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 era.
Despite siding with Fascist forces in WW2, after a Soviet-backed coup in the 1940s Bulgaria operated as a communist state under the reign of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) for 44 years between 1946 and 1990. Whilst not part of the Soviet Union, the country was a solid ally of the USSR, a member of the Warsaw Pact and a member of COMECON.
Much like the Soviet Union, Bulgaria transformed itself from an agricultural peasant country into a heavily industrialized socialist country with a strong manufacturing sector exporting firstly household goods and in later years computer technologies to such an extent that Bulgaria was nicknamed “Silicon Valley of the Eastern Bloc”. In the late 1980s Todor Zhivkov, the leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party since 1954, began to implement liberal political reforms. The first multi-party election since the early 1930s saw the fall of communism in Bulgaria and the People’s Republic of Bulgaria peacefully became the Republic of Bulgaria. Since then its once-mighty communist monuments seemingly designed to stand for eternity, have mostly been forgotten to time, being sought out by only the hardiest and adventurous of travelers.
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 19th September – 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 20th September – 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 21st September – 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 22nd September – Shumen
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 23rd September – 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 24th September
End of tour
Varna airport has excellent flight connections all over Europe and airport transfers or onward travel through Europe can be arranged.