Cheap Family Holiday to Bulgaria?
In the past few years we as a family have found that our holidays seem to be getting more and more expensive (thanks Brexit!). We often go away in August so we can take my school aged step some away which of course means we have to suffer the annoying rise in prices for the school holidays. For the past 3 years we have been to Spain, France and Belgium in August but this year we fancied somewhere different! Back in March we visited the country of Bulgaria for the first time ever for a skiing holiday. We had heard about how cheap it was there and because Bulgaria’s currency is the Bulgarian Lev there is no current crappy Pound:Euro exchange rate to deal with. The resort we stayed in earlier in the year was called Bansko, a popular ski resort on the western side of Bulgaria. We had gotten insanely cheap flights to Sofia, the capital and generally found Bansko a cheap place to stay and eat out. We had heard that the rest of Bulgaria was even cheaper (the ski resorts attract slightly higher prices) and we were more than willing to see for ourselves!
The Black coast (Eastern end of Bulgaria along the Black Sea) is becoming more and more popular to holiday makers. You may have already heard of Bulgaria’s most famous beach resort – Sunny Beach. Sunny beach does have a bit of reputation as being a club 18-30 party kind of place although there are still many families that stay there. Other popular resorts along the black coast include Nessebar, Golden Sands and Varna.
We decided we wanted to stay in a villa and after doing some research we settled on a 3 bedroom villa located on the Vineyards Spa Resort which is in the middle of Sunny Beach and Nessebar, roughly 20 minutes drive from both. There was 7 of us in our party, myself, partner, 4 year old daughter, 10 year old step son, mum and dad in their 50s and my 19 year old brother so quite a mix of ages to keep happy! In addition we also met up with my parents two friends, a couple who are travelling around Europe in their Hymer and so we they coordinated their itinerary so they could be in Bulgaria the same time as us. They stayed in a campsite a few miles from us, the campsite was one of the strangest places Ive ever visited but more on that later!
There are two airports that serve the resorts along the Black Coast – Varna and Burgas. However when it came to booking flights we found they were pretty expensive to fly to which I was surprised at as accommodation and everything else is cheap in Bulgaria. I think that most tourists who fly to these airports have flights as part of a package deal so it doesn’t seem so expensive. We opted for cheap flights to Sofia with Ryan Air instead, Sofia being approximately a 4 hour drive from where we were staying. The Sofia flights were less than half the price of the Burgas/Varna ones so we felt it was worth it and it also meant we could spend a day in Sofia first and see a bit more of Bulgaria.
Because there was 7 (and most days 9) of us we decided to hire a mini van! This only cost us £400 for 12 days hire which really wasn’t bad. We booked 6 months in advance and we noticed the prices for car/van hire increasing so definitely worth booking early!
Day 1 and 2 – Sofia and Plovdiv
Our flight to Sofia was a late one and so we didn’t arrive until almost midnight (Bulgaria is 2 hours ahead of the U.K). We got a taxi to the hotel (Park Hotel Movska) which was perfectly fine, a little dated inside like many hotels in Sofia (judging by pictures I looked at!) but our family room was massive with great views. The next day the plan was to spend time in Sofia before picking up the hire van from the airport and heading to the city of Plovdiv which is along the main motorway we need to travel to get to where we were staying. Sods law though was that it was absolutely chucking it down that day! We got a taxi to the Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski, the most popular of Sofia’s tourist attractions. After seeing the cathedral we decided to get on a bus tour around Sofia as it was parked right outside and we weren’t keen on exploring Sofia by foot in the rain! After the bus tour we had lunch and then went back to the hotel to collect our cases and then picked up our hire van and off we went! I cant say I was particularly impressed with Sofia. Judging by the tour I didn’t really see much of interest to go and see. We also struggled to find somewhere to eat as surprisingly we didn’t see many restaurants around. Eventually we found a pizza restaurant or so it claimed to be as it turned out they didn’t have any pizza!
You’ll find that a lot of people don’t speak English or very little in Sofia and in away from the main tourist resorts. This can cause communication issues and occasionally we found waiting staff to seem a little rude but this may have been the language barrier.
We arrived at our second hotel located outside of Plovdiv later that day. We chose this hotel as it had a lovely outdoor pool which we spent some time enjoying the next morning, thankfully it was sunny again from then on! We had originally planned to check out Plovdiv as apparently the old town is worth seeing but we decided to just get going to our final destination; the Black Coast.
Our Villa was perfectly adequate and although it was separated from the hotel part of the resort we were able to use all the facilitates. The Vineyard Spa Resort has two swimming pools, one children pool, and the main one has a swim up bar. Considering it was August the place didn’t seem that busy and we never had a problem getting sunbeds which was nice!
Our friends arrived the day after we got to our villa and were staying on a nearby campsite. This campsite was like stepping back in time to some soviet era, definitely not very modern by any stretch of the imagination! Our friends were the only English people on the campsite and it appeared that some of their Bulgarian neighbours actually lived there. People were staying in what looked like old air raid shelters from a previous war and many of the other buildings were run down or abandoned. It was quite a strange little place!
