The Buzludzha monument sits abandoned on top a 1,441 metre high peak in the Central Balkan Mountains of Bulgaria. Once a huge symbol of the power and might of the Bulgarian Communist regime it has since been left to disuse after the fall of the government in 1989. Now it has become a bit of a mecca for all soviet/abandoned enthusiasts of the world, if you are one or both of these said enthusiasts then this place is definitely not to be missed. Or if you simply just want to do something outside the typical tourist route, perfect, this post is going to tell you exactly how to get to Buzludzha…
Options mentioned below:
- Hitchhiking to Buzludzha
- Renting a car
- Taking a Bus
- Organised Tours
- Wild Camping at Buzludzha
- Weather in Bulgaria
- How to get inside
- How to climb the Red Star tower
Firstly don’t believe some of the other blogs out there trying to enhance their story by saying it’s “hours from civilisation”. Absolute bollocks. It is off the usual tourist track through Bulgaria and does require a little bit of planning to get to, but it’s easily doable if you have the time.
The two closest (bigger) towns that you should aim to get to are Gabrovo and Kazanlak, both are roughly 33km and 24km away respectively, along the “Shipka Pass”.
Also what people often forget to mention is that just down the road from Buzludzha is the Shipka Memorial (12km). Located at the turn off to Buzludzha between Gabrovo and the small village of the same name, Shipka. Unlike it’s communist UFO neighbour the Shipka Memorial is still maintained as an important historical monument commemorating those who died for the Liberation of Bulgaria during the Battles of Shipka Pass in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.
It is free to visit and climb the 900 odd stairs to observe from the outside but costs a few Bulgarians to enter the museum. From this monument you can easily see Buzludzha in the East standing gracefully waiting for you.
There is also a couple of cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops at the bottom of the stairs of the Shipka monument. So if you forgot to pack water/food this is an option (obviously expect to pay more here then in town).
Hitchhiking to Buzludzha
It’s perfectly possible to hitchhike there. We did. We never used a sign, instead I relied on a piece of paper with a list of all the towns we would pass through written on it. If the driver is headed in the right direction they can simply point to which town and you will know immediately if its a viable lift or not. Take note though, the Bulgarian language is a Slavic language and they mostly use a version of the Cyrillic alphabet.
A lot of street signs are now written in both the native Cyrillic lettering and the Latin alphabet but from what I understand this is still relatively new. So if you opt for the sign or letter approach, save yourself some potential games of charades and lost lifts by making sure you have it translated into the local language because not everyone who stops will understand the English translation. I’ve included the Bulgarian lettering of the places I mention below.
Begin by checking hitchwiki for the best way to hitch out of the city you are in (Sofia, Bucharest, Istanbul, whatever). Then if you haven’t already download maps.me (My pick of the offline map apps out there), with that you will easily be able to plan your own route (remember to download the individual maps of the areas in Bulgaria you will be going through).
IF you are new to hitchhiking and need some more solid details for encouragement OR you’re still running a flipflop, classic nokia (they were the best) or equivalent and don’t have access to fancy apps then read on below.
Coming from the NORTH (Romania)
Hitch towards the town called Gabrovo (Габрово – 42°52′27.92″N 25°19′09.18″E) on highway 5.
If coming all the way from Bucharest, first hitch to the border crossing at Ruse (Русе – or a sign with ‘BG’ will be enough for drivers to know where you want to go). Read here for the best way out of the city.
There were big delays at this border at time we crossed (May, 2016) because of construction on the bridge connecting the two countries, not sure when it will be finished so keep that in mind (our driver said it had been going on for awhile). After there hitch on the E85 towards the town Veliko Tarnovo (Велико Търново), it is worth a couple hours walking around if you have time. Interesting architecture and homes built into the sides of cliffs over looking the river. From there you are pretty bloody close, continue south through Gabrovo (Габрово).
Now that you are close enough if you simply say Shipka (Шипка) most people will know what you are on about. You want to stop at the Shipka monument (21km from Gabrovo) NOT the small village of the same name which is after the monument (see the map above). Unless you plan on taking one of the hiking trails from town to Buzludzha – I have no idea about this as we didn’t do it but I read online of someone else doing it. Took them 3 hours. Unless you have a tent it is probably better to walk the road and hope for a passing car to save time.
From the Shipka monument start walking down the 12km turn off to Buzludzha (it is sign posted), someone will eventually drive past probably going to the monument. It was only about ten minutes on this road before we were offered a lift. It’s a pretty popular thing to visit now so we seen a decent amount of traffic. On the first day we were there we probably seen over 20 odd people arrive and leave (plenty of potential lifts for the patient hitcher). We visited in the beginning of spring (May) I can only imagine there would be even more traffic in summer.
