Drink & Drugs in Bulgaria

Drinking and smoking in Bulgaria is easy. Cigarettes are cheap (though you can't smoke indoors any more), and local beers, wines and spirits are affordable and tasty.

On the other side of the coin, Bulgaria is extremely strict on illegal drugs. Cannabis is placed in the highest risk category for illegal narcotics, and possession of even a small amount could land you in jail.

Alcohol in Bulgaria

Drinking age in Bulgaria

Bulgaria does not have a mimimum age for the consumption of alcohol in private, but you do have to be 18 years old to buy it. Minors will often be allowed to drink in a restaurant or pub if accompanied by an adult.

The price of alcohol in Bulgaria

It’s not expensive to drink in Bulgaria.

I’ll refer to numbeo’s excellent cost of living table: half a litre of domestic beer (bira / бира) , bought at a pub or restaurant will set you back 2 lev/лв (€1.02/$1.10). Drinking at home is even cheaper, with a half-litre of beer costing 1.18 lev/лв (€0.60/$0.65) and a bottle of wine (vino / вино) priced at around 8.00 lev/лв (€4.09/$4.41).

Pubs and bars in Bulgaria

There is no shortage of places to drink in Bulgaria. Lots of small villages have pubs, while towns and cities will have bars and nightclubs in addition to the more traditional drinking spots.

Drinking culture in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a country of fairly heavy drinkers. It ranks 27th in the world for alcohol consumption per capita (with 11.4 litres of pure alcohol per capita consumed each year). That figure pales in comparison to much of the rest of Eastern Europe, though: neighbour Romania drinks 14.4 litres per capita per year and Belarus tops the chart at 17.5 litres.

Despite the volume consumed, the point of drinking in Bulgaria is rarely to get stumbling drunk (though that is not to say it doesn’t happen). Alcohol will be consumed at a leisurely pace throughout the evening, usually accompanied by plenty of snacks (meze). Meze depends on the drink, but you might expect cold cuts of meat, pickles and nuts.

The traditional drink in Bulgaria is a grape brandy called Rakia (which can also be made from plums, apricots, pears, apples, cherries, figs, etc.). This can be bought in the shops, but many Bulgarians prefer to make their own at home.

Consider listening to this podcast, which is a short Bulgarian lesson for those who want to drink with the Bulgarians! It also, briefly, discusses Rakia and its place in Bulgarian society.

Bulgaria is home to a great many bars and restaurants where one can enjoy a drink – but to really experience drinking culture in the country, you’ll need to make some local friends and score an invite to a gathering at somebody’s house. Many Bulgarians much prefer the intimate atmosphere of a private party.

Drinking laws in Bulgaria

Do not drink and drive in Bulgaria. Don’t be swayed by the carefree attitude of some Bulgarian drivers – Bulgaria has had to crack down on people driving under the influence. You can be fined for an alcohol blood level of 0.05% (0.5g of alcohol per litre of blood). This is the same as Spain and slightly lower than England, but higher than much of Eastern Europe: Romania will tolerate no alcohol in a driver’s system, while Estonia draws the line at 0.019%.

Being a foreigner will certainly not help your case if you are caught. You will face fines and possible confiscation of your driving licence. See our guide on Drinking and Driving in Bulgaria for more information (coming soon).

Likewise, do not engage in drunken, disorderly behaviour. Sentences can be much harsher than in, say, the United Kingdom.

Smoking/cigarettes in Bulgaria

In 2014, Bulgarians smoked 1504.72 cigarettes per capita per year (United Kingdom: 826.13; Romania: 1619.82; Spain: 1264.74). Some 35% of Bulgarians smoke.

Smoking age in Bulgaria

You have to be 18 years old to buy or smoke cigarettes in Bulgaria.

Price of cigarettes in Bulgaria

A pack of Malboro costs about 5.20 lev/лв (€2.66/$2.87).

Smoking ban in Bulgaria

As of June 2012, you may not smoke indoors in any public place in Bulgaria: including pubs, restaurants, clubs, your place of work, music venues, etc.

Drugs in Bulgaria

Which drugs are illegal in Bulgaria?

According to the Bulgarian Criminal Code:

“Narcotic substances” are all intoxicating and psychothropic substances – high-risk and risky – in the context of the Law for control over the narcotic substances and precursors.

Drugs fall under three categories: high-risk and not applicable in medicine, high risk but applicable in medicine, and simply ‘risk substances’. Substances in the first two categories carry much higher penalties for possession or distribution.

See all three lists here.

Drug laws in Bulgaria

Bulgaria has very strict drug laws, and they have trended towards becoming stricter. As the Sofia Globe reported:

In 1989, only 11 people were incarcerated in Bulgaria for drug offences. This number increased to 723 in 2004 and to 1155 in 2010.

Possession or use of drugs can result in a fine from 1,000-10,000 lev and, for ‘high-risk’ drugs, imprisonment.

Distribution or smuggling offences are punished by much higher fines and longer period of imprisonment.

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