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The Black Sea’s biggest and most popular summer holiday resort, Sunny Beach (Slanchev Bryag) stretches for more than five miles around a crescent-shaped bay, protected by the Balkan Mountains to the north. The beach is wide and backed by dunes, and its clear, warm waters have earned the international Blue Flag. Swimming is safe, thanks to the gently sloping seabed.Bars, clubs, restaurants, shops, and casinos line the seafront, while sun loungers and umbrellas stand sentry along the fine golden sands throughout the long summer.
The town brims with family-friendly attractions, from water and theme parks to children’s clubs and discos. Sports run the gamut from tennis and volleyball to parasailing, waterskiing, and banana-boating. If you’re looking for a little more towel space in high summer away from the main strip, the coastal road leads to some wilder untamed beaches, such as Irakli Beach, which is a favourite spot for naturists. A short drive north into the mountain roads brings you to unmarked trails through the scrubland, where tortoises, lizards, and the occasional wild boar rustle in the bushes.
The nearest international airport is Burgas Airport (BOJ), which is about 15 miles from Sunny Beach. Airport taxis are plentiful, or there’s a 40-minute shuttle to the resort. The cheapest option is to catch a bus from the airport to Sunny Beach, which takes around 45 minutes. Local bus services are reliable and inexpensive in Bulgaria, with regular services travelling among Burgas, Varna, Nessebar, and the coastal resorts. There’s no shortage of car rental firms if you want to explore off the beaten track.
In Sunny Beach, trolleybuses operate within the resort every 15 to 20 minutes in season, while a mini train shuttles up and down the beach. A lovely way of getting to Nessebar is the half-hour trip by water taxi; boats leave from the jetty in the middle of Sunny Beach.
Sunny Beach’s peak season runs from around mid-May to mid-October, when sunshine and warm waters are almost guaranteed. On the eve of the first day of July, Bulgarians kick off the high season on the Black Sea coast by lighting fires, playing music, and waiting for the sun to come up in a celebration known as July Morning. High season continues into late August, when the beach can get busy and a young, energetic crowd keeps the nightlife buzzing well into the night. By mid-October, the resort has emptied out and venues have closed down in preparation for the colder winter months, when sunbathing is no longer an option. Birdwatching months are early March to mid-May and mid-August to late October, when migrating flocks fly along the coast.
Less than an hour’s drive down the coast, a handful of lakes surrounding Burgas make up Bulgaria’s largest wetlands area. The Via Pontica, one of Europe’s main bird migration routes, passes over Poda Protected Site with its signposted eco-trail. Flocks of white storks, honey buzzards, lesser-spotted eagles, and red-footed falcons soar overhead, while Poda shelters herons, spoonbills, ibis, and overwintering species. The endangered Dalmatian pelican is a regular visitor.
Bathing in a pinky-red salt pool, slathering yourself in detoxifying mud that’s thousands of years old, and washing it off in the sea is reputed to help with health ailments. You can do all this for free in the saltwater and mud lagoons at Atanasovsko Lake, north of Burgas. It’s a popular local tradition after a long day at work.
Connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, the UNESCO-protected old town of Nessebar perches on a rocky peninsula. Wooden houses jut out over narrow, cobbled lanes, while Greek tombstones, medieval churches, and Byzantine icons bear witness to the town’s long and interesting history.