How to explore Bulgaria in summer- travel tips, special packing list, and more

How to explore Bulgaria in summer- travel tips, special packing list, and more

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Bulgaria is one of the most underrated countries in Europe. It is a Balkan country, “behind the shadow” of the popular European destinations, an off-the-beaten place, relatively far from the main tourist streams. At the same time, it has an incredibly diverse nature, with rich history and culture. And every season in the country has its own unique beauty, from the Black Sea coast to the highest mountains. How about summer in Bulgaria? Let’s prepare to explore this country in the hottest season, get more info, some tips, and prepare your travel gear!

Natural landscapes in Bulgaria

The area of Bulgaria is not so large- just like an average European country, slightly larger than Hungary, Czechia, Portugal, and Austria, and a bit smaller than Greece. But for such a small territory the diversity of natural zones and landscapes is amazing. Here you can see gorgeous beaches at the Black Sea, subtropical forests, large plains, hills with deciduous forests, high mountains with coniferous forests, and alpine types of mountains with mountain tundra.

At the same time, Bulgaria has a long history with a lot of historical sites, and many ethnic, cultural, and modern places of interest, located in all of these natural landscapes. This offers great opportunities for traveling by various means of transportation, combined with hiking and other kinds of natural traveling experience.

A natural summer landscape
A natural summer landscape

All these natural places and human-made sites are worth visiting. But as in every country located in the moderate climate zone, these places are different in different seasons, as well as the way of traveling between them. So, let’s focus on one of these seasons- summer.

Summer in Bulgaria

Summer in Bulgaria starts gradually from the end of May and proceeds until the first half of September, but sometimes it can start earlier and ends later, especially in recent years.

This season is usually hot. Being in the southern part of Europe, at the same time relatively far from the Atlantic Ocean, hot waves are quite often here, but they usually mix with cool and humid waves from the west, causing unstable weather with rainstorms. In general, cool waves and rains are more often in May and June, while hot waves prevail in the rest of the season.

Hot waves from the south

During a hot wave, temperatures in the low plains can reach 35 to 40°C. It happens mainly after the second half of July, quite often in the first half of August, and more seldom- in the second half. Usually, these are hot waves that catch most of Europe. When they come, and if you are in a big city like Plovdiv or Ruse, you would like to walk only in the evening, eating ice cream or drinking icy beer. At noon and afternoon, the streets are empty.

In such weather, the best places you can go are the Black Sea Coast or the high mountains. At the Bulgarian Riviera, even during a hot wave, it doesn’t get too hot, but the fresh breeze from the sea still keeps temperatures not higher than 32-33°C, and seldom more than that.

And in the mountains, you can enjoy nice hiking in temperatures between 20 and 30°C, even cooler, depending on the altitude where you hike. Evenings are cool and even cold, and temperatures can drop to 10°C, even below that, if you are over 2000 m altitude.

Hot and lazy afternoon in Plovdiv
Hot and lazy afternoon in Plovdiv

Unstable weather, rainstorms

This type of weather is another typical condition during the summer in Bulgaria. It is more often in the first half of the season when the sun is strong, the day is longest, but the ground is still not enough warm.

Usually, in the morning weather is humid and hot. But at noon, the air humid starts forming cumulonimbus clouds that quickly grow in height. At the same time, the electric charge difference starts growing too, creating tension. When the clouds reach a certain condition, it starts forming lightning and thunders, and it is usually accompanied by strong, heavy rain.

In the low plains, the rain can turn into a hailstorm that can be dangerous for agriculture and for people. A tornado can occur too, but it is rare, and can’t reach the devastating strength of the Middle American tornadoes.

However, during such unstable weather, mountains can be a dangerous place, especially on the summits and over the forest zones. Severe rainstorms, accompanied by strong wind can cause sudden temperature drop. But the most dangerous are the thunders and lightning. So, if such weather happens in the mountain, you better find a shelter and avoid hiking!

Geographical zones in Bulgaria

Bulgaria has a variety of geographical zones. It is due to the diverse terrain, in which mountains and plains are situated horizontally, forming obstacles for the north-south atmospheric currents. The Black Sea is on the east, but it doesn’t influence the weather in the interior of the country. And the Aegean Sea is on the south (in Greece), but from there usually, only hot waves come.

