WhatiLearned.com - What I Learned
What I Learned. WhatILearned.com. Breaking News and Stories from around the globe.
Vanabode Camp, Travel And Live Forever On $20 A Day
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 $1 glasses of wine allow you to travel well for cheap. Despite the bargains, there aren’t many tourists here outside of the Black Sea in summer. 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. In the winter, you can also go skiing in the mountains, where an all-day lift ticket can be as little as 10 euros. Historic and picturesque cities like Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo 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 advantage of cheap travel prices in Bulgaria 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 or app.
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 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 late April here: From Red to Green in Bulgaria.
This is a country 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 the currency is pegged to the euro at 2 to 1. The exchange rate at the time of this post was around 1.75 lev to the U.S. dollar. Rates below are in dollars just because most of this blog’s readers are American. You’ll have to calculate in lev after hitting the ATM.
Hotel & Hostel Prices in Bulgaria
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.
Hostel beds have actually come down in price in the past decade as competition has increased. They 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 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 actually offers 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. Get a rebate with this link if you haven’t used them before, otherwise follow this link for apartment and house rentals in Bulgaria.
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.
Bulgarian Food & Drink Prices
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.
Eating on the street will only require a few coins: cheese-filled breads for 25¢, small pizzas for 50¢, or a sandwich and soda for $1.50 to $2.50.
Typical restaurant meal in Bulgaria: $4 – $10 for several courses and a drink.
Typical menu prices for food: soups/salads $1.50 – $3, mains $2 – $6, desserts 50 cents to $1.50.
According to an independent pricing survey published in 2018, Bulgaria is the second-cheapest country in Europe for alcoholic beverages, only edged out by Macedonia. The beer here has gone up a bit in recent years, but is still probably the cheapest in Europe or darn close.
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. 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 $3.
Non-alcoholic drinks: herbal tea & water are the cheapest (40-80 cents), coffee $1 or so, soda usually more than beer or raki.
Fruit & vegetables – In the 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.
Dairy products – yogurt around $1 a liter, milk $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 is very cheap.With the average Bulgarian monthly salary being less than $600 (and the minimum wage around $315 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.
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 $12 on almost any route that’s not cross-country.
A taxi across town is generally 50¢ for the flag drop and then 50¢ per kilometer, or $2.50-$6 to go further than you could walk. Getting from the airport to the center should cost around $12. One trip on the public buses, trams, and trolleys in the capital is only $1, or double that and get an all-day pass.
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. A train from the capital to Bucharest, Romania is less than $20 and a sleeper berth to Istanbul from Veliko Tarnovo is around $50.
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 – $38 for walk-up all-day lift ticket. (This is the same price it was seven years 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 houses 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. For more on that, see this post on living in Bulgaria prices.
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. This post has some affiliate links, which will earn me a small commission for your purchase. You will not pay more than if you visited the site directly, but this helps offset the costs of providing free content. Thanks!