Likes & Dislikes

Opinions

 “Sofia was a really pleasant surprise for me, and I think it’s a perfect destination for a weekend or a long weekend trip. It has interesting sights, but not too many, so you don’t leave feeling disappointed that you didn’t see them all (I mean that in a positive sense – not that it’s boring, but you don’t have to rush around in the way you would if you wanted to see the sights of, say, London in two days).

Every evening at 6pm there are free walking tours of the city, led by young Bulgarians, and these allow you to see practically all the interesting sights in just a few hours. You can also get some interesting local knowledge you won’t find in the guidebooks, so it’s a worthwhile experience if you like this kind of guided tour.

When it comes to the sights themselves, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral alone made the trip worthwhile for me, but besides that what really drew me in, and the reason why I personally would highly recommend the city, was the incredibly relaxed, friendly atmosphere I felt in Sofia. I’m not even sure what big city I’d compare it to – perhaps Berlin? I felt as though, ok, it doesn’t have the romance of Venice or Paris or Amsterdam, and strikes the visitor as a much more ‘industrial’ city, but that youthful, relaxed, open atmosphere is so captivating that I haven’t met anyone who isn’t charmed by it. That, more or less, is my impression of Sofia.

Parks, sunsets, everyone out of doors, cozy bars and restaurants, funny street art, and a host of tiny gems. It’s a very walkable city, with a fantastic atmosphere that makes it a pleasure to just hang out. I particularly recommend the Sredets district, which has a lot of super cute spots. My top discovery was a great little restaurant called Made in Blue, with an all-blue terrace.

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“We spent two days in Sofia. In Sofia, the subway extends to the airport ... but only to Terminal 2. Budget flights arrive at Terminal 1. Bulgaria is not a Schengen country, so there is a passport/identity check, which can be a bit time-consuming.
From Terminal 1, the free shuttle bus takes five or six minutes to bring you to Terminal 2 (where the subway terminus is). The free shuttle bus runs every 15 minutes from 07:00 to 19:00, and every 30 minutes at other times.
The metro ticket costs 1.6 levs and can be purchased from the vending machines with cash or by card. The subway has a gate system, and we never saw a ticket inspector. By metro, it takes 15-20 minutes to reach the city center (Serdica stop - where you can transfer to the other metro line).

The center of Sofia is quite small, and the sights are all concentrated here. That's why you should go on one for a free tour that takes you around all of them. (https://freesofiatour.com/) The tour lasts 2-2.5 hours, the tour guides are pleasant and speak English very well, so it’s a really interesting and informative way to spend an afternoon.

You can visit the churches of all the various denominations for free. Sofia has the second largest Orthodox church in the Balkans: the Aleksandar Nevski Cathedral. It's worth taking a look inside since it's free, but it costs 10 levs to take photographs (although I don't know who checks, or how.: D).

It is also worth checking out some local restaurants since the food is cheap and delicious. Also, the waiters are very friendly and know English! (The restaurants we went to were the Happy Bar & Grill, The Hajidragana Tavern, and Godzilla)

Above the town rises beautiful Mount Vitosha (more than 2000m high), which unfortunately we couldn’t get to due to lack of time. It is a popular excursion destination, and if you have the time, don’t miss it!

You can pay with a card almost anywhere, so it’s not worth changing a lot of cash.
Sofia was a really pleasant surprise for us. It’s an undiscovered, small, historic city within the EU. Cheap, not crowded, rich in history, and completely safe, with delicious food and nice locals. I can only recommend it to everyone! (l.l., 2020)

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“In this city, the Balkan atmosphere immediately captures the heard. I think Bulgarian probably has the most smokers per capita in Europe, and every minute someone coughs or hacks. Here you’ll find the gloomiest faces on the subway, and I’ve never seen so many bearded (or at least mustachioed) ladies in one place before.

