A Travel Guide To Sofia, Bulgaria.
The capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, is an interesting place to visit. Known as the cheapest capital of Europe, Sofia should be on every backpackers list who is travelling on a budget. With the cheap flights offered by Ryanair and Wizzair, staying home for the weekend can be a lot more expensive when you’re living in Western Europe like I do. And even not on a budget, Sofia is a city worth to discover and travel to as the second oldest capital city of Europe.
How to get there
From Sofia airport you can easily take the bus to the city for 1.70 lev (€0.80). Make sure to validate your ticket in the bus! I couldn’t find the validation machine which led to an extra 40 lev (€20) I had to pay, which is a waste of money. If you’re with a group, the cabs to the city are cheap as well, expect to pay between 10 and 15 lev (€5-10).
Where to stay
I stayed at Hostel Mostel in an eight bed dorm for 16 (€8) a night. The building itself is quite interesting and not fitting in the more modern communist looking buildings around it since it’s been built in the 19th century by a Greek family. In the beginning this place was used as a pub called “The Old Inn”.
The hostel offers a really good all you can eat breakfast buffet and an okay vegetarian dinner + beer which are included in the price (except when you’re in the cheapest dorm, then you can pay 6 lev (€3) extra for a meal). The beds are comfy and very private because of the curtains next to your bed. The hostel has a really chilled common area where it is easy to meet some new people. Here you will realise too how many people actually are staying in this hostel! The location is really good as well, only a couple of minutes away you will find the main (shopping) road of Sofia.
Things to Do
Now it’s time to share my experiences and adventures with you in Sofia and to inspire you how you easily can fall in love with Sofia, and increase this love every day a bit more when in Sofia.
Do One Or More Free Walking Tours
Sofia is already so cheap when you are enjoying some time here, but you can even downsize your budget even more by taking one or more free walking tours. Of course you can decide to tip the guide generously if you liked the tour.
Free Sofia Tour
This one should definitely be on your list because it will make you appreciate Sofia more. Sofia is not an amazingly beautiful city like Paris or Prague, but the city breathes history. During this tour you will learn a lot more about this layered city and its history. It is also a perfect start of your stay here in Sofia because it gets you orientated and gives you some options what you can do and visit. And last but not least: the tour guides are amazing! They know so much, are so enthusiastic and know how to keep you focused on all the stories they have to tell.
Website: http://www.freesofiatour.com / Meeting point is in front of Palace of Justice.
Free Food Tour: Balkan Bites
When I heard there was a free food tour my heart skipped a beat. Okay, maybe that is a bit dramatic, but one of my favourite things to do when travelling is experience the local food. This tour brought us to four different spots where we were able to try some local dishes while they were telling us the history of the specific local food. We tried some Bulgarian yoghurt soup with cucumber called Tarator, the famous pastry Banitsa (most of the time filled with white cheese, but there are plenty of yummy variations), some deep fried dough snack (how can you say no to that?) and we ended our tour in a local restaurant where we tried multiple spreads and typical Bulgarian wine.
Website: http://www.balkanbites.bg / Meeting point is in park Crystal.
Free Graffiti Tour
The same company offering the Balkan Bites tour guides the Free Graffiti Tour. Unfortunately I didn’t do this one, but I hear this one is amazing! It’s one of the newest free walking tours here in Sofia and they show you the more alternative side of Sofia and its beautiful street art. They leave every day at 3pm.
Explore the City Centre of Sofia
Saint Sofia Church
This second oldest church of Sofia, built between the 4th and 6th century, is definitely worth visiting because here you can learn a lot about the interesting layers of Sofia. You will literally find centuries of the remaining of rebuilding the church multiple times and tombs layered scattered in this church.
The St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral
This is probably the best known cathedral of Sofia (if you Google or Pinterest this city you can’t miss out seeing this cathedral). If you’re doing the Free Sofia Tour you’re tour will end in front of this impressive golden roof cathedral. The stunning inside is just as impressive as the outside of this Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral (did you know this is the biggest religion in Bulgaria?).
National Art museum
If you’re in to art this museum should be on your list! With multiple changing exhibitions you have a big variety of art to discover.
Sofia is a city you have to learn to appreciate by knowing its history. During the Free Sofia Tour you will learn the main red lines of history, but if you want to dive in a little bit deeper the History Museum should definitely be on your list. Not only since it’s based in the former Bath House of Sofia.
The main street of Sofia, Vitosha Boulevard, is actually the biggest shopping street of Sofia. The perfect place to explore the little shops and buy some souvenirs. Don’t miss out buying some Bulgarian oil rose products since Bulgaria produces 70% of rose oil in the whole world!
Elephant Bookstore: Vintage English Store
This cute little shop is paradise for every book lover. Here you can find almost every book theme you like, including the classics for almost nothing. The people who work here increase this scenic store even more: they are so kind, helpful and sincere.
Hike to the top of Vitosha mountain (2290m)
Going to the Vitosha mountain is a perfect break from the city centre. If you like nature and hiking this should be definitely on your list when visiting Sofia. In winter Vitosha mountain is a perfect spot for skiing and snowboarding.
Only 30 minutes away from the city centre you can start your hike. We took tram 5 all the way to the last stop, but you can also stop at Pavlovo station and take a bus to Boyana church and go up here. It is also able to go to the top by cable car. I hear this is a great experience too, because it will give you some amazing views during your ride up to the mountain (which takes around 30-40 minutes and costs 14 lev / €7,-). It took us about 2,5 hours to get all the way up to the highest top (2290 meters). The hike is so cool to do because the nature changes constantly. From dense forests to rocky parts and open fields, you will enjoy them all. Because we were doing the hike halfway March we even had some parts with quite some snow, meanwhile it was 20 Celsius degrees, which made it even a more fun and extreme difference.
The views during the hike are amazing and the highest viewpoint is definitely the winning one. You have an amazing panoramic view over the mountains and the city Sofia. When we were on our way down we thought we were taking a (really steep) shortcut, but we ended up somewhere completely else where we had begun. We kinda liked this experience because it brought us to some beautiful little Bulgarian villages all the way to Pavlovo.
A Foodie Guide To Sofia
Does your trip not feel complete without trying some amazing places to eat in the new place you’re visiting? This is definitely the case for me! Therefore I wrote A Foodie Guide To Sofia where I hope to guide and inspire you to some amazing restaurants, tea houses and must try local dishes in the capital of Bulgaria.