Planning for a weekend in early February, I decided to explore a new-to-me country and set to Googling the cheapest weekend destinations in Europe.
Near the top of the list of places I hadn’t been? Bulgaria.
Scoring a return flight under £60 and finding a beautiful Airbnb in the midst of city centre for under £45 for a two night stay solidified my decision to visit Sofia.
With moving flat and so many other things going on, I didn’t do much planning for Sofia. When I landed in Bulgaria late Friday evening, I took the metro from Terminal 2 to Serdica (city centre metro station), which was only a five minute walk from my Airbnb. Once in the city, I decided it’d be interesting to visit Skopje and set about confirming a day trip to Macedonia for Saturday.
Returning to Bulgaria Saturday night, I hit up MOMA for a drink (they also have great Bulgarian food) and then headed to Franco’s for pizza and planning. With only one day in Sofia, I wanted to make the most of my time.
Sofia has an incredible nightlife scene, but I visited during a weekend I wasn’t drinking, and was pretty exhausted by all the travel.
Sunday morning, I woke up ready to spend the next 12 hours seeing as much of Sofia as possible before my late night flight back to London.
First stop: Chucky’s for excellent espresso- their flat whites are great, and the cafe is a cosy cute place to hang.
Caffeinated, I headed to the meeting spot for my free walking tour. Walking tours are one of my favourite ways to see a city if I’m short on time- bonus if they’re free!
Wandering Sofia is a crazy experience for history buffs- you’ll stumble upon remains of Roman streets just walking to get morning coffee.
Sofia has been a settlement since at least four centuries before the time of Christ. Briefly occupied by Philip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great, in the 4th century B.C., Sofia (then called Serdica) was conquered by the Romans around 29 B.C.
In 1376, the city was renamed Sofia and became a centre for goldsmithing. Six years later, it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Liberated by the Russians in 1878, Sofia became the capital of the Principality, and later the Kingdom of Bulgaria in 1908.
The tour I went on was 3 hours long and covered a lot of ground over the city. It’s a wonder some of the buildings and ruins have survived unscathed for so long, and incredible to think about all the civilisations that have passed though.
If you’re short on time when visiting Sofia like I was, don’t miss:
- St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral: One of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world, it’s beautiful outside and somehow even more stunning inside. The domes are plated with actual gold #HeartEyes
- Mineral Springs: The central part of Sofia is known for its mineral springs, which is why the city’s bath houses were built there. Although the bath houses are no longer in use, you can find mineral foundations adjacent to the building where you can drink and fill up bottles for free. The water is said to be helpful for treating kidney stones, gastrointestinal diseases and liver disorders
- Serdica Metro: Here, you’ll find large excavations revealing the Thracian and Roman ruins of the city of Serdica. Eventually, the plan is to cover the ruins with glass, but currently you can walk among them, which is pretty special
- St George Rotunda: In the midst of the Largo (Nezavisimost Square), the rotunda is part of a historical Roman fortress. Considered the oldest building in Sofia, it’s survived since the 300s. Frescos inside date back to the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries
- Sveta Nedelya Cathedral: Located at the true center of the city, the ancient Roman crossroads of Serdica, the church has been rebuilt a few times. Most recently, the church was reconstructed after the Bulgarian Communist Party detonated a bomb intended for Tsar Boris III there. The blast killed 150 people and injured another 500, but Boris III wasn’t even present at the time of explosion
- Vitosha Street: The main shopping boulevard in Sofia, I enjoyed popping in and out of stores as I wandered. Social Cafe is a good place to stop for a coffee break if you need a pick me up
- Tea time: Known for its tea houses, Чай във фабриката was my favourite. Small, cosy and so many teas to choose from, including lots of Bulgarian specialities
- Eat: With only one day in the city, I didn’t have time to fully explore restaurants, but three places I loved:
- Фабрика ДЪГА (Rainbow Cafe): Stopped in here for lunch post-tour, and my gosh, so good. The coffee drinks are great, but the sandwiches and salads are incredible. I had a cheese sandwich with fresh vegetables and grilled peaches- outstanding
- Furna: Everyone says you can’t leave Sofia without trying Banitsa (flaky pastry dough with cheese baked between the layers). This place does it so well, and they do a bunch of flavour variants
- Salted Cafe: A vegan cafe in Bulgaria? Score! Hung out here for a bit, sipping tea, but if I’m ever in Sofia again, I’d come back to eat- their menu looked great
All in all, a great time exploring Sofia. If I ever make it back, I’d love to see more of the city, experience its nightlife and do a day trip or two to the surrounding Bulgarian countryside. But, with the time I had, it was a wonderful trip.
Have you ever been to Bulgaria or another Balkan country?