Sub-tropical areas in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is located at the southern edge of the moderate climatic zone of the Earth, and this edge “penetrates” in the southern part of the country’s territory. As a result, subtropical climate can be found in Southwest Bulgaria (around Sandanski), and near the border with Turkey, including the southernmost Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria.

However, the difference between subtropical and moderate types of climate can be felt only in winter. In summer, heat is the same everywhere, and weather is not different in these areas, compared to the lowlands in the rest of the country.

Upper Thracian Plain

In summer, this is the hottest part of Bulgaria. In fact, the highest recorded temperature in the country has been detected here- 44,5°C, not far from Plovdiv. Probably this is because the whole plain is locked between mountains from north, west, and south. It has a continental climate, but at the same time, it almost touches the sub-tropical Mediterranean zone in the south.

High Plains in the West

These plains are located between Stara Planina (The Balkan Mountain), Sredna Gora, and many other smaller mountains, mainly in the west of Bulgaria. They are higher, with an altitude between 300 and 1000 m. In winter, they are some of the coldest places in Bulgaria, but in summer they are hot, although not like the Upper Thracian Plain. Here the weather is a bit wetter, and rainstorms a bit more often.

A sunflower field
A sunflower field

Danubian Plain

This is another hot area in summer. It is located between Stara Planina (The Balkan Mountains) and the Danube River. The plain is not very flat, with some interesting valleys and hills. There are also some amazing formations like caves, canyons, and other places that are especially beautiful in the green summer. But again, it becomes hot. So, this area is also not the favorite place for traveling during this season.

Dobrudzha and the Northeast

Dobrudzha is the easternmost part of the Danubian Plain and it reaches the Black Sea Coast. In summer, it is very hot, mainly due to the stronger continental climate. It almost reaches the grasslands (steppe) area of Ukraine. Only the proximity of the Black Sea prevents it to become the hottest area in Bulgaria during the summer.

The high mountains

The high mountains of Bulgaria are one of the desirable places to go during the hot summer. Various mountains are reaching different heights. Rila and Pirin, located in Southwest Bulgaria are the highest mountains in the country, with Mt. Musala (2925 m) as the highest peak in the whole of Eastern Europe (if don’t count the Caucasus).

Then, there is the longest mountain chain in the Balkan Peninsula- Stara Planina (The Balkan Mountain). In the south, a large portion of the country is occupied by the Rhodope Mountains. The small but magnificent Vitosha rises directly south of the capital Sofia. The other mountains are a bit lower, but still full of beauty.

However, the lower parts of the mountains (up to 800 m) are hot, and summer is not the best season there. The forest area between 800 and 2000 m is great- cool and fresh (just, be aware of rainstorms!). And the highest mountain zone which is above the forests is cooler. In May and June, it is still partially covered by old snow that can remain even until August.

Black Sea Coast

This is another favorite place in Bulgaria. Every summer, thousands of Bulgarians go on a holiday to the Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria. Here the weather is a bit cooler. Seawater is cool in May and June, but in July and August, it reaches 25-26°C. Rainstorms are usually rarer at the Black Sea coast and that’s great for enjoying the happy summer there.

Sunny Beach
Sunny Beach

Normally, the sea is calm in June and July. But from the end of July and the beginning of August, heavy swells appear from the northeast. As a result, strong waves that can rise up to 2-3 m hit the beaches, especially in the south. They can create rip currents and can be dangerous. But when the lifeguards consider swimming as safe, these waves are great for playing and even surfing.

Why should you explore Bulgaria in the summer?

Summer is the best season in Bulgaria to explore its nature. Everything flourishes- the forests are in their greenest, the alpine tundra in the high mountains is in its freshest, and of course, the Black Sea is at its best.

There aren’t too many cultural festivals or other events (for more festivals you should go during the other seasons), but that doesn’t make summer less interesting. Again, if you go to Bulgaria in the summer, your main focus should be Bulgarian nature. Anyway, let’s see what cultural events you can still find during this season.

