Booking small group tours to Romania and Bulgaria can be a great option to explore the off-the-beaten-track destinations of Eastern Europe.
Nevertheless, some tourists choose to travel to only one of these countries and explore each destination in-depth. We are often asked by our travelers which country is better to visit: Romania or Bulgaria.
As part of Eastern Europe, Romania and Bulgaria share many similarities, but at the same time, they have their unique traits.
In this article, we will mention some unique features of each country, similarities, and differences and why you could consider visiting both places by booking small group tours to Romania and Bulgaria.
1. Romania vs. Bulgaria
Is it worth visiting Romania or Bulgaria? or Which is better, Sofia or Bucharest? These questions are widespread, and it can be a challenge to offer an impartial response.
There are many aspects that both countries have in common, but, sure, there are also things that differentiate them.
Both Romania and Bulgaria are safe countries (compared to most of the West) and are similar in many ways. Being neighboring countries, separated by the Danube river, they share a relatively common history.
Romania and Bulgaria – Common history
Romanians are the successors of the Ancient Dacian and Roman people. In the Middle Ages, the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were formed and, for centuries, were under the domination of the Ottoman Empire. These two countries were united in 1859 and obtained independence in 1878.
Romania became a kingdom in 1881; it joined the Allied Powers in World War I and acquired new territories – most notably Transylvania.
At the end of WWII, the Soviet occupation imposed communist leaders in key points of the administration of the state and later forced the abdication of the king. Nicolae Ceausescu, the last communist dictator for 24 years long, was executed in late 1989.
The Bulgarian nation was formed after the merging between the local Slavic inhabitants and a Central Asian tribe in the late 7th century. This is how the first Bulgarian state was formed.
In the following centuries, the country struggled first with the Byzantine Empire and later with the Ottoman Empire. The control of the Ottomans was rougher in Bulgaria than in Romania.
However, Bulgaria obtained autonomy in 1878 and independence against the Ottoman Empire in 1908.
Because the country fought on the losing sides during both World Wars, Bulgaria fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and became a communist republic in 1946. The Communist regime ended in 1990.
Both Romania and Bulgaria joined NATO and the EU in the same years: 2004 and 2007.
Nature in Romania and Bulgaria
Both countries are blessed with a diverse geography. First of all, Romania is around twice larger than Bulgaria.
In Romania, the Carpathian Mountains dominate the country's center (the hilly area of Transylvania), while the Danube River forms much of the Southern boundary with Serbia and Bulgaria.
Danube River is actually an important asset for both countries. In the past years, the tourism industry of Danube river cruises developed a lot, ensuring a larger number of travelers visiting Romania and Bulgaria.
Romania also boasts two of the most beautiful mountain roads in Europe: Transfagarasan Road and Transalpina Road.
Bulgaria has mostly high lands and boasts beautiful natural scenery thanks to the Balkan, Rila, Rhodopi, and Pirin Mountains.
One will find many hiking opportunities in both countries and will feast the eyes with some unique caves and rock formations.
Both countries have as a neighbor the Black Sea Coast. More seaside resorts in Bulgaria offer better travel conditions given the foreign investments from the past decades. Also, the weather is milder here and the water clearer.
In Romania, the Black Sea Coast is divided into two parts, sea-side resorts occupy the Southern part, and the Northern part is the Natural Reserve of the Danube Delta.
Romanian culture vs. Bulgarian culture
So far, we saw that the two countries are pretty similar. Additionally, they are rich in historical sites; both have cities with active nightlife and beaches and mountains. And yes, both are equally affordable. However, the cultures are very much different, so you can’t really visit one and then assume that you shall experience the same things in the other.
First of all, Romania is a Latin country where the inhabitants speak one of the five Latin languages in Europe. It also has an important Slavic linguistic layer on the top of which we find a Turkish one. Romanians used the Bulgarian-based Cyrillic alphabet until the 1860s when a Latin-based Romanian alphabet officially replaced it. So, for the Romanians, “хотел” became “hotel” and “ресторант” became a restaurant. Easier, right?
The Bulgarian language is a Slavic one, and the inhabitants still use the Cyrillic alphabet. They are very proud of it. It might be a bit more challenging for a non-Slavic traveler to understand Bulgarian words, but most of the signs are also in the Latin alphabet in the cities.
Romania might have an advantage thanks to the larger number of castles, palaces, and fortresses really well preserved.
In the Transylvania region, in the past years, more and more travelers heard about the charming Saxon villages founded 1000 years ago by German colonists and their fortified churches. You can read here more about them.
In Bulgaria, there are many archaeologic sites given the long Thracian history and the Roman traces left on the country's territories. These traces can be found in large cities but also on the Black Sea coast. There are some beautiful old cities, like Plovdiv (European Capital of Culture in 2019), Sofia (capital city of Bulgaria) or Veliko Tarnovo (with the ruins of Tsarevets medieval fortress) and others located at the Black sea coast: Nessebar, Sozopol, Varna, Burgas, etc. Another trendy aspect for travelers is the Rose oil produced in Bulgaria. There are many options to visit rose oil factories and discover the unique history of rose oil production.
Romania also boasts many beautiful villages where the locals still keep the traditional lifestyle. We say that “Romania starts where the asphalt ends.” In regions like Transylvania, Maramures, Bucovina, and Moldavia, you can discover places that seem frozen in time and explore a world that you cannot see anymore in the West.