Coming from the WEST (Sofia), SOUTH OR EAST
Your goal should be to hitch towards the town called Kazanlak (Казанлък – 42°37′23.71″N 25°23′48.29″E) on highway 5.
Read this on how to get out of the city.
If you choose to hitch the main highway (A1) as suggested on Hitchwiki, you will end up going in the direction of Plovdiv (Пловдив) – second biggest city in Bulgaria with plenty of tourist attractions. This route is slightly longer in distance but will have a lot of traffic as it is the main highway that connects West and East Bulgaria and also Europe with Istanbul, Turkey. If you’re not stopping at Plovdiv try and stay on the A1 and bypass the city until either one of the two turn offs towards Stara Zagora (Стара Загора). Highway 66 or later highway 5. From there you want to continue on highway 5 hitching north to the town Kazanlak (Казанлък).
OR, looking at the map there is a more direct route avoiding the main highway (A1), taking the E871, I haven’t hitched this road and know nothing about it. But from my experience hitchhiking was pretty good in Bulgaria so if you have the patience you will probably be fine. If you’re game enough to do it, let everyone know in the comments below if its worth while or not.
Now you’re finally almost there, 8km north out of Kazanlak is the Buzludzha turn off (42°40′51.84″N 25°22′13.97″E). Then just another 16km up the mountain and you have made it!
Alternatively if you have found a ride going beyond this turn off, you could stop at the other turn off at the Shipka Memorial (not the village of the same name, which you will pass through first). If you get stuck hitching and have to walk the remaining km, this route is slightly shorter (about 4km shorter) and not as hard going on the incline. Refer to the above map for a clearer understanding.
Rent a Car
The friend who first made me aware of this place rented a car (cheers Coffey). Apparently it is pretty straight forward in Bulgaria, he was in Plovdiv and rented privately through a hostel. He simply asked at the hostel and they happily called someone and organised it. He showed the owner his Australian drivers license and that was enough, he paid 20 euro for one day of hire (2015).
If you would prefer to rent through a company with the option of insurance, try this website for a quick compare of prices or simply have a search on google.
If you are hanging around a hostel I’m sure you’ll quickly find someone keen to join you and share the load. If they need some persuading show them this story first 😉
From Sofia, depending on which route you take (according to google), it is anywhere between 200 to 300km and should take you a bit over 3 hours of driving.
From nearby Plovdiv it is between 120 and 160km and should take around 2 hours driving (according to google). My friend who drove this said it only took them around an hour and a half to drive.
Take a Bus
This option (unless you can read Bulgarian) probably will be a bigger adventure then hithhiking.
Firstly there is NO bus to Buzludzha, there is however a bus stop at the Shipka Memorial, which is at the turn off for Buzludzha. You will have to walk or hitch the remaining 12km from there and then of course back again.
How to get to that bus stop is the mystery though. I think the bus stop is for only local buses from the surrounding area so you will have to probably first get to one of the towns Gabrovo, Shipka or Kazanlak. By regional bus and then catch another bus after that. Maybe if you are in Kazanlak/Shipka catch a bus to Gabrovo (or vice versa) and ask the driver to stop at the memorial for you.
Check out this website, it is in english and useful for finding any bus route throughout Bulgaria.
From Kazanlak to Shipka village:
Anyone with more accurate information on this message me and I’ll update it for everyone.
Go on an Organised Tour
Some blogs have written about going on guided tours of the place. I don’t understand why you would want to do this (where is the adventure!?) but apparently it’s possible. Ask at your hostel, somebody will know somebody who is willing to take your money. I suppose if you have limited time a tour can be a sure way of seeing it and a nice compromise. Plus it’s always nice to help out a local if you have the coin to burn.
From Shipka village or Kazanlak it is also possible to pay for a TAXI. I read on one blog someone paying a local to drive them from Shipka to the monument then they walked back to Shipka village on the mountain trail. Took them around 3 hours walking.
Wild Camping at Buzludzha
Wild camping in Bulgaria, although not actually legal, is generally allowed and accepted. As long as you do it discretely and with care of the surrounding environment, no one should bother you. There is plenty of space across the open plans surrounding Buzludzha to pitch a tent and down the hill closer to the statue of the hands holding torches you can find firewood. If you camp up next to the building I wouldn’t recommend burning any of the old timber lying around the “UFO” that has come off from the weather. It is treated timber full of who knows what nasty chemicals the commies thought was a good idea back in day. I got lazy and tried some rather then walking down the hill, it burnt an unhealthy green flame. Beware.
If you camp at the top, keep in mind that it is a 1,141 metre high peak. Check the weather conditions or you may wake up in a cloud and some pretty shitty weather. We visited in May and although everything was sunny and calm the day before, the next morning it was anything but that. Some of the strongest winds I have experienced (Watch the Video).