Summer events

The summer events in Bulgaria are mainly related to the nature, rather than cultural or religious reasons. Also, they are not celebrated in the whole country, but only in some locations that are good to visit at the proper time. Here I will mention two of them.

Rose Festival- in the Rose Valley

The Bulgarian rose is one of the most popular local products in the world- in fact, the rose is one of the symbols of Bulgaria. But it is not all kinds of roses, there is a particular rose sort, known as “Rose Otto”- oil rose, that is used for rose oil and all other products made of this oil.

The Bulgarian rose grows in the plains between Stara Planina (The Balkan Mountain) and Sredna Gora, right in the middle of the country. Unlike the decorative roses, this one blooms from the end of May to the middle of June, and this is the time of the Rose Festival.

To enjoy the Rose Festival, you have to go to the city of Kazanlak, somewhere between June 1st and June 10th. It lasts several days, during the best rose bloom. One of the main attractions of the festival is the election of the Rose Queen- a beautiful Bulgarian girl that later becomes an ambassador for the Bulgarian rose in the world.

Girls in the Rose Festival
Girls in the Rose Festival

Bagpipe Contest in Gela

This is one of the most epic festivals in Bulgaria. It is held on the meadows and forests near the village of Gela, in the Rhodope Mountains. The time for the festival is the first weekend of August.

During the festival, many bagpipers come to Gela and perform a lot of folk music and dances in Rhodopean style. Visitors sleep directly on the grass, in tents, or just in their sleeping bags (depending on the weather), and dance freely day and night. The local people offer “cheverme”- a local dish of roasted mutton.

A similar festival is held in the second half of July in Rozhen, called “Rozhen Sabor”. But it is more commercial and usually involved some popular Bulgarian artists, even some politicians. Anyway, it is also worth visiting. There are some other bagpipe festivals in other Rhodopean villages, performed mainly between July 15h and August 15th, but they are smaller, only local events.

So, let’s get into more detail about the other activities that you can do during the summer in Bulgaria.

What else can you see and experience in Bulgaria during the summer?

You can do many things- as I mentioned above, summer is the best season to enjoy Bulgarian nature. But let’s take a look at various places in the country and see what you can do there.

The big cities

The big cities in Bulgaria are located in the lowlands. Except for Varna and Burgas (they are located at the Black Sea Coast), all other cities are usually empty during the day, especially from the second half of July until the end of August. Many locals leave their cities and go to the cooler mountain, or to the Bulgarian Riviera. So, at noon, in the cities of Sofia, Plovdiv, Ruse, Pleven, Stara Zagora or others, everything is hot, lazy and calm.

But when the later afternoon comes, the cities start to wake up. The day is long, so, between 6 and 9 pm is the best way to walk around and see the places of interest around. Plovdiv is particularly attractive since it is full of history and culture. Usually, there is a lot of folk and art performances in the center, or in the Ancient Roman Theater there. Finally, nightlife in the cities is always attractive in summer.

Find your accommodation in Bulgaria!

History, culture, religion, and folklore themed destinations

There are many folklore-themed places in Bulgaria, and although they are also not very high situated, the summer heat is usually less than in the big cities. This is because they are all in mountainous areas and are surrounded by lush forests and greenery.

The old town of Nessebar
The old town of Nessebar

Some of the best destinations of this type are the monasteries- Rila, Bachkovo, Dryanovo, and others. Other places are the old and folklore towns and villages, such as Koprivshtitsa, Shiroka Laka, Bozhentsi, Etara, Zheravna, the old areas of Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo, Tryavna, Smolyan, Kotel, and other cities. Here you can enjoy the silences and the cool shadows of the old traditional houses, mainly from the Revival era.

Finally, you can find such places on the Black Sea Coast. The best examples are Nessebar and Sozopol. But here the atmosphere is different. They are in the summer sea resort zone, so they are crowded by visitors who combine the summer beach vacation with the local culture.

High season in the Bulgarian Riviera

The Bulgarian Riviera attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists in summer, not only Bulgarians but also many foreigners, coming mainly from the landlocked European countries like Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, as well as countries with a colder climate like Germany and Russia.