Sofia is not a fashion capital, and going out in a T-shirt and beach flip-flops is completely normal. I have to mention that in my experience, people aren’t the friendliest or most helpful here, and you really do have to pay attention to the opposite meanings of shaking and nodding your head. My favorites were the information desks at the train stations, where, with one or two exceptions, they look at you like something dubious they just stepped in.” (2017)





Practicals

Transport

Taxi

The Sofia taxi driver is a unique breed. With 1-2 exceptions they all smoke and don’t even open the window, whether the passenger is in the front seat or the back seat. There are some more cultured people who do roll down the window, without regard for the freezing temperatures outside. They mostly don’t speak English, or if they do, they picked it up on the street – this was what the kind man who had been my driver to Sofia Airport for about 25 minutes told me.

For some reason, communism may have played a very important role in his life, for on the way to the airport he recounted the former (communist) and the new names of all the streets, then the former (communist) and new names of all the parks. He then detailed what cars could and could not be bought under communism. All this with English picked up from the street and spiced up with a bit of Bulgarian gypsy slang in some places. When I got out, burying his head in his hands, all he said was, ‘Fuck Communism, Fuck!’

3. In Sofia taxis, the heating is usually on at max. Our driver sits in a T-shirt and cranks out the heat. The warm, stale cigarette-smelling stench is most often mingled with the smell emanating from some 20th-century air freshener. I question its functionality - the functionality of the air freshener - as it does not suppress the smell, but it makes you want to vomit after having just consumed a few glasses of cheerful Burgas 63.

4. I think the number of potholes per capita in Sofia is the highest in the world.

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“Somehow everything moves slowly. With the trolleybus and the tram, this is mostly due to the poor infrastructure. This can also be shown by the fact that, wherever the track or overhead cable is in good condition, they can reach up to 50km/h. The buses, on the other hand, go incomprehensibly slowly. It’s doing well if it makes it past 30, then coasts and rattles along to the next traffic light or stop. Departing from a stop at the top of an overpass, the driver doesn’t even touch the gas – the bus just rolls down to the intersection at the bottom. Using momentum. Considering this, my first thought was for the timetable, but then I came to the conclusion that drivers’ pay might also be tied somehow to fuel savings – to the detriment of passengers and travel time. Both the oldest and the newest vehicles in the fleet operate in precisely the same way.” (2017)



Sofia - tram in front of the Sofia Court House - k-t.g.

Sofia - tramway - s.i. photo

Sofia - taxi cars and the new tram - s.i. photo (2021)

Food

Three-course meal for 2 people in a mid-range restaurant: 32 USD

Shopping

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Sofia - Flea market - Together, Nazi and Communist badges and orders of merit - m.m. photo

Fun

"This city, where they shake their heads to say yes and nod to say no, contains a huge number of amazing places. We were in a party hostel, in a smoking Irish pub on the second floor of an apartment built here during the communist era, in a kind of scary little bar with no seats but with a red curtain, in a wild sultan disco place with a golden throne, and in a punk-rock bar with a spiral staircase: places that don’t have an official website and can only be known through enthusiastic rumors or online exchanges. So, if you get lost in the Bulgarian capital, don’t be fooled by first impressions: Sofia’s socialist, dilapidated buildings hide countless crazy places, and the distance from its grey streets to the best parties is just one bold step – while its dour, standoffish residents become much more open and friendly in such hidden pubs once you get to know them, and through them the rhythm of Bulgarian life.

Sofia - selfie by including this ruined house - s.i. photo

Public safety

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Sofia - St George the dragon-slayer protects against dragons that are dangerous to tourists - s.i. photo

Others

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Sofia - mural - s.i. photo

Background

Destination in brief

Population (in 2020): 1.2 million

Average net monthly salary (in 2020): 820 USD (Bulgarian average: 630 USD)

History

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Sofia - Nezavisimost (Independence) Square - the architectural ensemble was built in the 1950s - k-t.g. photo

Attractions

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