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Bulgaria Travel Guide - Travel S Helper

Bulgaria

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Bulgaria is a country in southeastern Europe. Its official name is the Republic of Bulgaria. It is bounded to the north by Romania, to the west by Serbia and Macedonia, to the south by Greece and Turkey, and to the east by the Black Sea. Bulgaria is Europe’s 16th-largest nation, with a land area of 110,994 square kilometers (42,855 square miles).

During the Neolithic era, organized ancient civilizations started to emerge in present Bulgarian territories. Thracians, Greeks, and Romans were all present throughout its ancient history. The formation of an united Bulgarian state may be traced back to the creation of the First Bulgarian Empire in 681 AD, which controlled much of the Balkans and served as a cultural center for Slavs throughout the Middle Ages. After the collapse of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1396, its lands were ruled by the Ottomans for almost five centuries. The Third Bulgarian State was established as a result of the Russo-Turkish War in 1877–78. Several confrontations with its neighbors ensued in the years that followed, prompting Bulgaria to side with Germany in both world wars. As part of the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc, it became a one-party socialist state in 1946. The governing Communist Party permitted multi-party elections in December 1989, paving the way for Bulgaria’s transition to democracy and a market-based economy.

Bulgaria’s 7.4 million-person population is mostly urbanized and centered in the administrative centers of its 28 regions. The capital and biggest city, Sofia, is the focal point of most economic and cultural activity. Heavy manufacturing, power engineering, and agriculture are the strongest sectors of the economy, all of which depend on local natural resources.

The present political system of the nation goes back to the adoption of a democratic constitution in 1991. Bulgaria is a unitary parliamentary republic with strong political, administrative, and economic centralization. It is a member of the European Union, NATO, and the Council of Europe; a founding member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); and a three-time member of the United Nations Security Council.

Geography of Bulgaria

The Balkan mountain range separates northern and southern Bulgaria, as it runs from the extreme northwestern part of the country to the coast of the Black Sea in the east. In the south, Bulgaria’s terrain is dominated by high mountains and river valleys, which occupy almost the entire west and southernmost areas of the country. Also in the south are the Thracian Plain and the low mountains of Strandzha and Sakar. The area of northern Bulgaria consists exclusively of lowlands. Eastern Bulgaria consists exclusively of the coasts and beaches of the Black Sea.

Highest point: Mount “Musala” in the Rila Mountains – 2925m (highest peak in Eastern Europe).

Demographics of Bulgaria

The population of Bulgaria is 7,364,570 people according to the 2011 census. Its majority, 72.5 %, resides in urban areas; approximately 1/6 of the total population being concentrated in Sofia. Bulgarians are the most important ethnic group, accounting for 84.8 per cent of the population. Turkish and Roma minorities make up 8.8 and 4.9 per cent, respectively; about 40 smaller minorities make up 0.7 per cent, and 0.8 per cent do not self-identify with an ethnic group.

All ethnic groups speak Bulgarian, either as a first or second language. Bulgarian is the only language with official status and mother tongue for 85.2 per cent of the population. As the oldest written Slavic language, Bulgarian differs from the other languages of this group in some grammatical peculiarities, such as the absence of noun clauses and infinitives and a trailing definite article.

According to government statistics from 2003, literacy rates are 98.6 %, and there is no significant difference between the genders. The standard of education is traditionally high, though still far from European standards, and has deteriorated steadily over the past decade. Bulgarian students were among the best in the world in reading in 2001, performing better than their Canadian and German peers; by 2006, scores in reading, mathematics and science had deteriorated. Government spending on education is far below the European Union average. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Science partly funds public schools, colleges and universities, sets criteria for textbooks and monitors publication. The state provides free education in public primary and secondary schools. The educational process covers 12 grade levels, with grades one to eight being primary and nine to twelve being secondary. High schools can be technical, vocational, general or specialised in a particular field, while higher education consists of a four-year bachelor’s degree and a one-year master’s degree.

The Bulgarian Constitution defines the country as a secular state with guaranteed freedom of religion, but refers to Orthodoxy as a “traditional” religion. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church was granted autocephalous status in 927 AD and currently has 12 dioceses and over 2,000 priests. More than three quarters of Bulgarians profess Eastern Orthodoxy. Sunni Muslims are the second largest community and make up 10 per cent of the religious composition, although the majority of them do not pray and find the use of Islamic veils in schools unacceptable. 11.8 per cent do not self-identify with a religion and 21.8 per cent refuse to state their faith.

