During the Cold War, Bulgaria and Romania were
some of the few countries that belonged to neither the Soviet Union or
Socialist Yugoslavia. As a result, the two countries were able to form their
own unique brands of communism. Today, the countries are moving into a new era
but their communist past, as well as a plethora of other history, is still
around for adventurous travellers to explore.
Home of YPT’s regional European office,
Bulgaria is a country we have a soft spot for. Home to warm, Balkan hospitality,
excellent food and a whole host of communist-era treasures, it is a country
often overlooked on the trail of those who hunt for the red relics of its
communist past. On our Red Bulgaria tour, we travel the length of the country
from it’s mighty mountains to the shores of the Black Sea. Taking in 6 cities,
we’ll see a whole host of unbelievable sights from the world famous UFO
monument at Buzludzha to the heaviest communist monument on earth whilst
indulging in 1970s nostalgia by staying in classic hotels from the communist
Our Dark Romania is our comprehensive road
trip through the often mysterious lands of Romania tour. We’ll take you to the
most important places in the story of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the former Communist
dictator of Romania whose trial and execution were shown on TV around the world
during the Christmas of 1989. From the place of his birth and the abandoned
prison he was locked up as a young man, to the site of his execution and the
places of some of the most brutal experiments conducted under Communism. We’ll
also explore the significantly eerie sights of the country from haunted forests
to Dracula’s castle!
Fly into the flight hub of Sofia, Bulgaria’s thriving capital and the crossroads of many former empires.
Check into our local hotel
Evening meetup where we’ll head for a Tsar’s feast of Bulgarian kebabs and Balkan beer!
Overnight in Sofia
Saturday 12th March – Sofia/Plovdiv
After breakfast, we’ll head to downtown Sofia and explore this ancient capital with remnants of many empires from the Romans to the Soviets.
We’ll see the former Communist HQ, remains of the Roman underground, the North Korean style monument to the Red Army and the stunning Alexander Nevsky cathedral.
We’ll explore the local flea market selling everything from Soviet medals to Nazi daggers.
After lunch we’ll head out of the city to the museum of Socialist art, this is an industrial yard where Bulgaria dumped all of their imposing Soviet monuments during the 1990s. Here you can find statues of Lenin and KGB founder Dzerdzinsky.
We’ll then head East and drive to the city of Plovdiv, arriving in the evening and checking into our hotel for the night.
Overnight in Plovdiv
Sunday 13th March – Plovdiv
After a hearty Bulgarian breakfast, we’ll walk it off with a hike to the highlight of Plovdiv: Alyosha!
Alyosha is an 11-metre (36-foot) tall reinforced concrete statue of a machine gun clutching Soviet soldier. Modelled on a soldier of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, the statue tops a 6-metre (20-foot) pedestal lined with granite and dominated the skyline of Plovdiv. The memorial commemorates Soviet casualties incurred during the Soviet invasion of Bulgaria in WW2.
We’ll then check out the ‘’Hillock of Eternity’’ dedicated to the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule, the The Unification of Bulgaria, the Bulgarian partisan movement and “the victory of socialism” in 1944. Bones of partisans from Plovdiv region were placed inside the memorial complex, once it was finished. It was inaugurated on 9th September 1974 by the party leader Todor Zhivkov in honor of the 30th anniversary of the “socialist revolution’’ in Bulgaria.
After lunch, we’ll head to the well preserved Roman Amphitheatre of Plovdiv. This marvel of Roman construction is one of the world’s best-preserved ancient theatres and was constructed in the 90s of the 1st century AD with the ability to host up to 7,000 spectators.
Overnight in Plovdiv
Monday 14th March – Stara Zagora/Kazanlak
We’ll make an early start as we head further east to the city of Stara Zagora. Our brief stop here will be along a road lined with military bunkers to the Defenders of Stara Zagora Memorial Complex.
These monolithic giants who stare out over the city are there to ensure that none of the citizens forget the sacrifice of over 14,000 soldiers who lost their lives in disastrous military campaign for the city in the Russian-Turkish Liberation War of the 1800s. In 1977, the memorial was unveiled. The brutalist monument stands over 50 feet tall and sees a giant Russian officer embedded in stone pillars alongside six Bulgarian volunteer fighters.
We’ll head deep into the Balkan mountains to a former battlefield that was the scene of fierce fighting between the Russian and Ottoman Empires. Interestingly, there is a giant memorial here with the crest of Imperial Russia. When the Soviets came through in WW2, they didn’t destroy it but did slap a Communist memorial on the side making it a very rare mixture of Tsarist and Communist history!
We’ll have lunch on the road before we head to a trip highlight, Buzludzha!
