I love off the beaten path places (remember Romania), I see travel bloggers who all go to the same places, and I want something different. I crave undiscovered places. But I also want places that are family friendly because of my kids. Bulgaria checked off those boxes. While it is gaining popularity amongst the Europeans most Americans still haven’t been, and it is extremely family friendly. So my girlfriend and I packed up our 7 children and decided to trek half way around the world. We may be a bit crazzyyy, but it was fun! Bulgaria is beautiful, cheap, has delicious food-even gluten free. Which is why Bulgaria is a perfect family friendly destination.
We stayed in a tiny town between Burgas and Nessebar called Sozopol. There is a direct flight from Dublin to Burgas on Aer Lingus. This was perfect because Ireland was on my list. We actually flew into Shannon because we wanted to visit the Cliffs of Moher. Upon arriving in Shannon we rented our beloved “Party Van”. Whoop whoop we were ready to go! My girlfriend, Mrs W. is also an avid world traveler, she can drive stick and on the left side of the road, skills I have yet to learn. She chauffeured all 9 of us around like a rockstar. We spent the afternoon at the cliffs and then headed back to Shannon.
Quick Detour to Another Family Friendly Destination
The Cliffs of Moher may be the most beautiful place I’ve been. I know I have said this before, I will probably say it again too. It seems the more you discover God’s creation, the more you fall in love with it. It was the perfect day weather wise and you could see for miles. Literally the sky was dotted with a few wispy clouds. The hubs didn’t get to experience it, but I told mine he’s coming back with just me. We are getting a blanket and some champs and picnicking up there (can you even do that, no clue but it’s a dream of mine). Afterwards, we packed the kids up and headed back to Shannon for the night, we found a lovely hotel called Treacys Oakwood Hotel. The rooms were huge for $125/night, and the staff was wonderful, plus the restaurant had good food. My daughter highly recommends the bangers and mash! They also had a variety of gluten free foods. I learned that Ireland, like Italy, has a high rate of celiacs so it’s easy to find.
After the night there we drove to Dublin for our flight. The kids decided since we had several hours to sit they would make a movie! They were so creative and made a superhero movie that was hilarious. Of course us moms were the bad guys-LOL! Word of warning, nothing is free on Aer Lingus-not even water. In the States, airlines usually offer free water, this was not the case. Of course, everyone wanted water, and it cost almost $7 for two small bottles. If you fly them, fill up your own bottles prior to boarding.
Time for Bulgaria
We landed in Burgas around midnight local time! We were all exhausted, but thankfully the dads were there to welcome us. And to chauffeur us around! Sozopol is about 35 minutes outside of Burgas, it is a beautiful town that isn’t quite as popular as Sunny Beach. Our resort had a ton of activities for children! They had a kids club-which we didn’t use but it looked like the kids had fun, 5 pools, tennis courts, a playground, and lots of walking trails. Plus they had a ton of restaurants for us to choose from, along with grocery stores. They had gluten free options galore. I cannot give this hotel more of a glowing review, the staff was amazing, the rooms were beautiful, and the food was delicious at all of the restaurants we ate at.
We split our time between eating in our room with a view of the Black Sea and eating out. One night we grabbed gyros from town that everyone loved-however not gluten free. Another night we ate at The Doctor’s House, which hands down was our favorite. It was built basically into the side of a cliff-as you can imagine the views were incredible. Plus the waitstaff did a fantastic job! The waiter made sure my little celiac had food to eat! The local wine from Dives is a must have as well. It is cheap! One note for celiac friends, it is very difficult to find gluten free gelato or ice cream! Even the grocery store ones had gluten in them. We did find one place in downtown Sozopol that did have it, it was a little stand in front of a bar. Most restaurants included a key for allergens and placed a number next to any item with an allergen. This was extremely helpful.
Beach Babes-The Perfect Family Friendly Activity
My kids love the beach! We could spend all day at the beach soaking up the sun. The Black Sea was no different. Some of the beaches on the Black Sea were not very nice, littered with trash and bugs, but we found one that was clean. They offered chair rentals for about $14 for two chairs and an umbrella-cheap compared to the states. Quite honestly I think you could easily haggle them down on the price. We went a few times in the late afternoon and he didn’t charge us at all. The one time we realized we only had around $13 and he wasn’t bothered at all. Rent the chairs and the umbrella, it’s a nice reprieve from the sun for the kids. All of the kids burned the first day at the Sea, even though I religiously covered them in sunscreen every 1-1.5 hours. After that we put them in rash guards and had them build under the umbrellas for a bit.
