Have you ever listened to Uriah Heep “July Morning”? This nearly 10 minute track has become legendary and is a must for the first July morning in Bulgaria. Every year, Bulgarians from all corners of the country flock to the Black Sea beaches around Kavarna , Varna and Burgas to celebrate the sunrise. It’s a very unique Bulgarian festival and well worth it. That is, if you do it right. I didn’t, so here’s what I learned so you can get the full experience of 1 July in Bulgaria.
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Getting Around Bulgaria for July Morning
It is easy to travel around Bulgaria by bus. Major cities are well connected and from Sofia to Burgas, you can get on a public intercity bus for as little as 20-25 leva (12-15 USD). July is high season, so buses go regularly. Check available buses and prices online before you head to the local bus terminals.
You can also rent a car and drive over to the Black Sea coastline yourself. There are roads from Sofia to Burgas and Varna. The former is the better and slightly faster option even though both cities are roughly 2 hours apart. If you don’t want to take the bus or drive and do it like plenty of locals do, hitchhike. It’s quite safe in Bulgaria.
Celebrating 1 July in Bulgaria
The last day of June is spent getting to the west coast of the Black Sea to find a good spot to spend the night. Bulgarians set up sleeping bags, gather around fires and play music throughout the night. There are a few music events in case you want to dance to a DJ’s tunes, such as Cacao Beach Club in Sunny Beach. The main idea is to celebrate nature and summer.
The most popular and original spot to celebrate July Morning in Bulgaria is Kamen Bryag in the North of the Black Sea Coast. It was here that John Lawton of Uriah Heep himself performed the song “July Morning” a few times. (The original July morning rock festival, known as Dzhulay, started in Kavarna.) During Communist times it became a huge deal as Western music was mostly off limits, so it was somewhat an act of rebellion.
A recent major forbade the festival in 2016, however. As a result, it is now no longer officially happening. Sadly, memorabilia have been destroyed too. This is why Bulgarians now scatter along the coastline around various July Morning locations. Popular locations are . If you really don’t wanna travel all the way to the Black Sea, you can head up Kopitoto TV Tower on Vitosha in Sofia.
Best Places to Spend July Morning at the Black Sea
- The caves near Kamen Bryag – Kamen Bryag was the original happening location and still to this day is. To join the crowds, set up your tent (or park your car) in the Oguncheto area atop the cliffs. There are amazing caves in this area in case you want to go on an exploration spree during the day. At night, you can enjoy rock concerts at Kamen Bryag.
- Varvara – Besides Kamen Bryag, Varvara is the most sought after 1 July Bulgaria hotspot. (Just don’t get this village confused with the Varvara in the mountains). The little village has expanded to accommodate those seeking to spend their Bulgarian holidays on 1 July. Try Hotel Varvara for modern ensuite rooms and breakfast out on the terrace. (Bonus: get a lunch packed for the day to take with you to your sunrise spot.) Check out the iron tree that was set up for the 1980 movie “The great night swim”.
- Kamchiya Beach – To really experience untouched nature away from the holiday resorts on Black Sea beaches, hit up this beautiful Bulgarian beach. It sits nestled next to an estuary and you can welcome to July sunrise from the dunes.
- Villa Melnik Winery –This one is for all the Bulgarian wine lovers and the introverts who aren’t absolute beach lovers. To soak up the first morning rays with panoramic views over wine mountains, check out the special July morning celebrations of Villa Melnik.
- Kavarna – A popular resort North of Varna is Kavarna – it was here that the July morning festival started. If you are wondering where to spend July Morning in Kavarna, then stay away from the beach. You’ll see why if you read my little disaster story down below.
- Tutrakan – Since the festival of Dzhulay is no longer allowed to take place in Kavarna, Tutrakan has kindly stepped in as the location venue. Celebrate summer at this rock festival in true July Morning style.
Where to Stay at the Black Sea
If you don’t want to sleep outside or spend the entire night under the stars, you can get a hotel room. That was the option we went for as the weather wasn’t warm or reliable enough. Occasional heavy rainshowers and fresh breezes weren’t really that enticing to us. But you might be totally down for an outdoor adventure. (Here’s how to pack for that.)
The hotel we picked was Apartments Kavarna Hills Complex, just a 5 minute walk off the beach. Sadly, nothing much was going on but it was a good place to drive to nearby July 1 locations. In case you want to stay in Varna, you can pick the fancy (and more expensive) Graffit Gallery Design Hotel. I recommend sharing a room with friends to make it affordable and taking advantage of the included breakfast.
