Geographically and climatically, Bulgaria is noted for its diversity, with the landscape ranging from the Alpine snow-capped peaks in Rila, Pirin and the Balkan Mountains to the mild and sunny weather of the Black Sea coast, from the typically continental Danubian Plain (ancient Moesia) in the north to the strong Mediterranean influence in the valleys of Macedonia and the lowlands in the southernmost parts of Thrace. Bulgaria comprises portions of the classical regions of Thrace, Moesia, and Macedonia. The southwest of the country is mountainous with two alpine ranges - Rila and Pirin, and further east are the lower but more extensive Rhodope Mountains. Rila mountain includes the highest peak of the Balkan Peninsula, peak Musala at 2,925 meters (9,596 ft); the long range of the Balkan mountains runs west-east through the middle of the country, north of the famous Rose Valley. Hilly country and plains are found in the southeast, along the Black Sea coast in the east, and along Bulgaria's main river, the Danube in the north. Other major rivers include the Struma and the Maritsa river in the south. There are around 260 glacial lakes situated in Rila and Pirin, several large lakes on the Black Sea coast and more than 2,200 dam lakes. Mineral springs are in great abundance located mainly in the south-western and central parts of the country along the faults between the mountains.
The Balkan mountain range (Bulgarian and Serbian: Ñòàðà ïëàíèíà, Stara planina, "Old Mountain") is an extension of the Carpathian mountain range, separated from it by the Danube River.
The Balkan range runs 560 km from eastern Serbia eastward through central Bulgaria to Cape Emine on the Black Sea.
The highest peak on the Balkan peninsula is Musala in the Rila mountains near Sofia (Rila range) with 2,925 m, closely followed by Mount Olympus in Greece and Vihren (Pirin range).
The highest peaks of the Stara planina itself are in central Bulgaria. The highest peak is Botev (2,376 m), located in the Central Balkan National Park (established 1991).
Close to it is Kalofer, the birth place of Hristo Botev, a Bulgarian poet and national hero who died in the Western Stara Planina near Vratsa in 1876 in the struggle against the Ottoman Empire. Also close to Botev peak is the Shipka Pass, the scene of the four battles in Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78 which ended Turkish rule in the Balkans. Close to the pass in the village of Shipka there is a Russian Orthodox church, built to commemorate Bulgarian bravery during pass defence.
Stara Planina is remarkable for its flora and fauna. Edelweiss grows there in the region of Koziata stena.
Sofia is one of the oldest capital cities in Europe, blending its past and present in a remarkable architectural style. Historic landmarks include the 10th century Boyana Church (one of the UNESCO World Heritage protected sites), the Alexander Nevski Cathedral (one of the world's largest Orthodox churches), and the early Byzantine Church of St Sophia.
More modern architecture is represented by the Bulgarian National Opera and Ballet, the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, the Rakovski Str theatre district, Slaveykov Square's outdoor book market, and the NDK, which is Southeastern Europe's largest cultural and congressional centre.
Sofia is the see of an Eastern Orthodox and of a Roman Catholic diocese.
Sofia has also a huge nightlife scene with many different night clubs, live venues, pubs, mehani (Bulgarian traditional taverns), and restaurants.
Sofia houses numerous museums, notably the National Historical Museum, the Bulgarian Natural History Museum, the Museum of Earth and Men, the Ethnographic Museum, the National Museum of Military History, the National Polytechnical Museum and the National Archaeological Museum. In addition, there are the Sofia City Art Gallery, the Bulgarian National Gallery of Arts, the Bulgarian National Gallery for Foreign Art as well as numerous private art galleries.
Places of special interest
The city also offers many places of special interest such as the Sts. Cyril and Methodius National Library (which houses the largest national book collection and is Bulgaria's oldest cultural institute), the Sofia State Library, the British Council, the Russian Cultural Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute, the Hungarian Institute, the Czech and the Slovak Cultural Institutes, the Italian Cultural Institute, the French Cultural Institute, Goethe Institut, Instituto Cervantes, and the Open Society Institute. Families with children can enjoy Sofia Land, the nearly nine-acre amusement park adjacent to the Sofia Zoological Garden (founded in 1888) as well as the Museum of Natural History.
