Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 6


Dialling code for Bulgaria from abroad +359 Fire-brigade 160 First aid 150 Police 166 Road
assistance 146 Telephone information 144 Traffic police car accidents +359 2/ 982 72 823, 866
50 60
Money & costs Contents Costs
Since Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, the dual-pricing system that used to be in force whereby
foreigners were often charged considerably more for hotel rooms and museum admission fees than
locals has been abolished. Inevitably, prices have risen, but travelling around the country remains
relatively cheap. All food, drink and forms of transport are surprisingly inexpensive compared with
Western European countries, but imported luxury goods, such as international-brand fashion and
cosmetics, cost much the same as anywhere else.
A camping site costs about 10 lv per person and a room in a private home can cost anywhere
between 12 lv and 30 lv, depending on the location. In a budget hotel (outside Sofia) a single room
costs from 20 lv, 40 lv for a double. In a midrange hotel a single room is roughly 40 lv, a double 60 lv.
You can get a simple meal at a cheap caf from as little as 3 lv, and youre unlikely to spend more
than about 15 lv for a main course, even in more upmarket restaurants.
Many museums and galleries offer free entry on one day of the week, a bonus if youre travelling with
a family. Also, if you fancy staying at a top-class hotel but dont fancy paying the top-class tariff,
remember that most offer discounted weekend rates (which usually means Friday to Sunday night).
Some top-end hotels in Sofia offer discounts during August, when most tourists have gone to the
If you stay at budget hotels or in private rooms, eat cheap Bulgarian food and catch public buses and
2nd-class trains, allow at least 50 lv per person per day. If you want to stay in midrange hotels, eat at
higher-quality restaurants, charter occasional taxis, take 1st-class trains and buy souvenirs, allow
about 80 lv per person per day. If youre staying in Sofia, you can basically double this cost.
Midrange and top-end hotels, as well as car hire firms and tour agencies often quote prices in euros,
and its possible to pay in this currency, or in leva. Bulgaria is unlikely to formally join the single
European currency for some years yet.
Bulgarias transition to a free-market economy after the fall of communism was a painful period in the
countrys history, characterised by hyperinflation and high unemployment. Things stabilised after the
lev was pegged to the Deutschmark in 1997 and subsequently to the Euro in 2002, and the country
has experienced an economic upturn since joining the EU in January 2007. Foreign investment and
tourism are at all-time highs, fuelling a major construction boom, especially on the Black Sea coast.
In fact, the demand has been so great that workers have had to be brought in from as far away as
Ukraine to complete building projects.
However, despite the healthy economy and Bulgarias top-10 ranking in the World Banks list of best
reforming economies in the world, serious problems remain. Bulgaria is the poorest country in the
EU, and average wages hover around 200 a month, among the lowest on the continent. In 2007
there were a succession of strikes by nurses, medical staff, miners, public transport drivers and
teachers demanding wage increases of up to 100%. With record consumer price inflation reaching
12%, this is unlikely to happen, but now that Bulgaria is a fully fledged EU member, people are far
less content with low pay.
It has been estimated, too, that the so-called grey economy undeclared incomes, contract-free
workers and fiddled tax returns makes up as much as 35% of the economy as a whole, prompting
calls for tax cuts and a reduction in VAT (Value Added Tax).

The local currency is the lev (plural: leva), comprised of 100 stotinki. It is almost always abbreviated
to lv. The lev is a stable currency. For major purchases such as organised tours, airfares, car rental
and midrange and top-end hotels, prices are almost always quoted by staff in euros, although
payment is possible in leva too. (Bulgaria has no immediate plans to adopt the Euro as its national
currency.) While some budget hotels and private rooms may quote their rates in euros, payments
should be made in leva. Normally the leva price will simply be twice the given euro price (eg 10 =
20 lv), though some places may work out the precise exchange rate.
ATMs that accept major credit cards (ie Cirrus, Maestro, JCB, Visa, MasterCard and American
Express) are an increasingly common sight and can now be found in all sizable towns and cities. Its
best to use credit cards as a backup for cash in case an ATM swallows your card (more likely if the
card is issued outside Europe). Otherwise, bring two or three different cards. Also, before you leave
home check with your bank about exchange rates (which, of course, usually work out in their favour)
and commissions (which can be about 2%). The total amount you can withdraw depends on how
much your bank will allow and on how much is in your account; the maximum allowed per day by
most Bulgarian banks is usually 200 lv.
Bulgarian banknotes come in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 leva. Coins come in 1, 2, 5, 10,
20 and 50 stotinki and 1 lev. Prices for smaller items are always quoted in leva or a fraction of a lev,
eg on a bus ticket the fare will be listed as 0.50 lv rather than 50 stotinki.
When changing money, make sure that the foreign banknotes you have are not torn, marked or
grubby, otherwise they may be refused or you may even be given a lower rate (without being told so
in advance). Always make absolutely sure of the precise sum in leva you will receive before handing
over any of your cash. Similarly, make sure that any leva given to you are not torn or marked.
Foreigners may export and import up to 8000 lv (in any currency) without restrictions.
Credit cards
Credit cards are still not as common or reliable in Bulgaria as in Western Europe, and their
acceptance is decidedly uneven: you may be able to use your card for a 20 lv restaurant meal but
have to hand over a wad of banknotes for a 200 lv hotel bill. However, American Express, Visa and
MasterCard are gaining ground and can often be used at up-market restaurants, souvenir shops,
top-end hotels, car rental firms and travel agencies, but rarely anywhere else despite signs
indicating acceptance of credit cards. You cannot rely on using a credit card exclusively in Bulgaria;
use it to get cash from banks and for major purchases only. Some places, particularly the more
expensive hotels, will add a 5% surcharge to your bill if you use a credit card.
If no ATM is available, or youre worried about using one (in case it swallows your card), some larger
branches of major banks will provide cash advances in leva over the counter; this service is also
sometimes offered by foreign exchange offices. The fee is usually about 4% and youll probably also
be charged fees and commissions by your bank. The maximum withdrawal allowed for cash
advances depends on what is determined by your bank.
International transfers
Telegraphic transfers are not that expensive but they can be quite slow through a bank. Having
money wired through American Express, MoneyGram or Western Union is fairly straightforward and
faster than a bank (funds are sometimes available in less than one day). You should have the

