Burgas is a coastal city in southeast Bulgaria, usually at the top of lists of the country’s most liveable places.
It’s a fairly new settlement that was developed in the 19th century, but the shores of the lakes close by have been trading posts for thousands of years and witnessed one of the earliest civilisations in Europe.
Holidays in Burgas mean beach-time, family outings to the huge Sea Garden, excursions to museums and archaeology sites, as well as day trips to the many exciting destinations that lie up along the Black Sea coast.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Burgas:
1. Sea Garden
Among the many great things about Bulgarian coastal cities are their giant seafront parks, where amusements, sports facilities, gardens and cultural sites all come together in one attraction.
You’ll find yourself returning over and over to the Sea Garden during your stay, simply because so many of the city’s attractions are found here.
Within these 72,000 square metres are wooded parkland, elegant promenades with fountains, playgrounds, cafes, ice cream stands, an open air theatre, tennis courts – the choice of things to do just goes on and on, and in the summer evenings you can come down for a classical concert.
2. Poda Protected Area
Here’s a waterfront park of a wilder variety: Poda is a wetland reserve just south of the city.
The low-lying setting around Burgas makes for large saline and freshwater lakes, and big swathes of marshland such as Poda, which is between the sea and Lake Mandrensko.
People come to catch a glimpse of the rich birdlife that is supported by the wetlands.
Despite the park’s relatively small area, some 265 bird species have been sighted at Poda, 46 of which nest here.
There are large colonies of all sorts of herons and egrets, as well as spoonbills and gloss ibises.
3. Holy Cross Armenian Church
A further reminder of how Bulgaria is a nexus between cultures is this Armenian Orthodox church from the mid-19th century, listed as a Bulgarian cultural heritage monument.
Armenians are the country’s fifth-largest minority, although there are now fewer than 7,000 still living here.
If you peek inside you can see a poignant memorial to the 1915 genocide, and the church’s pointed dome and unembellished architecture is in keeping with the Armenian style.
Opposite the church is a typical Armenian cafe, so you can round off your visit with a typical cup of strong, syrupy coffee!
4. Ethnographic Museum
If you’re from western or northern Europe you might be unfamiliar Bulgarian cultural traditions so this is a handy way to get up to speed.
The museum is housed in a stately home built for the local 19th-century bigwig Dimitar Todorov Brakalov.
The original first floor interior has been preserved, so you can get an idea of local design, as well as upmarket women’s fashion thanks to a textiles exhibit.
Upstairs are large displays of traditional costumes from every ethnographic group to have populated the region around Burgas, with daily clothing alongside the costumes that were worn for rituals and religious events.
5. Archaeology Museum
The Ancient Thracians dominated this region and left behind a whole load of artefacts you can peruse this handsome 19th-centruy former schoolhouse.
One of the most must-see exhibits features the treasures discovered in the tomb of a Thracian princess.
An entire Bronze Age settlement has also been discovered underwater close to Burgas, and you’ll see maritime tools recovered from this site.
There are also Minoan bronze ingots on display, indicating trade between this area and the Minoans, who held sway in eastern Greece and on Turkey’s Aegean coast.
Set on the western shore of Lake Mandrensko is the village of Deabelt, which has Thracian origins but flourished in Roman times.
For amateur historians the Deultum excavation site is the big story here. Deultum was a free Roman colony founded in the 1st century by retired legionaries, and over time it became one of the richest towns in the Balkan region, especially after the capital switched from Rome to Constantinople.
The most arresting of these ruins are the remnants of the bathing complex, with a large section of the intricate hypocaust heating system visible.
There’s a stark beauty to Burgas’ pier, which stretches from the tree-lined edge of the Sea Gardens out into the Black Sea for almost 300 metres.
It might be Burgas’ most recognisable structure, not least because of its distinctive T-shape.
Locals and holidaymakers of all ages will come to take romantic walks and look back at the view of the coast from the elevated viewing platform at one end.
In summer fishermen will cast their lines over the railings and brave young lads will jump off into the water several metres below.
