – $6, desserts 50 cents to $1.50.
Some studies have pegged Bulgaria is the second-cheapest country in Europe for alcoholic beverages, only edged out by North Macedonia. The beer here is still probably the cheapest in Europe or darn close. It tastes like European beer too, with some heft to it, though it’s hard to find a domestic dark beer: that option is usually imported from Germany or the Czech Republic.
When I first visited ten years ago I paid about the same for beer as I did this year. Figure on 40¢ to 80¢ a half liter in stores, $1 to $2.50 in a bar/restaurant for a half liter depending on decor and whether it’s happy hour. A cheap bottle or poured liter of local wine will be $1 to $2.50 in a store or from a local and getting a good bottle of wine—in a country that has a lot of good wine—will often only cost you $10 for the mid-range section of the wine list in a restaurant. In multiple restaurants I visited in Bansko on this last trip, the most expensive bottle of Bulgarian wine on the list was 30 lev–about 15 euros/dollars. I had a lot of surprisingly good bottles of wine in Bulgaria on my last trip for $3 to $5 from a store.
Locals sell homemade stuff by the gallon in smaller towns: pretty much every house has a grape trellis on their property somewhere. This is one of the cheapest wine destinations in Europe for sure.
The local firewater of choice is raki, but unlike the anise-flavored stuff of the same name in Turkey, here it’s distilled from grapes or plums. It can be as little as 75¢ for a shot or in a mixed drink in a bar, but is usually a dollar or two. It’s not uncommon to see a bottle of Russian vodka in a store for $2 to $4.In night clubs, you can often find bottle service that will results in an incredibly low bar tab if there are a few of you out partying together.
Non-alcoholic drinks such as herbal tea & a bottle of water are the cheapest (40-80 cents), though you can drink the water in Bulgaria that’s coming out of the tap. Coffee is $1 or less in a basic place, a soft drink is usually more than beer or raki.
Fruit & vegetables are a terrific value in this country. In the local markets you will find at least 20 kinds of fruit and vegetables going for a euro a kilo or less in the warm months: peppers, cabbage, potatoes, greens, grapes, plums, peaches, turnips, etc. Strawberries and fancy mushrooms are more, but the cost of food that is not imported is a universal bargain.
Dairy products are the star of the grocery store, including a nice array of cheeses to buy if you can figure out what’s what. Yogurt starts at around $1 a liter, milk starts at $1.50, cheese $4 – $6 a kilo fresh, $8 – $10 aged.
Bulgaria Transportation for Travelers
Once you figure out how to get to where you’re going here, transportation in Bulgaria is very cheap, despite much higher fuel prices than in the USA. With the average salary in Bulgaria being less than $600 per month (and the minimum wage under 300 euros a month), the government needs to keep transportation costs low. Getting around in Bulgaria won’t put much of a hit on your budget; this may be the cheapest country to travel around in all of Europe, but easier to get around in than the Balkan countries to the west.
You can traverse the entire country (Sofia to Varna) by train for less than $15 (under $20 on a bus) and lots of shorter trips are $5. First-class is only 40% more, so it’s an easy splurge. Buses can be faster and more comfortable, at a similar price of $3 to $15 on almost any route that’s not cross-country. In June of 2022 I rode a nice bus three hours from Sofia to Bansko, with only one stop, for under $11.
A taxi across town is generally around a dollar for the flag drop and then 60¢ per kilometer, or $2.50-$6 to go further than you could walk. Getting from the airport to the center should cost $10 to $12. One-way tickets in Sofia are now or a tram or bus is under a buck and a one-way ticket for all lines is €2—a terrific deal.
The public transportation system is much better in Sofia and Plovdiv than it is elsewhere. In smaller cities and towns you’ll need to ask around or just rely on your feet and taxis. I only took one local bus in Bansko and that was to get up to a hiking trail. It was the equivalent of $2.50 round-trip.
Other options are a 3-day Sofia Pass for 10€ that provides transportation and significant discounts on attractions. If you’re sticking around, you can ride public transportation in Sofia a full month for around $26.
Most internal flights are under $60—this is not a very big country. You can often find budget European flights to nearby countries at low prices, thanks to a variety of budget airlines both homegrown and otherwise. I flew direct from southern Spain to Sofia for under $80 on Ryanair including a checked bag and seat selection.
A train from the capital to Bucharest, Romania is less than $20 and a sleeper berth to Istanbul from Veliko Tarnovo is around $50. Check train prices here.
You can rent a really nice bike in Sofia for a few bucks an hour or $12-$15 per day and sometimes that even includes a city tour thrown in. At this point, Sofia has limited bike lanes and there’s no official share system. In the countryside it’s much more pleasant and there’s an organized route along the Danube up north.
Bulgaria Admission Charges and Activities
Another reason travel costs in Bulgaria are low is that 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. You can visit stunning caverns, amazing citadels, and a great ethnographic village, all for less than $3.
Museums & attractions: most $1.50 – $4 adult, half for kids/students.
Churches & monasteries: free
National park trails: free
Skiing: $12 – $15 rentals, $20 – $42 for walk-up all-day lift ticket. (This is roughly the same price it was a decade ago in dollar terms. Try finding a resort that’s true for in the USA!)
Other Travel Prices in Bulgaria
You can go river rafting, rock climbing, ice climbing, or cycling here on tours to suit your interests. The most popular tours are hiking ones though: this is a surprisingly green country with thick forests in the mountains. See some tours here with a company I’ve traveled with.
If you’ve got money to invest, real estate prices here are among the best values I’ve seen anywhere in the world. You can find rural houses or ski town studio condos for sale for under 20,000 euros and really nice places in prime areas still list for less than 100K euros in the real estate office windows. Compare those property prices to what you’re seeing right now in the United States, Canada, or UK! For more on that, see this post on living in Bulgaria prices.
As I hope you can tell from all this, Bulgaria is one of Europe’s cheapest travel destinations, yet you’re not taking in step down in quality. This is an incredible country for getting into nature and you can eat and drink really well for very little money. It’s a good value in nearly every respect.
Are you one of the intrepid travelers who has been here? What did you find to be a great value among the travel prices in Bulgaria?
Portions of this post were excerpted from the 5th edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations book and some of the material from a few years back was updated in 2022.
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Saturday 1st of October 2022
What a beautiful place and delicious to try!