Howdy fellow travellers! Alexx right here from Discovering Alexx. I’m on a year-long solo journey to a brand new nation each week for a yr, with my route based mostly solely off the most cost effective flight every Tuesday. Yep, it’s as hectic because it sounds! This insane journey took me to Sofia, a beautiful hidden gem within the Balkans and the capital metropolis of Bulgaria. Right here’s all you should know in case you’re contemplating a visit to Sofia, from what to do, the place to sleep to tips on how to get round and extra.
The place to remain in Sofia
Let’s kick this off with some excellent news… Sofia is the perfect spot in case you’re on a finances! There are many low-cost hostels in Sofia with dorm beds for lower than $13 an evening, or you may get a budget-friendly lodge room from about $32 an evening.
Usually I’m a giant advocate for lodging with full kitchen services so it can save you cash on meals, however meals in Sofia is so low-cost (and good!) that there’s actually no must prepare dinner your personal meals.
Some nice choices for locations to remain in Sofia are Generaator Hostel, Peter Pan Hostel, 5 Classic Visitor Home and the aptly-named Resort Low-cost.
Learn how to get round Sofia
For those who’re staying within the metropolis centre and also you don’t thoughts getting your steps up, you’ll in all probability have the ability to see town fairly simply by foot. Numerous the primary sights are inside strolling distance, and wandering aimlessly across the metropolis was how I discovered a great deal of my prime meals suggestions!
For those who desire to get someplace faster (and possibly drier), there are trams, buses and the metro. A single experience is 1.60BGN (about 90 cents) or a day go with limitless journey is 4BGN (about $2).
There’s no Uber in Sofia, however there’s a nice native taxi app that does the identical factor, referred to as TaxiMe. You possibly can enroll along with your UK quantity, add in your bank card and hail a experience via the app identical to you’ll wherever else.
To get to and from the airport simply and comparatively cheaply, I’d advocate getting a taxi from the airport taxi stand. Just one firm is authorised to offer taxi providers on the airport and so they’ve acquired customary fare charges, so observe the indicators to the official taxi space and also you’ll be taken care of. To get into town centre it’s best to pay about 15-20BGN ($8-$12).
On an excellent tight finances? You will get the metro from Terminal 2 on the airport to Serdika station for 1.60BGN (money solely so that you’ll want to make use of an ATM on the airport), then switch to a bus, tram or different metro to get nearer to your lodge.
How a lot to finances for Sofia
Yay for reasonable locations! Very like my week in Warsaw, Sofia was an actual deal with for my pockets.
For those who’re searching for a problem, Sofia is definitely doable to expertise from solely $15-$20 per day. This might cowl low-cost hostel lodging ($9-$13) and grocery store or bakery meals (as much as $7). You possibly can see a great deal of the attractive buildings at no cost, and with a little bit of Googling you would self-guide a metropolis tour to study concerning the metropolis’s communist historical past.
So as to add in a pleasant native meal ($6-$10), a drink ($3) and the donation for a free strolling tour ($6), I’d advocate budgeting round $40 a day.
You will get freshly baked goodies from native bakeries for lower than 1BGN (about 65 cents), respectable sandwiches or salads for lunch from 4-8BGN ($1.95-$4.50) or barely fancier sit-down dinners from 12-20BGN ($6.50-$12). A neighborhood beer will price something from 2BGN to 6BGN relying on the place you might be ($1.30-$4).
One of the best issues to do in Sofia
Regardless of it not being as well-known as different Japanese European sizzling spots like Prague and Budapest, town has quite a bit going for it and there’s limitless issues to do in Sofia it doesn’t matter what you’re into.
Acquire some perception into Bulgaria’s rocky previous, store for second-hand goodies at flea markets, eat your coronary heart out at a few of my favorite cafés from all my travels, or escape the city jungle and head out to discover one other close by metropolis. Right here’s 5 of the perfect issues to do in your Sofia journey.
1. Study communist historical past
Bulgaria’s political previous is one thing that’s nonetheless woven all through town, with large headquarters, structure, museums and statues representing the communist period from 1946 to 1989.
Whether or not you’re a complete beginner to communist historical past or all clued up and need to see how if affected Bulgaria particularly, there’s a few locations and excursions so as to add to your Sofia communism class.
Coming from New Zealand, the place communism’s by no means touched wherever close to our little nook of the world and the place I opted for maths and science lessons over historical past, geography and politics (nerd, I do know), my data of Japanese Europe’s communist regimes was restricted.
First up is the Free Sofia strolling tour, which runs three or 4 occasions a day (relying on the season) and is tip-based. Your native tour information will take you round 20 of Sofia’s must-see spots, and also you’ll get an honest overview of the historical past and politics of town, in addition to a neighborhood’s recommendations on issues to do, eat and see.
Free Sofia additionally has a each day communism tour for under $11, which supplies you a three-hour in-depth stroll via of town’s communist landmarks in addition to an perception into what Sofia was prefer to dwell in throughout these 43 years.
Need extra? Contemplate visiting the Nationwide Historic Museum or the Museum of Socialist Artwork, which is dwelling to the large pink star that sat on prime of the communist get together’s headquarters earlier than being overthrown within the late 80’s.
2. See town’s most stunning spiritual buildings
Whereas the dominant faith in Bulgaria by far is Bulgarian Orthodox (at about 60%), there are some merely beautiful church buildings, mosques, cathedrals and monasteries within the capital metropolis.