8. St. Anastasia Island
In July and August you can catch a boat from Mosta to this island a few kilometes southeast of the city.
This is Bulgaria’s largest inhabited island, which isn’t saying a lot as St. Anastasia is very small: There’s only a handful of buildings here including a restaurant, museum , guesthouses and a lighthouse.
For much of the 20th century St. Anastasia was an offshore prison, but there had been a convent here since medieval times.
This is a place to get a change of airs and a little seclusion: You can even rent a room at one the guesthouses to stay overnight.
A Black Sea resort 35 kilometes down from Burgas, Sozopol also has a history that goes back to the Thracians and is one of the oldest towns around.
It was founded as Apollonia in the 7th century BC, named after its temple to Apollo which boasted a huge statue of the God that was taken to Rome and displayed in the Capitol.
Take a look at the traditional carved wooden buildings in the Sozopol’s Old Town where you’ll also find intriguing fragments of the town’s ancient past.
You can take a mini tour of the town’s restored medieval fortifications, and if you need to cool off you can choose between little rocky coves or the golden sands of Piasachni diuni, just around the Stolets Peninsula from the town.
10. North Beach
Bordered by Seaside Park, North Beach is where Burgas comes to sunbathe, swim and take part in a host of activities both on land and in the sea.
The beach is 1700 metres- long and the broad strip of sand is cleaned daily and complemented by bars and restaurants as well as all the attractions of Burgas’ Seaside Park.
There are also beach football areas, volleyball courts, together with changing facilities and showers for swimmers.
In short, you’ve got all you need close at hand, and families and couples can nest here for the day and take it easy.
11. Traditional Mehana
Even in a modern resort like Burgas you should still take the chance to try typical Bulgarian cuisine in the typically Bulgarian setting of a mehana, or tavern.
These are restaurants that serve all the Bulgarian classics like kebabs and a range of other grilled meats, stuffed peppers and the famous shopska salad.
Get some rakia or Bulgarian red wine to go with you meal, and while you dine you’ll be treated to traditional Bulgarian musicians and dancers in folk costume.
Finish up with baklava or sweetened yoghurt and you’ll know you got an authentic taste of Bulgaria, in more ways than one.
12. St. Ivan Island
In the bay off Sozopol is this island named after John the Baptist (Ivan in Slavic languages).
What’s really fascinating is that a sarcophagus containing relics were discovered on this uninhabited island in 2010, and they were dated to the 1st century AD and deemed to have belonged to a man who lived in the Middle East.
History aside, St. Ivan Island is a blissful nature reserve, a nesting site for more than 70 birds and one of the last habitats for the extremely rare Mediterranean monk seals.
Get there by boat from Sozopol in summer.
13. Burgas Galleria
When the mercury rises you could retreat to the air-conditioned confines of this new three- storey mall.
It’s on the western edge of the city but has a bus transfer link with the centre that runs all day-long.
Inside are all the international high-streets brands you’ll know, like H&M, Zara and Benetton.
Shopping can be hungry work and you can hit the food court on the second floor where kids will be pleased to find fast-food chains.
Bulgaria’s far southeastern corner, hugging the border with Turkey is one vast natural park.
The landscape is low forested mountains and bucolic hillside farms that roll out to the horizon.
Hidden in this scenery are villages and hamlets where you can check out the traditional Bulgarian stone and wood houses, and see modes of life that haven’t changed much in centuries.
The climate in this pocket of Bulgaria is surprisingly humid, with rain that nourishes deciduous forest and gives rise to plenty of green pasture where livestock graze.
Just 35 kilometres north along the coast is a UNESCO-listed town that pulls together all the fun of the seaside with sites of immense historical wealth.
On the cobblestone streets of old Nessebar you’ll be confronted by a beautiful old church at almost every turn.
The most valuable here go back to the 500s: St. Sofia has lain in ruin since the 1700s, but it’s easy to make out the nave and the Byzantine arches of the walls are mostly intact.
If you have the energy there are at least ten other ancient and medieval churches to seek out, but you can also see the city fortifications and the emblematic windmill that marks the Nesebar’s entrance.