Sofia currently enjoys a booming film industry as the filming ground of several international film productions. Vitosha Boulevard, also called Vitoshka — ranked as the world's 22nd most expensive commercial street — represents numerous fashion boutiques and luxury goods stores and features exhibitions by world fashion designers. Sofia's geographic location, situated in the foothills of the weekend retreat Vitosha mountain, further adds to the city's specific atmosphere.
Plovdiv is located on the banks of the Maritsa river in the central part of Upper Thrace. The surrounding countryside is sparsely populated and bare, yet the city itself is particularly striking, since it, like Rome, is nestled in between seven hills. Tourists, however, are likely to count only six of those, as one of hills was virtually destroyed at the beginning of the 1900s, and there is only a small outcrop of rock left to show where it once stood.
During its long history, Plovdiv was inhabited by many peoples who gave it different names: in Thracian: Eumolpias, Pulpudeva; Greek: Φιλιππούπολη, Φιλιππούπολις / Philippoupoli, Philippoupolis; Turkish: Filibe. In the Middle Ages the Bulgarians called the city Ïúëäèí or Ïëúâäèâ. The city was usually known as Philippopolis in English until the early 20th century.
Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe. It is a contemporary of Troy and Mycenae, and older than Rome, Athens, Carthage or Constantinople. Archaeologists have discovered fine pottery and other objects of everyday life from as early as the Neolithic Age, showing that in the end of the 7th millennium B.C there already was an established settlement there. According to Ammianus Marcellinus, Plovdiv's written post-Bronze Age history lists it as a Thracian fortified settlement named Eumolpias. In 342 BC, it was conquered by Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, who renamed it "Φιλιππόπολις", Philippopolis or "the city of Philip" in his own honour. Later, it again became independent under the Thracians, until its incorporation into the Roman Empire, where it was called Trimontium (City of Three Hills) and served as metropolis (capital) of the province of Thrace. Thrimontium was an important crossroad for the Roman Empire and was called "The largest and most beautiful of all cities" by Lucian. In those times, the Via Militaris (or Via Diagonalis), the most important military road in the Balkans, passed through the city. The Roman times were a glorious period of growth and cultural excellence. The ancient ruins tell a story of a vibrant, growing city with numerous public buildings, shrines, baths, and theatres. Many of those are still preserved and can be seen by the curious tourist wishing to experience the charm of ancient Rome up close.
Varna (Bulgarian: Âàðíà) is the largest city on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, third-largest in Bulgaria after Sofia and Plovdiv, and 91st-largest in the European Union, with a population of 357,752 ().
Commonly referred to as the marine capital (or the summer capital) of Bulgaria, Varna is a major tourist destination, seaport, and headquarters of the Bulgarian Navy and merchant marine, as well as the centre of Varna Province and Bulgaria's North-Eastern planning region (NUTS II), comprising the provinces of Dobrich, Shumen, Silistra, and Varna
Varna is among Europe's oldest cities. Miletians founded the apoikia (trading colony) of Odessos in 570 BC (in the time of Astyages) at the site of an earlier Thracian settlement. The name Odessos, first mentioned by Strabo, was pre-Greek, perhaps of Carian origin. Long before the Thracians populated the area by 1200 BC, several prehistoric settlements best known for the eneolithic necropolis, eponymous site of the Varna culture and the alleged world's oldest gold treasure (5th millennium BC radiocarbon dating), existed within modern city limits. For centuries, Odessos was a contact zone between the urban Ionians and the Thracians (Getae, Crobyzi, Terizi) of the hinterland. In the 4th century BC, it was a mixed Greco-Thracian community (see also Darzalas).
