Zdraveite and welcome to Sofia! It is a pleasure to guide you in my city especially in this lovely spring weather. I remember that when I first moved to Sofia, the city was often overlooked. Most people were passing by Sofia on their way to Istanbul or heading to our popular ski and sea resorts. However thanks to low cost airlines which open more and more routes to Sofia, the city has attracted growing number of visitors.
Soon when you land in Sofia you’ll realize that unlike many other European cities we don’t have an old town where all the remains of past are concentrated. But don’t let this fool you, the city was founded almost 2,500 years ago, which clearly implies that it has layers of history and the recent excavations have proved that.
Apart from its long history Sofia is benefited by its location. Situated at the foot of mountain Vitosha, the city is surrounded by amazing mountain views and various outdoor activities are reachable within 30 minutes.
Sofia as a capital is not a small city by any means, but surprisingly its city centre is very compact. So without further ado let’s see what it has to offer!
Day 1: 09:00 – 14:00
Start your day right in the heart of city centre at Chucky’s Coffee House, where you should get your strong dose of caffeine or a tea(which is equally good choice there). Once with a drink in hand, head towards Slaveykov square famous for it’s open-air book market and the monument bench of two of the most famous Bulgarian writers. Follow down the tram line along Graf Igantiev street where you’ll pass by Sveti Sedmochislenitsi church, an open air market, trendy boutiques and most probably by some old ladies coming from the nearby villages to sell their own products directly on the street. Quite a mix I would say which is especially fascinating because of how old and modern blend into one.
If your first day happens to be a Saturday continue further until you reach the Farmers’ market Rimskata Stena where you can buy some organic produce including cheese, jams, raspberry wine and various herbs. Once you finish with the market, hopefully not too full from sampling some food on the way, it’s time to go for a proper breakfast or early lunch, you decide. Continue to Orlov most and go towards the tranquil San Stefano street where you can get some tasty pancakes at Harmonica as my fellow Spotter Tsvetomira advises or continue further to Oborishte street where you’ll find the bigger branch of my favourite bakery Hlebar.
It’s been the trendiest place among locals and visitors alike since it opened. Once there you shouldn’t miss to try the traditional Bulgarian breakfast consisting of banitsa with boza (a fermented wheat drink which often appears quite weird to foreigners but Bulgarians still take pride in it and we even have lots of jokes involving the effects of this drink) or you can indulge yourself with something from their daily menu.
Day 1: 14:00 – 19:00
I believe you are comfortably full now, so it’s time walk off all that food. Continue your walk towards Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which for sure is the most famous landmark of Sofia, but instead of taking photos from the same angle as everyone else, check out one of the hidden spots nearby Sofia University Botanic Garden where you can recharge your batteries a bit while enjoying the nice views. The garden is a quiet oasis that even few locals know about despite being so centrally located.
If you feel in the mood for some culture head down to Sofia History Museum (newly opened museum in the building which used to be a public bath in the past) or the Archeological Museum. Another option (my favourite indeed) is simply to walk around the vibrant area, which features many churches, parks (for example the one in front of The National Theatre and mixture of communist style and European classic style buildings. In case you feel tired from the walk support yourself with another dose of coffee at Fabrika daga and some snacks from Halite (where along with the shopping you can check some excavation works from Roman times as the fellow spotter Boyko suggests).
Day 1: 19:00 – ???
By the time you’re ready to continue your walk it will be probably time for sunset so don’t worry we’ve got you covered with some tips.
Do not miss to get a wonderful vista of Sofia at down from the very hidden spot The Archives cafe – an old canteen style cafe, even its status is not clear, it’s also open for public, be prepared though, you’ll have to pass a security control (open only during the weekdays however) if you get unlucky with the previous one, check the nearby and the more upscale one Pri Orlite.
Sofia is proud of its delicious cuisine and lively nightlife, so you will be spoiled with options to choose from to end this long day. I bet you would like to go for a typical Bulgarian cuisine, so you’ve probably stumbled upon some of the typical Bulgarian restaurants, I hope it doesn’t sound too disappointing but most, if not all of them, are usually a huge tourist trap. The one exception in my opinion is Manastirska Magerniza which with its interior and beautiful garden is a fine example what Bulgarian homes used to look like in the past. However I would suggest to keep this one for tomorrow’s lunch (read why in my article) and get a glimpse of what a typical evening out looks like in one of these: Raketa Rakia bar, Skara bar or Made in Blue. Despite the word bar in the first two, there is also good range of food – Bulgarian classics with a modern twist. The third one is more modern and fusion but also with exceptional quality.
