Lisa Owen

At the top of a mountain in central Bulgaria sits a UFO. It’s not your standard UFO – it’s made of concrete, covered in graffiti, and is visible for miles on a clear day. The former Socialist meeting hall dubbed Bulgaria’s UFO sits on top of the 1400 metre Budludzha mountain. It lies abandoned in what seems like the middle of nowhere at the end of a potholed road in the Shipka Pass.

Bulgaria’s UFO

The Soviet era building is one of the must see sights in Bulgaria – merely because it’s likely you’ve never seen anything like it before. It feels like something out of a science fiction movie – or even a horror movie.


You can reach Buzludzha by taxi from Veliko Tarnovo. A cheaper option is hiring a car. In the summer months, the popular Hostel Mostel also offers tours out to Buzludzha as well as other nearby attractions such as waterfalls. As I was visiting in low season, I opted for the car option and together with four people I met at the hostel, we ventured out to Buzludzha. It took us nearly two hours to drive out to the building, but we were contending with low visibility due to fog and wet road conditions which made our journey very slow, especially up the mountain pass. In dry conditions, the journey should take about 90 minutes. You know you’re getting close when you see the two concrete fists each holding a flaming torch on your left. If it had been a sunny day, we would have been able to see Buzludzha looming behind the fists.

Once we arrived, we had to have a good look to see the building as it was so shrouded in fog. It was very creepy visiting the abandoned building as the mist swirled around us and the biting cold made taking photos very difficult. We were the only ones up there at the time – but it certainly felt like someone could be watching! Alarms have been installed inside Bulgaria’s UFO to deter people from making their way into the building. There are no active patrols of the building, but guards will turn up if the alarm is activated. The building is not maintained, and there is broken glass and jutting metal to contend with. You enter at your own risk. Ask locally to determine the safety and legality of entering the building if you decide to make the journey. In addition to Budludzha, there are a number of other sites to see in Bulgaria. Here are some of my favourite experiences.

Veliko Tornovo

Veliko Tarnovo is a sleepy medieval town – in fact one of Bulgaria’s oldest. Its major drawcard is its sprawling fortress complex. On a sunny day, the area around the town’s river is nice to wander. Veliko Tarnovo is set in the cliffs carved by the river and you can get good views of the town at various viewpoints.

Veliko Tornovo

Veliko Tarnovo can be done as a day trip from the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, or you can stay a night or two and venture out to Buzludzha. Hostel Mostel is your best bet for accommodation in Veliko Tanovo, and offers clean and comfortable dorms and private rooms, and a cosy common area.

Rila Lakes National Park

To experience some of the best of Bulgaria’s natural areas, then a day trip out to Rila National Park is a must do. The Seven Lakes hike in Rila National Park is stunning and I wish I’d had more time to explore Bulgaria’s mountains.

Rila Lakes National Park

I found out about Rila Lakes by jumping on a last minute invite to do a hike. Before dawn broke, we jumped in the car and took the 90 minute drive out to Rila Lakes National Park. Entry into the national park costs a fee per vehicle and you can choose to hike up or take the chairlift to the official starting point of the Seven Rila Lakes hike. The chairlift costs a small fee each way and takes about 25 minutes. It takes about an hour to hike up. As my group were all poor backpackers, we took the hard (but cheaper) route and decided to hike up. In hindsight – I wish I’d hiked down instead! Turns out there isn’t much of a hiking trail, rather it’s a washed out rocky road – and it’s steep. But you get occasional views of the mountains surrounding you as you walk up. Once you’re the top of the chairlift, things are about to keep even steeper. If you’re hungry and need a break, there’s a small cafeteria where you can get a snack or a coffee before you tackle the hike.

Rila Lakes National Park

The first section is a gruelling 15 minutes or so up to the top of the ridge and then it levels out. From here, the hike starts to get really interesting as you spot the first of the lakes. I was there in October, and there were already some snow patches on the trail, but the snow dusted mountains were the best part of the whole hike. They were stunning and got better as we got closer and continued to pass the lakes. My photos tell the story!

