Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria – the city that can be a new Berlin!

Sofia street art
(Last Updated On: 26/05/2018)

At first sight Sofia – the capital of Bulgaria doesn’t look like an interesting city. The piecemeal mix of architecture and the lack of impressive tourist attractions leave many travelers disappointed. I can tell, I was one of them!

I had a chance to visit Sofia in spring 2012. It was my first time in Bulgaria and I had my hopes really high, after all I’ve heard really great things about the country. As it turned out everyone was raving about Bulgaria but not exactly about the capital.

And even if I’ve tried really hard to warm up to Sofia I just couldn’t. Back then I found the city just average yet with a really delicious food scene. And that was already the good enough reason to visit Sofia.


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Over the years my interests and the choice of destinations I enjoy have changed a lot. Now, as you can very well see in here, I’m really into alternative things and post-Soviet places while Western Europe kind of bores me.

So last year, when I was planning my trip with Interrail tickets to Romania I’ve thought this might be a great chance to visit Sofia again and see if my perception of the city has changed.

And you know what? This time I really enjoyed Sofia and while everyone says that Warsaw, Ljubljana or Budapest might be the new Berlin I think Sofia can get this title! It’s just too cool and I’m surprised not many have discovered it yet!

Visit Sofia - alternative spots

Long history and a mix of styles in Sofia

Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe, founded some 2500 years ago. Thanks to its central location in the heart of the Balkans it was even briefly the capital of the Roman Empire. These days however there are only few remnants of these great times but it’s not difficult to find them right in the center of Sofia.

The oldest building in the city – Church of St. George – dates back to the 4th century and together with ruins of the Antic town Serdica now is surrounded by the buildings of Presidential Palace – a fine example of the Socialist architecture. This particular place sums up the look of Sofia very well.

It’s a total mix of styles. While other cities in the country – Veliko Tarnovo or Plovdiv – can be proud of their Bulgarian Revival buildings in Sofia it’s a little bit of everything: neorenaissance, neoclassical or Soviet architecture. And all these styles clash and eventually blend in together to create an unique place that may not appeal to many.

Things to see in Sofia

To be honest there aren’t many things to see in Sofia and all the most important attractions can be easily seen in only few hours.

The main pedestrian street – Vitosha Blvd – is a showroom of the city with fancy shops, fancy cafes and fancy people. If someone wants to be seen – this is a place to be! Nearby there are couple of nice looking buildings, like Ivan Vazov National Theatre or Public Mineral Baths.

The symbol of the city – St. Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral – looks like a big birthday cake with layers of domes and ornaments and really is the prettiest place in Sofia. But still I don’t think it will take anyone’s breath away. After I visited Sofia twice I still think the city is nice but average and there’s no way it can impress a typical tourist.

Sofia’s quirky face

But at the same time Sofia might be the quirkiest capital in Europe! Taking a parallel street from the main one can do a whole big difference.

It’s all about the details in Sofia and if you look carefully around you will see how cool it is! Street poles turned into blooming flowers, a former police post looking like a beehive, yards with some weird art installations or random mosaics on the buildings – it’s all there! You just need top keep your eyes open to find it all!

When I was wandering some random streets around Sofia I felt like a kid playing hide and seek, never knowing what I’m going to find in couple of steps! It was such a great fun!

Sofia street art

The Sofia street art scene is pretty amazing too. In the center there are only few (but still good) murals but the place is still full of great pieces around.

Almost 100 electricity boxes are covered in some of the really amazing paintings that were created during two street art festivals (the first one in 2011 with almost 30 artists was a big success and got such a positive response that a year after a second edition took place). On the walls of Sofia you can find also some cool quotes, one of which became even my cover photo on Facebook.

Of course there are some random tags around too, those that just spoil the whole look of the city, but still the Sofia street art scene was one of my favorite in the whole Balkans region!

When you visit Sofia it’s all about the soups

When I was discovering the alternative side of Sofia I wasn’t impressed only with its quirkiness and artistic vibe. I was also surprised how many cute shops there were: boutiques, book stores, even a street-art themed shop!

But the best were small food places, among them all I loved the most all the soups! I don’t remember any other city where you could find restaurants (ok, this might be too big word) that served only soups yet in Sofia I’ve seen couple of them. I’ve visited one – Supa Star – and it was the best thing I could do when it started raining!

