Bulgaria’s sun-drenched Black Sea coast and history-rich cities have become increasingly popular destinations for UK travellers in recent decades. Thanks to its reliable climate, wealth of natural and heritage attractions and distinctive culture, this once understated country is now enjoying its turn in the spotlight. What’s more, the availability of cheap flights to Bulgaria means that it’s easier and more affordable than ever for British tourists to get to the sparkling shores of Varna, the exotic domes of Sofia, the romantic old town of Plovdiv or the winter pistes of Borovets.
Once known mainly for its family-friendly summer resorts, Bulgaria has branched out to become a year-round destination, offering city breaks, adventure holidays and countryside getaways – not to mention world-class winter-sports facilities. Thanks to healthy competition from low-cost carriers, budget flights to Bulgaria are in plentiful supply even in high season, provided you book well ahead. The weather is still warm enough in early spring or late autumn to enjoy the sights without the crowds, so look for midweek bargains in March or October. Winters can be cold and most of the coastal resorts will be closed for the season, making it the perfect time to head for the slopes or bag a cheap and cheerful city break.
You’ll find a wide variety of direct flights to Bulgaria from the UK, with a choice of London or regional departures. Enterprising Hungarian budget carrier Wizz Air flies direct from London Luton to Sofia, with easyJet offering routes to the same destination from London Gatwick or Stansted and Manchester – all with a flight time of 3 hours. Bulgaria Air and British Airways link Sofia with London Heathrow, while Ryanair has departures from London Stansted and Glasgow. Wizz Air operates routes from London Luton to Varna with a flight time of 3 hours 30 minutes, and Ryanair takes a little less to travel from London Stansted to Plovdiv. Wizz Air also flies from London Luton to Bourgas, gateway to Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts.
Sofia Airport is Bulgaria’s main hub, and is well equipped for handling large numbers of travellers with speed and efficiency. Hop on the metro for direct connections to the city centre in under 20 minutes, or change lines to reach the city’s main bus and railway stations for onward travel. Taxis can be hired from the stand outside the arrivals hall for door-to-door comfort and convenience. Plovdiv Airport in the south of the country is especially busy during the winter-sports season, providing taxi and car-rental facilities and private shuttle services to the main ski resorts. Bourgas Airport prides itself on being “the sunniest airport in the Balkans”, so travellers heading for the Black Sea beaches from here might have their first taste of Bulgarian sunshine at the terminal. Catch bus no. 15 from the airport to the central bus station for onward connections to the coast. Those arriving in Varna Airport can reach the historic city centre in around 20 minutes on bus no. 409, which leaves from outside Terminal 2. Alternatively, hire an authorised taxi from the booking office inside the terminal – a trip to the centre costs around 15 Bulgarian lev.
With its long golden beaches and dramatic mountain peaks, quaint villages and sophisticated cities, Bulgaria’s variety is one of its chief attractions. Sozopol’s sleepy old town comes to life in late summer with the Apollonia arts festival, and the glorious frescoes of the Rila Monastery in the southwest draw gasps of awe from pilgrims and art lovers alike. The northern town of Veliko Tarnovo seduces visitors with its medieval fortress and atmospheric craft market, while Sofia’s iconic Aleksander Nevski cathedral has become an enduring symbol of the city. Chill out on the untouched Irakli beach, go birdwatching in Kaliakra nature reserve or hit the dancefloors of Golden Sands. Wherever you are, treat yourself to a glass of Bulgaria’s famous rakia, or fruit brandy, to end your day with a warm glow.
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