Bulgaria – Sofia
Our Bulgaria adventure was only short lived. This post is about Sofia only as we could not squeeze any extra time into our already over crammed schedule for the likes of Veliko, Varna and Burgas.
When we arrived in Sofia our first impression wasn’t flash. Perhaps it was the rainy night we arrived in, or perhaps it was the two masculine transvestite prostitutes who were coincidentally walking in the same direction as us for a few blocks. Ex-communist, run down and just a bit rough around the edges, it’s fair to say Sofia didn’t smack with poetry on arrival. But hey, what’s a first impression worth anyway. The longer we stayed around the more we came to understand the special qualities that make people love Sofia. Unlike many European cities Sofia has no ‘Old Town’, which separates the tourists from the ‘real’ city. So as we walked through alleyways and side streets exploring outside the main tourist/restaurant strip the more quirk and colour we found in what turned out to be a very nice city filled with an arty character, coffee shops and plenty of lush parks.
Our Journey into Sophia began in Bucharest (Romania) – There are a few options if you want to take this route.
- We decided on the 22GBP train journey. The downside is the 9hours in which the train takes. Lucky we have this blog to write which helps to pass the time! We decided on this option as although more expensive and slightly slower was largely hassle free and more comfortable of a journey.
- The next and faster/slightly cheaper option is to take a bus from Bucharest outside the main train station for 1hr 30min to Giurgiu a small town on the Romanian side of the boarder. You will then need to walk across the Danube bridge (apparently totally normal) and arrive on the Bulgarian side of the border in a town called Ruse. Boarder patrols will check your passport on the way through. From the Ruse Central Station you would then take a 5hour train to Sophia. The walk from Giurgiu bus terminal to Ruse Central Station is just over 10km. If you cross the bridge then you can catch the local bus number 11 to the train station cutting down your walking time. This would take approx 7.5hours total journey depending on walk/bus and costs roughly 12-15GBP
Alternatively if you land at Sophia Airport, take the bus No. 84 to the city centre. You can buy the tickets from a newspaper kiosk in the departure terminal or buy the tickets on the bus (bus driver sometimes do not have enough tickets). The tickets cost 1.00 Lev. Make sure you validate your ticket on the bus.
Hostel Mostel = 5GBP/night
We slept in the 18bed mixed dorm room. It is a converted attic with low lying beds and a very low ceiling… The lump on my head is slowly disappearing. The beds are all pretty close to each other but the air-conditioning managed to keep the air fresh. As with any large dorm room, the more people, the more likely you are of getting a snorer or two.
The hostel has a cool communal/dining area with Bed Island, couches and a pool table. All you can eat breakfast and a vegetarian dinner can be added for 3.50Euro
Tip – BYO earplugs!
Coffee – Down the side streets, around and behind the main strips hidden coffee shops are home to delicious artisan coffee. Go find Chucky’s for a delicious and dirt cheap Latte or pot of Americano in a quirky little shop.
Cheeses – Bulgarians seem proud of their goat cheese and its used as a side in almost every meal we ate. Waffles and goats cheese, Salad and cheese, meat and cheese, cheese with cheese – did someone say cheese?
Salads – It’s common for salads to be eaten as an entrée but there are a few different options.
- Shopska Salad, standard lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber salad with a yum salty goat cheese called ‘sirene’.
- Chushki Salad, a mix of roasted capsicum/peppers with garlic and oil.
- Kyopoulu Salad, Roasted aubergines blended with skinned peppers, garlic, parsley and splashed with oil.
Stuffed Peppers known as Chushki byurek – This starter is heavy enough to be the main event. Delicious deep fried pepper crammed full of herbs and cheese. This was my favourite meal. The sweet pepper and salty cheese combines deliciously well.
Grilled meats – The mains are usually hearty portions of grilled pork or chicken. Cooked over coals and sometimes as shish kebab style. Beef is available but less common and form what we heard rarely on a local’s plate.
Manastriska Magernitsa. Beautiful and authentic this place serves up fantastic Bulgarian cuisine. Make sure to add this to your list.
Must see & do
- Back on the walking tour buzz with Sofia. Its not a huge city but has plenty of interesting history to be learned from the tours. Plus you are taken to all the main attractions – most of which are buildings. So in one go you have ticked off the tourist box then you can go explore deeper and find your own gems. The tour runs twice a day at 10.30 am and 6pm and last roughly 2 hours.
- Check out the central mineral baths – Sofia is well known for its mineral baths that had proven health benefits. The building itself is beautiful with a colourful mosaic trim. Unfortunately the baths are now closed and have been converted into a museum.
- Sveti Georgi Rotunda – This church is the cities oldest preserved building. Pretty special considering the battering Sofia took during the great wars.
- Appreciate Alexander Nevski Cathedral – This truly beautiful golden roofed cathedral is named after St Alexander Nevski who brought Bulgarians liberation from Ottomans rule.
- Sign up to a day trip to the Rila Monastrey – most important eastern orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. It is situated on the Rila Mountains, approximately 120km from Sofia. One of Bulgaria’s biggest tourist attraction and known for its remarkable architecture.
- Walk along the touristic street of Vitosha Boulevard – offers all kinds of restaurants and shops to explore. Find coffee shops and quirky shops down the side streets from here.
- Stroll around Sofia University’s Botanic garden – The serene botanic gardens host hundreds of different species of flowers and plants arranged in a tranquil garden. To enter the gardens you have to go through the door of a small flower shop. It cost 2 Lev with a student card.
Tips & Advice
- Most Bulgarians speak English – but not all.
- 10% tips for wait staff and taxi drivers
- Taking second helpings shows appreciation and gratitude – so make your first portion a little smaller.
- Best weather is during June – September
- Best Skiing is December – March.
- Currency = Bulgarian Lev
- No Visa necessary
- Punctuality is relaxed. 15min late is not late at all.
- Haggling is the norm and expected with street shops/tourist stores.
Helpful words and phrases
Please Molya te
Thank you Blagodarya
You’re welcome Molya
Pardon me Izvinete