The choice was decent – 5 soups if I remember correctly, including 2 vegetarian options; the staff was really helpful and the place was so cozy. I’ve tried a chickpea soup and tarator – a typical Bulgarian cold cucumber soup – and they were all excellent!

By the way, you should try doing tarator at home, it’s super easy and so good, especially in the summer time! I did it few times and it was always a big success!

Sofia parks with a funky background

And then there were parks. The center of Sofia have some really great green spaces (and spectacular mountains right at the outskirts) but two of them deserve more attention.

Park National Palace of Culture can be found at the end of Vitosha Blvd. It’s a pleasant place to chill out but there are two things that always interest me the most: a weird futuristic monument that I have no idea what it shows but it just looks crazy, like it’s about to collapse any minute and the National Palace of Culture – a great example of Socialist Modernism style, home to some cultural institutions.

The other park – Knyazhenska Garden – is where you will find some Soviet monuments at its best, alongside with a skate park. Funny fact – in 2011 one of the monument got painted overnight and soldiers were transformed into comic books characters.

Since then it was painted over couple more times – to commemorate the events in Ukraine or the anniversary of the Prague Spring. Take a look for more information (and pictures) here – and believe me, you want to see it!

Is it worth to visit Sofia?

This is not the city for everyone but those who visit Sofia with an open mind and a right attitude might actually enjoy it, a lot. It took me two visit, even in a crappy weather, to finally admit that yes, a city-break in Sofia is a good idea and that it’s definitely worth looking beyond main tourist attractions.

The city has this young, cosmopolitan vibe that combined with the quirkiness around makes a perfect mix. I’m sure it won’t take long for people to discover Sofia, even now it’s getting recognized by the big titles more and more often as the destination to visit before everyone else will. So don’t wait too long and visit Sofia soon!

What was the quirkiest city you’ve been to? Have you been to Bulgaria? Is Sofia on your radar?


PLAN YOUR TRIP TO SOFIA

With over 15 years of independent travelling I’ve learnt which websites and services are the best when planning a trip. I always use and trust following websites:

Flights – I search for the best deals on either Momondo or SkyScanner. Both search numerous sites to find the best offers. I also really like the “everywhere” option when searching for the flights as it often gives me the inspiration, if not for this trip then for the next time.

Accommodation – I always book my accommodation thgrough Booking.com. They have really good deals (especially with their “Genius” program that you become a member of after few reservations) and in most of the cases, if you plans change, you can cancel the reservation without any extra costs. I also value them for a really good customer service that I had to use few times. Check the best deals on accommodation in Sofia here

Insurance – I never travel without the insurance as you never know what might happen on the road (I’ve learnt my lesson). I can recommend World Nomads that offer the insurance dedicated to travelers just like you and me. Check the insurance options for your trip here!

Guide books – I do like reading a guide book before and during the trip. Depending on the destination I usually buy either Lonely Planet or Bradt. You can get your guidebooks for Bulgaria here: Bradt / Lonely Planet

Day tours in Sofia – I do go for a day trips when I travel as often they are the most convenient way to see the place that save you time and money. Click here to see and book the best day tours in Sofia


If you think of visiting Bulgaria take a look what else I wrote about the country!

If you’re looking for articles about any place in particular this map with posts might be useful for you. Or just take a look at the “destinations” page.


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Sofia, Bulgaria       Sofia is the new Berlin!


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64 Comments

  • Reply
    Melina
    18/02/2016 at 12:14

    Very informative post! Thank you

    • Reply
      kami
      23/02/2016 at 14:14

      thanks!

  • Reply
    Iza Zawadzka
    18/02/2016 at 19:55

    Widzę, że sporo się zmieniło od mojej wizyty w Sofii w 2011 r. Bulwarem Witosza jeździły jeszcze wtedy tramwaje! W “ulach” urzędowali policjanci pilnujący porządku na skrzyżowaniach i na pewno nie było jeszcze wtedy tak dużo street artu! Jest powód, by wrócić do Sofii, choć oczarowała mnie już wtedy. Ja mam natomiast podobne odczucia jak Ty do Sofii w stosunku do Belgradu – też miasto na pierwszy rzut oka brzydkie i nieatrakcyjne, a ma mnóstwo atutów, których każdy sam musi poszukać.

