Highlights of Bulgaria and Transylvania

Begin your tour in the vibrant Bulgarian capital of Sofia. Visit the 11th-century Boyana Church before venturing into the mountains to the Eastern Orthodox Rila Monastery, built 1147 meters above sea level.

In Plovdiv, site of an ancient Thracian settlement, you’ll tour the Old Town, Roman Stadium, and Antique Theater. In Kazanlak, a major producer of precious Bulgarian rose oil, visit the celebrated 4th-century B.C. Thracian Tomb.

On the way to Veliko Tarnovo, traverse the breathtaking Shipka Pass. Visit the medieval Tsarevets Fortress, and explore Samovodene Street, a treasure trove of local Bulgarian crafts.

Next, tour the village of Arbanassi, filled with houses from the 17th and 18th centuries. Tour Konstantzalieva House and learn about the daily life of a wealthy 17th-century family.

Cross the Romanian border to Bucharest for a city tour, then visit the 14th-century Curtea de Arges monastery, haunted by tragic legends. At Poienari Fortress, climb 1480 steps to the high throne of Vlad the Impaler.

In Sibiu, tour the quintessential Saxon city, known for its extensive fortifications. In Sighisoara, a beautifully-preserved medieval citadel, enjoy the view from the 13th-century Clock Tower. Take a picturesque covered staircase to the Gothic Church on the Hill. Discover the ancient village life and long forgotten crafts brought back to life in the exquisite Transylvanian village of Viscri.

Proceed to legendary Bran Castle, then visit Sinaia Monastery and Peles Castle, the extravagant 19th-century royal residence. Wind up your tour at the mysterious island monastery of Snagov.

Highlights of the tour

Click Here To See Detailed Tour Itinerary
Detailed Tour Itinerary

Day 1: arrival in Sofia, city tour

Arrive in Sofia, Bulgaria, and greet your guide; then regain your equilibrium at Hotel Niky, a cozy home base for your immersion in the buzzing, vibrant energy of this modern city.

In the afternoon, revel in a guided walk through the streets of Sofia, magnificently paved in yellow-painted brick. You’ll visit the stunning Aleksandar Nevski Cathedral, the Neo-Renaissance main building of the National Assembly, and the Early Christian St. George’s Rotunda.

*Please note that if you experience a delayed arrival in Sofia for any reason, the city tour can be broken into two parts: the afternoon of your arrival day and the following morning.

Overnight in Sofia, Hotel Niky*** (centrally located)

Day 2: Boyana Church - Rila Monastery - Plovdiv Click for more photos »

Day 2: Boyana Church - Rila Monastery - Plovdiv

Venture near the base of the local mountain massif, Vitosha, to explore Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its definitive collection of medieval frescoes and iconic art—all nearly untouched by the hand of time.

Journey on to the majestic Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage treasure first established by Saint John of Rila, a revered saint who lived in deep seclusion. According to the legends, the saint was so in tune with nature that wild animals and birds could surround him without fear or trepidation. Rila Monastery is regarded as one of the country’s most hallowed places, and the complex became an important repository of Bulgarian culture from medieval times all the way through to the 1800s.

End the day in Plovdiv.

Overnight in Plovdiv, Hotel Alafrangite*** (located in the Old Town)

Day 3: Plovdiv - Kazanlak Thracian Tomb - Shipka Pass - Veliko Tarnovo Click for more photos »

Day 3: Plovdiv - Kazanlak Thracian Tomb - Shipka Pass - Veliko Tarnovo

With your guide, wind your way through historic Plovdiv, 6000 years old and one of the most ancient cities in all of Europe. Named Eumolpias by the Thracians, Philippoupolis by the Greeks and Trimontium (Three Hills) by the Romans, the city of Plovdiv only received its modern name in the 11th century. It is now imbued with progressive, avant-garde culture and boasts a thriving artistic community. Stroll through the ancient Roman Theater and visit the Ethnographic Museum, housed in the 1847 Kuyumdzhioglu House; with its exquisitely curved roofline, it stands as a beautiful representation of the Baroque-inspired architecture of the time.

