Looming above the tree line, the foreboding structure both warns and beckons visitors all at once. As our car wound through the hills, gaining elevation with every rotation of the tires, an anticipatory silence replaced the cheerful banter that filled the vehicle moments before. We craned our necks to watch as the peculiarly-shaped building revealed itself to us, growing taller and taller as we approached. After more than three hours of driving, Buzludzha was finally within view.Although we had a lot to look forward to exploring during our trip to the Balkans, Buzludzha captured our attention and imaginations early into our vacation planning. The building once served as the Monument House of the Bulgarian Communist Party, and it has slowly fallen into ruins in the 30 years since Communism fell in 1989. Wondering what the experience of visiting an abandoned building steeped in history might be like, we set our sights on incorporating a day trip from Sofia to Buzludzha into our vacation. Our visit combined the history and impact of Communism on Bulgaria with the eeriness of a silent, deserted building, and it lived up to every expectation we had.
If Bulgaria is in your travel plans, here is why Buzludzha would be a memorable day trip to include in your itinerary.
What is Buzludzha?
If you have never heard of Buzludzha, you aren’t alone: although it has been somewhat popularized by a handful of TV shows like Expedition Unknown and Mysteries of the Abandoned, it’s not a commonly known or recognized structure. In fact, to look at it without context, you might think you are looking at a UFO or a spaceship as opposed to a former Communist office building.
While the name Buzludzha is now synonymous with the building that sits just to the east of the Shipka Pass in the Balkan Mountains, the name more accurately refers to the mountain peak on which the building sits. Buzludzha hosted the final battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Bulgarian rebels in 1868. It was a sound defeat for the rebels, of whom only four walked away with their lives. Still, the battle served to inspire what became the Liberation of Bulgaria during the Russo-Turkish War just ten years later, which restored the Bulgarian territory that was conquered by the Ottomans in the 14th century. In 1891, Buzludzha was selected as the location for the first congress of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers Party, which met for the first time in that very location. Almost a century later, to commemorate what eventually became the Bulgarian Communist Party, a large, somewhat futuristic monument was erected between 1971 and 1981.Jutting out of the mountaintop, Buzludzha proudly towered over thousands of people who arrived to marvel at it on its opening day on August 22, 1981. The brutalist architectural design was funded not through tax dollars, but through the sale of commemorative stamps intended to fund the project. Of all of the thousands of hours required to construct the moment, most were provided by volunteers who labored, unpaid, to demonstrate their pride in their country. When the monument opened, many believed it reflected the Bulgarian people and would host their meetings and events for years to come. Instead, Buzludzha stood for less than a decade before the fall of Communism saw the political ideology fall wildly out of favor, and in short order the monument began to deteriorate.
As months of neglect turned into years, the mosaics that adorned the walls crumbled and the roof showed signs of failing. Today, instead of welcoming the people who built it, the doors are locked to keep them out. Like the rest of the Balkans, Bulgaria has taken steps to separate itself from its Communist past, but Buzludzha remains as a foreboding tribute to a significant part of the country’s history.
This video from Science Channel shares some additional information and archival footage of the construction and interior of the Buzludzha Monument.
— Science Channel (@ScienceChannel) December 7, 2018
How to Get to Buzludzha
Whether you are beginning your journey to Buzludzha from Sofia or Plovdiv, you’ll have the same two options to get there: rent a car or hire a tour guide.Public transportation isn’t a great choice; you won’t find trains or buses that run directly from either city. If independent travel is your vacation style, renting a car will give you maximum flexibility to visit Buzludzha and other nearby sites during a long but easy day trip from either city. The route has roads in good condition (although you will encounter some potholes and winding roads as you approach the monument!), and we noticed a good number of gas stations and stopping points to break up the journey.
Our preferred method of travel was to hire a local guide for the day. Although hiring a guide can be more expensive than self-driving, we have always been grateful for the chance to meet someone local who can share stories and tips with us, and we seek out guided tours whenever possible. We made the journey to Buzludzha with Hristo from Private Guide Bulgaria Day Tours, whose knowledge, candor, and humor made the trip incredible from start to finish. Hristo picked us up from our hotel and took us to Buzludzha by way of an incredible restaurant we would never have found on our own. He filled the hours of driving with stories about Bulgarian history and his own life and experiences there, helping us to quickly develop an appreciation for the country beyond what we could have achieved without his perspectives. By skipping the frustrations that can come with self-driving (navigating unfamiliar roads, worrying about having the right directions, and finding a good place to eat) we were able to simply enjoy the day and focus on learning and soaking in all of the sights along the way.
Visiting Buzludzha: What to Expect
As our car pulled up to the monument, we were immediately struck by how isolated the building is. Although a handful of visitors meandered around its perimeter, we found ourselves almost completely alone as we got out of the car.From the walkway leading up to Buzludzha, the stark monument looked almost out of place under blue skies punctuated by soft, puffy clouds. It’s an eerily futuristic building, with heavy gray concrete that once announced strength and power through its stark, no-nonsense architectural style. We walked closer to the monument, up the stairs to approach the building itself. The door is locked, with an unmissable sign declaring that entry is prohibited in both Bulgarian and English. Although some travelers share stories of sneaking into Buzludzha to explore the interior, it is both hazardous and illegal to do so: the monument has not been maintained for years, and the interior has fallen into dangerous disrepair. We peeked through a hole in the door to see what was visible, taking in the sight of cracked walls covered in fading, crumbling graffiti. Still, the walls echo the monument’s former grandeur.