Weather in Bulgaria
Depending on what time of year you visit Budludzha, you are going to experience a pretty different sight. Check the weather to make sure it isn’t lost in a storm cloud or hidden behind a snow white out. You don’t want to pick the wrong day and make the long trek out there to be disappointed. That said, some of the best pictures I’ve seen of the “UFO” were taken in the middle of winter, so if you’re brave enough to try then, you could be in for a real treat.
Temperatures throughout Bulgaria vary dramatically in different times of the year depending on the seasons. This chart was taken from WorldWeatherOnline.com and should give you an idea of what temperatures to expect when heading there.
Summer – June to August/September – The safe bet to having a good experience at buzludzha with mostly hot and dry temperatures throughout all of summer. Cooler nights in the Mountains but still pleasant. Rain is relatively uncommon, but random violent passing storms do occur.
Autumn – September to November – Temperatures begin to drop gradually as winter approaches. By October it has usually dropped considerably in the Mountains. Still not a lot of rain compared to the majority of Western Europe. Still think about taking that jacket 😉
Winter – December to March – Snow begins to fall across most of the country around the end of December. January is considered the coldest month of the year. During extremes, temperatures can apparently sometimes plummet to -30°C in the mountains at night. Hours of day light is considerably shorter. Expect to find the mountain capped with snow for majority of this time.
Spring – April to June – Things start to warm after winter, the ground comes alive with beautiful greenery and life. Days can be sunny and pleasant but still cool nights. It rains quite often, with spring being considered the rainiest season. On average May is the wettest month of the year. Strong winds can also be an issue during bad weather on top of the peak.
How to get inside
Sorry there isn’t really a secret on how to get inside. There is two main entrances that generally get opened but authorities routinely close them and as the building gets more and more dangerous they are starting to crack down on it even harder. Unless you are backpacking around Europe with a crowbar or better still a grinder, you are going to have to rely on the hope that someone else before you has recently visited and reopened it.
Locating the entrances is easy. There is a small panel on the front door that has been kicked in and a ground window around the side of the building that allows you to climb down into the basement. If you happen to arrive on one of the days it is still all barred up, well unfortunately, you might be shit out of luck (unless of course you have that trusty crowbar handy).
It could be possible to climb the wall around the back end with the help of someone else (someone tall), then scale through the huge windows of the second floor however you probably need to be a master level climber to achieve this feat. Good luck.
After you visit don’t forget to come back here and leave a comment regarding its open/closed status and what date you visited so all future explorers can know what to expect. Sharing is caring 🙂
How to climb the red star tower
If you do manage to make it inside, besides seeing the obvious auditorium adored with all the awesome commie mosaics you really want to take the time to climb the tower. Its an amazing view and a pretty good rush to stand on the top like some sort of grand communist general surveying the lands and peasants below.
Its really simple to get up there but without knowing it can take a bit of wandering around in circles to find the elusive door. The secret door is… behind the stairs. Pretty bloody obvious once you know.
If you enter through the front entrance on the ground level there is three sets of stairs in front of you (standing with the entrance behind you). All stairs will take you up to the auditorium. The stairs to left and right will also take you below to the basement level. The set directly in front of you hides the entrance you want. Take a flash light and avoid the booby traps on the ground, keep continuing forward until you find the rusty old ladders at the end. They are your ticket to the star above.
Also, there is a set of stairs going deeper down into the labyrinth below, worth an explore for the brave. Ignore the fake memorial for the frenchies who were supposedly ‘murdered’ there, keep an eye out for zombies though. They are rampant.
Be a good urban explorer, don’t wreck shit and take stuff. The lure to pocket just a little bit of memorabilia from the mosaic or “ruby” star will be quite tempting but if everyone does that there will be nothing left. Graffiti is cool, vandalism isn’t. This historical building is already self-destructing, lets all admire it for what it is and not contribute to its current pending doom.
Plus, rumour is, if you do pocket stuff the ghost of a pissed off Stalin will haunt you for as long as it is in your possession. Nobody wants that, Stalin was a prick.
Now go kick some goals.
CLICK HERE – For lots more photos, a little bit of history and my story of the time I visited Buzludzha (Coming Soon – still writing).
If you are still unsure about taking this adventure, try reading this story by Hannah, since I practically dragged her there her version of events are a little less biased – CLICK HERE
STAY TUNED! The YouTube Series from our whole 4000km hitchhiking trip from above the Arctic circle in Finland to Istanbul in Turkey is currently in the editing process. Don’t miss the episode of our trip to Buzludzha, subscribe to YouTube now to stay informed!!!