Saturday, October 27, 2018

Best tips and recommendations on things you can do in and out of Sofia

Destination: Sofia
Travel Companion: Graham
Duration: 5 days
Budget: 700$ (including flights)


The name "Sofia" came in the 14th century from the temple of Saint Sofia. It holds a lot of history having been under the Byzantine empire for a while, then occupied by the Ottomans and until  recently under the ruling of the Soviet Union. All of these brought different flavors and spices together to create something different on many levels. It created a place that is certainly worth visiting.

Sofia is quite wonderful, it has beautifully decorated restaurants with refreshing outdoor spaces, many large free for all parks, and great value for money. It's the kind of city that will definitely make you want to go back, it's quite low-key and chill, it's not Paris or London or Prague, and it's not Berlin or Antwerp, it simply is a humble city, represented but its modest and friendly residents.


Sofia - Bulgaria

Fun fact, Sofia used to first be referred to as Serdica back when it was a Thracian settlement. Serdica is currently the name of a metro station, where you will find ruins still preserved.

What's amazing about these buildings you see here, is that one of them is a hotel, another is a normal residence building and the third is where the president lives!





Accommodation
It's quite efficient to stay close to old town Sofia. We stayed in Hotel Niky, which was very close to Vitosha avenue, whereas the latter is considered quite central and a popular long pedestrian street full of shops and restaurants. It's a nice location as it's relatively close to all meeting points for the tours you can take. Most of the tours meeting points are close to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which was around 20 minutes from where we are, so that's another good location to stay at.


Sofia - Bulgaria

Transportation
Once you land in Sofia airport, you can grab the metro (m2 line) to the city center, the ticket is around 1$. Of course, check the closest metro station to your hotel as you can probably connect and shorten the walking distance. Taxi is quite cheap as well, we took a 7 minutes ride which cost less than 2$. From the city center Sofia to the airport, it was around 20 lev (equivalent to 13$). You can also download the Taxime app (it functions like Uber).

Sofia - Bulgaria


Places to visit in and out of the city
Plovdiv - more details below, Rila Lakes / Mountains, Vitosha Mountain, different parks and gardens inside the city, Alexander Cathedral, Temple of Sofia, Serdica area to see the old ruins, the Russian Church, Crystal Park, National Palace of Culture and the park in front of it, National Theater and the park in front of it...


Rila Lakes

Outdoor seating of Lavanda Restaurant


Things to do in Sofia
  • Free Bike Tour.
  • Sofia Free Walking Tour, we did this one and it starts twice a day near the Palace of Justice, it was fun and informative, definitely recommended. You can read about our experience here.
  • Free Hiking Tour in Vitosha Mountain
  • Rila Lakes: Traventuria is the option we took with an amazing guide called "Vlasko". You can read about our trip here.
  • Sofia Green Tour website.
  • Rila Lakes and Monestary tour.
  • Plovdiv Day Tour, and more options here.  
  • Pub Crawl, this is the one we did and we really enjoyed it. The tour guides were two young women who were so funny and fun! You can read about my experience here
  • Free Food Tour (the only free one in the world) with Balkan Bites was definitely one of my favorite things during this trip. I quite enjoyed it. I recommend you book in advance to make sure you reserve your spot as it's limited. You can email them on: info@balkanbites.bg. You can read about my experience here
Sofia Free Walking Tour

Our guide offering us this morning pastry treat called "Makitza" for us to try.

Hambara Pub - Sofia

The Apartment - Sofia, Bulgaria

Food & Drinks
  • Pubs
    • Hambara Bar (we only knew about it because of the pub crawl, it's actually kind of illegal to be there, and is on an invite basis only. Totally worth it!)
    • A.part:mental for some very interesting atmosphere. The history of this place is mind blowing, going from being a communist lookout, to a nursing home, and art school. The food is vegan and delicious, and the drinks are interesting, as you get fresh juice with your vodka for example!
  • Restaurants: I am recommending all of these as I tried them and loved each and every one of them. All of them had fresh food, fresh produce, great presentations, very nice atmosphere, quirky decor and best of all super great value for money! Aubergine, Lavanda restaurant, Izbata tavern, Bistrello (my favorite), Victoria, Hadjidraganov for traditional Bulgarian food (this was during our food tour)
  • Local: Rakia, Bulgarian local beer, Bulgarian local wine (super affordable and tasty), local pastry Makitza that goes with morning coffee, sour milk cheese and Airan yogurt (similar to Turkish and Armenian Ayran). Also local produce is so fresh, you must eat their pink tomatoes - mostly in their salads, I really couldn't have enough of that). 
Food tasting at Hadjidragon - Sofia

Those pink tomatoes right!

Plovdiv
We went on a tour to Plovdiv where we had a guide walk us through the old city. It took around 2.5 hours to get there. Once there, for an hour and a half, the guide showed us different spots in the old town, such as museums, the amphitheater, a church, communist art and more. He told us about the history of Plovdiv and Bulgaria, about their religion, and explained the architecture of those buildings. We were then give 2 hours to discover Plovdiv on our own; and by that time it was 1PM already, so we went for lunch which took most of the break time and unfortunately not much time for exploration. Plovdiv is the second biggest city in Bulgaria, with quite an interesting history. I recommend visiting it for sure however probably in a different format. Taking public transport or renting a car might be a better idea as this will allow you to have more time walking around the city on your own. For food, obviously I didn’t have time to try different places, but I would highly recommend Smokini, it has a very nice rooftop seating area and the food was delicious.

Shop in Plovdiv - Bulgaria

Influenced by Thracians, Romans, Byzantines, Slavs and Ottomans. Most of these buildings in the photos are turned into museums, artisanal workshops or galleries.

Top View of Plovdiv - Bulgaria

 
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