They go to the big cities at the Black Sea Coast- Varna and Burgas, to the big resorts Zlatni Piasaci (Golden Sands), Albena and Slanchev Bryag (Sunny Beach), as well as to many other smaller towns and villages, again turned into resorts like Balchik and Kavarna in the north, Obzor, Nessebar, Aheloi and Pomorie in the middle, and Sozopol, Primorsko, Tsarevo, Ahtopol, and Sinemorets in the south.

There are also some wilder places where you can go camping (but still, you have to pay for the campsites) like Silistar, Irakli and many others. As I mentioned above, the best part of summer at the Black Sea Coast is from the second half of July to the beginning of September. During that time, the sea is excellent, and everything is full of life and attractions.

Hiking in the mountains

This is much wilder. Summer is the best season for hiking the higher zones of the Bulgarian mountains, higher than 1000 m altitude. Lower than this altitude is too hot but higher than it is excellent. The best time for mountain hiking is during a hot wave- the weather is stable and safe, and the nature is incredibly beautiful. You can hike in the forest zones of the Rhodope Mountains, or on the summits of Rila, Pirin, Vitosha, and Stara Planina (The Balkan Mountains). It is also great for mountain biking everywhere, except the alpine areas of Rila and Pirin.

But again, if the weather is unstable, avoid hiking in the mountains! There are some cases of people killed by lightning during a mountain thunderstorm. So, follow the weather forecast, and if anyway you are caught by a thunderstorm, stay away from lonely trees, descend from summits and if possible, find a shelter!

Hiking Rila Mountains
Hiking Rila Mountains

Now, let’s take a look at what you should bring when traveling to Bulgaria in summer.

Special summer packing list

If you go traveling to well-arranged places like big cities or cultural destinations, not only in Bulgaria but also everywhere in the world, now particularly in summer, you don’t need to bring anything more special than just things that you use every day at home- daily clothes, daily shoes, toiletry, underwear, electric devices, etc.

But if you are going to enjoy the nature- the mountains or the sea, you would need something more, and now we will focus on it. This is your special summer packing list. Some of the accessories of this list are crucial and necessary, while others are just to enrich your experience and fun. And I will divide the list into two parts- for the mountains, and for the sea.

Special summer packing list for the mountains

If you come to Bulgaria in summer and decide to go on trekking (or just on a daily hike) in the high mountains, you need more things to bring, depending on the length, difficulty, and average altitude of your hiking route. Probably you would not need all of the below, but at least these are things that are always proper for the mountain.

T-shirt

When I write about t-shirts, I mean woolen t-shirts and quick-dry t-shirts. The main reason is sweating- you will almost certainly get sweat unless you go for a short walk on a plain trail. The woolen t-shirts can absorb your sweat much better than any other material, and they are good for sleeping on cool nights. And the quick-dry t-shirts, although they don’t absorb your sweat as the woolen ones, at least can be dry quickly. So, both of them are good, and it is advisable to bring at least 2-3 of them.

Polar sweater

This is for cool nights, especially if you sleep in a tent. Again, the material is wool. Also, you would need it if you are caught by bad weather in the mountain. It can get cool, even cold. Sometimes, weather can be bad even without thunderstorms, but just by cool wave, and you can feel freezing in places over 2200-2500 m altitude.

Summer jacket

You would need it for the same reasons as the polar sweater. Weather in the high mountain can get cool, even cold sometimes. I remember when we tried to reach the highest peak in Bulgaria- Mt. Musala (2925 m) in July, but there was a cold wave and it was foggy and rainy. The temperature was only 5°C, and we had only t-shirts. Needless to say, when we went out of the cable car, we could only drink a tea at the station, then immediately get back to the lower and warmer places.

Hiking pants

If the weather is hot (and nicely cool in the mountain), you would like to hike wearing short pants. And that’s comfortable, even in the highest altitude areas. But again, if it gets cold, your legs can feel cold too- in colder weather or just at night. Besides, there is a danger for snakes in some places, so, long pants can protect you better.

So, the best solution is thin convertible pants. Their lower parts can be removed and they can become short pants. Besides, good hiking pants have good waterproof features. Currently, there are models for men and women. Let’s take a look at some below:

Summer hat

Sun is stronger in the mountain. So, a summer hat is a need, especially if you hike in places without forests. It can not only protect your head from sunstroke, but also it protects your skin from sunburn. The typical summer hats are wide skirted, and again, there are models for men and women.