    • Reply
      Kami and the rest of the world
      22/02/2016 at 21:32

      a też pamiętam jeszcze tramwaje na Bulwarze Witosza, w marcu 2012! bardzo na plus się zmieniła ta Sofia przez ten czas, zdecydowanie powinnaś wrócić! Ja na Belgrad nigdy tak naprawdę nie miałam czasu, zawsze tylko przejazdem. Ale potencjał jak najbardziej ma!

  • Reply
    Wiola Starczewska
    18/02/2016 at 21:10

    Sofia is the new Berlin – after those pictures, I’m ready to believe that!

    • Reply
      kami
      23/02/2016 at 14:15

      now you should go and check it out!

  • Reply
    Nick Myers
    18/02/2016 at 21:49

    I loved Sofia. Lots to see and very walkable. :)

    • Reply
      Kami and the rest of the world
      22/02/2016 at 21:35

      true! it was a perfect city to walk around!

  • Reply
    Pauline McCarthy
    19/02/2016 at 04:23

    I loved Sofia!!

    • Reply
      Kami and the rest of the world
      22/02/2016 at 21:36

      me too :)

  • Reply
    Łukasz Kędzierski
    19/02/2016 at 06:59

    Nie bylem nigdy w Bułgarii, zawsze nrakuje urlopu, ale street art wyglada zachęcająco

    • Reply
      Kami and the rest of the world
      22/02/2016 at 21:35

      to przy kolejnej okazji polecam Bułgarię bardzo!

  • Reply
    Piotr Goroh
    19/02/2016 at 08:21

    Ja lubie mniej ‘oczywiste’ miejsca. Latwiej o….powiedzmy autentycznosc na ulicach.

    • Reply
      Kami and the rest of the world
      22/02/2016 at 21:35

      zdecydowanie tak! :)

  • Reply
    Olka Zagórska-Chabros
    19/02/2016 at 08:38

    Muszę w końcu znaleźć czas dla Sofii, bo do tej pory była dla mnie miastem tranzytowym i niewątpliwie dobrze poznałam tamtejsze dworce ;)

    • Reply
      Kami and the rest of the world
      22/02/2016 at 21:35

      szkoda tylko, że te dworce takie kiepskie ;)

  • Reply
    Izabela Idzikowska
    19/02/2016 at 08:39

    Mnie Sofia nie zachwyciła, ale już tak dawno byłam, że chyba trzeba się wybrać i zobaczyć, co się zmieniło. :) Ten street art wygląda obiecująco!

    • Reply
      Kami and the rest of the world
      22/02/2016 at 21:29

      street art zdecydowanie był zaskoczeniem :) a i miasto jak i odpowiednio je podejść to naprawdę daje radę!

  • Reply
    Natalia Watras
    19/02/2016 at 10:16

    Ja, pewnie przez jakieś stereotypy, mam przy Bułgarii ‘never’. I czule podtrzymuję to swoje stanowisko, ale urzekły mnie bary z zupami, bo ile razy gdzieś wertuję menu i szukam zupy, to albo nie ma, albo cienka pomidorowa ;) także tego, mamy pierwszy + !

    • Reply
      Kami and the rest of the world
      22/02/2016 at 21:30

      a te zupy, takie dobre, takie tanie! o, i mamy kolejne dwa plusy :)

    • Reply
      Natalia Watras
      22/02/2016 at 21:35

      Ceną mnie bez problemu przekupisz, jestem spłukana i baluję w Maroku już prawie na minusie ;)

  • Reply
    Anita
    19/02/2016 at 12:57

    Ja coś nie mogę przekonać się do Bułgarii :-( Po wizycie w Złotych Piaskach całkowicie się zraziłam do tego kraju. Fakt, było to kilka ładnych lat temu, a organizatorem wycieczki było biuro podróży.. Ble… Być może po podróży na własną rękę miałabym zupełnie inne odczucia :-)

    • Reply
      kami
      23/02/2016 at 14:16

      ja właśnie na wybrzeżu nie byłam, więc może dlatego mi się Bułgaria podoba. bo też raczej nie najlepsze opinie słyszałam o tamtej części kraju. zdecydowanie powinnaś dać Bułgarii kolejną szansę!

