What with its sharply contrasting architecture, graffiti filled walls, and winding streets, Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, is a sight like no other. Once you set foot into this urban bohemia, you will instantly fall head over heels for the place. Gaze just above the skyline and the area is surrounded by awe-inspiring mounts; but look right ahead of you and there’s still a whole lot to see and do here.
Get Around the City With Ease
If you’re an Uber-addict, you’re in for a shock. The car-sharing service simply does not exist in the city of Sofia. You read that right — you won’t be ordering cabs at the touch of a button while you’re here.
Never fear, though, as there are plenty of cheap and easy ways that you can get around town. Adorning every main street in the center of the city are a whole host of bright yellow cabs. A short trip in these local cars will set you back no more than five leva (around $2.50), making them an extremely economical option.
During the day, the metro is also a reasonable way to get around town. It costs just 1.60 leva (less than a dollar) for a one-way trip. The service runs the entire way through the city center and is frequent enough. What’s more, it’s not exactly the largest city in the world, and so you can likely walk anywhere you need to go in mere minutes.
Dine at Local BBQ Houses
Carnivores rejoice. Wherever you see the word “skara” written on the menu, you can be sure that the food will be right up your street. The word directly translates as “grill” but is used as shorthand for all kinds of meaty treats. Needless to say, BBQ is a massive deal in Bulgaria, with strong ties to the traditional cuisine of the region.
Once you step through the door at one of these local, affordable eateries, you will be confronted by a world of options. For a small taste of everything, opt for the meshana skara, which is essentially a mixed grill. You’ll get to sample the delights of karnache (a spiced sausage), kyufte (meatballs), and shishche (a meat skewer). You won’t need to pay more than around 10 leva (around $5) for your plate, making this a serious shoestring budget option.
Or Enjoy Some Modern Cuisine
Of course, after you’ve had your fill of all the meaty goodness Bulgaria has to offer, you may well fancy something a little more refined. Luckily for foodies, the city is home to a wealth of notable cafes and restaurants. It’s worth checking out the reviews ahead of your trip; but in the meantime, here’s just one restaurant you have to visit.
Made in Blue, on the unassuming Ulica Yuri Venelin, is a looming and unsurprisingly navy townhouse. It is the pumping heart of the road; you won’t miss it. Inside, the decor is mismatched, quirky, and eclectic — a hipster’s paradise. The attic too is a sight to behold, like something out of a 1980s flick.
But let’s talk about the food. The cuisine here takes inspiration from traditional meals, but with a modern twist. From seasonal salads to richly decadent dishes, such as pulled pork and baked camembert, you’re certain to find something you adore. Each plate costs around 10 to 15 leva again, which means that you’ll nab a fine dining experience for less than $10. Couple that with a large glass of local wine and you’ll be in gastro heaven.
Sights You Have to See
The little known tourist spots of the city are plentiful and you can see many of the highlights simply by strolling around the center. Safe to say, there are many Instagram-able moments as you wander these streets, so make sure that you have your smartphone at the ready.
Both the Theatre of the People and the National Palace of Culture are worth a quick stop-off, if only to gaze at the incredibly intricate architecationalKture. The latter was built in the late 1970s and appears to be a nod to the mode of forgotten eras, while the former is a must-see throwback to ancient times.
The crown in the jewel of the city is certainly Alexander Nevsky Cathedral — an impressive Neo-Byzantine style building in pale turquoise and beige. Tourists can walk around the candle-lit center of the building (though you will want to avoid the overpriced foyer stalls) and take in this place’s Orthodox glory. Should you wish to explore deeper still, you can even head down some cold stone stairs and visit the ancient crypt… if you dare.
Wander Up Angel Kanchev
Should you need some trinkets to take home with you, there’s only one place to go. Ulica Angel Kanchev is brimming with vintage shops, quaint cafes, and antiques places. It’s a fitting place to start your day since the stores here serve freshly baked treats or breads. You can nibble as you walk.
The stores here sell everything a tourist may need — local pottery, upcycled relics, flowers, and even vintage clothing. You should set aside at least half an hour to have a gander at the treasures you may well find here. One of the stand-out stores is Zona Urbana — a place offering revamped, repurposed items, such as bags made of old records and the like. If you’re hoping to take home something truly individual, don’t skip on this area.
Explore the City’s Secret Nightlife
As is the case with many European cities, the nightlife here flows steadily into the wee hours of the morning, with many bars and clubs staying open until 5 or even 6 a.m. Starting early is a rookie mistake; the night starts at 10 p.m. and not a minute earlier. So, where should you frequent while in this area?
There are plenty of options, including the ever-popular shisha rooms, cocktail bars, and rock clubs. Highlights include the high-end Cosmos on Ulica Laveleye, where the unique space-themed drinks will set you back around 10 leva (around $5), and Rock’nRolla, where the drinks are cheaper and the music is far heavier.
Insider tip: Head off the beaten track to the restaurant known as Bar Supa Star on Tsar Shishman on a Friday or Saturday night. Though it may appear closed, a sharp knock on the door means someone will open up. They’ll take you through the darkened restaurant, down the cellar stairs to a secret party. This hidden LGBT-friendly club is intimate, dimly-lit, with exposed piping and a rather odd picture of Bruce Willis adorning the wall. It’s smoky too — that’s legal here. Once inside, you can dance the night away to the beat of retro tunes and glare of disco lights.