senders full name, the exact amount and reference number and your passport; the money can be
collected in euros or leva. The sender pays the fee, which can range from 5% to 15%.
The currencies listed inside the front cover can be changed at any of the plethora of foreign
exchange offices in every city and town and at major attractions. Most dont charge commission or
fees, but some do despite signs to the contrary on notice boards outside so always check the
final amount that you will be offered before handing over your cash.
The best currencies to take are euros, pounds sterling and US dollars. You may have trouble
changing less familiar currencies, such as Australian or Canadian dollars, but you should be able to
find somewhere in a city such as Sofia, Plovdiv or Varna that will accept most major international
Foreign exchange offices can generally be recognised by the huge exchange signs, almost always
written in English. Current rates are always displayed prominently, often on notice boards outside.
These offices are normally open between about 9am and 6pm, Monday to Saturday, but offices in
the centre of cities and larger towns are often open every day.
Its also easy to change cash at most of the larger banks found in cities and major towns; these
include the United Bulgarian Bank, Unicredit Bulbank, Bulgarian Post Bank, Raffeisen Bank and
Biochim Commercial Bank. The exchange rates listed on the electronic boards in bank windows may
offer slightly higher rates than foreign exchange offices, but many banks charge commission. The
other disadvantages with banks are that theyre only open between 9am and 4pm from Monday to
Friday, and queues can be long.
The lev is freely convertible, so there should be no problems changing excess leva back into sterling,
dollars or other major foreign currencies. However, some readers have reported difficulties trying to
change leva for local currency in other Eastern European countries.
The value-added tax (VAT) of 20% is included in all prices quoted in Bulgaria. Some restaurants add
service charges of 10%, and some top-end hotels list pre-VAT prices

Bulgaria is a modern, peaceful and well-ordered country. If you can handle yourself in the big cities
of Western Europe, North America or Australia, youll certainly have little or no trouble dealing with
the seamier sides of Bulgaria. Youll be fine if you look purposeful, keep alert and take the usual
safety precautions.
Theft is not as much of a problem as it is in some countries, but obviously look after your belongings
and watch out for pickpockets in busy markets and on crowded buses. Prime targets for thieves are
parked cars, especially those with foreign licence plates and/or rental-agency stickers. Never leave
things inside the car; always lock them in the boot, or take them with you.
Bulgarian drivers can be extremely reckless at times, and pedestrians should be very careful when
crossing roads, especially in Sofia. Cars regularly park on pavements, blocking them for pedestrians.
Inevitably, footpaths in towns throughout Bulgaria are often crumbling and under sporadic repair.

