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Family Road Trip Through Bulgaria

Good day All,

This summer my wife and I are planning a road trip to Bulgaria and North Macedonia, with our children 4 and 5 years of age, for 14-17 days.

Starting with Sofia, we also plan on exploring Plovdiv, Rila Monastery, and Veliko Tarnovo.

Is it worth it to consider the Black Sea area, or it is more of a for beach holiday instead of culture and travel? We live on the ocean.

Second phase is to check out Lake Ohrid and Skopje, North Macedonia. With a possible day trip to Pristina, Kosovo and possibly driving through Serbia to fly out of Sofia, Any thoughts?

And my biggest question and concern, how are the roads, driving conditions, and border crossings?

Any help and advice is much appreciated,

Safe travels,

Nate

Posted by
9588 posts

I loved Nessebar on the black sea. Wonderful ancient town.

Did something similar to you some years ago, drove from Sofia to Istanbul. Wonderful trip.

Posted by
14879 posts

Another vote for Nessebar, and Sozopol is also worth a visit if you get over to that area. Whether it's worth the driving time, I don't know. You are trying to cover a lot over territory in a short time.

I used buses and the occasional train during my 2015 trip to the Balkans. Since I wasn't driving, I didn't pay much attention to the roads. However, I figured that I covered about 30 mph on that trip, so I don't think you should anticipate wonderful driving conditions everywhere. You might start by checking the estimated driving times provided on ViaMichelin.com.

I know that public-transportation links to Macedonia are tenuous, but I don't know whether that tells us anything about the conditions of the roads themselves. I also recommend checking on any potential safety issues in Kosovo via the State Dept. website.

One of our posters spends a lot of time in Bulgaria. I'm sure he'll comment when he sees this thread.

Posted by
1135 posts

Starting with Sofia, we also plan on exploring Plovdiv, Rila
Monastery, and Veliko Tarnovo.

Those are good towns but with a car you should also be focusing on the countryside. Around VT, google Etar, Kazanlak, Arbanassi, Russian Shipka Memorial Church, Dryanovo Monestary, Buzludzha, Kazanluk and the Madara Horseman, all of which could be done as side trips. I pretty much always visit VT and I love this town, it gets better every year.

Plovdiv itself is fantastic, stay in Kapana or the old town if possible, there are plenty of places with parking. From Plovdiv, I would recommend taking a southern loop through the rhodpis. Google waypoints: https://goo.gl/maps/XtJUi

Also there are a bunch of towns off this route. Look at pictures of Kovachevitsa, Gela, Mogilitsa, Arda, Smiliyan or Shiroka Laka, see what looks nice to you. It's hard to tell you exactly what to do as there are so many caves, hikes, and random things to see. You would be better off not planning at all and having B&B folks tell you what to do.

Is it worth it to consider the Black Sea area, or it is more of a for
beach holiday instead of culture and travel? We live on the ocean.

I just went back to the seaside (Nessebar) for the first time in probably 15 years. If you are planning on going in Summer, I would probably just pass.

Second phase is to check out Lake Ohrid

Great town.

and Skopje, North Macedonia.

Pass or one night.

With a possible day trip to Pristina, Kosovo

Also pass. Kosovo is pretty cool though, I just went on a small roadtrip a few weeks back. Highlights were Gračanica Monestary, Prizren (very cool town, reminds me a lot of mostar), Monastery Visoki Dečani and the Patriarchate of Peć.

and possibly driving through Serbia to fly out of Sofia,

You can't do that. If you enter through Kosovo you cannot exit via Serbia. Even if you get past the internal soft border which you likely won't they will stop you on exit as you don't have a Serbia entry stamp.

Any thoughts?

One of my main thoughts is where are you going to find a car rental company that allows all this, especially Kosovo.

And my biggest question and concern, how are the roads, driving
conditions, and border crossings?

Roads are fine everywhere you plan to drive. Driving conditions are fine as long you pay attention and don't drive slow in the fast lane. Border crossings are non events, most of the traffic in the Balkans is N/S (Turks driving back and forth to Germany, TIR traffic to Europe, Bulgarians driving to greece etc), not E/W so the borders are pretty fast.

Posted by
1135 posts

Also if you want to dip into Turkey I love Edirne. Great intro to Turkey, super cheap, world class sites.

Posted by
9588 posts

There was this underground cave with a river it. English called Devils Throat. Worth the climb and the road to it looke like it was out of one of those death road truckers tv shows

Posted by
1135 posts

Devil Throat is definitely one of the better caves in the region, also associated with the legend of Orpheus descending to Hades. I have Trigrad marked as a waypoint but I would be remiss in not specifically mentioning the drive through Trigrad Gorge (where that cave is) and also the drive through Buynovo gorge are highlights.

Posted by
5 posts

Hi everyone ,

Thank you all very much for the advise.

Nate.

Posted by
5 posts

Hi Acraven,

While you where busing through Bulgaria, were the roads/highways single or double lane ?

Posted by
14879 posts

Nate, I'm afraid I don't remember, because I wasn't driving and was just looking out one of the side windows on a bus. I think you can probably use the Earth view on Google Maps, zoom way in and see for yourself. I have a clear memory of a lot of 2-lane (one in each direction) roads in Romania, where I took a couple of small-group tours by car, but that's an entirely different country.

Posted by
1135 posts

Bulgaria has the most developed roadway system in the Balkans.

  • Between Sofia and Plovdiv is dual carriageway, speed limit 130.
  • Between Sofia and VT is mostly dual carriageway with maybe an hour toward VT of two lane highways.
  • If you drive between Plovdiv and VT they are good, two lane highways, although through the mountains. A lot of sites on this road though
  • The rhodopis will be rural, two lane roads, in good condition
  • Sofia to Rila will be four lane until you exit the highway, then two lane village roads to the monastery.
  • When you go to Macedonia, you will go about an hour south of Sofia on dual carriageway then cut west for a couple hours on two lane roads. On the Bulgarian side the roads are good and relatively straight, on the Macedonian side they are still ok but windy and mountainous. That will be the case until Kumanovo, where the dual carriageway begins and my recollection is it takes you all the way to Ohrid. Going north toward Kosovo, it turns into two lane roads until the border, and then on the Kosovo side it is brand new dual carriageway to either Prishtina or Prizren. The rest of the country seems like two lane though
Posted by
1135 posts

Also bring Euro coins for the tolls in Macedonia, or get dinars from an ATM before the toll ways. Not sure what the story is with credit cards, cash is easier. Kosovo has spots for toll booths but hasn't built them, I doubt they will be up by next year. Bulgaria does not have tolls, they use the vignette system, which your car will have if rented from Bulgaria. Turkey has a pretty complicated toll system but if you are only going to Edirne you won't need to worry about it unless you accidentally miss your exit and head toward Istanbul.

Posted by
9588 posts

If you are driving on to Istanbul, stop and pick up lots of food and water. The last 10 miles might take 4 hours. Worst traffic I have ever seen in my life. Maybe 20 lanes wide and all stopped. Kids walking between the cars selling food and maybe 1 in 4 actually paying the tolls, the rest just running them with toll booth sirens screaming and lights flashing.

I loved my few trips to Bulgaria, but one thing I have to say is the food was among the least good of any place I have ever been in the world.