Bulgaria invites every traveler to feel like an artist and create their own unique mosaic of events, places, impressions and emotions. In any season in Bulgaria there is entertainment to your liking and for every budget. Festivals and parties, exhibitions and museum cities, hiking or SPA resorts – all you have to do is choose and enjoy!
Visa, transport, currency
Bulgaria has been a member of the European Union since January 1, 2007, but the currency has remained the same – levs and a bargaining chip – statins. The rate is very convenient for conversion 1 euro = 1.94 or 1.96 leva (it is easier to count 1:2), depending on the bank (some banks do not have a commission). At the airport, I changed 10 euros at the rate of 1.90, that is, they gave me 19 leva, it’s not very cheap, but it’s better to look for banks in the city, and they are at every step, and exchange them there at a favorable rate. For the exchange provided a passport.
At the information desk in the first terminal, you can find out the information you are interested in and take a free map of the city – there are three types of them, they differ in scale and description.
You will be offered a taxi ride for 30-40 leva to the center – but this is a pure divorce and here’s why. There are 2 terminals at the airport, all planes from the non-Schengen zone arrive at the 1st terminal. After leaving it, look for the inscription at the Shuttle bus stop – this is a free bus that runs every 30 minutes between the terminals, you get to terminal 2 and go to the metro, you can’t go wrong there: the station is called Letishte (that is, Airport) Sofia – this is the cheapest way to get in town. In the metro, you buy a ticket for 1.60 leva in the machine, but for this you need coins, the machine will not return the change or from the cashier, but it is better to buy a card for 1 lev and pay 10 trips for 12 leva, so each trip will come out 1.20 lev, not 1.60. And this card is valid for an unlimited amount of time. So, since last year, I have several unused trips left on my map, and in 2017 I was able to use them.
The metro is new and clean, the cars move very quietly, each station is announced and also displayed on the scoreboard. The central station is Serdika. It is easy to get to anywhere in the city by buses and trams. The fare costs a fixed 1.60 leva, you buy tickets from the driver or from a vending machine right in the transport (you also need coins for payment – the vending machine does not give change).
Accommodation in Sofia
My stop is Lviv Bridge, not far from it I rented an excellent room in an apartment through booking.com for 17 euros per day. In general, housing in Sofia is more than affordable. You just have to look in advance and you will definitely come across a great option like me!
National cuisine, cafes, gourmet shops and non-trivial souvenirs
To understand a new country, you need to try the dishes of its cuisine. For me, as a budget tourist, it is important not only how it is cooked, but also how much it costs. To do this, I went to my favorite, since last year, Bar Supa Star, bul. Prince Alexander Dondukov 17. Black forged chandeliers and drawings of crosses, made up of images of products, the interior resembles a Gothic church. But such extravagant design does not affect the quality of food, the menu always has 5-7 types of soups and 3-5 types of salads. The portions are just huge and very satisfying, there are options for both vegetarians and meat eaters. If you want a thrill, try Shkembre Chobra – a soup made from beef, sheep or pork stomach – there is a sign next to it that says “For connoisseurs”. But Bob Chobra – rich bean soup with tomatoes, Leshta-yahnia – thick meat soup with lentils and vegetables and Pileshka – chicken noodle soup – delicious and original dishes. Interesting Bulgarian bread “zemel” in the form of small buns, sprinkled with sesame seeds. The famous Shopska salad is delicious and fresh with feta cheese or siren cheese, a great addition to any fatty dish. Prices are very democratic: soup, on average, comes out 3.50-4 leva and the cost of a salad within this framework – so a full meal for 8 leva (4 euros) is a great alternative to fast food.
Right in the center of the city is the building of the old city market Hali, where you can try traditional Bulgarian pastries – Banitsa pie made from puff pastry with cottage cheese and a lot of all kinds of baked goodies piping hot.
There is a delicious place near the Hagia Sophia – Caffetteria Espresso Bar, where the most important thing is to stop on time, because there are a lot of sweets – for every taste – from tiramisu and chocolate cakes to traditional Banitsa and Zavivantsev.