  • Reply
    Eva Podolska
    19/02/2016 at 12:00

    Niestety rzadko słyszę pozytywne opinie o Bułgarii. Aż mam ochotę sama się wybrać i sprawdzić…

    • Reply
      Kami and the rest of the world
      22/02/2016 at 21:35

      własnie ja też! a póki co dwie wizyty i obie na plus! może na wybrzezu jest tak słabo…

  • Reply
    Wojciech MG Grabowski
    19/02/2016 at 14:18

    Stolica trochę w cieniu plaż, ale mimo wszystko wygląda zachęcająco. Na pewno jest na liście miast do zobaczenia. Ponadto znajduje się tam Cerkiew Bojarska z listy UNESCO, byłaś może?

    • Reply
      Kami and the rest of the world
      22/02/2016 at 21:33

      niestety, za każdym razem czasu mi brakowało na wycieczkę do Cerkwiii (bo kawałek spory od centrum jest). ale przynajmniej mam powód do kolejnej wizyty!

  • Reply
    Wieczna Tułaczka
    19/02/2016 at 15:34

    Mnie jakoś też nie ciągnie Bułgaria, aczkolwiek sama Sofia wygląda w Twojej relacji interesująco. Nie jest to może szczególne miejsce na turystycznej mapie świata, ale jedno z tych nieszablonowych – dla jednych kolejne zwyczajne miasto, dla innych może stać się ciekawą odskocznią od znanych i wielokrotnie wałkowanych miejsc. Najbardziej podoba mi się street art i to właśnie kojarzy mi się Berlinem. Pozdrawiam :) Magda

    • Reply
      kami
      23/02/2016 at 14:18

      o, w punkt! własnie taka jest Sofia. Większość będzie nią rozczarowana, a niewielką garstkę – jak mnie – te dziwactwa zachwycą :)

  • Reply
    Florence
    20/02/2016 at 17:31

    Oh wow so much art in Sofia! I had no idea :)
    I am planning to go this summer!!

    • Reply
      kami
      23/02/2016 at 14:19

      I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did!

  • Reply
    Kinga
    20/02/2016 at 20:02

    w Bułagrii byłam w Złotych Piaskach – taki wakacyjny standard i było to jakieś…14 lat temu! i w Varnie. Varna mi się MEGA podobała. ;-) co do Sofii – czy zza tej mgły naprawdę widać góry? i jak ty znajdujesz te wszystkie street arty? :D masz jakiś street-art radar? :D

    • Reply
      kami
      23/02/2016 at 14:20

      widać! 4 lata temu mi się ukazały i nawet niezłe były!
      a do street artów mam radar, już to dawno udowodniono ;) nawet jak nie szukam to natrafię :D

  • Reply
    Heather @ Ferreting Out the Fun
    21/02/2016 at 14:30

    Looks like a fascinating city! Definitely adding it to my list!

    • Reply
      kami
      23/02/2016 at 14:21

      It was fascinating! Hope you will go there one day!

  • Reply
    Michal
    22/02/2016 at 13:04

    You are right: when you think about a place to visit you cannot focus only on tourist attractions. Each place can offer something special, you just need to look for it, sometimes it is great food, sometimes nightlife, sometimes amazing people – you just need to make some effort to discover it & I am glad you found it in Sofia:). Cheers!

    • Reply
      kami
      23/02/2016 at 14:22

      too bad so many people still don’t realize that… cheers!

  • Reply
    AniaB
    22/02/2016 at 15:26

    Wow, co za fajny blog! Świetne fotografie i bardzo ciekawie przedstawione :).

    • Reply
      kami
      23/02/2016 at 14:24

      dziękuję

  • Reply
    Nadia vs. the World
    23/02/2016 at 02:13

    Wow, the architecture is so… different. Looks interestin enough to give it a go :)

    • Reply
      kami
      23/02/2016 at 14:25

      architecture is nothing special there. But the city is definitely interesting!