Rila Lakes National Park

From the top of the chairlift, the complete Seven Rila Lakes hike is five hours return. If you don’t want to do the whole thing (which may include hiking up steep snowy slopes depending on the time of year), you can opt to stop at the fifth lake on the edge of the mountains and go back the way you came.

Devetashka Cave

The spectacular Devetashka Cave is another must do sight in Bulgaria. It’s seems to be another of Bulgaria’s best kept secrets as I’d never heard of it until I started talking to other travellers once I got to Veliko Tarnovo. The caves are located only a short distance from the town of Lovech or about two hours east of Sofia.

Devetashka Cave

Photo supplied by Marina Zoppei

Plovdiv’s Roman Amphitheatre

Unfortunately, I was beset by wet weather during my time in Bulgaria (don’t visit in October, it rains all the time!). Every day I tried to get to Plovdiv it poured with rain – not really conducive to see the town’s main tourist attraction – the Roman amphitheatre. The amphitheatre dates back to the 2nd century and is regularly used for events and concerts. But I heard good things about the town from other travellers, and it’s perfect for a day trip from Sofia. Buses run every hour out to Plovdiv from Sofia’s Central Bus Station. The trip takes about two hours.

Getting around Bulgaria

Explanation about Bulgaria’s public transportation system almost deserves its own blog post as it’s not as straightforward as other European countries. Read this before you go – it will help! This is what I wish I’d known before I went to Bulgaria. Sofia has a Central Bus Station, however buses are operated by a number of private companies. You can’t go up to a central ticket office and buy a ticket for the next bus to your selected destination. You must first figure out what bus company runs to the destination you want. This isn’t as easy as it sounds as most of the destinations are written in Cyrillic script. So first you need to figure out how your destination is spelt in Cyrillic, then find it on one of the bus company boards.

Most Bulgarians do not speak English and you’ll likely have some difficulty buying a ticket at the train or bus station. Make Google Translate your friend or have your hostel write down your destination in Cyrillic. You should also note that some Bulgarian cities have two bus stations. For example, Veliko Tornovo has a South and West Bus Station. Buses to and from Sofia and Varna leave from the south station, but if you want to go to Plovdiv, you’ll need to head to the West station. Sofia has connections to a number of neighbouring countries. It takes about five hours to reach the Macedonian capital of Skopje by bus, or you can travel to Thessaloniki in Greece or Istanbul in Turkey from Sofia. Buses run twice a day to Bucharest, Romania at 12.30am (night bus) and 3.30pm. The journey takes about seven hours. You can also catch a train to Bucharest but the journey is an arduous 11 hours. The train leaves at 8.40am from the Central Train Station. If you want to break up your journey to Romania, you can travel to Veliko Tornovo and then catch the train at 12pm from Gorna Oryahovitsa. Gorna Oryahovitsa is located a 15 minute train ride from Veliko Tornovo. This trip up to Bucharest takes around six hours but I’m told it’s often delayed.

Things You Should Know:

  • Bulgaria uses Cyrillic script so get used to using Google Translate.
  • English is uncommon in Bulgaria even in places frequented by tourists such as the train and bus stations.
  • Thinking about public transport options to get around Bulgaria? Bus is best. The trains are slow and it’s not a smooth ride. Sofia has many connections by bus to domestic and international destinations.
  • If you’re staying in Sofia for a few days, you’ll be happy to know the city centre’s public transport is easy to navigate. Metro tickets can be bought at machines inside stations. Trams also run regularly along major roads into the city centre. Tickets can be bought from the driver.
  • Looking for budget accommodation? Hostel Mostel and Moreto & Caffeto are two highly recommended hostels in Sofia. The Hostel Mostel chain can also be found in Veliko Tarnovo.


Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 40 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.

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