On a remote mountain peak in the middle of Bulgaria stands one of the world’s most incredible architectural works.
The peak itself was the site of a battle between the Bulgarians and the Turks in 1868. In 1891 a group of socialists led by Dimitar Blagoev met on the peak to plan for Bulgaria’s socialist future. To commemorate these events, the Communist government in the 1970s decided to erect a monument commemorating socialist communism. What followed was something straight out of a sci-fi movie, a UFO shaped headquarters with a gigantic red star on the top. After the collapse of Communism in Bulgaria in 1989, the site was abandoned and remains as an eerie monument to a fallen empire.
We’ll buy some Bulgarian village wine on the way and hike to the top of the peak, after exploring we’ll take in the view with a few glasses.
Drive on to the city of Kazanlak, where we’ll check into our Communist era hotel and head out for an evening meal.
Overnight in Kazanlak.
Tuesday 15th March – Shumen/Varna
Typical Communist era breakfast at the hotel before we hit the road towards the Black Sea.
On the way we’ll stop at a park of abandoned MiG fighter jets on the side of the road, it’s possible to climb on them and get inside if you wish.
We’ll then hit the city of Shumen before another trip highlight: the heaviest Communist monument on earth!
Built in 1981, the enormous monument dominating the town of Shumen and visible from over 18 miles away is dedicated to the 1300 year anniversary of the Bulgarian Empire. Featuring Bulgarian kings and heroes in the form of giant stone giants frozen in concrete. The menacing figures lurk in high corners of a geometric building with slick, towering walls, the monument reached by climbing a stern concrete staircase.
We’ll then have lunch in Shumen before heading to the failed Communist project known as the ‘Central City Square,’ a huge project of revolutionary urban design destined to incorporate shops, a hotel, a post office, cafes and restaurants, and wedding halls. However, after the collapse of the Communist government the project became an orphan of an ideology. Today it stands as an enormous concrete beast. To vast to complete and to sturdy to destroy.
We’ll then drive on to the 6th and final city of our journey, the home of the Bulgarian naval fleet: Varna!
You’ll be welcomed by the view of the Black Sea as we approach the city.
Check into our Communist era hotel and head out for an evening meal in a local institution.
Overnight in Varna
Wednesday 16th March – Varna
Varna is the location of YPT’s regional office, so this is a city we know and love!
We’ll take a stroll through the beautiful sea garden and visit the maritime museum full of Communist era weapons, aircraft and boats.
We’ll then head to the Brutalist planetarium to take in it’s gorgeous architecture.
Walk to The Pantheon of the Fallen in Wars, an impressive Communist monument from the 1950s. Featuring two enormous statues of heavily armed partisans in the height of a fight against the Fascists.
We’ll have lunch in a restaurant overlooking the shores of the Black Sea before heading to the Alley of the Cosmonauts, featuring pine trees planted by Communist space travel pioneers including Yuri Gagarin himself! There is a small statue of the first man in space here.
We’ll round off our trip at the monument of Bulgarian-Soviet friendship. This hulking monument was constructed in honor of the Soviet Army, as a symbol of friendship between the two peoples. The monument is on Turna hill, a former battlefield where many men have died fighting capitalism and fascism. We must climb the staircase of victors to reach the monument, 305 stairs stretching 50 feet ft. across. It took 7 months to construct, 27,000 volunteers, 10,000 tons of concrete and 1,000 tons of armature iron to construct this communist beast. After completion, 20,000 trees were planted in tribute.
Evening meal and farewell drinks in Varna
Thursday 17th March – Bucharest
At 9:30am, we’ll begin the 4.5 hour drive to Bucharest, the capital city of what was formerly one of the craziest communist empires in Europe. We’ll cross the Cold War era bridge over the Danube river in Ruse which looks like something straight out of a spy movie.
We’ll check into our hotel and wait for those arriving solely for the communist Romania segment before heading out for a welcome meal in Bucharest.
Overnight in Bucharest.
Friday 18th March – Pitești
After breakfast, we’ll leave our bags at the hotel and meet our local tour guide and head into the city, our first stop will be the unmissable Palace of the Parliament – built as part of Ceaușescu’s plan to rebuild his capital in the image of Pyongyang, North Korea. Still not fully completed today, the former “People’s House” is holder of various records, including world’s heaviest building and world’s most expensive administrative building.
We’ll see the churches moved on wheels under the regime, bullet riddled snipers nests and the square where Communism violently fell apart and where Ceacescu gave his infamous final speech before fleeing in a helicopter.
Next, a visit to the former Mausoleum of the Communist Heroes – burial spot for senior figures during the Communist era, and the place where Ceaușescu expected to be buried; subsequently re-purposed as a war memorial and now has an eternal guard keeping watch.
