The beautiful city of Sofia, not necessarily one you’d pick to visit but it is well worth it.
The currency exchange rate and the cost of things over there means everything is cheap, there is a chunk of culture and slither of history, but realistically you don’t need very long to see much of it. Do make it part of a trip (ours was on the way back from Greece, but the countryside and black beaches in Bulgaria are amazing too) but don’t have high expectations.
National palace of culture: this is where we got off the metro that comes straight from the airport. To say that it’s not really the most sightly of the things on the list to see, a hexagonal mass of concrete and glass, but it was built during the soviet 80s and is for congress, conferences, conventions and exhibitions. Cost: free
(15 minute walk)
Ruins of Ancient Serdica: When you see the signs for the metro station “Serdika II”, head down underneath street level to discover remains of the ancient Roman city that used to be here – Serdica. Take a photo through the transparent ceiling of the Ancient Serdica Complex to capture Independence Square above you, also known as the Sofia Largo. Cost: free.
(5 minute walk)
National Art Gallery: it looks like a palace from the outside, and inside houses some interesting works of art (if art is not your thing but socialism is then check out their socialist art gallery instead of this one). I was started as the People’s Museum of Archaeology in 1892, and have art from Bulgaria’s liberation in 1878 through to the 1990s, which tells a great tale of the Bulgarian History! Cost: 6 BGN (£2.50)
There are a LOT of churches in Sofia. We found them beautiful; it’s something that Eastern Europe seemingly does very well! In fact, we ended up spending quite a long time at the Square of Religious tolerance. If you head to the Saint Nedelya Church, you are at the one corner of the Square of Religious Tolerance – a relatively small area in the centre of Sofia where you will find places of worship of four different religions: a synagogue, an Orthodox church, a Catholic cathedral, and a mosque. We went into them all, getting talks from locals in all of them too. Some of them you have to pay a donation to get in to, but it’s never much, and totally worth it for the experiences. Cost: free-10BGN (£4.50)
(3 minute walk)
If you fancy a museum, one that we can recommend is the Sofia History Museum where you can learn more about both the city and the country, and see some great things like the king’s coach! Cost: 6BGN (£2.50)
(15 minute walk)
Another church that you have to see is the St Alexander Nevski Cathedral, it is magnificent, architecturally, and on the inside and has some interesting stories behind its history, being a church, then a mosque and then a church again! It’s free to get in, but a word of advice, the sneaky priests will charge you to take photos in there or stand there and make you delete them!
A great bar to hear to on a warm evening, is Maymunarnika set in the middle of a park, and adored by locals. The atmosphere is fantastic and they often have DJs or concerts on too! It’s also very reasonably priced, as it is frequented by locals, not yet all the tourists that use Sofia as a stopover.
Food and drink:
We didn’t have enough time to do much eating and drinking but the two very reasonably priced places we can recommend will offer you either traditional Bulgarian greatness or a cosmic space race themed restaurant and cocktail bar!
Chevermeto (Чевермето) if you want to try authentic Bulgarian cuisine, it’s homely, busy and well, Bulgarian!
Pakema (Raketa Rakia Bar) . Leaning heavily on Bulgaria’s Soviet past for both food and decor, Pakema is an awesome themed bar and restaurant that offers well-cooked homely meals and brilliant cocktails. The menu is really mixed, almost like Michelin star home food with a 1970s Soviet twist!
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