Afterward, move on to Kazanlak, situated at the foot of the Balkans amidst Bulgaria’s famous rose fields. Here, you’ll visit the extraordinary Thracian Tomb (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Please be aware that you will tour the replica, as visits to the original site are seldom allowed. The impressive Thracian necropolis, constructed during the Hellenistic era, displays superb murals, which represent Bulgaria’s only completely-preserved Hellenistic works of art.

Next, journey on toward Veliko Tarnovo, the medieval Bulgarian capital. You’ll travel there via the high mountain views of the Shipka Pass, and receive a fascinating description of local history and culture on the way. You’ll visit the onion-domed Russian Church in the village of Shipka and the historical marker at Shipka Peak—a sacred place for all Bulgarians, built in honor of their valorous ancestors.

Arrival in Veliko Tarnovo in the late afternoon.

Overnight in Veliko Tarnovo, Hotel Bolyarski**** (located in the Old Town)

Day 4: Veliko Tarnovo - Arbanassi - Bucharest Click for more photos »

Day 4: Veliko Tarnovo - Arbanassi - Bucharest

Morning brings an intriguing tour of Veliko Tarnovo. Stroll through the Old Town and sift through the wares offered in the lovely handcraft shops. Learn about the living artistic, textile, and metalworking traditions, and taste a cup of Турско Кафе (Turkish coffee) brewed by hand on heated sand.

Next, venture on to 12th-century Tsarevets, a high fortification and palace that served as one of the strongest medieval fortresses in Bulgaria. The imposing and highly strategic edifice historically functioned as a primary royal residence and the home of religious patriarchs. Investigate the three-meter-thick fortress walls along with the towers, throne room, and site of the old drawbridge.

Next, take a short trip to the village of Arbanassi, a beautiful little town rich with examples of 17th- and 18th-century architecture. The town formerly benefitted from Ottoman support, and became a center for the wealthy and privileged. Visit Konstantzalieva House, and become familiar with the quotidian life of an affluent 17th-century family. Tour the intriguing Nativity of Christ Church, built partially underground due to Ottoman restrictions.

In the afternoon, travel on to Bucharest. You’ll begin your discovery of the Romanian capital as soon as you arrive. Here, in Europe’s sixth-largest city and glimmering hub of industry, transportation, and the arts, you’ll find a lavish mix of architectural styles: neoclassical, Bauhaus, Art Deco, Communist-period, and ultramodern/contemporary. Let your guide fill you in on the story of Bucharest, as evidenced in its outer diversity. You’ll take part in a panoramic city tour, providing you with an exclusive view into the living culture and deep history of this remarkable city.

Overnight in Bucharest, Hotel Berthelot**** (centrally located)

Day 5: Bucharest - Curtea de Arges - Poienari ruins - Transfagarasan road - Sibiu Click for more photos »

Day 5: Bucharest - Curtea de Arges - Poienari ruins - Transfagarasan road - Sibiu

This morning, you’ll depart on a journey into the wild depths of Transylvania. Bound for the gorgeous city of Sibiu on the breathtaking Transfagarasan Road, you’ll stop at Curtea de Arges monastery, a major architectural feat with trompe l’oeil cupolas, a soaring façade, and an interior to match. Constructed in the early 1500s, this Romanian Orthodox cathedral is filled with legends surrounding its creation: attempted human flight, deadly ultimatums, and the tragic death of a wife.

Next, drive to the breathtaking ruins of Poienari Castle, home and nearly inaccessible fortress of Vlad the Impaler. Poenari perches on an impossibly high cliff face, and is protected by ruined walls; visitors must ascend over 1,400 steps in order to gain entry. Vlad reportedly used slave labor to restore it, first arresting members of the aristocracy as traitors and then forcing them into hard labor. Their lives were utterly dispensable, and due to the perilous location and unmerciful circumstances, very few outlived its construction.

In the afternoon, you’ll arrive in exquisite Sibiu and get settled at your hotel. Enjoy a guided walking tour of the medieval Old Town, the most protected and secure of all Saxon settlements. As an important center for trade, Sibiu was frequently bombarded with attacks, and remains encircled by a complex system of bastions and walls.