Summer hiking (walking) shoes

You would need such shoes for normal hiking in the mountain. In fact, they are enough light and cool, so you can wear them even when you are in the city. They have good waterproof feature, and most importantly, they are designed for comfort while you hike. Again, there are models for men and women, so you can choose the best for you.

Three-season hiking boots

These boots are heavier and stronger. They are more proper for longer trekking, as well as for colder weather. So, you can bring them if you plan trekking in Rila, Pirin, or the summit of Stara Planina (The Balkan Mountains). They are also designed to protect your feet better if you bring a heavier backpack. The good three-season hiking boots have a good waterproof feature and can be later used for other seasons too. Again, you can choose between male and female models.

Hiking sandals

These are good for hiking during the daytime in the lower mountain areas. You don’t need socks, and your feet would feel fresh and cool. Also, you can walk in wet places, you can cross rivers, or just walk on the bottom of other bodies of water. They are waterproof (they would not be damaged in water), and they are also great for some Black Sea Coast adventures.

Hiking poles

You would need these if you want to hike more conveniently. Yes, of course, you can hike without poles, but you would more easily get tired, especially if you bring a heavy backpack. The hiking poles provide also stability in difficult terrain. In fact, you can just find a stick in the mountain, but that’s not always easy, especially if you want two equal sticks. And above the forest zone that’s almost impossible.

Backpack

A good backpack is important if you want to hike the mountains in Bulgaria. The most important value of a backpack is its volume. And of course, you can use it as a place for your general luggage. But while traveling in cities and other human-made places can be done just by a suitcase, hiking in the mountain is possible only with a backpack. And if you plan a longer trek, you would need at least 65 to 80 L of a backpack volume. So, let’s see some good backpacks below:

Tent

If you decide to go on a multiple-day (or at least two-days) trekking in the Bulgarian mountains, you would need a tent. A three-season tent with good ventilation and waterproof would be enough. There are 2, 3, 4 or more person tents, so that depends on how many people will use it.

Most importantly, a tent can give you freedom and independence to sleep wherever you want. Just avoid sleeping in a tent in Pirin (unless in the campsites arranged for this purpose). In the Rila, you formally can sleep in a tent everywhere, but never make a fire! It is a national park. Also, avoid camping near the mountain chalets, they would require you to pay for that.

You can also use the tent for the Black Sea Coast if you prefer to get more adventurous and decide to stay at a campsite. Let’s take a look at some tents below:

Sleeping bag

The sleeping bag is a necessary accessory if you go hiking in the mountains. Again, nights are cool and you can feel quite cold without it. Normally, a 10°C comfort type of sleeping bag would be enough, since the temperature seldom drops below that. Only in the highest zones of Rila and Pirin, it can get colder and you would need a sleeping bag with lower comfort temperature, or at least more clothes to protect you from cold. But if you are going to camp at the Black Sea Coast, in general, you would not need a sleeping bag.

Sleeping pad

The sleeping pad is another necessary accessory. Again, at night the ground is cold, and you would need a good pad to provide good insulation. Also, you would not sleep well directly on the ground, since it is very unlikely that it would be enough smooth and comfortable.

Pillow

One of the reasons I couldn’t sleep at night in a tent was the lack of a good pillow. I tried to put my backpack or something else under my head, but it can’t be so comfortable. Your neck could hurt and on the next day, you would feel tired. So, a good pillow can be crucial for your comfortable sleeping at night. A proper solution is an inflatable pillow that can be easily put in your backpack, then you just inflate it and can have nice dreams.

Raincoat

Although you would try to hike the mountains during a dry hot wave, there is always a chance for rain. You can be caught in a rainstorm or just a light rain, but you can still get wet. And it would be too cool to “enjoy the summer rain” in the mountain. So, protecting yourself dry is important. Yes, most of the raincoats don’t have so good breathing, and you can still get wet from inside, but at least it would be much less than wetting directly by cold rain.