Bulgaria has a universal health care system financed by taxes and contributions. There is a gradually increasing share of primary health care costs paid by the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF). The projected health expenditure for 2013 is 4.1 per cent of GDP. The number of doctors is above the EU average at 181 doctors per 100,000 population, but the distribution by specialty is uneven, there is a severe shortage of nurses and other medical staff, and the quality of most medical facilities is poor. In some areas, the shortage of staff is so severe that patients seek treatment in neighbouring countries. Bulgaria ranks 113th in the world in average life expectancy, which is 73.6 years for both sexes. The main causes of death are similar to other developed countries, mainly cardiovascular diseases, neoplasms and respiratory diseases.

Bulgaria is in a demographic crisis. Since the early 1990s, when the economic collapse triggered a prolonged wave of emigration, the country has had negative population growth. Approximately 937,000 to 1,200,000 individuals – primarily young adults – emigrated from the country until 2005. The total fertility rate (TFR) was estimated at 1.43 children born/woman in 2013, below the replacement rate of 2.1. One-third of all households consist of only one person and 75.5 per cent of families have no children under 16. As a result, the population growth and fertility rate is among the lowest in the world, at the same time the mortality rate is one of the highest. The majority of children are born to unmarried women (of all births in 2012, 57.4 % were out of wedlock).

Economy of Bulgaria

Today, Bulgaria is an emerging market economy with an upper-middle income sector, where the private sector represents more than 80 % of GDP. The loss of the COMECON markets in 1990 and the subsequent “shock therapy” of the planned system caused a steep decline in industrial and agricultural production, which was eventually followed by an economic collapse in 1997. The economy largely recovered during a period of rapid growth a few years later, but the average wage remains one of the lowest in the EU at 952 leva (€488) per month in March 2016, with more than a fifth of the workforce employed for a minimum wage of €1 per hour. However, wages account for only half of total household income due to the extensive informal economy, which accounts for almost 32 % of GDP. Bulgaria’s PPS GDP per capita was 47 % of the EU average in 2014, according to Eurostat data, while the cost of living was 48 % of the average. The currency is the lev, which is pegged to the euro at a rate of 1.95583 leva for 1 euro. Bulgaria is not part of the eurozone and has abandoned plans to adopt the euro.

Economic indicators deteriorated during the financial crisis of the late 2000s. After several consecutive years of high growth, GDP contracted by 5.5 per cent in 2009 and unemployment remains above 12 per cent. Industrial production fell by 10 per cent, mining by 31 per cent, and iron and metal production recorded a 60 per cent decline. In 2010, positive growth was achieved again, although investment and consumption continued to fall steadily due to rising unemployment. That same year, inter-company debt has exceeded €51 billion, which means that 60 % of total Bulgarian companies had mutual debt. By 2012, it had risen to €83 billion, equivalent to 227 per cent of GDP. The government, with the support of the IMF and the EU, implemented strict austerity measures that led to some positive fiscal results, but the social consequences of these measures were catastrophic, as reported by the International Trade Union Confederation. Corruption remains another obstacle to economic growth. Bulgaria is one of the most corrupt members of the European Union, ranking 75th in the Corruption Perceptions Index. Weak law enforcement and the overall low capacity of the civil service remain as challenges in curbing corruption. However, anti-corruption has become a focus of the government due to EU accession and several anti-corruption programmes have been implemented by various government agencies.

Economic activity is boosted by the lowest income and corporate tax rates in the EU and the second lowest public debt of all member states at 16.5 per cent of GDP in 2012. The GDP (PPP) for 2013 was estimated at $119.6 billion.Bulgaria is a net recipient of funds from the EU. The absolute amount of funds received was €589 million in 2009.

How To Travel To Bulgaria

By planeThere are four international airports in Bulgaria, located in the cities of Sofia, Varna, Burgas and Plovdiv, but the traditional national airlines (such as Lufthansa, British Airways, Turkish Airways, etc.) only serve Sofia International Airport. However, there are numerous offers for charter and last-minute flights to Varna or...

How To Travel Around Bulgaria

By busThe fastest way to travel around the country is by bus. Buses often connect all major cities (you may need to ask for a taxi or have a taxi take you to the bus station). Timetable information in English is available online ( or ). Always confirm timetables...