Then we’ll head to the Spring Palace, the Ceaușescu family’s former home, preserved in excellent condition, to see how the first family lived. We’ll take a guided tour and gain an insight into the opulent lifestyle that Romania’s last dictator and his family enjoyed at a time when most Romanians were surviving on food and fuel rations and living in fear of the Securitate, the Romanian secret police.
Everything in the Spring Palace is original, and in its original place, since the presence of soldiers in the days following the revolution kept any looting to a minimum. Closets are still filled with fur coats belonging to Elena Ceausescu, while the couples’ pyjamas are carefully folded on their bed.
We’ll enjoy lunch in an excellent restaurant nearby, in the district that was the former living area of the Communist party elite.
After lunch we’ll drive to Pitești (120 km / 1.5 hrs) – location of the Pitesti Experiment which was one of the most violent actions conducted by the communist regime inside a political prison. Between 1949–1951, around 600 students aged 18 to 27, were systematically and brutally tortured.
Overnight in Pitești.
Saturday 19th March – Doftana
After breakfast we’ll drive to Scornicesti (50 km / 45 mins)
First off today, you’ll visit the house where Ceaușescu was born. With a hulking monument to the man himself outside, one of the only Ceaușescu statues left in Romania.
Inside you can see the bed he slept in and many artifacts from his childhood.
Then you’ll head over to the stadium which Ceaușescu built for his favourite football team, big enough to hold the entire population of the town several times over! The local side still play here, but sadly now that other teams aren’t afraid of beating them they’re no longer in the ‘A’ Division.
Drive to Târgoviște (121 km / 2 hrs)
You’ll see a “Vulture” fighter plane parked up at the roadside. This Romanian-built plane is from the period when Ceaușescu wanted to avoid dependence on any foreign country including the Soviet
Union, and aimed for Romania to be self-sufficient.
After lunch you’ll visit the location where the Ceaușescus were put on trial, preserved exactly as it was in those famous grainy TV shots from Christmas 1989.
Then you’ll head out back to the spot where they were executed. The original bullet holes are still clearly visible in the wall.
We’ll then explore of the castles of Vlad the Impaler in Targoviste, better known as Dracula, he ruled Wallachia from this castle in the 1400’s and was infamous for brutally impaling his enemies by the tens of thousands, sometimes even around his dinner table.
Drive to Doftana (60 km / 1.5 hrs)
We’ll check into a beautiful mountain lodge deep in the mountains of Wallachia. Where we’ll enjoy some beers overlooking the scenery or you can explore one of the many hiking trails around, but watch out for bears!
Overnight in Doftana.
Sunday 20th March – Cluj Napoca
After breakfast, we’ll check out Doftana prison. Also referred to as the Romanian Bastille or the Romanian Papillon, this is where Ceaușescu and other future prominent Communist party members were locked up. Prisoners produced a newspaper by hand using paper slips and smuggled pencils. It went under different names such as Doftana Red and Bolsheviks Handcuffed. Not only Romanian communists were imprisoned here, also captured German and Soviet soldiers and Hungarian civilians.
The prison is not open to the public, but we’ll try and sneak in to have a look inside anyway!
We’ll then take the long drive to Cluj Napoca (5 hours) and meet our guide who will take us into Hoia-Baciu forest, known as ‘’the Bermuda triangle of Romania’’ and named after a shepherd and his 200 strong flock of sheep who vanished in the forest, this is classed as one of the darkest, most haunted places in the world.
Named after a shepherd who went missing in the forest with a flock of 200 sheep, Hoia Baciu came to international attention in 1968 when Emil Barnea, a military technician, photographed what he claimed was a UFO hovering over The Clearing. What differentiates this story from other UFO claims is that Barnea had nothing to gain from reporting the sighting, and everything to lose. The Communist government equated a belief in the paranormal with madness and state-sabotage, and Barnea lost his job in a country which had no support for the sacked.
Visitors to the area have reported bizarre symptoms such as nausea, anxiety, the feeling of being watched and electronic devices completely jamming or failing.
Overnight in Cluj Napoca
Monday 21st March
After breakfast we drive back to Bucharest, but not before indulging in some vampire sights on the way!
We’ll drive to Bran Castle (around 4 and a half hour drive) and check out the eerie castle which was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The castle bursts out of a rocky outcrop. Here, you can check out rooms dedicated to Transylvania’s most infamous man and see vampire kitch such as a hidden staircase, ancient torture devices, and a glass elevator known as “Dracula’s escape route”.
Afterwards we’ll grab lunch and drive back to Bucharest (185 km / 2.5 hrs)
We will finish up at the main train station or we can drop you off at the airport if you have an onward flight.