Bulgaria boasts a rich array of historic landmarks spanning millennia. From the awe-inspiring artwork in the Thracian tombs to remnants of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, from medieval masterpieces to remnants of nearly 500 years of Ottoman rule—there’s a story around every corner.
With Far Horizons, journey from the southwestern mountains to the eastern Black Sea shores and up to the northern stretches of the Danube River.
Our comprehensive itinerary showcases all seven of Bulgaria’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the carved churches of Ivanovo, the ancient city of Nessebar, the majestic Madara Rider etched on a cliff, the stunning Rila Monastery, Boyana Church’s captivating murals, and the Thracian tombs of both Kazanlak and Sveshtari.
Embark on an 18-day adventure with a group of just 13 fellow travelers. Dive into Bulgaria’s breathtaking landscapes, quaint villages, excellent cuisine, fine wine, and monumental history, all while experiencing the warmth of its people. Ready to join us?
(If you have any questions about this tour itinerary, get in touch.)
Depart for Sofia, Bulgaria.
Arrive into the capital city of Sofia this morning and transfer to the five-star Grand Hotel Sofia, our home for two nights. Take some time to rest before enjoying an afternoon walking tour. The city of Sofia covers layers of civilization, and its churches and monuments reveal more than 2,000 years of history, including Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Soviet influence. Begin with a stop at Alexander Nevski Cathedral, built as a memorial to honor the Russian Emperor Alexander the 2nd, also known as the Tsar-Liberator, whose army freed Bulgaria from the five-century long Ottoman dominion in 1878. Venture below St. Sofia Basilica to wander among Roman walls. These excavations of the forum include tombs and four churches from the 4th century. Dinner is on our own tonight. (B/L/ )
Our day begins at Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an excellent example of medieval art and architecture. The complex is made up of three buildings with one of them containing marvelous 13th-century wall paintings. Continue to the National Museum of History with rooms displaying objects from prehistory through today, and then the National Archaeology Museum, where the Valchitran Gold is displayed. This astonishing treasure was found by chance while digging up a vineyard in Valchitran village in 1923. Walk into the 16th century Banya Bashi Mosque, designed by the great Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan, and the only functioning mosque remaining in Sofia. Next to the mosque are the Baths of Sofia, used as the city’s public baths until 1986. The magnificent Sofia Synagogue, the third most important in Europe after Budapest and Amsterdam, is in the same area. It regularly conducts public worship but also contains a museum about Jewish traditions and historical heritage in the country and the rescue of Jews during World War II. Bulgaria was the only nation in Europe to save its entire Jewish population from the Nazi death camps, and King Boris has the wartime distinction of being the only world leader to defy Hitler face-to-face. Gather this evening for our welcome dinner in a traditional Bulgarian restaurant. (B/L/D)
Depart Sofia for Vratsa, and the Vratsa History Museum partially located within the Tower of Meshchii, a fortified 16th century residential stronghold. Spread through several halls, the exhibitions include the Rogozen Collection, the richest Thracian treasure yet discovered within Bulgaria. It includes gold-plated silver dinnerware that belonged to a Thracian royal dynasty. Drive on to Veliko Turnovo, the medieval capital of Bulgaria, and enter the 13th century St. Peter and St. Paul Church. This unique structure boasts three layers of exquisite frescos of Christian saints. Overnight for two nights at the 3-star Hotel Meridian in Tarnovo. (B/L/D)
The Roman, and later Byzantine, Nicopolis ad Istrum was founded by Emperor Trajan. On the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List, the arresting architecture and Hellenistic sculpture show a similarity with those of similar towns in Asia Minor. After walking through the old city, continue to the charming village of Arbanassi, now an open-air museum. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the village became an affluent crafts and trade hub. During this period, wealthy traders constructed impressive stone houses resembling small fortresses, along with ornately embellished churches and monasteries, many covered in colorful painted frescoes. Konstantsaliev House, a fortress-home surrounded by high stone walls, is an example of this unique style of architecture. Our next destination is Transfiguration, or Preobrazhenski, Monastery with both its exterior and interior painted in vibrant scarlet hues. Dinner is on our own. (B/L/ )
Begin the day at Tsarevets Royal Hill, a medieval stronghold that was besieged by the Ottomans for months before finally succumbing in 1393, marking the fall of the Bulgarian Empire. Next, we drive north to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ivanovo, a complex of Christian sanctuaries cut out of the living rock during the 12th century. The cave interiors are decorated with superb medieval wall paintings. Continue to Ruse, located on the right bank of the Danube with the country of Romania on the opposite side of the river. It is considered one of the most beautiful towns in Bulgaria due to its refined Neo-Baroque and Neo-Rococo architecture. The Ruse Regional Museum contains the 5th-century BC Borovo Treasure, a hoard of gold-plated silver dining items, many displaying images of Greek gods. Spend one night in the Hotel Anna Palace in Ruse. (B/L/D)