Beggars ply their trade around some churches and larger squares, but most are in real need and are
very rarely aggressive or demanding. Be wary, however, of gangs of children who work the streets of
big cities such as Sofia and Varna: theyre often professional pickpockets.
Bulgaria has very harsh drug laws, being a common route for drugs (and arms) smuggled in from
Turkey, Russia and Armenia and then across the continent. Dont attempt to buy, sell, transport or
use drugs here unless you want an extended stay in Bulgarias fearsome prisons.
Foreigners are sometimes set up for minor monetary rip-offs, but these are fairly obvious and easy to
avoid: taxi drivers at airports, train stations and beach resorts normally overcharge outrageously, and
moneychangers on the street sometimes offer ridiculously high exchange rates. (Changing money
on the street is both illegal and unnecessary.)
Bulgaria is a major producer of tobacco, and smoking seems to be the national pastime. Cafs, bars
and restaurants are often poorly ventilated, but this is less of a problem in summer when most
patrons sit outside.
Construction work along the Black Sea shows no sign of slowing down and many places currently
resemble vast, dusty building sites. New hotel and holiday-home developments are springing up at
various locations though the area around Sunny Beach (Slnchev Bryag) accounts for around a
third of activity and concrete and cranes dominate some existing resorts such as Sveti Vlas and
parts of Pomorie. The ski resort of Bansko is also undergoing major building development. Its not
easy to know when current work will be finished and where new projects are about to begin, but by
law construction should not be taking place during the peak tourist seasons. For now, if you want to
avoid the mess completely, youll need to scout around for somewhere more to your liking; there are
still quiet nooks to be found.
Mosquitoes can be an irritant in some areas during the summer, but sprays, creams and plug-in
repellents can be bought cheaply at pharmacies and supermarkets.
While you're there Availability of health care
Every city and major town has a government hospital of an acceptable albeit not excellent
standard, as well as more up-to-date private clinics. Smaller towns and villages may have a clinic,
but for serious complaints you should travel to a larger town or ask your embassy/consulate to
recommend a hospital, clinic, doctor or dentist. Dental clinics are easy to find in big cities and apteka
(pharmacies) are common. Doctors at bolnitsa (government hospitals) are well trained and most
speak English and/or German. However, equipment can be lacking and outdated. Staff at the more
expensive poliklinika (private clinics), such as in Sofia, are more likely to be fluent in English and
German, and equipment is normally of a higher standard
Bulgaria :: Introduction
Bulgaria is perhaps the definitive Balkan country. The Balkan mountain range that gave the
peninsula its name runs through the heart of the country, and while there are 101 definitions of what
exactly constitutes "the Balkans", every one of those definitions includes Bulgaria. A taste of most
Balkan attractions can be found here: beautiful monasteries in isolated valleys, historic towns,
craggy peaks, scenic train journeys, Roman ruins, beaches, and yoghurt. The Black Sea coast is
becoming increasingly well-known as a destination for seaside holidays, but the rest of the country
still sees relatively few visitors: once when I was standing on the platform of an obscure station north
of Sofia, a young man stopped in front of me, looked at me and my guidebook for several seconds,
and exclaimed "you're a foreigner!"

Where to go: some suggestions
Bulgaria's many mountain ranges and low population density make it a good place to enjoy the great
outdoors. The Rila and Pirin ranges in the southwest are the highest peaks in the Balkans - this
area has good hiking trails and several mountain resorts, including once-picturesque but rapidly
developing Bansko. Rila Monastery is another popular attraction in this area. A great way to enjoy
Bulgaria's mountain landscapes is to take the narrow-gauge railway from Bansko to Septemvri.
South of the Pirin, almost at the Greek border, Rozhen Monastery and the village of Melnik are
surrounded by distinctive sandstone rock formations. Lower mountain ranges such as the Balkans,
Rhodopes, and Sredna Gora are less dramatic but still offer opportunities to enjoy long walks amidst
a colourful variety of flowers and butterflies - although in some cases information can be hard to
Plovdiv is one of my favourite cities in the Balkans. It has colourful 19th century architecture in a
museum-like old town, Roman ruins, and a lively modern centre. It's also within easy reach of
Bachkovo Monastery. Similar 19th century houses survive in many smaller cities and towns. Veliko
Trnovo is the most spectacular example, thanks to the fact that the houses are built on the sides of
a gorge, facing a ruined citadel on the opposite bank. Trnovo is also a good base to visit some of
central Bulgaria's attractive smaller towns and monasteries. Closer to Sofia lies Koprivshtitsa,
perhaps the most striking of all Bulgaria's historic small towns and villages.
Sofia is not one of Europe's most glamorous capitals, and I didn't like it at all when I first visited. I
have since now grown quite fond of it - when the sun shines and the crowds stroll along the
boulevards eating ice cream, it is possible to overlook the cracked pavements and lack of historic
buildings. And the Alexander Nevski Cathedral is undeniably impressive. Sofia is also a good base
for excursions in western Bulgaria. Even so, Sofia loses out to Plovdiv in any comparison of
conventional tourist appeal. If you have been exploring rural Bulgaria and feel the need to visit a
lively modern city, Varna is also an option. From there you can easily reach the Black Sea beaches,
but as I'm not really a fan of beach resorts I can't help you to choose one
Language If you are just visiting the Black Sea coast, you shouldn't have to worry too much about
language problems. If you are going to travel independently, I recommend learning to read
the Cyrillic alphabet before your visit. It's not as difficult as it might look - each letter
corresponds strictly to only one sound. It might seem pointless learning to sound out words
in a language you don't understand, but it is hugely helpful to be able to recognise the
names of cities and streets. After a few days in Bulgaria you'll recognise instantly that
"" is "Plovdiv". There is no universally accepted way of transliterating Bulgarian into
Latin characters, so be prepared to see different versions of some place names in
guidebooks and on road signs. See The Cyrillic Alphabet in the Balkans.
A surprising number of restaurants have menus in English, even away from the coastal resorts, and
quite a few young people and hotel staff speak English. Overall, though, it can be much harder to
find an English speaker than in most parts of the former Yugoslavia.
Bulgaria's currency is the lev (plural leva, abbreviation lv or ) one lev consists of 100 stotinki. For
some years the currency has been stable at around 1.96 leva to the euro - or as I prefer to think of it,
exactly one leva to the Bosnian Convertible Mark. Cash is easily obtained from plentiful ATMs. If for
some reason you get your kicks from on-street deals with money changers of dubious honesty, just
walk around central Varna and wait for them to hiss at you. I feel embarrassed for them really, the
whole shady-Eastern-European-money-changer thing is just so twentieth century.
Bulgaria is generally one of the cheapest countries in Europe. The one thing that might distort your
budget is accommodation. Hotel charges are often higher for foreigners than locals and are rather