Luckily it didn’t really matter as our friends had everything they needed in their much loved Hymer.
Our favourite places to visit.
The closest town to us was a lovely little place along the sea called Ravda. Ravda has a nice beach and has many good restaurants. Ravda feels like a place where the locals hangout and there doesn’t seem like there are many other holiday makers there despite the fact there are lots of souvenir and inflatable type shops there. We drove to Ravda several times and out favourite thing was getting donuts and crepes from the street vendors after dinner which were delicious and cheap!
Nessebar is a lovely town well worth visiting. The old town is situated on a rocky peninsula out into the sea and is beautiful. Think cobbled streets and lots of interesting little shops and restaurants high up with great views of the sea.
Another town we all loved was Sozopol which is located a bit further along the coast past Bourgas. Sozopol has a similar vibe to Nessebar old town. Sozopol has lots of pretty cobbled streets and old buildings and had so many gorgeous restaurants. Sozopol was also big hit with the kids too as there is an area with a brilliant outdoor playground along with bouncy castles, trampolines and ride on toys which provided entertainment while the adults sat in the beach bar right next to it. 🙂
There are 3 water parks in the area (one near Sunny Beach, one near Nessebar and one near Pomorie) so you are spoilt for choice! We went to the one that was closest to us, Aqua Paradise Water Park which is the largest. I was very impressed with this water park, there were lots of different water slides and the kids pool was good which is important for us.
The weather was hot and sunny all apart from the day we were in Sofia and one other day where we decided to go to Burgas. Burgas is the second largest city on the Black coast and has a couple of good shopping malls ideal to check out on a rainy day. If you have children then the Sea Gardens in Burgas are particularly worth a trip to. We spent a few hours there, there were loads of playgrounds and other stuff for kids through out the park. There’s also the beach and pier to walk along as well as just enjoying a stroll through the gardens and stopping for a drink in the numerous cafes.
Even though we were only 20 minutes away from Sunny Beach we actually only went there once. Now what can I say about Sunny Beach… its certainly interesting! Ok I’ll be honest and say there’s no way Id want to spend my whole holiday there! Think Skegness but sleazy and with better weather! You will find a sex shop of some sort on nearly every street which I thought wouldn’t be so obvious considering that that sunny beach is also popular with families. The main strip in Sunny Beach is called Flower street where you will find a lot of young people trying to sign up others to bar crawls. The biggest let down for me however was the beach. We got to Sunny Beach around 5/6pm and the beach was still really busy! It felt really crowded, made more so by the fact their were some areas of the beach that you weren’t allowed in unless you were paying for the sunbeds. We didn’t encounter that on any of the other Bulgarian beaches we visited. The sand is nice and the beach should be great for kids but we found the beach pretty dirty, there were lots of cigarette ends and my daughter pulled out some sort of plastic thing from the sand which I quickly discarded! I cant say Sunny Beach is somewhere I’d want to stay for a week but it is still worth visiting for the day. There seemed to be a fair variety of restaurants and we ate at Morris Restaurant on the beach and the food there was actually really good. I saw a few rides and bouncy castles dotted around so it seems Sunny Beach still tries to cater for children.
Prices in Bulgaria
So I’m sure your wondering just how cheap is it to holiday in Bulgaria? Being a money conscious person we always aim to do our holidays on a budget. As I mentioned earlier it seems flying to Sofia is the cheapest way to fly although of course that doesn’t suit everyone. I have come across some cheap package deals where the flights are to Varna or Burgas. We normally prefer to stay in a villa with two kids and other family members and the prices of villas were definitely lower than other countries we’ve been to.
Eating out however is where you will really notice the difference in prices compared to other popular holiday destinations. For a main meal we usually paid between 7 and 14 levs. (£3.50 to £7). Of course on some menus we saw some dishes for 20 or 30 levs but even that works out as the same price as back home and there were always much cheaper meals on the menu. Drinks are also cheap, a beer was typically 2-3 levs and in some places we even saw beer for 1 lev, thats less than a pound! Prices for activities for the kids like bouncy castles and ice creams were also considerably cheaper so we made savings there!
The only time where food isn’t any cheaper than in the U.K is when you buy it from a supermarket. There were two large supermarkets near us, an Aldi and one called Janet’s (Who’s Janet?!). In both supermarkets the prices were either the same as back in the UK or even more expensive for branded products. There isn’t really any incentive not to eat out and so we only bought the essentials like milk and cereal. Tea and coffee were particularly pricey and if I was going to Bulgaria again I would take my own.
Overall we had a great family holiday to Bulgaria. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect, especially as we had read certain negative things about Sunny Beach but we discovered that there are some lovely places to see in that part of the Black Coast. Our main motivation to try Bulgaria was for financial reasons. Just about every aspect of the Holiday was cheaper than our usual holidays especially the food and drink. We would definitely to a cheap family holiday to Bulgaria again. 🙂