Today, if reopened after restoration, we head to Sboryanovo Historic and Archaeological Reserve, which encompasses more than 140 sites. The most famous is the Sveshtari Tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The interior of this Thracian crypt is filled with wonderful art. Along the wall is a procession of ten caryatids that are half human and half plant, and a mural depicting a ruler on horseback gazing toward a god holding a laurel wreath. Next, it’s on to Demir Baba Teke, thought to be the resting place of Demir Baba, a 16th-century Alevi saint. In the afternoon, a short drive takes us to Veliki Preslav, a fortified town established more than 1,100 years ago and declared the capital of the Bulgarian state in 893. Overnight in the Hotel Villa Bulgara Eco located in the pleasant village of Kyulevtcha. (B/L/D)
Pliska was the first capital of the First Bulgarian Kingdom. Here we explore the ruins of palaces, fortifications and The Great Basilica, one of the largest Christian places of worship of its time. Next, we see the Madara Rider, a gigantic early medieval rock relief incised into a 300-foot high cliff face. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the carving represents a knight’s victory over a lion. We continue to Marcianopolis. During excavations in 1976, a large 4th century palace was exposed that covered one quarter of the Roman town. The exceptional Museum of Mosaics was constructed over the splendid mosaic floors of this building. Drive on to Pobiti Kamani, or Stone Forest, a rock marvel where tall hollow cylinders are clustered together in groups, many reaching 15 feet or more in height. These 50-million-year-old columns were formed in the Cenozoic Era and were once beneath the Black Sea. Spend two nights in Varna at the Hotel Golden Tulip. (B/L/D)
Travel outside Varna to see the ruins of a medieval fortress on the Kaliakra Cape, strategically positioned on a rocky headland jutting out into the Black Sea. Move on to ancient Dionysopolis, where Dr. Tenekedjiev excavated. It was here that the Decree of Dionysopolis was written by the city’s citizens around 48 BC. Only a fragment of the document remains but may have been sent to Pompeii to discuss an alliance against Julius Caesar. Today it is safely located in the National Historical Museum in Sofia. Next, view the artifacts on display at the Balchik History Museum, many found in excavations of the nearby Kibela (Cybele) Temple. Back in Varna, one of the oldest cities in Europe, view the Roman baths complex, the fourth-largest in Europe and the largest in the Balkans. Dinner is on our own. (B/L/ )
Our morning will be spent in the notable Archaeological Museum of Varna which displays over 100,000 artifacts from northeast Bulgaria’s past eras. Its most celebrated exhibit is the Gold of Varna. Six thousand years ago, during the Chalcolithic era, a mysterious civilization buried an important ruler draped with 18 pounds of jewelry and weapons made of processed gold. It was accidently uncovered in 1973 by a backhoe operator digging on the Varna necropolis. Move on to the Byzantine Monastery on Djanavara Hill to have a private tour of the excavations, sponsored by the Balkan Heritage Foundation. In the afternoon, drive to the Black Sea coastal town of Nessebar. Dating back over 3,000 years, the attractive old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As we stroll through the Byzantine fortification walls and along the cobbled streets, we will see the remains of earlier societies from Hellenistic to the 19th century wooden houses typical of Black Sea architecture. We will enter the Archaeological Museum as well as view the outstanding frescos of the Church of St. Stephen. Overnight tonight in the small, family-run Hotel St Nicola in Nessebar. (B/L/D)
Near today’s town of Pomorie, a wealthy aristocratic family created a mausoleum in the 3rd century. Designed of brick and stone, the circular interior in this ‘beehive tomb’ is topped by a stately mushroom shaped dome. We’ll drive to Kazanlak Valley with an exceedingly high concentration and variety of Thracian monuments. In the regional museum of Kazanluk gain an introduction to the history of the Valley of the Thracian Rulers. Among the hundreds of burial mounds found here, the most famous is the Tomb of Kazanlak, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the large royal necropolis in the valley. Richly decorated with intricate murals depicting the Thracian culture, this is Bulgaria’s best-preserved work of art from the Hellenistic period. The original tomb is closed to the public, but we will enter an exact replica. Then it’s on to other burial chambers in the region. Goliama Kosmatka was the grave of the 3rd-century King Seuthes lll. All the necessities of life after death were found inside: bronze vessels, gilded helmet, swords and spears, and even a ceramic urn filled with wine. The tomb in Shushmanets was built to be a temple in the 4th century BC and then turned into a Thracian burial chamber supported by graceful Doric column with Ionic capital. The roof of Ostrusha Tomb is ornamented with dozens of square and circle shaped niches, many with still visible vivid polychrome paintings. In the town of Shipka, a Russian Church was officially opened in 1902 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Battles of Shipka Pass. The 17 bells, the biggest of which weighs almost 12 tons, were cast from fired cartridges gathered on the former battlefield of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. The architecture mirrors 17th -century Russian church architecture with golden domes, lovely multi-colored wall paintings and an iconostasis lavishly enhanced with gilded woodcarvings. Proceed to Stara Zagora and overnight in the 5-star Park Hotel for two nights. (B/L/D)