Visa & Passport Requirements for Bulgaria

Bulgaria has committed to implementing the Schengen Agreement, although it has not yet done so. For citizens of the European Union (EU) or the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) (i.e. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), an officially recognised identity card (or passport) is sufficient for entry. For other nationalities,...

Destinations in Bulgaria

Regions in BulgariaNorthern BulgariaLocated between the Danube to the north and the Balkans to the south, it is a lowland region. Also called Moesia in Roman times, the region is full of the remains of ancient fortresses in northern Bulgaria, including the large port city of Sexaginta Prista in...

Accommodation & Hotels in Bulgaria

Finding accommodation in Bulgaria is very easy, regardless of the price. You can find everything from hostels in Sofia and Plovdiv, from very cheap guesthouses along the coast to cheap hotels in all cities and luxury hotels in the big cities. There are many "mountain huts" or villas to...

Things To See in Bulgaria

There is a great variety of historical, natural, religious and artistic sights to see in Bulgaria. Throughout the country there are remains from different eras and periods, societies and peoples, spiritual and artistic figures, creating a beautiful blend of ethnic culture full of unique traditions and rituals, combined with...

Things To Do in Bulgaria

Hiking - This is a popular activity in Bulgaria, where a wide choice of areas for day or multi-day hikes is available. The best time to hike in the higher parts of the mountains is in summer, between the end of June and September, as the snow has already...

Food & Drinks in Bulgaria

Food in BulgariaBulgarian cuisine is representative of the cuisine of South-Eastern Europe. It has some Turkish and Greek influences, but it has some unique elements. The relatively warm climate and diverse geography provide excellent growing conditions for a variety of vegetables, bean, herb and fruit crops. Bulgarian cuisine is...

Money & Shopping in Bulgaria

Money in BulgariaThe Bulgarian currency unit is the Lev (лев, abbreviated "лв", plural: Leva), which comprises one hundred Stotinki. The Lev is pegged to the euro at 1.95583 Leva to the euro (which is the same rate as the old Deutsche Mark, to which the Lev was previously pegged...

Festivals & Holidays in Bulgaria

Holidays in BulgariaThe hanging of Vasil Levski, 19 FebruaryThe day when the Bulgarian people will pay tribute to the life and work of the revolutionary Vasil Levski - the apostle of freedom. (it is not a public holiday)Baba Marta (in Bulgarian: Баба Марта, which means grandmother Marta), 1 MarchA...

Traditions & Customs in Bulgaria

Bulgarians are incredibly friendly and very interested in talking to foreigners. Bulgarians tend to be much more open than some other Eastern Europeans and it is very advisable and useful to engage in dialogue with them. In small towns, especially in the Rhodope Mountains, people may invite you to...

Internet & Communications in Bulgaria

Domestic PhonesDomestic telephone service is available in almost all population centres (regardless of size) via PSTN or VoIP.Mobile phonesMobile phones are very common in Bulgaria - many people have two or three phones with different providers. There are three networks (M-tel, Globul and Vivacom), all of which use the...

Language & Phrasebook in Bulgaria

Bulgarian is a South Slavic language that uses the Cyrillic alphabet.Bulgarian is mutually intelligible with Macedonian (considered by many Bulgarians to be a variant of Bulgarian) and also closely related to Serbo-Croatian. Russian and other Slavic languages are more distant, but still similar. If you know some of them,...

Culture Of Bulgaria

Traditional Bulgarian culture contains mainly Thracian, Slavic and Bulgarian heritage, as well as Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Persian and Celtic influences. Nine historical and natural objects have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List: the Madara Horseman, the Thracian tombs of Sveshtari and Kazanlak, the Boyana Church, the Rila...

History Of Bulgaria

Prehistory and AntiquityHuman activity on the territory of present-day Bulgaria dates back to the Palaeolithic. It is believed that the animal bones carved in the Kozarnika Cave are the first examples of symbolic human behaviour. Prehistoric societies organised on Bulgarian soil include the Neolithic Hamangia culture, the Vinča culture...

Stay Safe & Healthy in Bulgaria

Stay safe in BulgariaBulgaria is generally a safe country and the people are quite friendly. However, you should use common sense when staying outside the main tourist areas, i.e. don't show too openly that you have money, don't dress too much like a tourist, be careful with your belongings,...

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