The water is crystal clear, even I swam. My kids found tons of jelly fish, and even picked them up. None of them appeared to have tentacles and we’d warned all of the kiddos they could sting. Yet none of them stung the kids and they loved checking them out up closely. Because the water is clear they could see to their toes, and they found a lot of hermit crabs! The kids designed an entire city for their pet hermit crabs in the sand. It was a lot of fun to spend our days there. Us mamas soaked up sun while the kiddos played for hours. The water is relatively shallow for a good distance and most of the days there were almost no waves, so they could play without fear. The days we did have larger waves the kids used a boogie board to ride them. Sweet memories were created on the Black Sea. Another family friendly activity in Bulgaria.
Time Out on the Town
I love history! I am a bit of a history nerd, and even more than that I love old architecture. A taxi driver told us that the town was founded 2,066 years ago. Can you imagine walking on cobblestone streets that old? I know, I’ve walked on them before in other places, but every time I’m in awe. We stopped by the old catholic church and just walked the streets. Nothing fancy, just beautiful old architecture. On Friday, us mamas had run to town for the gyros and they were having a huge festival of some sort. They were doing a puppet show and there were local dances. We’d left the dads at the hotel pool with the kids, and were completely bummed they missed out on it! The town square was alive with children and families-incredibly family friendly.
Fairy Tale Castle
Fairy tale castles are another must see for our family. We loved Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. We found a lovely castle in Sozopol and decided to take the kids to one afternoon. This castle was not historical in any way, just built by an extremely wealthy person apparently. Reading that they didn’t have parking we paid for a cab-not necessary, they have plenty of parking! We arrived and I had read the cost online was about $5/per person, but for every 2 adults a child was free and kids under a certain age were also free. When we arrived they tried to charge us almost $120 for 10 of us, mostly children. I immediately told the man that was way too much, he ended up charging us only $60 which was still more than we should have been charged, but more affordable. Lesson learned always barter prices, we found this with the taxis as well.
Little did we know though the actual castle part was closed and basically you are paying to see the grounds. The grounds are beautiful, but not worth that much. The kids did love seeing the swans, they looked lovely gliding across the pond. The grounds included a small zoo as well. We saw they had a wine tasting room, but didn’t venture into there as it was an extra cost. The kiddos also enjoyed trying out the knight attire. While it was a family friendly activity I am not sure I would pay that much again to go.
As we departed my middle kiddo was running full speed to the taxi and ate it! She slid across the gravel and her tooth went through her lip. Blood and tears ensued. Thankfully my girlfriend was there with her husband and they jumped into action. I cannot do blood on my own children. I promptly ran to the gelato shop to ask for a napkin, at first she told me no. The mama bear in me came out, this about sent me over the edge. My daughter had blood pouring out of her mouth and this woman wasn’t going to give me a napkin. Finally, she conceded when I welled up in tears. Thankfully, the taxi driver also had some napkins and grabbed his as well. What a disaster!
Immediately we texted some photos to a friend who is a dentist, he thought her tooth looked okay. We then took her to the doctor who said she would probably heal in a few days. He said had the cut been on the outside of her lip she would have needed stitches, thankfully it was on the inside. Immediately, we started a salt wash on it. She is my accident prone child so she quickly made some jokes about it. She renamed her journal her accident journal. Accidents happen on vacations as well, and now we can laugh about it.
Nessebar The Old Town
After the previous days activities, I needed something a little less stressful! We decided to drive to Nessebar to see the old ruins because we heard this quaint city was also a family friendly destination. Nessebar has a really cool vibe, it is old but trying to become modern as well. I loved the city because of the feel. I snapped several photos down alleyways because they were so idyllic. We enjoyed the afternoon walking the streets and seeing all the ancient ruins. You must walk down the boardwalk, the views are incredible. They have steep staircases hidden behind some restaurants to get down there. I wish we could have spent more time there, but unfortunately we didn’t get out there until later. We could see Sunny Beach from there and it was quite crowded, personally I think Sozopol was a better family location.
I cannot say enough wonderful things about Sozopol. Next trip I want to go to Sofia and see another city in Bulgaria. A neighbor told me that Sofia is one of his favorite cities. The food was delicious, the people were wonderful, and the hotel amazing!!! If you are looking for an affordable beach vacation, look no further; Bulgaria is the perfect family friendly destination that is off the beaten path.