unpredictable. In less touristed places you might end up paying quite a lot to stay in the town's one
communist-era hotel (good value for fans of the colour brown, not so much for the rest of us); in
more popular locations some newer hotels offer both comfort and value. In some mountain and
beach resorts it is possible to stay in private rooms. It is still common for hotels to charge foreigners
more than Bulgarian residents. Almost all museums do the same thing. Even the higher entrance
fees are generally trivial, with a few exceptions in Sofia.
Most Bulgarians turn into psychopaths as soon as they get behind the wheel of a car,
although given the state of the road network one can hardly blame them. Cow-sized potholes,
suicidal pedestrians and drunken cyclists riding on the wrong side of the road and with hazards like
these you need to swerve around like a stunt driver in order to stay in one piece.
Streets in central Sofia can be clogged with traffic. Road signage is haphazard and street names are
almost exclusively in Cyrillic, so you need to research your route on a map before you set off.
Finding a place to park can be a nightmare. Several so-called blue-zone parking areas are run by
private companies. Parking vouchers (expect to pay around 2Lv/hour) are sold on the spot by
parking attendants.
In order to drive on Bulgarian roads outside Sofia youll need to purchase a vignette which must be
displayed in the windscreen. You can get these from border crossings, all post offices and OMV and
Shell gas stations. For a car or SUV vignettes cost 10Lv for one week, 25Lv for one month, and 67Lv
for a year.
Speed limits are 120km/hr on main highways, 90km/hr on minor roads and 50km/hr in urban areas.
Talking on a mobile phone while driving is strictly forbidden, as is driving under the influence of more
than 0.5/1000 of alcohol. Foreigners are well advised to obey the rules of the road even if they see
locals behaving otherwise: the police rarely speak English and are unlikely to show any lenience.
Police checks on major highways are common, especially when entering or leaving Sofia at the
weekend. Policemen are allowed to charge on-the-spot fines but you are not obliged to pay unless
they produce a receipt.
The archetypal national tipple is rakiya or brandy, which usually comes as either grozdova rakiya
(grape brandy) or slivova (plum). Its usually served up in 50g or 100g shots and is consumed
alongside salad or some other form of nibble wait-staff will consider you peculiar if you dont order
at least something to snack on while youre slugging down spirits. As far as beer is concerned,
Bulgaria produces several palatable if unexciting lagers Zagorka, Shumensko and Kamenitsa are
the most reliable of the big brands. Much more impressive are the dry red wines, particularly
Cabernet Sauvignon from Svishtov and Oryahovitsa, Merlot from Stambolovo, Gumza from Novo
Selo, Mavrud from Asenovgrad, and Melnik from the village of same name. The Chardonnays and
Traminers from Veliki Preslav are among the best of the whites.
Population of Bulgaria: (July 2006 est.) 7,385,367 Population of Sofia: (July 2006 est)
Ethnic composition: Bulgarian 83.9%, Turkish 9.4%, Roma 4.7%.
Religion: Bulgarian Orthodox 82.6%, Muslim 12.2%, Roman Catholic 0.6%, Protestant 0.5%.
Territory: Bulgaria takes up 110, 550 km of land. It shares borders with Turkey, Greece, Macedonia,
Serbia and Romania. The country is bordered to the east by a 354km-long stretch of Black Sea
Highest peak: Musala (2925m), south of Sofia in the Rila mountains.
Local time: Bulgaria is part of the Eastern European Time Zone (GMT +2); when it is noon in Sofia it
is 11:00 in Berlin, 10:00 in London, and 05:00 in New York