I hadn’t heard that much about Bulgaria before I visited the country in September 2018 with my dog, Schnitzel. But between it’s beautiful coastline, magnificent mountains and plenty of history, not to mention cheap prices, it won me over. It’s not the most dog-friendly country in Europe, but it’s still a great destination to visit with your pup, particularly if you’re looking for an affordable destination in summertime. I give you the lowdown on what to expect when travelling in Bulgaria with a dog…
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A Note on Stray Dogs and Cats
Just like I noted in the posts on Romania and Greece, you will likely come across stray dogs and cats in Bulgaria. Although, I personally thought that there were less stray dogs in Bulgaria than in Romania, and less stray cats in Bulgaria than in Greece.
I found that the stray dogs tended to be timid and easily scared off, but you should still keep an eye out for them. If your dog doesn’t like cats, you’ll probably have more of an issue with stray cats. In particular, if you’re dining out, I often noticed stray cats around outdoor restaurant areas. Make sure your dog is kept on a leash so doesn’t try to give chase!
Dining Out in Bulgaria with a Dog
I didn’t try and dine indoor at restaurants in Bulgaria with my dog and I don’t think it’s the done thing. Although there’s probably not a rule against it, and it’s likely up to the decision of the manager. If it was winter time, I’d give it a try, but we visited in late summer with sunshine each day. We did dine at some outdoor terraces with our dog without an issue. Although once or twice we left our dog behind as we wanted a quiet meal without the interruption of him spotting nearby cats!
Taking a Dog on Public Transport in Bulgaria
Dogs are allowed to travel on trains in Bulgaria, with some rules and restrictions, but it’s not as clear whether dogs are allowed to travel on other forms of public transport.
In Bulgaria, the trains are operated by BDZ and their rules for pets are listed here. Smaller pets in a waterproof container can be transported on the floor or your lap in 2nd class coaches, without needing a ticket. Although, if other passengers object to them, you need to retreat to the entry lobby.
Larger dogs require a half-price second-class ticket, and can only be transported in the entry lobby of the last coach on a train, wearing a muzzle and accompanied by a veterinary certificate. Additionally, dogs are not allowed in sleeping cars or couchette cars.
In Sofia, public trams, buses, trolleybuses and the underground metro are operated by the Sofia Urban Mobility Centre, but I can’t find any information on transporting pets on their website, at least in English. In this article from 2011, it’s mentioned that pets are allowed but only with a special ticket (which I can’t find listed online), with small dogs and cats in transportation cages and big dogs on a short leash and wearing a muzzle.
Dog-Friendly Accommodation in Bulgaria
While in Bulgaria, we stayed in a range of accommodation, ranging from Airbnb apartments to budget guest houses to a 4-star hotel. What each of the hotels had in common was that we weren’t charged an additional fee for having a dog at any of them. (There are still some hotels that charge, but it seems less frequent.)
Hotel prices in Bulgaria aren’t quite as cheap as in Romania, but still amongst the cheapest in Europe. During our visit to Ruse near the Romania border we stayed at the lovely 4-star Grand Hotel Riga which I recommend.
In particular, we found great value in Airbnb apartments. In Bansko, we rented a ski-lodge apartment during the off-peak period, while in beach-side Varna we stayed in an Italian couple’s downstair apartment that they had beautifully set up for family and friends. Accommodation in Sofia tends to more expensive than in the rest of the country.
Dog-Friendly Sightseeing in Bulgaria
During our time in Bulgaria, some of the sightseeing stops that we wanted to do didn’t allow dogs, from the famous Rila Monastery to the well-protected ancient tombs scattered around the country (some of which require human visitors also to visit a replica). But there are plenty of dog-friendly options available, in particular if you are exploring the natural beauty of the country, from the coastline along the Black Sea to the mountains of Bansko to the many forests.
1. Visit the Black Sea Coast
Bulgaria is blessed with some beautiful beaches along the Black Sea coast. Compared to elsewhere in Europe, prices are more reasonable and crowds are less of an issue, at least when we visited in early September. The seafood on offer is also the cheapest we found in Europe, and of an excellent quality. Consider feasting on a seafood platter while dining at an outdoor terrace along the coast, accompanied by some fine Bulgarian wine.
I didn’t notice any signs forbidding dogs from beaches, at least the few that I visited in Bulgaria. I would guess that dogs are forbidden from the more popular beaches, but smaller beaches without amenities are likely to allow dogs. Keep an eye out for what the locals are doing if you are unsure, and always clean up after your dog.
2. Explore the Mountains around Bansko
Bulgaria is also endowed with some beautiful mountain scenery, including the mountains around the ski resort of Bansko. Just a few hours south of Sofia (and not far north of the Greek border), this is the premier ski resort in Bulgaria but in summer time is popular as a hiking destination. We visited in September, meaning that it was off-peak season, although still snow-free for hiking.
We drove all the way up the road behind Bansko, past the gondola lift, to Vihren Chalet. (During the peak summer season, I believe the latter part of the road is closed to regular vehicles.) From there we complete a short hike along one of the hiking trails to Okoto Lake, a pretty spot and perfect for a picnic. It’s also possible to complete a longer hike from further down the hill, at the top of the gondola lift.
3. Head to Historic Nessebar
Nessebar is an ancient city located on a peninsula along the Black Sea Coast. Dating back to the Thracian and Ancient Greek eras, the town’s many churches primarily date from the 5th-century onwards. These days it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, popular for both its historic sites and many souvenir shops.
Don’t miss the remains of the ancient theatre and the ruined open-air skeleton of the Church of Saint Sophia, both fine to visit with a dog. We also recommend also stepping inside St Stefan’s with its frescoes; our dog was fine to enter the churchyard and we took turns stepping inside. (I recommend skipping buying the combo-ticket though, if you’re sightseeing with your dog.)
4. View the Madara Rider
Another UNESCO World Heritage site in Bulgaria that’s ideal to visit with a dog is the Madara Rider. It’s a large rock relief carving of a horseman triumphing over a lion, on the side of a cliff about 1 hour inland from Varna. You may recognise it from some of the Bulgarian coins.
The carving dates from the early medieval period, either the late 7th or early 8th centuries, and the relief has no parallel across Europe. It’s almost life-size, but it’s hard to appreciate how large it is as you can only view it from the bottom of the cliff. Don’t miss spotting the dog just behind the knight’s horse.
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