Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, is becoming a very popular tourist destination recently. Often overlooked for its communist past, it’s a fast growing modern European city, proudly displaying a rich history & heritage, bursting with independent shops serving delicious food and drinks, and full of friendly, outgoing people.
It took 6 years of London living before I returned to my homeland, and discovered the beauty of Sofia. Just like everywhere else in the world, you need to know the right people to take you to the right places, so you can experience the true beauty of a place you may have visited many times before.
Getting around Sofia
If you’re only planning to stay in the town centre, you can use the metro – it’s very new, affordable and clean, although the trains are a bit on the noisy side. Avoid getting a taxi especially at transportation hubs such as the airport or a train station, as they can be expensive for tourists. If you really have to, make sure you agree on a rate beforehand.
If you want to see more, then it’s best to rent a car in Sofia. Google will show you plenty of 24-hour secure car parks to leave it in overnight, and you’ll easily tick all the places off your list, that you wanted to visit.
There isn’t a best time to visit Sofia – it’s beautiful all year around. In the winter you can come off the plane and head to the mountains to ski, for snowboarding, and for a spa retreat. In spring you may want to do a fun pub crawl or check out some of the festivals. Summer is a great time to enjoy the views over the city from Vitosha Mountain before you drive off to the beach. Autumn paints the capital in gorgeous colours, and the shopping centres will get you ready for the new fashion season.
To shop here you need Bulgarian Lev. You wouldn’t be able to pay in any other currency, but most shops accept credit or debit cards. My advice is to bring 100 lev with you and exchange more when you arrive. You will find the best rates if you visit a bank on the high street.
The off-beaten path
There is enough in Sofia to keep you occupied for days – from Roman remains to Soviet relics, from continental European architecture to hipster pop-ups. The tourist must-visits include art galleries and museums, theatres and churches. Once you’ve paid them a visit and you’ve done all the Instagram-worthy shots in Sofia, you can hop back into your car, and see Sofia from a different angle.
The City Garden (AKA Crystal Public Garden) offers a mix of hipster and laid-back semi-outdoor bars, where life is humming in the evenings.
Tsar Shishman Street is known for its healthy stores and restaurants, second-hand shops, cool bars, and art shops.
The Bells (Kambanite), officially known as The International Park for the Children of the World, is a nice natural area on the outskirts of Sofia where you can take a walk around the monuments.
Boyana is a district on the outskirts of Sofia, just at the foot of Vitosha Mountain. Some of the main Sofia attractions are located here, like the National History Museum and the UNESCO-listed Boyana Church. The main government residence from the Communist past was built here to meet foreign officials and is still used by the Bulgarian government when hosting important guests.
If the weather allows, Vitosha Mountain is one of the best places to enjoy hiking without having to go too far outside the capital. Plus, you’ll be able to capture some amazing views above the city.
Rila Monastery is another great site listed by UNESCO. A drive south from the capital will reveal to you countryside roads, rural villages and beautiful forests, before you experience one of Bulgaria’s most famous Eastern Orthodox monasteries.
The Seven Rila lakes are also located in the Rila National Park. The glacial lakes attract tourists, photographers and spiritual wanderers for their natural beauty and out-of-this-world scenery.
Bansko is a small picturesque town in the Pirin Mountain. Known as a gateway to numerous ski and snowboard slopes, it also hosts a number of international festivals, the most popular of which is the Bansko Jazz Festival.
Where to stay in Sofia
Whether you’ve decided to do a short city getaway or spend a week exploring Sofia and the Bulgarian countryside, you’ll find great hotels for any budget on Booking.com
Looking for affordable accommodation in Sofia? AirBNB is always a good option. Click here to save €28 on your first booking.
Title picture by Alexandr Bormotin
Others from Pixabay