I’ve never thought Bulgaria was a place I would visit, but I got the opportunity recently on a work trip to Sofia (their capital). To be completely honest, I wasn’t super excited for my trip because I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But I decided to have an open mind and see where the week would take me. I am happy to report that I was so wrong. Bulgaria is one of those countries that makes you fall in love with it the more you get to know it. The food here is AWESOME and the people are so nice. Most of them understand English so that wasn’t a huge issue, and I loved how everything here including the big cities are 10 paces slower than SF. I put together a recap of my trip including all the things I did and places I went.
Sofia has a great assortment of places you can stay at. We tried to get an Airbnb, but since we booked so close to our departure we ended up booking rooms at the Legends Hotel near Paradise Center. Our rooms were $40 a night which was pretty affordable for a solid hotel. The best thing about this hotel is that they serve free breakfast from 7am-10am. I love food especially when it’s free!
There are tons of ways to get around, but I would suggest the subway as the best method of transportation. It just opened in 2016, so all the trains and structures are still very new. The cost of a ticket is $1.60 lev ($1 USD) no matter how far you go.
If you can’t take the subway, the next best thing are the taxis. I would recommend downloading Taxi Star which is basically their Uber. You can hail a taxi from your phone, but you have to pay the driver in cash once you arrive at your destination. I would highly highly recommend using this app since there are scammer taxi drivers out there that will overcharge you for your ride. This happened to me and my coworker. The app keeps them honest because it shows you the cost of your ride at the end of your trip.
Things to Do
Day Trip to Plovdiv
Plovdiv is one of those cities you see in a dream. It’s the second biggest city in Bulgaria and the oldest inhabited city in all of Europe. The city is divided into different neighborhoods that have their own character. There’s the art district that has cute little shops and colorful graffiti. The old town is home to this best view in the city and the Roman cathedral. There’s also the main square where you can have a nice lunch while people watching.
The people in this city are said to practice aylyak which loosely means “the art of not giving a shit, doing everything at a relaxed pace and not worrying at all” And you can really see that way of life reflected in everyone who lives in this beautiful city. People seem to take their time in doing everything. I saw many people just hanging out at cafes for long periods of time. A lot of the shops and restaurants I passed were also not even open. Many people take trips to the coast during the summer months and don’t come back for weeks at a time.
Plovdiv is the perfect place for a day trip because it is only a 2 hour bus ride from Sofia (~$16 USD round trip). I had about 6 hours here which was the perfect amount of time to hit up all the major neighborhoods and have a nice lunch and dinner.
National Art Gallery
I came upon this place by chance. I was walking past it, and it looked like such a pretty building I decided to check it out. Inside they had 91 pieces of art housed in these gorgeous rooms with floor to ceiling windows. They also had a ballroom reminiscent of the one in Beauty & the Beast!!! Later I learned that the building actually used to be the royal palace. All the art in this place was donated by a Bulgarian Olympic athlete. Most of the art is from the 20th century but there are a few older pieces as well. Entry fee was 6 lev or $3.60 USD.
Ruins at Serdika Station
These ruins are truly one of a kind and they have an interesting story. In 2012 when they were clearing ground for the new subway, they discovered these ruins below what is today the Serdika station. They are of a city from the time of the Roman Empire. What was pretty cool is that they let them build the subway station around the ruins, so it’s free to see!
Flea Market at Nevsky Cathedral
This is a cute little flea market right outside of the Nevsky Cathedral. You can find some really cool stuff here like vintage items from the Soviet Era. The major downside is that it caters to tourists which means prices are higher or the same as they would be in the US. I read online that you should haggle with the vendors, but some of the vendors get frustrated if you start doing that. Personally, I’m not one to haggle so I just took a stroll through it. It’s still cool to see.
If you see 1 church in Sofia, it should be this one. The outside and inside are beautiful. The outside has white columns with blue domes on top. The inside looks like churches you see in the Vatican with well worn columns and rusted, gold accents throughout. It’s free to go inside the church, but if you want to take pictures you have to pay. Which I thought was absolutely bizarre. I tried to take a picture with my camera and they covered my view. I got pretty annoyed, so I took one when they weren’t looking lol.