*please note the Transfagarasan road is open only between June and September. If your tour takes place outside this period, you will travel on the road going along the Olt river valley

Overnight in Sibiu, Hotel Casa Levoslav**** (located in the Old Town)

Day 6: Sibiu - Biertan - Sighisoara - Viscri Click for more photos »

Day 6: Sibiu - Biertan - Sighisoara - Viscri

From Sibiu, travel to the soaring church fortress of Biertan (UNESCO World Heritage Site). With its high, fortified walls and nine gate towers, Biertan—built by the people of the village—allowed the townspeople to protect themselves without the necessity to bear arms during frequent Ottoman attacks.

The inhabited citadel of Sighisoara marks your next stop. Take a walk through the medieval Old Town (UNESCO World Heritage Site) with your guide, and ascend the 13th-century clock tower and old covered staircase to the Gothic Church on the Hill. Sighisoara is also famous as the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the house of his birth now serves as an outstanding restaurant.

Afternoon brings a trip to Viscri, a beautifully-preserved rural Transylvanian village. The town, hidden away for centuries, caught the attention of Charles, Prince of Wales, who bought an 18th-century house there and remains vocal about the preservation of Transylvanian culture and vast forested areas.

Discover the Viscri fortified church (UNESCO World Heritage Site) as you arrive, and then join your guide for a leisurely stroll in the village. Tonight, you will enjoy a Transylvanian dinner, a great chance to discover the taste of the region’s traditional cuisine.

Overnight in Viscri, Viscri 125 B&B**** (home-cooked dinner included)

Day 7: Viscri - Bran Castle - Brasov Click for more photos »

Day 7: Viscri - Bran Castle - Brasov

Spend you morning with some more discoveries in Viscri. Here, you can truly step into the past to experience a way of life lost to the rest of the world. Watch a traditional blacksmith work at his forge, then ride in a horse-drawn cart outside of the village to encounter brick-makers living close to the wild in the old way. If you’d like, a second open-air horse-cart ride can be scheduled, allowing you to visit the shepherds living in the hills.

Around noon, depart for the legendary Bran Castle (known to many as Dracula’s Castle). The castle’s fairy-tale architecture and fascinating history will leave you breathless: it was the home of kings and warlords in addition to good Queen Maria and Princess Ileana, ultimately exiled by the Communists. The exquisite castle was abandoned several times, and even occupied by foresters and woodsmen during interim times of undetermined ownership. Be sure to sample the local delicacies available here: wonderful cheeses, pálinka (plum and pear brandy), and traditionally-cured sausage and ham.

Arrival in Brasov in the afternoon, rest of the day at leisure.

Overnight in Brasov, Hotel Armatti*** (located in the Old Town)

Day 8: Brasov - Peles Castle - Sinaia monastery - Snagov Monastery - Bucharest Click for more photos »

Day 8: Brasov - Peles Castle - Sinaia monastery - Snagov Monastery - Bucharest

In the morning, enjoy a guided walk through the Old Town of Brasov, surrounded by seven-foot-thick Saxon walls and famous as the backdrop for The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Explore the towering Black Church and the Old Town square, surrounded by red-roofed houses belonging to the elite of yesteryear.

Depart Brasov and traverse astonishing mountain scenery to reach Sinaia in the Carpathian Mountains. Visit Peles Castle, the 19th-century residence of Romania’s first king; no expense was spared in the formulation of the jaw-dropping interior, dripping with mirrors, crystal and exotic wood. Nearby, make a stop to view the gorgeous Sinaia monastery, after which the town was named.

Next, proceed to Snagov Monastery, built on a stunning islet in Lake Snagov. Many believe this to be the final resting place of Dracula.

Arrive in Bucharest in the late afternoon.

Overnight in Bucharest, Hotel Berthelot**** (centrally located)

Day 9: departure

Departure. Transfer to the airport.

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What people have said:

This was a tour I booked at the last minute. What I liked about the process was that I had immediate feedback from your company on any questions I had. You were also very prompt in letting me know about what was going on such as a Best Western Hotel you booked to replace Hotel Casa Humor in Gura Humorului because of our late booking. The one small negative on … read more

Mr. & Mrs. Allen Poulson (Unites States)

Our trip was really great in every way.  Catalin could not have been more accommodating – he added little gems that all five of us really enjoyed.  He even tried to work in the salt mines for us and did take us to the airport on Saturday! He’s a keeper for your company. Would have enjoyed meeting you or your wife but he was an outstanding substitute.  Please check out our … read more

Leslie Snyder and friends (United States)

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vladzoe21

We are Vlad and Zoe Trestian – the owners and managers of Balkan Trails. We have been creating memorable travel experiences in Eastern Europe for almost 20 years now.

