Sofia is a beautiful city, full of parks, churches and spas. Located at the foot of Vitosha Mountain, it’s not hard to escape the hustle & bustle of city life and find a place to relax. I have just returned from a weekend there and was pleasantly surprised by the warm climate and friendly manner of the Bulgarians. I’ve put together a list of things to see and do whilst you’re there.
Free Sofia Walking Tour – I love a free walking tour and the Sofia one was no exception. It lasted about 2.5 hours, runs twice daily (11am and 6pm) and takes place 365 days a year (yes, they even do tours on Christmas day). I won’t ruin the highlights of the tour for you, but the guides are knowledgeable and the walk is pleasant. Definitely worth doing!
Take a day trip to Rila. The most famous site here is Rila Monastery (I’m going to do a separate article on this – it’s absolutely stunning!!) but there are other things to do here too. There are some pretty spectacular walks to take (tip: don’t wear heels and a dress for the hike like I did – oops), some cute craft stalls at which to part with your pennies and the beautiful, well-hidden cave of St Ivan of Rila .
Drink from the fountains. There are fountains dotted around the city, providing fresh cool water which is an ideal thirst quencher when the midday sun beats down. Although the smell leaves a lot to be desired, the taste is mild yet sweet and definitely worth a try.
Follow the yellow brick road. Most of the important buildings in Sofia are connected via the yellow brick road. The origin of the bricks remains disputed but many Bulgarians still say they were a wedding present to Ferdinand I. Although for tourists they are novel, for the locals they become an annoying slip hazard when rain falls. Despite this, they are a national heritage and it’s always fun to skip along a street singing songs from “The Wizard of Oz”…..
When you’re not looking down at the cobbled streets look up and you’ll spot Lions all around the city. The Lion is the national animal of Bulgaria, with the country’s coat of arms being composed of two lions protecting a red coat of arms. There are some obvious statues you can spot, namely the two outside the Palace of Justice and the ones guarding “Lions’s Bridge”, but there are also ones hidden in various buildings around the city.
Explore the many craft and vintage stalls. There are plenty around, but I can recommend the ones by Alexander Nevski Cathedral.
Actively discover the history. The underground walkways have Roman ruins displayed for all to see and are worth searching out. Also, one of my favorite parts of the city was St George’s Rotunda (pictured bottom left). This beautiful church stands several metres under surface level and was an absolute delight to stumble across.
Try Rakia, the National drink of Bulgaria, if you dare. Typically, the alcohol volume is 50% but can be as high as 80%! This plum-flavoured brandy is usually only drunk by the Bulgarians with a salad, as they claim this helps soak up the alcohol. Although it’s a strong one, the positive is that you’d only need a few glasses for pre-drinks.
Look out for the cats and dogs. The country is teeming with wild, friendly cats and dogs. It’s too hard to walk past them without giving them a quick pet.
Go to the Ivan Vazov National Theatre and try to spot what got a renovation worker fired. (tip it’s painted gold and you’ll find it in the top triangle of the building).
Talk to the locals. The majority of them speak fluent English and they are such a friendly, helpful bunch.
Drink rose water or try rose- flavoured sweets. The Rose is the National Flower and there are many shops dedicated to selling rose-flavoured ointments, food and drinks.
Go in one of the many beautiful churches, synagogues, cathedrals or mosques in the city. There are religious buildings aplenty and each has their own unique charm. I took so many photographs of them, but I recommend you go and explore their beauty on your own. Sometimes a photo just doesn’t do a place justice.
Try the local cuisine. The food is hearty and cheap, and although I’m a fussy person I’ve found that you can’t really go wrong when selecting something from the menu. Sausage and potatoes are common in the dishes and below are two photos of Bulgarian dishes my companions and I have eaten.
Stop and take in the scenery at one of the many beautifully-manicured parks. I managed to grab half an hour between sightseeing to read a book in the park. It was so tranquil to just stop and relax.
If you get a chance then go explore Vitosha Mountain. The views are breathtaking and there is a dense network of paths you can take. It’s a perfect respite from the city (if the above recommendations tire you out too much).
Have you been to Sofia? Can you think of anything else worth seeing or doing? I’d love to hear from you …