Cultural Portrait of the Bulgarians by Sofia Free Tour

Eager to get to know Sofia and the Bulgarian people?

Two girls in Bulgarian national costumes holding traditional bread.

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Eager to get to know Sofia and the Bulgarian people? We will gladly help you to learn and discover the Bulgarians quickly and easily. The Sofia Free Tour guides will do that in an interesting and enjoyable way but, yes, it is a good idea to read something in advance and get prepared. Then you will have specific questions, which will be gladly answered by our guides, revealing you the full picture.

Bulgarians on the Border of Orient and Europe

Bulgaria has a very specific place on the map. It is really on the border between the Orient and Europe. And for about 500 years Bulgaria was a part of the Ottoman Empire, succeeded by Turkey at the beginning of the XX century (check your guide for more details on Bulgarian History). So in everyday life and popular culture the typical Bulgarian may seem more oriental than European: conservative, looking for short term results, small scale planning, petty-minded and not caring about law, order and public sanitation, but also very hospitable, hot tempered and loud speaking. Ask the guide for more details on this.

The golden domes of St Alexander Nevski cathedral.
St Alexander Nevski Orthodox Cathedral (covered by the Sofia Free Tour) – most Bulgarians would claim to be Orthodox Christians but only 2% practice their faith. / Photo by Edu González on Unsplash

Religions in Bulgaria

The equalizing of the terms “Bulgarian” and “Orthodox Christian” comes from the Middle Ages but is popular even today. When excluding minorities like Turks, Roma, Jews, Armenians, etc., almost all ethnic Bulgarians would claim to be Orthodox Christians. Of course, there are small groups of Roman Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical. What is more, article 13 of the Bulgarian Constitution says that the traditional religion in the Republic of Bulgaria is the Eastern Orthodox Christian confession. Your guide will be glad to tell you more.

But in real life things may look different. Most ethnic Bulgarians are actually non practicing Orthodox Christians – there are only 2% practicing their Orthodox faith. Many Christian baptisms these days are just formal with their total number falling sharply in the last 20 years.

Nevertheless half of the official state holidays throughout the year are Christian: Good Friday, Easter, Day of St George – Protector of the Bulgarian Army, Day of Bulgarian Educators St Cyril and Methodius, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But the modern Bulgarians have succeeded in transforming all these holidays, celebrating them in a totally secular way – your guide will tell you more during the tour.

Anyway, there are many Orthodox churches open for service, especially in Sofia and our Sofia Free Tour is covering some of the most remarkable: the St George Rotunda, Russian Church, Hagia Sophia and St Alexander Nevski Cathedral. Join the Sofia Free Tour to see the beauty of them!

Red triangle on the map of Sofia.
Triangle of Tolerance in the centre of Sofia – it includes churches from different Christians confessions, a mosque (covered by the Sofia Free Tour) and synagogue.

Are Bulgarians Tolerant people

Well, that’s a tricky one! In many sources you will find out that the Bulgarians are very tolerant people but it really depends very much. Actually the Bulgarians are tolerant if it comes to religions and beliefs. In the center of Sofia there is the so-called Triangle of Tolerance. It spans over the St Kiriaki (Sveta Nedelya) Orthodox Church, St Joseph Roman Catholic Cathedral, Banya Bashi Mosque, Sofia Synagogue, Holy Mother of God Armenian Church and some Protestant Churches – ask your guide for more information. As a part of the Free Sofia Tour you will visit the Banya Bashi Mosque but we encourage you to go and see also the other temples.

But when it comes to other differences, the Bulgarians could be intolerant. The Bulgarian intolerance to homosexual people is one of the most distinct. Gay pride parades are carried out in some big cities like Sofia now and then but there is always a parallel march of Bulgarian patriotic groups who would defend the traditional family values. Also the seigneur clergy of the Orthodox Church would come out with respective statements in the media.

And one can for sure feel the Oriental way of thinking on this matter. Still, in the last two decades younger generations seem to be much more tolerant to such differences. The guides can tell you more on this matter.

People marching on a street with banners and flags.
Opposing to LGBT parades, Bulgarians have their marches defending the traditional family values.

Is it OK to Break Rules

One of the distinctive cultural features of the Bulgarians is that they don’t care much about rules and regulations. In everyday life the Bulgarians would not observe most of the rules they have to. Dropping your litter on the side-walk would impress almost nobody. And this is particularly evident when you drive a car in Bulgaria. You will notice many drivers who are not very disciplined. That’s why we advise you to strictly follow the instructions of the guides when crossing the streets during the tour.

One of the most evident types of disrespect to rules is parking private cars just anywhere – on sidewalks, in small gardens near buildings and even on junctions. Yes, parking space is very limited in Sofia and one must be very creative in finding a place to park a car. If you have arrived by your own car in Sofia, you can ask our guides for advice on parking it.

Hospitality and What It Used to Be

Usually the Bulgarians are considered to be very hospitable and compared to people from Western or Northern Europe they really are – a very bright oriental feature. Still, the legendary Bulgarian hospitality can be felt mostly in small towns and villages, where the people would visit their neighbours just dropping in without any notice. And a dropper-in is always welcomed and invited at the table for dinner. Ask for further details during the tour.

Now times are changing and in big cities like Sofia the people are not that hospitable than they used to be. Anyway, compared to other European nations the Bulgarians score high on hospitality. So are the guides at the Sofia Free Tour.

Two girls in Bulgarian national costumes holding traditional bread.
One of the most obvious features of the Bulgarians is the hospitality.

Who Likes to Party – We Like to Party

Bulgarians are very good at having a great time together. No matter in a pub, bar, restaurant or discotheque, Bulgarians will start partying very soon after entering. They will start joking and laughing loudly, and of course dancing, attracting the attention of everybody. So when you visit Sofia, you can also have a great time. Just join the dancing, especially the most popular folklore dance “Pravo Horo”. You will be amazed that everybody will welcome you on the stage and encourage you to quickly learn how to dance. If you are interested in particular types of pubs, bars or restaurants, our guides could be of great help. Just ask them!

DJ mixing sounds.
Dancing and having fun – that’s real Bulgarians. / Photo by Sam van Bussel on Unsplash

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