Another cozy cafe with breathtakingly delicious desserts is hidden on Iskar Street, 36 – called Cakey Bakey. All the cakes are home-made and delicious – what are the chocolate desserts with almond crumbs and the white Raffaello cake!
Tripadvisor isn’t lying when it recommends you check out the Dada Cultural Bar at 10A Geogri Benkovki Street. And I got there absolutely by accident, walking around the city. The bar is very colorful, but not in the sense of national color, but due to the design and decor of the interior in the style of Dadaism – a trend in art
tvé, which emerged in the second half of the 20th century. Hence the name Dada: Design Architecture Decoration Art. Walls, tables, showcases and even the ceiling are all very skillfully decorated and create the feeling of a bohemian artist’s apartment, not a bar. By the way, Dada regularly hosts “revelations”, that is, exhibitions of young talented artists and sculptors, musicians often play in the evening, and all this is absolutely free!
Another bar where you just walk around the city and don’t accidentally wander into it is 65 Svetulka, that is, 65 Fireflies. Decorated with fantasy, and subdued light, skillfully dividing the space into zones, creates a feeling of comfort. A soulful place with an open summer terrace and a garden is lost in the courtyards of the central district not far from the Vitosha pedestrian street at the address. Solunska, 65. This place is non-tourist, Sofia youth gathers here, therefore there are almost never places if you do not book in advance.
To feel the taste of Bulgaria, you must definitely try its cheeses and wine. There is such a unique place in Sofia – gourmet shop Kupazh, st. Solunska, 42, where a friendly seller, who is also the owner, will offer you a tasting tour of the regions of Bulgaria. For 10 leva (5 euros) you will be poured five different wines from local Bulgarian producers, and will be offered to try 5 types of traditional Kashkavala cheese made from goat, cow and sheep milk. I looked there almost before closing, but over a glass of wine and a friendly conversation, the time flew by like an instant. The owner himself, enthusiastically telling the story of making cheeses and wine, reluctantly closed the shop around 23.00. You can also buy your favorite products there. Open daily from 10-22, except Sunday.
Gourmet shop Kupage
The ecological trend is not slowing down and you can see for yourself. The Zona Urbana store at 24 Angel Kanchev Street, a stone’s throw from the central pedestrian Vitosha, is actively involved in the liberation of our planet from garbage, making everything from recycled materials! You can help with this and purchase one of the many souvenirs. Here you will find bags made from old geographical maps and records, wallets made from music books and magazines, toys made from outdated jeans and down jackets. What do you think of the idea of a lamp from an old teapot or vegetable grater? All the exhibits, you can’t say otherwise, are made by hand! Graphic designer and web designer Carlos Arner is the main creator of this whole extravaganza. The whole variety can be seen here.
Sofia and surroundings – unusual places for a bright holiday
Sofia is a very convenient city for a traveler – all the sights are “at hand” in one place. Just leaving the metro, you see the ancient Thracian city, or rather its remains, carefully opened for tourists by archeological excavations and covered with a glass dome. A stone’s throw from each other are the spiritual cloisters of several religions at once – the Banya Bashi Mosque, the Jewish Synagogue and the Christian Church of St. Neleli. There are also museums, thermal springs and wide pedestrian streets. A little further on is the main cathedral of the country – St. Alexander Nevsky with massive domes and lacy vaulted arches.
Even if you are no longer a child, Museumko should not be bypassed. This is not just a museum for children – it is an educational center and a place where science comes to life to become closer and more understandable. Here adults will spend a couple of hours with interest. The entire exposition is located on three floors. On the zero floor there is the past with volcanoes and dinosaurs, on the first floor there is the present, nature and technical achievements of mankind, inventions that turned the course of history (radio, telephone and others), on the second floor there is the future with interactive monitors and fun attractions. Museumko st. prof. Boyan Kamenov, 3 metro station G.M. Dimitrov. All details can be found on the museum’s website. Entrance for adults 10 lev, there is a cafe on the territory of the museum.