After dinner it’s time to party and because the choice is tough you’d better go bar hopping as the locals usually do – checking some of the iconic places in the city.
Day 2: 09:00 – 14:00
If you have partied till late, you probably won’t start your day too early but for sure you’ll need some strong coffee and good dose of carbs to cure that hangover, hopefully you haven’t participated in any rakia drinking challenges otherwise the you’ll have to bear with the bad consequences for almost the whole day!
Head to Mekitsa & Kafe for another Bulgarian classic – mekitsa popular breakfast dish for which every Bulgarian has sentimental memories from their childhood but also very suitable for a night after drinking as it’s greasy and filling.
After the first day you are probably familiar with the highlights of the city center so my suggestion is to make use of the proximity of the city to the many chilling spots reachable just within an hour. If you feel like hiking you can check one of the walking paths in Vitosha mountain which my fellow spotter Simo recommends or go to Pancharevo lake, where you can hire a paddle boat or just walk around the lake. An option for those of you who don’t fancy that much walking but still want to enjoy a day outdoors I would recommend checking out Kambanite – this is a monument built during communist time consisting of bells representing different countries to celebrate World Children Initiative by UNESCO.
Day 2: 14:00 – 19:00
If you haven’t decided to make a picnic while in one of the beautiful spots recommended above, I would advise you to go for a long relaxing lunch either in Manastirska Magerniza, where you can easily go back in time or in Mehana Lozenets with a bit more modern setting but with equally good traditional food. While Bulgarian cuisine is almost always meat based, the city caters well for vegetarians and vegans too. Though I’m not vegetarian one of my favourite spots for lunch is Sun & Moon, which also offers the best chocolate fudge I’ve ever tried, definitely something you don’t want to miss. And speaking about cakes, if you are fan of cheesecake and you’ve reserved some space for dessert you should definitely walk your way to the best pastry shop Villa Rosiche. Life traveling can be tough, I know! Walking, exploring, eating and drinking, some shopping and then repeating all that again….
Once you’ve filled your belly well, you realize that probably you haven’t done any shopping yet, and we all know how demanding can be friends and families when it comes to souvenirs. That’s why we are going to head towards the area called The little five corners which boasts with small artistic shops and galleries selling handmade crafts. Gallery Lale has a huge selection of unique ceramics and jewelry to choose from, while Zona Urbana offers bags and wallets from recycled newspapers. The later is situated on Angel Kanchev street which deserves a walk for sure as it features many nice and cozy spots.
Day 2: 19:00 – ???
I dare to say that the drink-in-the-park culture is very strong in Sofia so people here hardly wait for temperatures to get higher so they can enjoy a relaxing evening after work drinking beer with friends.
So as the sun is going down again, do what Sofians do and grab a beer from any shop and head towards one of the many parks. However if you are a beer snob – as I tend to be sometimes – check what’s on offer in Vitamin B or Kanaal. Both are offering a huge, sometimes also limited collections of craft beers. Bonus point is that you can choose either to take out your drink or drink at the spot, always handy in case of crappy weather.
After one-two-three beers I believe you’re getting a bit hungry, so I can’t think of a better addition to the beers except a juicy gourmet burger. Obviously the burger trend going all over Europe hasn’t passed Sofia, and places competing to offer the best one in the city are rising – the winner here is Skaptoburger which carries the title King of Burgers 2016.
If burgers are not your thing or you are in a mood for a more cozy and romantic dinner, go to the not far away Italian Bistro Pesto. This is a very tiny place but with a huge heart, it offers Italian paninis and pasta prepared with ingredients on your request. Once you enter inside your senses will be blown away by the smells of homemade food made fresh right in front of you.
After dinner if you feel like another drink in a quiet setting hop to one of the spots that fellow spotter Boyko recommends – A:part:mental, I must say that I agree with him and my feelings for this place are also mixed I can’t deny it’s worth a check as all the friends I’ve taken there were impressed.
Unfortunately our trip is coming to its end and it’s time for farewell… I hope you’ve enjoyed the time spent in my city and hope to see you again soon!