  • Reply
    Dee
    23/02/2016 at 10:47

    Somehow I’ve never read anything about Sofia, so I expected something completely different, I thought that maybe this is this old, ancient, bizantic city with lots of history around. History I love. Your text proved me wrong. However I guess this city has enough quirkiness and street art and food to invite me in. And your photos are incredible. So colourful, I definitively will visit Sofia.

    • Reply
      kami
      23/02/2016 at 14:30

      Thanks! Sofia is kind of off the path. There’s a lot of history around, just hidden in (and below) the city. for me it’s the quirkiest capital in Europe so if you like this kind of places you will enjoy it too!

  • Reply
    Piotr
    23/02/2016 at 11:59

    Zdjęcia oddają cały charakter tego miejsca:)

    • Reply
      kami
      23/02/2016 at 14:30

      dziękuję, cieszę się!

  • Reply
    Virgilio
    19/05/2016 at 16:36

    Interesting, I’m planning to go with my mother, we are from Costa Rica and this will be her fist time to Europe :)

    • Reply
      kami
      03/06/2016 at 21:41

      I hope you will like Sofia then, it’s not the most beautiful city to visit but it definitely has its moments!

  • Reply
    Bryony Clapperton (travelsandmore)
    09/10/2016 at 10:42

    I’m visiting Sofia in a couple of weeks and I’m currently doing some research. That’s how I found your blog and I’m so happy I did, this post has really got me in the mood for some exploring. Thanks so much :)

    • Reply
      kami
      17/10/2016 at 19:39

      I hope you will like it! It’s not an easy city to fall for but with a right attitude you can have a very pleasant visit :)

  • Reply
    Sofia's Second Chance - The Wayfarer's Book
    08/11/2016 at 10:58

    […] Sofia soon charmed me with a quirkiness hidden in all the most unexpected nooks and crannies. When we left, just a day and a half later, I was disappointed. Sofia is a city that needed to be unearthed, and I just hadn’t had enough time. I wish I could go back — so many people have said they really discovered the city’s charm on their second visit to Sofia. […]

  • Reply
    Jed
    25/02/2017 at 19:38

    Thanks, Kami, really interesting. I’m planning to go to Sofia in March and this is helpful info. Street art and soups – I may stay longer than I thought! Dziękuję :)

    • Reply
      kami
      27/02/2017 at 16:21

      Thanks! It is much more interesting city than it seems but I still think one day would be enough there, maybe two… But Bulgaria is great! Have a wonderful trip!

  • Reply
    Prasadranjan Ray
    28/03/2017 at 11:18

    very informative, indeed! we are visiting in late april.

    • Reply
      kami
      29/03/2017 at 15:08

      I hope you will have a great time in Sofia!

  • Reply
    Rangel
    30/03/2017 at 10:47

    Cool! I like it very much!

    • Reply
      kami
      17/04/2017 at 18:47

      Thanks!

  • Reply
    Richard
    08/07/2017 at 10:57

    Any idea what kinds of internet speeds they have there? I would need to be working a bit every day.

    • Reply
      kami
      21/08/2017 at 20:49

      I honestly have no idea! A friend of mine is moving to Bulgaria soon and she also needs to work online so I assume it’s not that bad!

  • Reply
    Kseniya
    05/09/2017 at 10:28

    I’ll definitely try their soups!! Can’t wait to be in Sofia in 2 days!

    • Reply
      kami
      05/10/2017 at 10:58

      I’m late with my answer but I hope you had a good time in Sofia and enjoyed the soups scene :)

  • Reply
    Lawrence
    11/01/2018 at 13:16

    This was a brilliant read, thank you so much!!

    Which would you pick – Sofia or Bucharest? I’m fascinated by both but can ony pick one – but obviously I can’t decide ha.

    • Reply
      kami
      29/03/2018 at 19:55

      I think I’d go for Bucharest. I like both cities but I think Bucharest is still more interesting and offers more things to do and places to see

  • Reply
    Robert
    25/01/2019 at 07:40

    Thanks a lot for your really interesting posts about the balkan area! I am planning to go to Bulgaria this year. Did you go somewhere at the coast of the Black Sea? Do you know any nice places there?

    • Reply
      kami
      27/01/2019 at 15:51

      Hi Robert, thank you for your comment. I was in Burgas, Sozopol and Varna and liked the last one the most. Bulgaria is great, I’m sure you will have a good time there!

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