A quick trip to Sofia, Bulgaria, turned out to be quite the whirlwind for me and my friend Melina. We left Madrid late Friday evening, back on the Eastern European budget airline Wizz Air for a direct flight to Sofia. I couldn’t wait to explore the opposite side of the European continent for another weekend.
Sofia is very spread-out topographically, but there are trams that run throughout the city as well as an underground metro system. The architecture throughout the city varies tremendously. You can see everything: from ancient Roman ruins to beautiful baroque style buildings, and socialist-era compounds.
We stayed at Hostel Mostel, which was centrally located and inexpensive to get to from the airport. Be wary at the Sofia airport – there are lots of scammers who try to charge double or triple what the official taxi stand operators do for rides into the city. Sure enough, they approach you right in the waiting area. The line for taxis was long but it was worth it to wait and get a cab, which cost less than €10 total for a ride to our hostel. The hostel was nice – with friendly staff and a great included breakfast every day.
I wish I had a long list of foods that I ate and loved while in Bulgaria, but the honest truth is that we didn’t have much luck with the cuisine. The one restaurant experience that was memorable was in Plovdiv. We went to a restaurant called Smokini and I highly recommend giving it a visit if you take a day trip there. I got to try the Bulgarian salad with cheese on it (who wouldn’t like that?) as well as some awesome sausages with grilled vegetables. Melina had a pork stew that was also awesome. Definitely, stop at this place if you’re wandering in Plovdiv wondering where to eat – and there is a roof terrace.
Day Trip to Plovdiv
Plovdiv is a great day trip to take from Sofia. It sits less than 2 hours away and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world – with ruins dating to the 6th millennium BC. It had a mixture of beautiful old buildings and cute, windy streets. There are buses leaving from Sofia to Plovdiv every hour until about 21:00h from the Sofia Central Bus station. Tickets were cheap, under €5 each way.
Day Trip to Rila Mountains
This day trip was just one big adventure that I will never forget. We had seen beautiful pictures of the Rila Lakes atop the mountain range and wanted to make the trek to see them. What we forgot was that it was March and that there would still be snow on the mountains. Nevertheless, it was still a fun adventure figuring out how to get there. If you want to do this trek – keep in mind that you will need to start your day early. Like, really, really early.
To get there – Take the bus from Sofia to either Dupnitsa or Sapareva Bania. There are buses from Dupnitsa to Sapareva Bania on almost every 30 min. From Sapareva Bania look for the shuttle (pink bus pictured below) to Panichishte, from there a cheap taxi, and then the chairlift to the lakes.
If there’s one thing I would recommend anyone to do with their time in Sofia it is to take the Free Sofia Walking Tour. Our guide was knowledgeable and filled the entire tour with information. He explained different historical events with demos and took the time to answer all questions. It lasted about two hours and gave us insight into the main important buildings and parts of Sofia.
A walking tour with this company is the best way to see Sofia and understand what you are looking at. Don’t forget to give a nice tip at the end!
Bulgaria is a country that has made milestones in development, despite the fact that it still has quite a way to go in terms of standard of living and other criteria. It is a very cool country full of (mostly) friendly people. The language is nothing like English or any romance language – they use an alphabet similar to the Greek alphabet. Nevertheless, a lot of people speak English, so getting around wasn’t too difficult.