We understand traveling is personal and individual, and no two travellers are alike. That is why the majority of our tours are based on customised itineraries. Your tour is exactly that: YOURS. Just let us know when you’d like to arrive and depart, what your interests are, the type of hotels you prefer, and we’ll take care of the rest.

Looking forward to showing you our part of the world.

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E-mail address: office@balkantrails.com

Frequently asked questions

1 Bulgaria and Transylvania

What is included with this tour?

Included services and features:

  • The possibility of having your itinerary customised in any way you desire before the tour starts, at no extra charge
  • Great flexibility regarding changes to the daily itinerary even after the start of the tour
  • A private, licensed English speaking guide/driver, available throughout the tour
  • All guide’s expenses (meals, accommodation, etc.)
  • Private transportation in air conditioned car
  • All car expenses, such as gasoline, parking and road tolls
  • Complimentary wireless internet access in the car, so that you can stay in touch with your loved ones even while traveling
  • Entrance fees as per the itinerary, with guided visits. If you wish to add any sight on the go, the guide will always be available with information during the visit
  • Accommodation as per the hotel list on the itinerary page (we can also offer a different selection of hotels, based on your preference)
  • Breakfast every day
  • One home cooked dinner
  • Airport transfers

Not included:

  • Airfare to and from Romania or Bulgaria
  • Meals or beverages, other than the included ones
  • Photo fees (some sights require the payment of a fee for allowing you to take pictures – they are mostly inexpensive, around 2 or 3 euro/sight)

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About Tours In General

Where do the tours start?

Our tours start in either Sofia (Bulgaria) or Bucharest (Romania). Both cities have well-connected international airports. However, we can also customise the tours to start in a different city, if that better suits your flight arrangements. Alternative airports include Varna or Burgas (in Bulgaria) or Sibiu, Cluj Napoca, Iasi and Targu Mures (in Romania).

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What are the departure dates?

We do not have set departure dates. All our tours are private and organised on request. The dates when you start and end the tour are entirely up to you.

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I like one of the tours, but I’d like to make some changes to the itinerary. Is it possible?

Of course. All our tours are customisable. We can make changes to one itinerary, join 2 itineraries together, or you can just tell us about the places you want to see, and we’ll make a whole new itinerary just for you! Customising a tour comes at no extra charge.

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I would like to change some of the hotels that come with the tour. Can I do that?

Definitely. The hotels are always up to you. We can upgrade the standard selection of hotels, or if you are on a budget, we can also offer cheaper accommodation options.

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I see that in most cases, only breakfast is included. Why is that?

Having meals included means that you would have to be at a certain restaurant at a certain time just so that you don’t miss a pre-booked meal. This takes away from one of the great advantages of a private tour: flexibility. Not having a restaurant pre-booked gives you great freedom to set your own pace each day, add or skip some sights as you go, etc.

To ensure maximum flexibility throughout your trip, meals are usually planned as you go. Your guide knows the best restaurants in each area you travel through and will make suggestions based on the kind of meal you’d like to have.

The meals we include are the ones that come with an important cultural element: home-cooked meals where you can interact with locals, lunches at homes of artists where you learn more about a specific form of art, or refreshments such as the ones offered during the home visit with the Gypsy family.

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Do your tours include any insurance related services?

No. We recommend to all of our clients to  carry a medical insurance that would cover any health-related costs that might incur while on the trip. Insurance for trip interruption and lost/stolen luggage is also recommended.

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Do I have to pay for the guide’s meals?

No. The guide will have a meal allowance, which will cover his meals. Furthermore, the guide will only join you for meals if you ask him to – if you’d rather be on your own for lunch and/or dinner, that is perfectly fine.

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How about changes of itinerary on the fly? Can we do that?

Changes on the fly can be done to a certain extent. You can always choose to skip a meal or a sight, or swap for a totally different sight altogether. Alterations of itinerary that imply hotel changes are subject to rooms availability. Also, please note that in the case of last minute hotel cancellations, sometimes the hotel may charge late-cancellation penalties which can be up to 100% of the reservation cost. Additional costs generated by on-the-fly changes will be billed separately.

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