You will also find beautiful villages in Bulgaria, but the most notable difference between the two countries is that there are fewer and fewer inhabitants in Bulgaria. Bulgaria is almost a deserted country. In Romania, even though there is a similar emigrating phenomenon, the villages are still quite “alive” thanks to the locals and the traditions they keep. We are often told by our customers how much they liked interacting with the people and how much they appreciated meeting them.
Also, Romania has the legend of Dracula. It might be a cliché, but most travelers who come to Romania are curious to find out more about this legend and see the places related to it. Actually, we run a small group Dracula Tour which anyone can join. It follows the history and the legends about Dracula, the infamous character of Bram Stoker. It’s a tour destined for those who are interested in history, culture, legends but who, at the same time, still know how to enjoy life.
When it comes to infrastructure, both countries have similar situations. Bulgaria improved at a higher pace the national road system and built more kilometers of highways than Romania. In both countries, individual travelers can use trains and buses at reasonable prices. Of course, there is always the option to rent a car.
In terms of food, well, meat represents “the rock star” on the plate for both countries. Most of the dishes are meat-based. However, in Romania, you shall find an extensive range of soups. For a Romanian, not a day goes by without having soup. You can read more about Romanian soups and other traditional dishes here.
Bulgarian cuisine differentiates itself more through the spices, which give more flavor to the traditional dishes. Being under the Ottoman occupation for so many centuries, even the national cuisine got richer and more Oriental.
Religion in Romania and Bulgaria
Given the geographical position, both countries were under the influence of the Byzantine Empire. As a result, the Christian Orthodox represent the majority (81% in Romania and 59% in Bulgaria).
In Romania, the Protestants and the Roman Catholics are just after the Orthodox, while in Bulgaria, there are the Muslims (understandable given the tougher Ottoman control).
That is why in both countries, you will visit beautiful Orthodox churches and monasteries, some of them part of the UNESCO Heritage. In Romania, you have more chances to see also impressive Catholic Cathedrals and Protestant Churches.
A plus for both countries would be the fact that the tourist invasions have not yet taken place. This is a valid point for most of the countries in Eastern Europe.
Though Romania and Bulgaria are members of the EU, they still have not changed to Euro. Not yet. In Romania, the National Currency is RON (The Romanian Leu), and in Bulgaria, the national currency is BGN (the Bulgarian Leva).
2. Escorted tours to Romania and Bulgaria – a multi-country experience
When it comes to the dilemma of traveling to either Romania or Bulgaria, our answer would be: Why not both? They are close enough, so if you are traveling to one of them, you might as well check out the other.
In less than two weeks, you can get a glimpse of these both countries and discover the Treasures of Romania and Bulgaria.
That is why we designed a trip that would allow our travelers to explore two important Balkans countries by joining a small group.
In just 11 days, you can discover two capital cities, Bucharest and Sofia, two different languages, great historical regions such as Transylvania or Maramures, beautiful medieval cities such as Sibiu, Sighisoara, Veliko Tarnovo or Plovdiv, and many other famous tourist landmarks.
There are several advantages of traveling in small group tours to Romania and Bulgaria.
Firstly, traveling with a smaller group, you get the chance to make friends and enjoy the interaction with the locals. You also get to stay at unique, boutique accommodation with a local touch and avoid the crowded and standard chain hotels. You can enjoy a more authentic travel experience in a smaller group and visit places you cannot visit in a large group.
Glimpse of Romania
In Romania, you will see Bucharest, the capital city. You will enjoy a sightseeing tour of Bucharest, including a visit to the famous Parliament Palace, walk-in Revolution Square, and the bustling old center of Bucharest. You’ll also admire The Village Museum and the famous boulevards and neighborhoods of this interesting city. Between the two world wars, due to the elegant architecture and to the elite living in Bucharest, the city was nicknamed “The Little Paris.”
From the capital city, you will continue via the Transfagarasan Road to the Transylvania region, where you will discover a different world with charming old German cities like Sibiu and Brasov, quaint Saxon villages like Biertan, beautiful castles, and medieval citadels like Bran castle and Sighisoara citadel.
Northern Romania will be a surprise for sure. You will reach the region of Maramures, where you will feast your eyes with magnificent mountain views, stroll in remote villages and discover a traditional lifestyle. In Bucovina, you will be impressed by the famous painted convents (Sucevita, Moldovita, Voronet), UNESCO sites.
Glimpse of Bulgaria
From Romania, you will cross the Danube river and reach Bulgaria.
The first highlights of Bulgaria that you will see are the unique Ivanovo Churches. Part of the UNESCO heritage since 1979, the rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo boast some stunning frescos dating back to the 13th-14th centuries.
In Veliko Tarnovo, the City of the Tsars, you’ll roam on the alleys of the former Tsarevets palace, and you’ll visit the former patriarchal church, rebuilt in modern times.
Located on the banks of the Yantra River, Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. It is given as one of the strongest fortifications in the area.
From Veliko Tarnovo, you will cross the Balkan Mountains and reach probably the most beautiful Bulgarian city, Plovdiv (European capital of Culture in 2019). Here you’ll find out more about the old town with its 3,000 years long history.
Eventually, the small group tour of Romania and Bulgaria will end in Sofia, the capital city. You are going to visit Saint Alexander Nevski Cathedral – one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in Europe, as well as one of Sofia’s symbols and a primary tourist attraction, Saint George Roman Rotunda dating from the 4th century, Saint Sophia Basilica built by the Roman Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, the Ruins of Serdica, the National Theatre Ivan Vazov, the former Royal Palace, the Synagogue, etc.
Lose no time and book your small group tour to Romania and Bulgaria.