Getting to Sofia
Last month, Radu and I went on vacation in Greece. We decided to go by car mainly because we want to fly less and to see more of the country. We live in Romania and since we were passing through Bulgaria, we decided to spend one day exploring Bulgaria’s capital: Sofia.
Even though Bulgaria is a neighbouring country of Romania, we had never been there before. And since both countries are relatively small, in the same region and EU countries, I was really curious to see what are the difference between them.
Getting to Sofia was a bit tricky. For some reason, the GPS sent us on a road that was really disappointing: it had many potholes in it and there were no gas stations on the road for the last 200 kms (good luck finding a bathroom!). It also included a winding road through the mountains that was really long and a bit tiring. By the time we reached the city it was almost night, we were both tired and we hoped that the next day would make us forget about this quite disappointing road trip.
Luckily, Sofia was a pleasant surprise! Even though we only spent one day visiting it, we thought it was a great city. Like any European capital, it is beautiful, vibrant and old and new at the same time. But unlike other capitals, it is not that crowded and it is surprisingly clean. To be honest, it is one of the cleanest cities I’ve seen so far.
When we got there, we had no plan. I only knew I wanted to see the iconic Alexander Nevski Cathedral. Whenever I visit a new city, I always make sure to visit the most iconic place and take lost of pictures there. But since we had an entire day to spend exploring Sofia, we decided to wander around the city. Here are some of the things we have seen and I would recommend.
What to do and see in Sofia
1. Go to The National Palace of Culture
This is one of the most notable places in Sofia. It is a large and imposing congress centre that hosts political forums, scientific symposiums and other cultural events. It also has many cafes and restaurants. You can also take a walk in the park in front of it; it’s really beautiful because of the many fountains and trees in it.
I really enjoyed walking there and taking pictures of the place.
There is an Instagrammable spot right next to the Palace of Culture with the name of the city written in big, white letters.
2. Take a walk on the Vitosha Boulevard
As you walk away from the National Palace of Culture, you will go towards the Vitosha Boulevard. This area is typical of a European capital city. It is a pedestrian street filled with shops, restaurants and cafés. It’s a great place to stroll through, enjoy a meal or cup of coffee or buy souvenirs. We opted for street food and had a veggie burger.
If you want to buy a souvenir, this is the best place to look for one. As Sofia is not such a large and touristic city, you may have a hard time finding a souvenir in other parts of the city. Luckily, the stores here are usually open until late at night.
3. Go to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
This is definitely one of the most memorable and iconic landmarks in Sofia and Bulgaria. Like most cathedrals, it is a large and imposing building. What makes it different is its onion-shaped domes in a shade of turquoise. I would say that this is definitely one of the most beautiful churches/cathedrals I have seen, so it is definitely worth seeing. You can also go inside the church to see it (for free) or attend a religious service.
The cathedral was built between 1882 and 1912. It got its name from a Russian warrior and prince from the 13th century.
The area around the church is partly a pedestrian zone and partly a parking lot. This is great because, unlike in other crowded cities, you can actually see the entire building. You can also admire it and take pictures of it without getting lost in crowds of tourists.
If you want to take great pictures of the cathedral, you can easily to do that there. There is a lot of open space around it. This is also the monument that is portrayed on many souvenirs.
4. Go see the Ivan Vazov National Theatre
The theatre is very close to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and it is another beautiful building you should see. The building was completed in 1906 and it was designed by 2 Viennese architects. It is named after the Bulgarian author Ivan Vazov.
5. Have dinner at the vegan restaurant Soul Kitchen
Since Radu and I stopped eating animal products (no meat, milk, cheese or eggs), it has been increasingly hard for us to find good food and great restaurants to go to. Luckily, we can look for vegetarian/vegan restaurants online in advance. I picked this restaurant because I liked the name, to be honest. But it was the food, the atmosphere of the place and the welcoming staff that made me want to recommend it!
We went there twice so we could taste a few dishes and we loved (almost) all of them. We had the Porcini Mushrooms Pizza and it was one of the best pizzas I have ever tasted. Some other dishes we tried and loved were the Cherry Tomatoes and Feta Salad and the Caesar Salad. The only thing I did not like were the Sunrise Noodles, but I am more picky that most people. We also had the Cheesecake and it was absolutely delicious. You can see their entire menu here.
One of the things that makes me have a considerate respect and admiration for some vegan restaurants is when their policies seem to align with their values (no cruelty, no animal products and sustainability). This is something I noticed at Soul Kitchen too. For example, they serve their customers with filtered water (to avoid using bottles) and the takeaway food comes in cardboard packages (recyclable or biodegradable). You could say it’s little things, but I think that all restaurants should try to find ways to limit their negative impact on the planet.
Some other attractions
So far I have mentioned the places that I found most iconic and impressive. If you ever go to Sofia, I would recommend starting with these. But if you have more time, there are other attractions I could recommend. We have accidentally discovered them and you may enjoy seeing them as well.
- The Church Rotonda of Sveti Georgi
- St Nedelya Church – a church that is similar in style with the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, but it is much smaller
- Russian Church St Nikolai – a small, but really beautiful church with shades of gold and turquoise
- Saint Sofia Church
- Saint Sofia Monument
- The Largo – 3 remarkable Socialist buildings: the former Party House, The TZUM Department Store and the Council of Ministers of Bulgaria
- Complex Ancient Serdica – ruins that date from the 4th and 6th century; the ruins were discovered while they were building the metro
As in any big city, there are many beautiful buildings to see. All it takes is some time to wander around. I would also add that one of the best things about travelling is the moment when you stumble upon a beautiful place while looking for another.
If you are going to Bulgaria from Romania, you don’t need to worry about the money. There are exchange offices where you can buy leva in Sofia. You can also pay by card in many places.
Bulgaria is known for its production of rose oil. Therefore you can find many products that are rose-scented or -flavoured: hand soaps, body lotions, perfumes, teas, jams and sweets. These are all great ideas for gifts or souvenirs.
As I said, I was impressed by Sofia. It is perhaps one of Europe’s hidden gems. It has all the advantages of every big city: beautiful attractions, good services and great food. But – surprisingly – it is much cleaner and less crowded than other capitals. If you are looking for a destination for a city break, Sofia is definitely a good idea!
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