Sunscreen

This is important if you don’t want to burn your skin by the sun. As I already mentioned, the sun is much stronger in the high mountain, especially above the forest zone. Yes, you would protect your skin with a summer hat, probably by long sleeves and long pants, but sunscreen can provide more convenient protection. And you would need a really strong sunscreen, between SPF 45 and 60- the mountain is not the best place for making a beautiful skin tan.

Other things to bring for the mountain

Some other things are important for a mountain trek. I would mention a knife- always useful. Of course- a bottle of water, or better, at least two bottles, or a water bladder- a very important thing! Yes, the mountain water in many places is drinkable, and there are many water sources, but bringing water with you is crucial until you find such a source. And in addition- bring something to cook!

Also, don’t forget your electrical devices- a GPS, or at least an app for GPS, downloaded on your mobile phone. Take a power bank, or better- a solar panel. Thus you can always recharge your device.

Finally, bring your camera! Or at least, use your mobile for stunning photos! If you have a GoPro would be even better, especially if your trek is more adventurous.

Now, let’s go to the sea coast.

Special summer packing list for the sea

If you just go to a Black Sea resort and stay in a hotel, in a guesthouse, or in a hostel, you don’t need too many special things to bring. You would need only the things that can make your beach experience better. So, let’s mention them too.

Swimsuit

Of course, you can’t go to the beach without it. Probably you already have your swimsuit at home, but it is necessary to mention it, even if you are not sure whether you will visit the Bulgarian Riviera or not.

But let’s take a look at some other accessories that can make your beach experience better and funnier.

Snorkel

A snorkel can give you a better experience underwater. Yes, if you just play on a sand beach, there is nothing so special to see, and the water is not perfectly transparent. But there are some rocky places outside the beaches where the sea bottom is much more interesting, and the water is clearer. And a snorkel can allow you to look at this beauty for a longer time. But of course, you need a mask to see the underwater world better.

Mask

With a good mask and a snorkel, you can have a much better experience underwater. Yes, the water of the Black Sea is not very salty, it is much sweeter than the water in the Mediterranean Sea and most of the seas and oceans in the world. But it still can harm your eyes if you stare into the water unprotected. And again, the mask is not only for protection but also for a better view.

There are sets of mask and snorkel. Of course, you can buy these things separately, but for more convenience (and sometimes for lower price), you can buy a set.

Fins

You need them only if you are a good swimmer. If not, you may feel difficult to use them. But if you can swim with fins, that gives you a better experience and ability to swim faster and farther. Of course, you know that if you are a swimmer. And with a whole set- a mask, a snorkel, and fins, you can explore more of the Black Sea Coast beauty.

Inflatable boat

This is another fun thing you can do. But you can do it only if the sea is calm. If you see the green flag, you can enjoy it. But if the flag is yellow or red, you will be not allowed in the water with an inflatable boat. And if you try to go far from the lifeguarded beaches, it would be at your own risk, and it would be dangerous. Anyway, in the calm sea, you can enjoy your own “cruise” near the coastline, and it can be happy.

Sunglasses

It would be a good accessory to protect your eyes. Yes, sunglasses are good for the mountain, but not necessary in summer. However, at the seacoast, the water, and the sand are shiny, and the sun reflects on the surface of the water. It can cause problems with the eyes of some people, but in general, most of them don’t have a problem with that too.

Besides all of the above, many of the accessories for the mountain hiking that I mentioned above can be used at the sea coast, especially if you want to be more adventurous- a tent, a sleeping pad, a pillow, the clothes for the mountain (at least t-shirts and hiking pants), waterproof sandals, a good backpack, cookware, etc., and especially- sunscreen.

Of course, you can have a great experience in Bulgaria during the summer season if you just visit the big cities and the culture-historical destinations. But if you explore the nature along with it, you would get the best of this amazingly beautiful country, and I will repeat again- summer is the best season to do it!

Get some inspiration of the four seasons in Bulgaria from the video below!

Take a look at some travel books about Bulgaria:

    

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A guide about the summer season in Bulgaria, including travel tips, special packing list, geographical zones and more. A guide about the summer season in Bulgaria, including travel tips, special packing list, geographical zones and more. A guide about the summer season in Bulgaria, including travel tips, special packing list, geographical zones and more.

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