In Boyanovo, a remote area of Sofia, there is an ancient Christian shrine – Boyana Church. Since its construction (10th century), it has never been restored and the frescoes on the walls have been preserved in excellent condition to this day. This is a rare example of ancient wall painting depicting Biblical scenes. The church maintains a constant temperature and humidity, photography is prohibited in order to keep the frescoes in their original form for as long as possible. The entrance fee is 10 leva. You can get from the city center by trams No. 4 and No. 5, which run along Knyaginya Maria Luiza Boulevard to the Ovcha Kupel station (the Zapadny bus station is also located at the same stop), transfer there to bus No. 107 and get to the final stop.
If you want to learn more about ancient Sofia, its first inhabitants and get a taste of the Sofia atmosphere, we advise you to pay attention to a walk through the ancient city. It is here that you will understand how large-scale the city project was for those times and be surprised by the beauty of ancient temples.
The church is located in the foothills, from where the hiking trail to the Boyana waterfall begins. I intended to go there myself, but the spouses whom I asked about the waterfall did not let me go themselves and kept me company. Subsequently, I realized thatIt’s better to go in two or three – the trail is quite difficult. It is pleasant to walk through the forest under the arches of trees on a hot day, listen to the sound of a mountain river and breathe in the purest forest air. Approaching the waterfall, the path becomes steeper, it becomes even more humid in the forest and now you can see a breathtaking view from afar. Seething streams of water fall from a huge ledge, break into tiny droplets, refracted in the sun’s rays, and turn into a fast mountain stream.
If you love mountains and hiking, then Sofia is ready to give them to you! Around the city are framed by mountains, forming as if a bowl of a crater. In good weather, peaks are clearly visible from any part of Sofia, the highest of them is the Black Vrah, over 2000 meters above sea level. And this is another entertainment for the whole day – a trip to the Vitosha National Park. There are two ways to get there: on the lift in Simeonovo (cabins) and in Dragolevtsy (chair lift). The cable car is more than 6 km long, consists of several stations, and you can start hiking from any one, but it’s better to start it all the same from the top one – Aleko.
Vitosha National Park
On foot for about 2-3 hours on a not very steep, but difficult ascent. The difficulty lies in the fact that all the time you need to climb huge boulders, a mountain stream flows under them, just the one from which the source flows to Aleko. And so almost to the very top. It is much cooler on the mountain and it is worth equipping yourself in advance, and most importantly, SHOE! I walked in ordinary sneakers and slipped almost all the way, and strove to fall between the stones! The nature on Vitosha is magnificent, there is a dense coniferous forest below, and from the start the entire trail runs along a rocky surface and the panorama at the top opens up to all 360 degrees!
Last October I already visited Bulgaria and dedicated the trip to Sofia and Plovdiv. I wanted to diversify the impression, and I decided to combine a trip to the reserve with a visit to the Rila Monastery in the neighborhood.
The Rila Monastery is located one hundred kilometers from Sofia. On tour. For the agency, the cost of the trip to the Rila Monastery was 45 (!) Euros per person for one day. Such a price upset me, to put it mildly, and I began to find out if there was another way to get to the monastery on my own.
On the website, I found the schedule of buses running daily. From Sofia, a direct bus to the Rila Monastery departs from the West or Ovcha Kupel bus station – it costs 11 (!) Leva (5.50 euros) one way. And back from the monastery to Sofia on the same day, three hours after arrival. If your goal is only a monastery, then three hours for a visit is enough. And if you want to visit the Rila Lakes, you should plan a trip for at least 2 days. From the monastery to the village of Panichishte, where the lift to the mountains, can be reached by taxi. My route was as follows: Sofia (bus) – Rila Monastery – Panichishte (car) – Reserve of 7 Rila Lakes (lift).
