Culture and traditions of Bulgaria

Holidays in Bulgaria offer a range of cultural destinations from gorgeous seaside resorts like Obzor Beach, to several UNESCO World Heritage sites including the entire ancient town of Nessebar.

With a rich cultural heritage influenced by the Thracians, Greeks, Romans and Slavs, you can experience traditional music, dance and festivals, as well as several Bulgarian festivals that haven’t changed much over the centuries. Below we highlight some of the most popular traditions that you can see on your Bulgarian holiday.

Bulgaria Cultural Holidays

Bulgaria's influential folk music and dance

Bulgarian folk music is distinctive for its uneven rhythms and special droning tones sung beneath the main melody.

Each region of Bulgaria has its own music and dance traditions, so you can find a multitude of variations to explore. Musicians including Kate Bush and George Harrison are said to have taken inspiration from the unusual sound qualities of traditional Bulgarian music.

Traditional musical instruments include the Gaida, a Bulgarian version of the bagpipes, which looks exactly like Scottish and Irish bagpipes and produces the same kinds of interesting sounds. The folk dances that accompany these instruments have complicated steps and are usually quite fast. The majority are circle dances such as the Oro, which is danced by young men and women to help them get acquainted.

Bulgaria's version of Valentine's Day

While the 14th February revolves around St. Valentine’s Day at home, it’s all about St Trifon Zarezan in Bulgaria. St Trifon was a Christian healer and martyr who is the patron saint of grape growers and winemakers. His symbol – pruning shears – adorns a festival all about wine, abundance, fertility and having fun. It’s believed that St Trifon helps the local grapevines to grow, which is why Bulgarian wines are so delicious.

Baba Marta and welcoming the spring season

In Bulgarian folklore the 1st March is the beginning of spring. The turning of the season is personified by a grumpy elderly lady called Baba Marta, meaning Grandmother March, who is strongly associated with the colours red and white. Each year to celebrate, Bulgarians give each other red and white dolls made of tassels, called Martenitsa. Traditionally, Martenitsa dolls are placed under rocks or tied to trees, giving Bulgaria the appearance of an early spring flowered with an abundance of fluffy red and white blooms.

The fire-walking ceremony of Nestinarstvo

Traditionally performed by Nestinari, who are guardians of the village chapel and religious icons, this ritual involves walking barefoot over burning embers to the sound of drumming. Normally celebrated annually on 21st May, St Constantine and St Helen’s Day, it continues to grow in popularity for visitors. Because of this, it’s now possible to see it at other times of year in larger cities, though many smaller villages still perform it purely as a sacred rite.

Getting chilly in the water on St. Jordan's Day

St. Jordan’s day is celebrated every year on 6th January to mark the Christian epiphany and baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. Two traditions are observed on this day. For the first, a priest throws a cross into a river and men compete to retrieve it. The other involves men dancing in freezing water to folk tunes.