Sofia, Bulgaria

Where: Sofia, Bulgaria
When: January 2017
Hotel: Premier Thracia Hotel
Why Sofia: On my birthday, RyanAir decided to have an insane airfare deal, and tickets to Sofia were only $35 roundtrip per person. No one passes that up – even if it’s to a country you never thought you would visit, never wanted to visit, and actually had zero idea what there was to do and see before we even bought the tickets. Adventure indeed.

The Trip: After the initial excitement of booking such cheap airfare, I started to do some research on Sofia and Bulgaria. To be perfectly honest, there is not a lot written about Sofia. Despite being the second oldest city in Europe, and the capital of Bulgaria, the nearby town of Plodviv and the towns on the Black Sea tend to get more attention. In one of my attempts to not completely “overplan,” I took some notes and was excited to discover the town.

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First look at Bulgaria…I was a little nervous that I didn’t bring enough warm clothes!

The one “guide” I did have about Sofia was a free book (more like pamphlet) on iBooks that I read on the plane – which proved to be money-saving! After initially being offered rides into the city center for $18 and $15 by guys with cab signs in the airports, we kept walking until we got to the official taxi stand and paid $8 to get to our hotel. Thanks, free iBook for the transit tip!

Here’s the thing – Sofia is ridiculously inexpensive. We stayed in the #7 of 131 hotels in Sofia, and it cost us $213 for three nights, with breakfast, located right in the main area of town with lots of restaurants within walking distance. Which was key because by the time we dropped off our bags…we were STARVING!! A quick glance at TripAdvisor told me we were right around the corner from Boom! Burger, and even though we tend to be wary of any burgers in Europe, we decided to give it a try.

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Best Burger in Europe – mainly because it actually tasted like a burger should taste! We loved Boom! Burger so much, we actually stayed there for the better part of the night. And then went back the next day! We had to get a burger fix where we could…you can’t find a good burger in Europe!

As with any trip, if there is a Starbucks it is going to be one of the first stops we make (Hello, City Mugs…I’m up to 70!) The walk to Starbucks from our hotel was about 15 minutes, down Vitosha Boulevard – the main pedestrian street in Sofia, and through one of the city blocks. From what I had read, I wasn’t expecting Sofia to be breathtakingly beautiful after spending years under Communism rule, and to be honest, it wasn’t really all that pretty.

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One of the art sculptures on Vitosha.

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Vitosha Blvd is the heart of Sofia, although this entrance was exceptionally American. There are numerous cafes lining the street and each one was packed every night.

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This artwork was in the main park we walked through to get to Starbucks. I honestly can’t tell you what it is supposed to be.

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I don’t care – I unapologetically love Starbucks and their mugs…and their coffee.

After I got my City Mugs, we headed back down to Vitosha toward the main “tourist” areas of Sofia. I like Sofia, because in-between the incredibly ugly Soviet-style buildings, there are pretty churches and monuments and statues. I found it refreshing that it wasn’t very touristy (seriously, I remember just one souvenir shop throughout the entire town), and liked it for its honesty that it is a city still rebuilding.

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After reaching the end of Vitosha Blvd, on our way to the main market, we walked by the statue of St. Sofia…standing in the place where a statue of Lenin once stood.

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The Central Market – where I found one of my most favorite souvenirs ever!

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Lots of food stands, but most importantly, a hat stand where I found my new favorite hat!

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My new hat – which I love!! We are standing in Parliament Square – a must-see mainly for the road that runs through it….

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….It’s a Yellow Brick Road! Wikipedia says the cobblestones were a gift from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Tsar Ferdinand I on the occasion of his wedding. They were cast in Budapest and installed in Sofia at the beginning of the 20th century.

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The National Theater

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The Russian Church

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St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

After we explored the Nevsky church, we had seen a lot of the “tourist” attractions in Sofia, and didn’t have anything more on the agenda. I had read about the spas in Sofia, and right around the corner from the Nevsky Cathedral, was one of the top ones in the city. It didn’t take long for us to make up our minds and head to the Arena di Serdica hotel.

Here’s a cool fact about Sofia…the city itself literally lies above another city, whose ruins can be seen throughout the town. Sofia was an ancient Thracian settlement and the remains of the 1,800-year-old Roman city, Serdica, lies beneath modern Sofia. Various sections of the ancient town have been left on display, covered by clear canvases around town.

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Inside the Arena di Serdica hotel, where an ancient amphitheater was discovered during construction. Instead of halting construction, the architects built around the ruins. Not a bad place to have a little spa break!

By the time we finished the massage, and had dinner at Boom! Burger (yes again!), we were wiped out – Sofia isn’t huge and it can be seen on foot, which can take a lot of you! And since this was one of our first big trips since our return to Europe, we were completely work out!

Final thoughts: Honestly, Sofia can be done in a day if you are there simply to see the main highlights (and you’ll even have some additional time), which was why we scheduled a day trip out to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Rila Monastery, on our second full day (I’ll cover it in another blog post!). But it was nice to see a city that had pride in itself and didn’t try to mask its uglier sides. It was also relaxing as there weren’t swarms of tourists crowding the place. I would for sure go back to Bulgaria to explore some of the other cities. I knew I wasn’t going to be wowed, but I had a nice, laid-back trip with my husband at an inexpensive price. The food was tasty (I would go back for Boom! Burger alone), and the people were friendly. Which is why I would suggest a visit to Sofia – it didn’t have the big touristy attractions, but everything else it did have more than made up for it.

Final Pictures:

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This Cathedral…very, very pretty! And also shows why you always, always go on a night walk through a city. It’s always better lit up.

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The Monument to the Tsar Liberator, built in honor of Russian Emperor Alexander II who liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman rule.

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Night walk around town – one of our fave things to do, even in the cold!

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