Of course, you can also stay a little more south. It makes sense cause there are plenty of things to do in Burgas, including visiting the Pink Lakes and mud pools. Pleasant mid range hotels are Milano Hotel and Aqua Hotel, for instance. Hotels in Burgas are mostly centrally located, which means no more than a 30 minute walk to the beach and beach bars.
What to Pack for July 1 in Bulgaria
Scenario 1: Let’s assume you want to rough it and celebrate July Morning in Bulgaria underneath the stars. You need to dress up warm. Come with multiple layers so you can gradually warm up as the night progresses. It will get colder. You might even think about putting on light thermal or just warm underwear if you try to stay awake. After all, the more tired you are, the colder you will feel. Alcohol will just provide the illusion that it’s not that bad.
It might be a good idea to come with a sleeping bag for spring weather, so you can snuggle up. If you use this, you don’t need to wear super warm or layered clothing. The less you wear, the warmer you’ll be in that sleeping bag. (I learnt that from my outback camping in Australia.)
Scenario 2: If you are like us (Eternal Arrival, Happy to Wander, Our Escape Clause and Wandering Chocobo) and stay in, here’s what you need. Stock up on snacks and (energy) drinks and pack games and cards to keep you busy. If you want to bring music instruments along, better do that outside and away from hotels and houses to be respectful of people sleeping.
Whatever you decide to do don’t forget to bring the most important thing along: a track of Uriah Heep’s “July Morning”. You need to play or sing to it when the morning sun rises. It’s a Bulgarian tradition!
How Not to Celebrate July Morning
To say our Bulgaria roadtrip didn’t go as planned would be a massive understatement. So much went wrong! (Read the full story to learn from our travel mistakes because Bulgaria is great for roadtripping.) To redeem ourselves, we were hoping to make July morning count. After all, that’s what had set us off on our Bulgaria trip.
We picked Kavarna for July morning as it was here that the 1 July tradition originated. Even though we knew the actual rock festival had been moved, we were naively certain that a party would be going on by the beach. Nope. So we stayed up all night in our hotel room, trying to keep each other awake by working on our laptops and fuelling up on redbull. (Living the glamorous #bloggerlife.)
Just before our alarms reminded us of the imminent rising July sun, two of our crew was down for the count. (Note: please drink redbull in moderation. Or else you’ll regret it.) So four of us bravely marched on, out into the chilly night and down to the beach. It was empty. No one was awake apart from a lonely driver who disappeared into nowhere. But that wasn’t even the worst part. A cliff blocked the view of a potential sunrise. We had done our research terribly.
Weak from an unsustainable diet on sugar and caffeine and unwilling to climb the cliff ( a path lead up behind the hotels), we tried to scout the beach. Fishermen were busy loading their boats and we figured, the bay walls might provide a better vantage point. Little did we anticipate being chased away by a pack of wild dogs. And boy did they charge at us, even nudging our adrenaline fuelled limbs!
After all the drama we huddled together to consult. We were far from the madding party crowd. And there was no goo viewing point. For what it’s worth, the clouds refused to part either way and so we admitted defeat and dragged our weary feet back into bed. Just as the sunlight hit the curtains. Of course, those were transparent. Happy July 1!
Is Travelling Bulgaria for July Morning Worth It?
Despite our misadventures, we had a brilliant time and are already planning on a repeat trip. This time more thought through, however. Bulgarians flock to the coast year upon year and this Bulgarian midsummer tradition is unique in the world as far as I know. So yes, if you can, totally try to mingle with locals, come prepared and pick an actual vantage point to catch the July morning sun in Bulgaria. (And please share your experience in the comments below.)
Would you wanna experience July morning in Bulgaria? And where?
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Ryan Biddulph says
LOL on those wild dogs Annemarie. These guys chased us from spots all over the globe. Especially SE Asia. Keeps ya on your toes more than a pack of Red Bull energy drinks. Fun time and super recount here.
They certainly do. Wild dogs keep chasing me everywhere too. So territorial!^^
Sorry you had a disappointing experience, but probably online research has limits.
When I was a teenager in Varna, we would always gather at what is now called “Fichoza Beach”,
at the Veteran bungalows, because they were cheap, and we can do a lot of underage alcohol drinking.
So, in my experience that was the best way to celebrate July Morning, we’d drink all night,
and whoever survives will meet the sunrise playing July Morning by Uriah Heep on
a battery-powered cassette player. Fun times!
I’d think some still do, because it is close to Varna, but not sure, this was in the 90s…
yeah, you’re right. Online research only goes so far and when you travel, more often than not things go wrong. It was an adventure for sure. And thanks for the tip, I will remember that for next time. I do think I wanna try this again.