Begin off with probably the most epic constructing within the metropolis, and one of many coolest buildings I’ve ever seen, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This critically spectacular Orthodox church was began in 1882 however not completed till 30 years later, and it’s probably the most iconic landmarks in Bulgaria’s capital metropolis, with a 45m excessive gold-plated dome and inside product of onyx, marble and different ultra-fancy supplies.
Different Orthodox church buildings which might be price a go to are St Nicholas Church (a Russian Orthodox church), the Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church, and Sveta Nedelya Church, which has a dramatic historical past together with a funeral bombing in 1925 by the Communist Occasion the place over 500 of Bulgaria’s elite political figures had been injured and 150 had been killed.
After Japanese Orthodox, the subsequent most typical faith is Islam, with as much as 15% of the inhabitants figuring out as Muslim. Bulgaria was below Ottoman rule for nearly 500 years, from the late 1300s till the Russian Empire took on the Ottoman Empire in 1878, however after being liberated due to Russia’s victory after which declaring independence in 1908, many buildings from this period had been repurposed or destroyed. The 16th century Banya Bashi Mosque is the one functioning mosque left in Sofia, and as such it’s a bustling hub for town’s Muslim group.
Historic historical past followers will need to make a cease at Sveti Georgi, a 4th-century Christian church constructed by the Romans within the historic metropolis of Serdica. It’s the oldest constructing within the metropolis, and it’s dwelling to some beautiful frescoes courting again to the 10th century.
3. Devour all a budget meals
I’m a giant proponent for cooking your personal meals whereas travelling to stay inside a good finances, and normally enable myself a little bit of spending cash every week for a meal or two out. Buttttt in Sofia, I ate out each single meal of the entire week. Sure, I mentioned each single meal!
The native meals scene isn’t solely low-cost, but it surely’s truly critically spectacular too. From bakeries the place you may get 4 pastries or savouries for the equal of €1, to Instagrammable brunch spots with subsequent degree dishes, to conventional eating places serving up home-style dishes, I might return in a second actually only for the meals.
There’s certain to be an eatery in Sofia excellent for no matter kind of meals tickles your fancy, however listed here are a few of my favourites.
Bistro Pesto was my primary, and I’m not ashamed to say I had lunch there 4 days in a row! They’re an excellent cute nook restaurant near the primary procuring boulevard, and so they serve Italian meals all day and night time. Their panini menu is wonderful; genuine Italian substances and a Bulgarian price ticket. Win win!
For those who’re searching for a cool meals photograph (no judgement right here), take a look at the brunch menu at Rainbow Manufacturing unit or Boho. I didn’t make it to Rainbow Manufacturing unit however my hostel mates raved about it, and I can personally vouch for the Oreo pancake stack at Boho. Mmmmhmmmm.
And for a cheap however scrumptious sit-down dinner, you should definitely go to the legends at Shtastlivetsa, a series restaurant with a HUGE menu of home-cooked meals. Costs are understandably a bit greater than the native avenue meals stalls, however the service is unbelievable, the meals are huge and there are many hearty Bulgarian dishes to select from.
4. Head into the mountains
Sofia’s panorama is uncommon when it comes to European capital cities, as a result of there’s a mountain vary so near town centre. The underside of Vitosha Mountain is just 10kms or so from town, and it’s simply reachable by taxi, public transport, or strolling if you wish to make a day of it.
In summer time Vitosha is a well-liked climbing vacation spot, the place city-dwellers escape to on weekends to get some recent air. The best peak is 2290m however there’s additionally hikes across the backside half of the mountain to totally different rivers and waterfalls.
Throughout winter, the mountain is a ski resort, excellent for any snow bunnies on a finances. Though it’s considerably less-developed than different European ski locations like Switzerland and France, your day go and rental shall be less expensive and your cash will go approach additional.
In addition to being an adrenaline exercise sizzling spot, Vitosha is dwelling to a different Sofia must-see and a UNESCO World Heritage Website, Boyana Church. Boyana is an Orthodox church from the 11th century and is known for the numerous frescoes it homes, significantly a set from approach again in 1259.
5. Take a day journey
There’s some fairly unbelievable locations to see and expertise exterior of Sofia itself, so in case you’ve acquired the time, I’d advocate attempting to squeeze in a day journey or two!
My prime decide for a day journey from Sofia is Plovdiv, one other Bulgarian metropolis and one of many two 2019 European Capitals of Tradition. Plovdiv is a few hours away from Sofia by bus, and tickets price about £6 every approach. When you’re within the metropolis I’d advocate leaping on a free strolling tour, run by the identical organisation who run the Sofia tour. They’ve acquired a metropolis tour each day year-round in addition to a free graffiti tour each day from October to April. And if you wish to discover your self, don’t miss the distinctive colored homes that line the streets within the previous city, it’s totally different to each different European previous city I’ve seen!
Fancy a piece out? There’s no higher place in Bulgaria to get shifting than within the Seven Rila Lakes space. Seven Rila Lakes is, you guessed it, dwelling to seven glacial lakes within the Rila mountain vary, and all are between 2100m and 2500m of altitude. It’s doable but it surely’s robust to get there on public transport so it’s greatest to rent a automotive and drive (1.5-2 hours), or to guide an organised day tour or shuttle bus. Bonus tip: Don’t miss Rila Monastery, a 10th-century Japanese Orthodox monastery and the biggest within the nation. Effectively price a go to!
And there you’ve gotten it, a full journey information for Sofia and past to your Bulgarian journey! E-book your flight to Sofia now with STA Journey. If you wish to observe extra of my adventures yow will discover me on Instagram.