The Monastery of St. Ivan Rilski is another ancient Christian shrine in Bulgaria. Founded in the 10th century, it was destroyed and burned down more than once, attacked by the Turks, but each time it was restored by the Bulgarians and was the guardian of the Bulgarian language and spirituality during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. The monastery looks like a fortress, in the center of which is the Khrelev tower and the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin. The walls of the fortress are residential and utility rooms, in which cells, a library and two museums are located. Admission is free, if you wish, you can make a donation.
Inside, from under the domes of the temple, from high windows, light pours and cuts through the space filled with incense and smoke from candles. The church is crowded, photography is prohibited, but this is not necessary, you just want to sit down and immerse yourself in the atmosphere of a holy place. The entrance to the Khrelev tower costs 5 lions and from it you can see the temple and the surrounding area. The Monastery Cuisine Museum is a great place to get an idea of the scale of the monks’ cooking. What is worth the oven, which occupies an entire room, and cooking rooms with a smoked dome pipe about 2 meters in diameter. Entrance costs 3 leva.
Seven Rila Lakes
I arrived at the monastery at 13.00 and until 16.00 there was just enough time for the inspection. From the monastery to the village of Panichishte I drove by car with my new Bulgarian friends and from there we went to the chair lift in the mountains to the Rila National Park. The car was left in the parking lot – 10 leva per day. Ski pass in both directions costs 18 leva, valid for 6 days from the date of sale.
We spent the night in a dormitory for eight for 28 leva per person (35 leva for a triple room, 50 for a double room). In the morning we collected food (which you need to buy in advance in Sofia or another city), water and went to the mountains. The places in Rila are breathtaking. You go uphill, and here you have a view of Lake Rybnoe, you climbed a little higher – you see another one – Shamrock, then a waterfall flowing from Lake Oko at a higher altitude. Even higher rocks, ledges and cliffs
We went down a steeper, but also shorter road, and in half an hour we were at the lakesand Oko. A little lower at Lake Twin there is another Hut, where we stopped and drank white tea with honey and healing coniferous resin, carefully prepared by the hostess. And then there was the final forced march to the lift station. There was a queue, but it moved quickly and after 10 minutes we were already going down to the parking lot, from where we began our journey to this amazing place. Be sure to come to the Rila Lakes, all your expectations and efforts will pay off with more than impressions and emotions from the luxurious Bulgarian nature.
Museum City Koprivshtitsa
I could not sit still on this visit, and I decided to see something else interesting, inexpensive and not very far from Sofia. Friends unanimously advised the city of Koprivshtitsa, which is 110 km west of the capital.
So a ticket to Koprivshtitsa and back costs 9.40 leva, is valid for one day and you can leave at any time both one way and back. The journey took about two hours. A minibus runs from the station in Koprivshtitsa, it takes another 20 minutes to drive along the mountain road to the city itself. The fare for a minibus is 3 leva.
So, two and a half hours later, I’m there. This is an open-air museum, one of the few cities in Bulgaria where the construction of new buildings is prohibited, and only by observing the style of the Bulgarian architecture of the 19th century, you can build something new. Even schools and banks look like old buildings.
Ancient buildings in Koprivshtitsa
Koprivshtitsa is a city of revolutionary events and a small homeland of several writers and folk activists, people who, by their example and activity, called on the Bulgarian people to rise against the Ottoman yoke. The dwellings of writers and revolutionaries have been turned into museums, but not only their expositions are interesting. Outside, the house is an example of the architecture of the Bulgarian Revival, which began in the middle of the 19th century, along with the revival of the self-consciousness of the Bulgarians as an integral people. A complex ticket for visiting 6 house-museums cost me only 6 leva.
Museum houses in Koprivshtitsa
So my journey has come to an end. Already sitting on the plane, I was reviewing maps, brochures and photos on my phone, made my own mosaic, my own unique picture of unforgettable trips, new acquaintances, amazing places and delicious food. Bulgaria, you are beautiful, and I will definitely come to you again!