Food & Drinks You Have To Try
Luteniza (tomato chutney) – WOW. This tomato chutney is a revelation for my palette. The people here put it on everything from bread to veggies or just to eat by itself on the side. It is made with pureed tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant. You can rest assured I will be recreating this in a later blog post.
Potatoes with Dill – Dill seems to be their herb of choice as I found it in almost every side dish I had. My favorite was absolutely sauteed potatoes. The potatoes are boiled then sauteed in olive oil and dill. As simple as this dish is, it is seriously packed with flavor. I was sharing this side with someone, and I ate over half of it myself. Oops!
Shopska salad – I did not have this, but this is a very traditional salad that many Bulgarians love.
Rakia – This is their version of vodka but a lot stronger. My team said I had to try this at least once. It tastes more or less like really strong wine that burns when it goes down your throat. Bulgarians used to use this stuff to stay warm in the winter, and many people swear it leads to a longer life. My team told me that some people drink it instead of eating breakfast lol
Restaurants & Bars
Hadjidraganovite kashti – 4/5
If you’re looking for a traditional Bulgarian dinner combined with a traditional atmosphere, this is your place. When I first walked into this place, I felt like I was transported into another world. The restaurant is housed in a traditional Bulgarian house. One of the engineers from my team was like: “This is what my grandma’s house looks like.” In addition to its super extra decor, the food is top notch. They have what seems like a dictionary for a menu. I ordered the assorted meats platter not knowing how much food I would get. All the menus here have the amount of food (in grams) next to each menu item, but when it said 500g I thought that meant the entire dish was going to be 500g. It actually only meant the meat was going to be 500g, so I had a ton of leftovers after. Aside being extremely full, I really enjoyed my night here. They had singing and dancing to traditional Bulgarian music, and the waiters were all dressed in traditional Bulgarian clothing.
Hotel Sense Rooftop Bar – 5/5
This is gem in the city center I came across online while searching for rooftop bars. I knew the one thing I had to do here was go to a rooftop bar. SF is the worst in terms of rooftop bars because it’s always windy and cold, so I wanted to actually have the experience while I was here. This bar is at the top of Hotel Sense. It has a very modern feel and look, which is not surprising the drinks were pricier than other places we went to. A drink here was ~15 lev which translates to $9 USD. The cocktails here were really good though. I had the First Lady which is a MATCHA cocktail. Definitely adding a matcha cocktail to my to-make list. I also had another drink but I can’t remember what it was called. It had a purple coloring with gin and cherry bitters – also good.
Moma – 5/5
No this is not the museum of modern art but their food might as well be. One of my coworkers could not stop talking about this restaurant, so I knew I had to try it. This is a modern Bulgarian restaurant in downtown Sofia. They make traditional Bulgarian dishes but dress them up a bit by using more high-end nontraditional ingredients. I had the roasted pork shank (never heard of that before) with some roasted veggies and luteniza (tomato chutney). Everything was amazingly good. I would say my favorite here and of the whole trip was the luteniza. Outside of the food, the restaurant is absolutely gorgeous. It has white interiors with modern Bulgarian art hanging throughout. They also have outside seating which I would recommend if you’re coming during the warmer months.
The Little Things – 3/5
This place is one of the restaurants I found before my trip. I was drawn to it because of how cute all the decor was. The reviews weren’t bad either. The restaurant is in a little house with super cute shabby chic decor. I was squealing the entire time I was there, but unfortunately the food was just okay. I had veal meatballs with vegetables and potatoes. The meatballs were a bit overcooked and the potatoes were not seasoned well. It’s worth it once for the experience, but I probably wouldn’t go back.
Murafeti – 5/5
A low key grill in the outskirts of Sofia. This might be a tad far from the city center but the authentic, cheap food is worth it. I stumbled into this place because I was looking for a place to eat around my hotel. It was actually right behind it! lol They have a large menu of authentic Bulgarian food. The first time I was there I had the lamb kebab, sauteed potatoes, and fresh vegetables. The lamb kebab just blew me away! It was so juicy and flavorful. I loved it so much I ended up ordering the same thing every time I came here…3 total to be exact. I would highly recommend this place as a local, non-touristy place to eat.