Bulgaria is a beautiful small country located in the Balkans between Greece, Romania, Macedonia, Serbia and the Black Sea.
Also called the “vestibule of the East”, Bulgaria lies between East and West. Thracians, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans influenced this small country of 7 million inhabitants and brought to it a cultural richness, an architectural and archaeological heritage that goes along with its contrasting landscapes (numerous mountain massifs, dense and wild forests, magnificent black sea).
The people there are calm, friendly and the tourists few.
I have a very good memory of my stay in the capital of Bulgaria: Sofia. The prices are very affordable and the monuments are beautifully colored in bright colors. In the city center, the old buildings to visit are numerous and interesting.
My arrival in the city
My first impression arriving in the capital is impressive: the plane flies over the whole city in a raz motte. It is an impressive and beautiful experience with all the buildings and houses in miniatures below!
The second impression getting out of the plane is to see the city nearby and far away, the very famous snowy mountain Vitocha which is a reference to Sofia.
Possibilities of connections
Sofia can be visited easily in 2 or 3 days so do not hesitate to visit the surrounding capitals. It’s cheap on bus and fast. Whether by train or bus, Sofia is a “hub” between Romania and Greece, (Thessaloniki is two hours away by bus) and also with the seaside with touristic cities such as Varna and Bourgas.
My advice for your first visit
In order to join your Hotel I recommand you to take a taxi. They are very cheap at Sofia (twice less that in the rest of the country). It is important to take a taxi where it is written “super trans” on it ( in Cyrillic) because other can cheat.
You may also choose to join your Hôtel by bus but it will take longer and the price of a ticket will cost you 1,60 Leva ( 80 centimes of euros).
The most central and cheapest hotel I have found on the Internet is Rila hotel. It is quite dated but it is ok because it is still comfortable and most of all: it is central. I was at maximum 15 minutes by walk of all amenities and must-see places and shops.
Daily life in Sofia
After 10 days in the country and having living in city center as well as working- class neighborhoods, I can affirm that this is a very safe country if you do have common-sense precaution. Be aware of pickpockets they are plenty around the most touristic places and do not forget : people are very welcoming and warm !
If you have some notions of russian language, it will help. Bulgarian language is quite close to Russian. And some Russian reading skills will help a lot mostly in small cities where the people do not speak english. In city centers, most of the youngsters do speak english don’t worry !
Cost Of Living in Sofia
Bulgaria is one of the less expensive countries in Europe. Prices are in Leva and for 1 euro, you have 2 Leva. Even in Sofia, the cost of living is cheap. A good meal will cost you 3/4 Leva (1,5/2 euros). You won’t have to ruin yourself to please you !
Discover the city of Sofia
The architecture of the city is eclectic and still dominated by sovietic era. They are many big buildings and because of poverty, we often can see dilapidaded buildings amongs new ones. Sometimes you have to sneak through the alleys or inside buildings to find old stones.
I was surprised to see so many old constructions saved from “modernity”. For example, during the construction of the metro, many remains were discovered and restored. Among them, old chapels where the first Christians met in the 3rd and 4th century.
Getting around in Sofia
Taxi, metro, tram or bus, public transport in Sofia are cheap. A bus / tram / metro ticket will cost you the sum of 1.60 leva or 80 euro cents (remember to have change on the car tickets are not accepted).
Be careful, if you have a luggage because as in many eastern countries, an extra charge is required for luggage.
7 Best Things to do in Sofia
International museum of archeology
The international museum of archeology is located in the very center of Sofia. Its building was built in 1454 and used to be a mosque, (the biggest one of the city during the Ottoman domination).
Banya Bashi mosque
The mosque was built in 1567 by Mimar Sinan one great architect of the Ottoman empire. This is one of the oldest in Europe and its name means “many bathes”. In russian, Banya means bath.
Synagogue of Sofia
Located at 100 meters of the Banya Bashi mosque, the central synagog of Sofia is the third biggest in Europe. In order to enter inside, ring the bell because the door is closed.
Sofia Covered Market (or Hali Market)
Located halfway between the Banya Bashi mosque and the synagogue, the Sofia covered market is built on the model of the Halles de Paris. It is also known as Hali Market.
You can find specialties from all over the country for both dining and gifts to offer or souvenirs. Do not hesitate to go there the quality is at the appointment!
Personally I have eaten there several times and rarely for more than 3 Leva (1,5 Euros) and baught all my souvenirs for the family!
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the monument of the Bulgarian heritage not to be missed. It was built in 1878 to commemorate the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire. Its walls are decorated with Italian marble and Egyptian alabaster. Its golden cupolas are visible from far away and are a reference for the tourist who seeks to locate in the city!
Museum of the Icons (of the Alexander Nevski Cathedral)
On the left side of the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, you enter a crypt which was transformed to house an impressive collection of icons covering a period from the 9th century down to the 19th century. This collection is definitely worth a visit !
Dating back to the 10th century, St-Nedelya Church was originally built of stone and wood. It was rebuilt several times in particular in 1925 following a terrorist attack.
I was lucky enough to celebrate Easter during my stay: according to the bulgarian tradition, the believers turn three times around the church.