Start the day at the village of Karanovo. During excavations in 2009, there was an amazing discovery made, now known as The Karanovo Thracian Chariot Tomb. Along with an abundance of gold and silver objects, a preserved 2,500-year-old Thracian chariot with elaborate bronze decorations was found along with the still visible skeletons of two horses that would have pulled it. A dog was chained to the cart, and nearby was the burial of what was most likely the owner along with his armor and swords. The interred individual was obviously affluent – two silver chalices were found, both inscribed with the image of the god Eros, along with unique glass plates, warrior’s trappings, coins, silver anklets, and gold rings. Return to Stara Zagora and visit the Neolithic Dwellings Museum, the local Archaeology Museum, and the remains of the Roman Forum and Thermae as well as some well-preserved mosaics located inside the city’s post office. (B/L/D)
We depart for Hlyabovo Thracian Dolmen, a megalithic monument of upright stones supporting a horizontal stone slab. Remarkably, human remains were found in one of the chambers. Continue to the Eastern Rhodope Mountains, to Madzharovo to view the imposing rock of Kovankaya, exhibiting hundreds of manmade niches. Next, climb Perperikon, the largest megalithic archeological site in the Balkans. Although excavations show that there was a settlement here in 5000 BC, the 1500 BC level is of great interest as it is the only known city of the Thracians. Buildings, streets, and a water supply system are clearly visible, as is a huge altar cleaved out of the rock where fire rituals would most likely have been performed. Overnight for one night at the 3-star Hotel Perperikoni in Kardzhali. (B/L/D)
Near Tatul Village is found one of the most imposing megalithic monuments ever discovered in Bulgaria. This 4th century BC Thracian sanctuary contains two sarcophagi, a rectangular bed for the main altar, and a 10-foot-deep well. Move on to the intriguing Harmankaya Rock Sanctuary built around a cave. Two deep basins dominate the site which some researchers believe date to 2000 BC and may have been used for astronomical observations. Whether this is accurate or not, the area was certainly important as we can observe trapezoid niches, altars and structural foundations cut into the rock. Continue to Plovdiv, designated by the European Union (EU) as the European Capital of Culture for 2019. Dinner is on our own. Overnight for two nights at the Ramada Plovdiv. (B/L/ )
Plovdiv is a city with layers of epochs. We will visit the Old Plovdiv architectural reserve, awarded a medal for architecture by UNESCO, with amphitheater, Roman forum and stadium, and St. Constantine and Helena Church. Visit the extensive Ethnographic Museum, housed in the grand 19th-century home of the Ottoman merchant Argir Kuyumdzhioglu. Move on to Bachkovo Monastery, the second largest monastery in Bulgaria. Founded in 1083, the resplendent building is a unusual combination of Byzantine, Georgian, and Bulgarian cultures. Lastly, see Asenova Fortresss, sited high on a rocky ridge overlooking the Asenitsa River. Inside the fortifications lies the Church of the Holy Mother of God. The sanctuary’s interior displays fragments of 14th century superb frescos of saints. Return to Plovdiv with dinner on our own. (B/L/ )
Today we head to Yunatsite Tell for a private tour with a local archaeologist working there. Excavations have shown that the mound dates to the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods. At the nearby Pazardzhik Museum glimpse artifacts found onsite. After our visit, we return to Sofia. The city covers ancient Serdica, founded 4,000 years ago by the Thracians. Walk through the center of the city to see the Roman remains including the amphitheater, accidentally discovered in 2004 during the early constructions of a hotel and now is incorporated into the building’s ground floor. Visit the early Christian Church of St George, a red brick rotunda originally built in the 4th century as Roman baths. Dinner is on our own. Overnight in the five-star Grand Hotel Sofia for two nights. (B/L/ )
Journey outside Sofia to Rila Monastery, the largest Eastern Orthodox monastery in the country and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This architectural jewel was founded in the 10th century by the students of the hermit St. Ivan of Rila, whose name it bears, and there have been many additions and renovations since that time. The interior is adorned with gorgeous medieval paintings and wooden carvings, and a brilliant gold-plated iconostasis dominates the sanctuary. Return to Sofia for some free time in the city before a farewell dinner at an elegant local restaurant. (B/L/D)
Price is based on double occupancy and includes:
Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.
Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.
As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.
Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.
A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.
International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for 2 miles or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging as much as 5 miles of walking per day. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 60 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking several miles every day, ideally including stairs and hills. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.
This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.