Bulgaria - General Information

Bulgaria in EU

Bulgaria lies in the northeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. The country is 520 km long and 330 km wide. It borders the Black Sea and the Danube river and is at a convenient and strategic crossroad location between Europe and Asia.

History: The Bulgarian State was established in AD 681 by Khan Asparouh. In AD 855, the brothers Cyril and Methodius, later canonized as saints, invented a Slavonic script (the Cyrillic alphabet is named after Cyril). Bulgaria converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity in 864-866. Throughout its 13th-century history, Bulgaria has played a key role in the region. Its location makes the country a natural bridge between East and West, North and South. The road from London to Calcutta, from Antiquity to Modernity, ran across the Bulgarian lands. Bulgaria's location makes it a crossroads of cultures and civilizations, and its landscape a convenient living place for different communities.

Local time: GMT+ 2

Climate: Temperate continental (2, 000 to 2, 400 hours of sunshine per year). Four seasons. Dry and hot summer, mean temperature+ 23?C (April-September). Cold winter with snowfalls, mean temperature 0?C. Mean annual temperature 10.5?C.

Population: 8,428,006

Language: Bulgarian.
English, German, French and Russian is spoken in the country's resorts, hotels and restaurants.

Alphabet: Cyrillic. Signs along international motorways, in airports and resorts are also spelled in Roman letters.

Religion: 86.6% of the population is Eastern Orthodox, 13% are Muslims. The Bulgarian Church is autonomous and headed by a Patriarch.

State government: Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic.

Official holidays:
- January 1 - New Year
- March 3 - Bulgaria's Liberation from Ottoman rule - the National Day
- Easter - one week after the Catholic Easter
- May 1 - Labor Day
- May 6 - Bulgarian Army Day
- May 24 - Day of Bulgarian Enlightenment and Culture and the Slav Script
- September 6 - Bulgaria's Unification
- September 22 - Independence Day
- December 25-26 - Christmas

Capital: Sofia (pop. 1,141,000)

Large Cities: Plovdiv, Varna, Veliko Turnovo, Sliven, Stara Zagora

Air transport: Balkan Air Tour is the flag-carrier. It flies to more than fifty destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa and America. Apart from scheduled international flights, there are charter flights for tourists in winter and summer. Domestic services are available to the Black Sea ports of Varna and Bourgas. Sofia Airport enquiries: 720 672 (international flights), 722 414 (domestic flights). Charter companies operating flights from major UK and Dublin airports. In addition, Czech, Austrian and Malev operate flights from UK to Sofia ( 1 change) on a daily basis from Dublin and UK.

Taxi: The Sofia Airport taxi cabs are recommended. Arrangements can be made in the arrivals lounge and in the VIP lounge. Private taxi cabs charge higher fares. The fare (especially for longer distances) is negotiable. Foreign currency is accepted at the day's or a negotiable exchange rate. Taxis in general in Bulgaria are very inexpensive with a average rate of 0.2 Euro/KM. Careful with taxis in Beach resorts. Here the per KM rate can be as high as 2.0 Euro/KM.

Hotels: One- to five-star hotels. Advance booking is recommended. Major credit cards accepted.

Restaurants: Wide variety of cuisines. Along with traditional Bulgarian cuisine, many restaurants in and outside Sofia offer Italian, French, Greek, Chinese, German, Arab, Hungarian, Latin American, Indian and Russian cuisines.

Car hire: Major international rent-a-car companies have offices in the arrivals lounge at Sofia Airport, downtown Sofia, the country and the holiday resorts.

National currency: Bulgarian lev (pl. leva). Fractional coins are called 'stotinki' (100 stotinki = 1 lev). The exchange rate against the euro is fixed at Lv 1.96/EUR 1.

Banks and currency exchange: Many local banks and bureaux de change operate in the capital and across the country. Major international banks also have offices here. Banking hours: 9 a.m.-3 a.m., Monday to Friday. Foreign-exchange offices are open until 6 p.m., and some around the clock.
Currency exchange at the airport on arrival or departure, and in the larger hotels, is also possible. Do not exchange money in the streets or outside banks and bureaux de change despite the bargain rate offered: you risk being cheated.

Public transport: Bus 84 connects Sofia Airport with downtown Sofia. Public transport in the capital consists of buses, trams and trolley buses. Tickets can be bought from drivers or in advance from public-transport kiosks at most stops. Season tickets for 1 or 5 days or 1 month are recommended when more travel is expected.

Railways: Fast and express trains link the capital with big towns countrywide. Sleeping cars are recommended for night travel to more remote destinations like Varna, Bourgas, Rousse, Dobrich. Tickets for all destinations and for sleeping cars can be bought in advance at the Comprehensive Transport Services Centre at the National Palace of Culture. First-class compartments and seat reservation is preferable. Tickets can also be bought from ticket-collectors in trains, but at a higher price. Do not leave your luggage unattended. For information, dial Sofia Central Station, 31 111 through 120. Private bus companies also offer connections to all the main cities and work out cheaper and faster than the corresponding train journey.

Telecommunications: International direct-dialling access code for Bulgaria: 359, for Sofia: 359 2. Telephone lines in 63 countries of Europe, Asia and Africa are directly dialable from Mobikom or BulFon cardphones (require different phone cards). Inland and international phone, telegram and fax services are available at the Sofia General Post Office and at local post offices in the capital and in the country.

Essential phone numbers: 0123 operator service for international calls (to places where no direct dialling is available); 120 wake-up service; 121 operator service for inland long-distance calls; 140 telegram services; 144 directory enquiries about business lines in Sofia; 145 directory enquiries about private lines in Sofia; 1286 car breakdown service (Sofia), 146 (rest of country); 150 ambulance service; 166 police/traffic police; 160 fire brigade; 175 weather forecast; 180 speaking clock.

Electricity: mains voltage 220 V/50 Hz, round two-pin plugs.

Motoring: Drive on the right, overtake on the left, cross only when the traffic light is green, give right of way to vehicles approaching from the right at crossroads and to buses in urban areas, carry your International Driving Permit. Normal drivers licence will also suffice.Wearing of seat belts is compulsory. Speed limits: built-up areas 60 km/h for motor cars, 50 km/h for coaches, caravans and minibuses, open road 80 km/h for motor cars, 70 km/h for coaches, caravans and minibuses, motorways 120 km/h for motor cars, 100 km/h for coaches, caravans and minibuses. Careful of speed limits – speed cops are everywhere and love nothing better than catching a "rich" tourist.