In Sofia, upscale boutiques, student bars and McDonalds are more common than churches or museums, yet the city still retains some of its old world charm.
It also serves as a gateway into the nearby mountains, home to the awe-inspiring Rila Monastery and other semi-hidden treasures.
Airport Sofia is a quick bus ride (#84) from the Eagle Bridge, a central landmark. International and domestic trains operate out of Tzentraina Gara – train travel is cheaper, but takes longer than the buses, which arrive to and leave from Sofia’s Central Bus Station. Local transportation includes one short metro line in addition to trams, trolleys and buses, which run from 5:30am to 11pm and cost 1 leva (buy a ticket from the kiosk on the street and punch it inside the bus). From the train station, take tram number 12 or 14 to reach the city center. Taxi drivers will smilingly rip off tourists; use only the yellow ones marked with a company name and phone number, and be sure they turn on the meter.
Things to See & Do
Sofia’s sights are centered around Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya. The “yellow street” – Tsar Osvoboditel, Sofia’s first paved road – runs north of the square, connecting the Parliament to the gorgeous 1913 St. Nicholas Russian Church and the Royal Palace, which now houses the National Art Gallery and the intriguing National Museum of Ethnography (the Center for Folk Arts and Crafts in its basement is one of the best places to purchase traditional souvenirs). Follow it up past the university to find a free, open garden, ideal for a morning jog or a leisurely afternoon stroll. Also To See: The National History Museum, St. Nedelya Cathedra; St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Odyssia-In (bul. Stamboliski 20-V, 980-51-02) specializes in hiking trips to Vitosha Mountain, Seven Rila Lakes and other nearby natural wonders (www.zigzagbg.com). Don’t miss an opportunity to visit the must-see Rila Monastery, an enormous, gorgeously painted structure rebuilt in the early 1800s. To get there from Sofia, take tram #5 to the Ovcha Kopel bus station, a bus to Dupnitza, and another to reach the monastery. Leave early, or plan to spend a pleasant, peaceful night in a monastic cell (15USD), as the last bus back to Sofia leaves at 3pm Take an hour-long hike from behind the monastery to visit the shrine of St. Ivan of Rila, the first saint of Bulgaria. Along the way, there’s a stone wall where he’s said to have lived for six years. Write a wish on a piece of paper and add it to the hopes of others absorbed into its ancient cracks.
Food & Nightlife
For the latest entertainment listings, pick up a free city guide at hotels. Visit opera and theater houses on Rakovski, or chat it up with students at the bars lining the streets of the student district. For a weekly listing of events in English, check out www.programata.bg. And don’t miss out on the addictive Shopska salad – an assortment of cucumbers, tomatoes and feta that will give meaning to the Romanian saying, “Don’t try to sell cucumbers to the Bulgarian.”