In 339 BC, the city was unsuccessfully besieged by Philip II but surrendered to Alexander the Great in 335 BC, and was later ruled by his diadochus Lysimachus. The Roman city, Odessus (annexed in 15 AD to the province of Moesia, later Moesia Inferior), occupied 47 hectares in present-day central Varna and had prominent public baths, Thermae, erected in the late 2nd century, now the largest Roman remains in Bulgaria (the building was 100 m wide, 70 m long, and 20 m high) and fourth largest known Roman baths in Europe. Odessus was a Christian centre, as testified by the ruins of early basilicas, monasteries, and indications that apostle Ampliatus (Àìïëèé, Amply), disciple of Saint Andrew, served as bishop there. In 442, a peace treaty between Theodosius II and Attila was done at Odessus.
Theophanes the Confessor first mentioned the name Varna, as the city came to be known with the Slavic conquest of the Balkans in the 6th-7th century. In 681, Asparukh, the founder of the First Bulgarian Empire, routed an army of Constantine IV north of the Danube delta and reached the so-called Varna near Odessos. Recent scholarship has suggested that the first Bulgarian capital was perhaps located around Varna before it moved to Pliska. Asparukh fortified the Varna river lowland by a rampart against a possible Byzantine naval landing; several 7th-century Bulgar settlements have been excavated.
Varna is an important and growing economic centre for Bulgaria and the Black Sea region.
The economy is service-based, with 61% of net revenue generated in trade and tourism, 16% in manufacturing, 14% in transportation and communications, and 6% in construction. The city is the easternmost destination of Pan-European transport corridor 8 and is closely connected to corridors 7 and 9 via Rousse. Major industries traditionally include transportation (Navigation Maritime Bulgare—Navibulgar), Port of Varna, Varna International Airport), distribution (Logistics Park Varna ), and shipbuilding (which is declining, even though new private ship repair yards have been built), and other marine industries.
With the nearby towns of Beloslav and Devnya, Varna forms the Varna-Devnya Industrial Complex, home to some of the largest chemical, power generating and manufacturing plants in Bulgaria, including the sites of the two largest cash privatization deals in recent history.
In June of 2007, Eni and Gazprom disclosed the South Stream project whereby a 900-km-long offshore natural gas pipeline from Russia's Dzhubga with annual capacity of 30 billion cubic meters is planned to come ashore at Varna, possibly near the Galata offshore gas field, en route to Italy and Austria.
Tourism is of foremost importance, with the suburban beachfront resorts of Golden Sands, Holiday Club Riviera, Sunny Day, Constantine and Helena, and others with a total capacity of over 60,000 beds (2006), attracting millions of visitors each year (4.74 million in 2006, 3.99 million of which international tourists ). The resorts received considerable internal and foreign investment in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and are environmentally sound, being located reassuringly far from chemical and other smokestack industries. Varna is also Bulgaria's only international cruise destination (with 26 cruises scheduled for 2007) and a major international convention and spa centre.
Real estate is booming, with some of the highest prices in the nation, often surpassing Sofia. Commercial real estate is developing international office tower projects such as Business Park Varna . In retail, the city not only has the assortment of international big-box retailers and new shopping malls  now ubiquitous in larger Bulgarian cities, but boasts made-in-Varna national chains with locations spreading over the country such as retailer Piccadilly, restaurateur Happy, and pharmacy chain Sanita.
Economically, Varna is considered among the best-performing Bulgarian cities; unemployment, at 2.34%, is 4 times lower, and per capita income is higher than the national average (2007). Many Bulgarians regard Varna as a boom town; some, including from Sofia and Plovdiv, but mostly from Dobrich and the greater region, are relocating.
In September 2004, FDI Magazine (a Financial Times Business Ltd publication) proclaimed Varna South-eastern Europe City of the Future  citing its strategic location, fast-growing economy, rich cultural heritage and higher education. In April 2007, rating agency Standard & Poor's announced that it had raised its long-term issue credit rating for Varna to BB+ from BB, declaring the city's outlook "stable" and praising its "improved operating performance".