We’ve just come back from Sofia and I am very happy about having visited this city. We had read quite a few bad reviews about the capital of Bulgaria, and heard from some friends of ours that there was nothing to see there and that it wasn’t worth visiting.
Since we had to go there anyway (to attend a conference – “WordCamp Europe 2014”), we decided to ignore what people had said and just enjoy the place as much as we could, making the most out of it.
Sofia is great! Of course you won’t find it to be as beautiful as other capitals of European countries, but it has its own charm and it’s fun to be there.
We spent a week in this city, staying at an Airbnb apartment in the very centre. We were freezing under the rain, enjoying sunny days, clubbing, eating out at traditional restaurants, shopping, meeting cool people, visiting numerous churches, observing Soviet building and monuments. Although we didn’t manage to visit all the touristic attractions, we still got a good feel of the city.
Now I would like to summarise our experience in order to help you obtain some useful information about this place.
Sofia is the largest city in Bulgaria with a population of 1.4 million people. It is located at the foot of the Vitosha Mountain. This old city’s history dates back to around the 4th century BC. The look of the city is very different depending on the area. Sometimes I felt that I was in Russia, other time it reminded me of Istanbul. The city’s new districts look like any other modern place in the world.
I heard a lot about how Bulgarians are not the most friendly people, with an unapproachable air that would push you away from having a conversation with them.
This is not true! All the people we met, from taxi drivers to the professionals that organised the conference we attended, were very sweet and friendly people.
Of course, like anywhere in the world, it’s totally normal to meet one or two angry looking persons who don’t want to help with directions or just woke up in a bad mood and don’t care about you or your problem. You just have to see with whom it’s reasonable to start a conversation.
The staff in all the restaurants we visited was very friendly; shop sellers were affable. We bought some vegetables from the street market and although the guys didn’t speak English, we still had a decent conversation in a mixture of Russian and English. The taxi driver who took us home from the airport was so kind that he even shared 3 huge delicious tomatoes from his garden with us (we were hungry and tried to buy some food at 1:30 am). We were super grateful for this and enjoyed his delicious tomatoes for a few days!
Bulgarian is similar to Russian, so expect to see things written in Cyrillic. It wasn’t a problem for us, but I can imagine how confusing it can be for English speaking people.
The good news is that most restaurants have menus in English and many people do speak the language, mostly the younger ones though. The older generation might not be as fluent, however will still be able to tell you: “Hi, thanks, bye”.
The national currency of Bulgaria is Lev (plural: leva) which consists of 100 stotinki (singular: stotinka). It was almost half as much as euro (1 euro=1.95 lev), so it was very easy to calculate the cost of products.
Everywhere in Sofia (except for hotels) you will have to pay in Leva. You can find an exchange offices or a banks anywhere in the city. There are also plenty of ATMs.
When arriving in Sofia, just exchange a few leva for a taxi at the airport and change the rest in the city centre. One note of caution if you are travelling at night – the exchange office at the airport could be closed. In this case, you can ask the taxi driver to stop at any exchange office on the way to your hotel/apartment – it won’t be a problem. Besides, the rate in the centre is much better than at the airport.
Bulgarian food is delicious. I really enjoyed it, mostly of course because it’s so similar to Russian food and I miss it a lot. But even so, I am sure that any person will find Bulgarian food tasty.
There are a lot of really nice restaurants in Sofia where you can try local food. We were really surprised by the quality of these restaurants: the food, service and overall design of the restaurants were so good!
By the way the tap water is safe to drink.
I recommend you go to a vegetable market at least once. The veggies and fruit there are really good. My favourite are tomatoes. Huge, meaty and juicy, with real tomato taste. I have only eaten such tomatoes from my grandma’s garden when I was a child. Prices at the markets are very affordable. There is no need to bargain, all prices are fixed.
Restaurants we liked in Sofia
One of our favourite restaurants in Sofia. They serve various dishes from Bulgarian and Italian cuisines. Here you can find healthy delicious shakes and smoothies, desserts and hot drinks.
Here you can try delicious vegetarian food and buy some fresh bread from the local bakery.
This bar has very interesting Soviet style decor. The dishes are yummy and the ambience is fun.
This restaurant looks more like a diner. They serve local food that tastes like homemade meals. Prices here are cheaper than in other fancier restaurants.
This is one of the most renowned restaurants in the city centre. The interior is very chic. The prices are higher than of the restaurants mentioned above.
The public transport in Sofia works pretty well. There are buses, trains and a subway system. One ticket for any kind of public transport costs 1 lev. You have to punch it as soon as you enter.
The taxi is a very popular mode of transport in Sofia as it’s pretty cheap. To get from one place to another it cost us 3-4, sometimes 5 leva. Considering that we were always 3 people, it was more lucrative for us to use a taxi than public transport. The average price for a taxi ride from the airport to the city centre is about 20 leva.
We stayed at a very nice apartment, in the very centre of Sofia. It was a modern two bedroom, spacious, fully equipped apartment, which cost us around 40 euro per night.
We were very surprised with the wide range of choices as there are quite a number of really good apartments at a very affordable price out there. Most come with high speed WiFi.
Tip: Electricity in Bulgaria is 220V, 50HzAC, standard round two-pin power outlet.
Places We’ve Seen and Recommend
There you go! I hope this post was helpful and that you got some useful information about Sofia. If you are thinking about travelling to some other places from Sofia, I’ve heard that Plovdiv is a very beautiful old town that is definitely worth a visit.
Find more about Sofia in this really good blog post written by a travelling couple whom I was lucky to meet at TBEX a couple of years ago.