We continued around the building, pausing to take in the incredible volume of colorful graffiti. I jumped a bit when I sensed someone behind me; a guard appeared from what seemed like thin air, monitoring us to see if we might be seeking unauthorized entry into the building. We weren’t, but he trailed us from a distance for a while until another couple arrived and commanded his attention.
It only took about 20 minutes for us to fully explore Buzludzha’s exterior, and when it was time for us to return to the car and begin our descent from the mountains, we felt like our visit to Buzludzha was well worth the hours it took to get there. Communism has long been dead in the Balkans, but it remains a part of Bulgaria’s recent history. Buzludzha is a fascinating way to explore and learn about its impact on the country.
Tips for Visiting Buzludzha
If your vacation plans will include a trip to Buzludzha, here are a few tips to keep in mind to make the most of your journey.
► You can’t go inside
Although there are plenty of accounts of people finding a way to see Buzludzha’s interior—whether legally or otherwise—today, the doors are locked. Gaining entry to the inside of the building is illegal under any circumstance for visitors, so don’t attempt to find a way past the locked doors. A full-time guard patrols the perimeter of the monument, and there may be severe consequences for attempting to sneak inside.
► It’s windy
Even if you have a nice, clear day like we did, prepare for some seriously windy conditions when visiting Buzludzha. We were impressed by the gusts that chilled the air considerably, and you may want to consider a light jacket or sweater just in case it’s a bit cold for your liking when you get out of the car. We visited Bulgaria in the summer, when air temperatures were very warm, but we were both glad to have jackets with us for the brief time we spent exploring Buzludzha.
► Plan your photo opsBuzludzha is, in itself, an incredible destination, but there are a few additional monuments that provide for excellent photo stops. The Monument of Dimitar Blagoev pays tribute to its namesake, a political leader and the father of socialism in Bulgaria. Closer to the base of the mountain, two boulder-sized iron fists clutch torches, symbolizing the same strength and power the monument itself once expressed. Located on the road that leads to the monument, stopping there makes for a great photo op with Buzludzha in the distance.
► Fog may impact your view
Many visitors don’t end up with the beautiful blue skies we encountered during our visit to Buzludzha—in fact, some don’t get a clear view of the monument at all. Weather conditions on the mountain can lead to foggy conditions that completely mask the structure, so know that you may not get terrific pictures during your visit—but exploring on a dark, dreary day might just add to the ambiance of visiting an abandoned building.
Buzludzha Day Trip: Two Additional Stops to Include
If you plan to visit Buzludzha, there are two additional stops to make that we discovered thanks to Hristo, our fantastic guide, that you may really enjoy as well!
► Shipka Memorial Church
Built around the turn of the 20th century, the Shipka Memorial Church is a stunning Bulgarian Orthodox church that boasts some impressive Russian-inspired architectural designs. From the brightly-colored façade to the glistening gold onion domes, the church is worth a stop to walk around and explore.
► Tomb of Seuthes III
Egypt isn’t the only place where you can explore an ancient tomb! We were amazed to have a similar experience to what we encountered during our trip to the Valley of Kings when we stepped into tomb of Seuthes III. Seuthes III was the king of the Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace from 331 to 300 BC. His tomb features three separate rooms, with the third and final room housing his sarcophagus. Like the kings and queens you might know of in Egypt, Seuthes III was buried with a number of belongings he may have needed in the afterlife. Unlike the tombs we saw during our time in Egypt, his tomb wasn’t covered in elaborate paintings that tell his life story. Instead, the simple, arched stone walls lead to a burial chamber that is adorned in gold and bronze.
For us, the Tomb of Seuthes III was an unexpected connection to our past travels and a very interesting way to learn about Bulgaria’s ancient history.
Visiting Buzludzha: Where to Stay
The monument is accessible from both Sofia and Plovdiv. While Plovdiv is about an hour closer by car, we stayed in Sofia and found the day trip to be completely manageable. We selected the Best Western Art Plaza Hotel, which was convenient to plenty of sightseeing and restaurants during our stay in the city.
More Information: Booking.com/Hotel/Bg/Kolikovski
We found the hotel on Booking.com; if you are planning a visit to Bulgaria and Buzludzha you may find a great hotel through Booking.com as well! Here are a few deals to consider.
Our travels often take us to spots that are historic, abandoned, or just off the beaten path, and our visit to Buzludzha did not disappoint. We expected to see what is often billed as a communist space ship building, a bizarre structure that looks a bit like a UFO situated in Bulgaria’s Balkan Mountains. In truth, that is exactly what we found, but we also found a lot more: we discovered a piece of history locked within the abandoned building’s walls that tells of a time gone by. Buzludzha is well worth the journey and a great way to explore some of Bulgaria’s beautiful countryside. If your travels take you through the Balkans, don’t miss the chance to add a day trip to Buzludzha!
Looking for more interesting places to visit around the world? Here are a few more posts to check out
* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. In this case, we visited multiple locations in Bulgaria as part of a tour with Private Guide Bulgaria Day Tours, and this post includes our candid review of our experience. We selected Private Guide Bulgaria Day Tours based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review. Learn more about our travel philosophy here.