The series “Holiday like a local in…” aims to show you a destination through the eyes of locals living in any European city. Discovering a place’s hidden spots, the things that are not included in any guide book, and the charming cafes with amazing views or the best known sights from a different angle are just a glimpse of what locals can show you. Check out the posts from Lisbon, London, Mostar and Barcelona.
Today we are going to discover Sofia – the capital of Bulgaria, through the eyes of two locals – Teodora and Sianna from Eostories. com. If you are planning to visit Sofia don’t miss their tips for perfect places to eat, best views, most delicious meals and many more.
#1. Please, introduce yourself, your blog and the city you live in!
Hello! We are Teodora and Sianna – two twenty-something Bulgarian girls living in Sofia, Bulgaria and blogging at eostories.com. We are university colleagues, friends and travel buddies sharing the same passion for traveling and exploring the world. We study fashion and we love art and design. We are food and wine enthusiasts, part-time travelers on a budget and trying to prove that balancing work, university and travelling is possible.
#2. What do you love the most about Sofia?
Sofia is a city of contrasts and it is fascinating to watch how it is developing and growing, turning into a hip European destination. You can see gathered together at a very small distance – a catholic and orthodox churches, a mosque and a synagogue! You can see modernistic new building next to a decaying abandoned house in the city center. New cars and very old trams…
Some people love Sofia from a first sight and others grow to love it when they got to know its beauty and secrets. We love the beautiful architecture in the city center, the small streets where you can always find something new hidden there, the more and more bars and restaurants that have amazing and unique character, the people in the summer drinking beer and having fun in some of the parks and gardens, the underground places, you won’t find in the city guides…or the map.
#3. What are your favorite local meals?
Bulgarian food is very delicious, typically Balkan, rich in variety and tastes and influenced by the Turkish cuisine. In the summer, everyone loves to eat tarator (cold soup with cucumbers and yoghurt).
The most traditional dish you can get for breakfast is banitsa. You can find it in some bakeries, but better find a local to cook it for you, you will see the difference. Drink airan (yoghurt and water) or boza (fermented beverage made from wheat or millets) with it. I challenge you to try the latest – it has a sour-sweet taste and most foreigners find it very weird to drink.
Shopska salad is the most famous Bulgarian salad that goes for every season but the vegetables are the best in summer and most foreigners adore it. We have a lot of meat dishes and often mixed grill is served (different types of grilled meat). Most famous are meatballs and kebapcheta – similar to meatballs but in the shape of small sticks. All time favorite is musaka – similar to the famous greek musaka, but without the eggplant and in our opinion way more delicious. People joke that a man can’t marry a woman if she can’t cook a good musaka. Good thing, we can!
#4. What’s the best place to have breakfast?
Since ‘Fabrika Daga’ opened (in a very center location) it is probably the best place to have breakfast. You can call it a healthy fast food. The best thing and the reason why we bring foreign friends there is that they also serve a few types of traditional Bulgarian breakfast such as mekitsi, banitsa or Bulgarian French toast.
Another great option is to choose some of the bakeries such as Hlebar, Sirene I Vino (Cheese and Wine), Ma Baker, Jovan (The Holland Bakery), Farmer’s, Bocconcino, Sun & Moon where you can get a tasty sandwich with fresh Bulgarian products, bread, a slice of cake, croissants as well as some traditional or gourmet dishes depending on the day and the place. You can also try the street bakeries as many locals do on a busy day on their way to work, but don’t expect very high quality.
#5. What’s the best place to have dinner?
For traditional cuisine and authentic atmosphere – you can go to ‘Manastirska Magernitsa’ and ‘Hadjidraganovite Izbi’. ‘Before & After’ and ‘K.E.V.A’ (K.E.B.A) are also a great choice for you to get some popular Bulgarian dishes. We do bring our friends to nontraditional restaurants as well. The last absolute favourite is ‘The Little Things’ that has amazing cozy interior and super delicious menu. Oh, and the best raspberry wine! This summer a new restaurant opened on the main pedestrian street – ‘Shtastliveca’, where you can dine in a lovely shabby chic atmosphere, but make sure to reserve a table in advance.
We have an inside joke that Angel Kantchev Str. and Shishman Str. are our favourite ‘food streets’, because there you can find so many lovely restaurants and a great variety of international cuisine and European inspired restaurants.
If you are a meat lover – visit ‘SkaraBar’ where you can get mixed grill, barbeque, burgers with tasty fries. If you want to try the strong Bulgarian alcohol – go to ‘Raketa Rakia Bar’ where you can try different types of rakia (similar to brandy). We are planning to go for a shot of honey rakia very soon, but the most traditional is plum or peach rakia.
Vegetarians will also love ‘Soul Kitchen’ – a vegan restaurant with original menu and attention to the details when it comes to the food and the interior.
We got a bit carried away with the food and restaurants recommendations, but you can see we are foodies!
#6. What are the top three attractions in Sofia?
The Alexander Nevsky cathedral is one of the symbols of Sofia and the most popular sightseeing. It’s the second biggest orthodox cathedral on the Balkans. Another favourite is the Saint George rotunda hidden between the Presidency and Hotel Sheraton. The Russian Church is also a very picturesque building and you can go down to the crypt located on the left side of the church. There you can write a message or a wish and put it in the box they have for this purpose. It is supposed to come true. Right across it it’s the Egg of happiness. They say if you touch it and make a wish it will also come true. Quite a genies there so try your luck while in Sofia!
The main sites in Sofia are not scattered around the city but very conveniently gathered in one area in the very heart of it which makes it so easy for a self-guided tour – you’ll be surrounded by beautiful administrative buildings, churches and museums.
#7. Where can you get the best view of Sofia?
For the best overview of the city go to the Vitosha mountain. Young people like to go for a picnic in the summer at the Kopitoto area where you can enjoy the city seen from about 1345 altitude.
If you are not the hiking type, you can just visit one of the restaurants that are situated high enough so you can enjoy a great view of Sofia with your glass of wine. Consider ‘Tavan’ and ‘Pri Orlite’ (the second one being a bit more on the expensive side).
#8. Your favorite cultural attractions or activities?
Every year there is a Museums Night or Theater Night which is something between ‘open doors’ and a ‘marathon’. There are not admission fees for the museums throughout the day and night. For the Theater Night – they organize a program with plays from morning till the late night and every theater in Sofia is included. These two events are accompanied with a lot of interesting workshops and inside visits in some of the theaters and museums.
Sofia has a lot of theater and art institutions – from small independent acting studios and galleries to the national Opera house and the beautiful building of the National Theater. If you have the chance – go to a play at the National Theater. It iss a great experience! The tickets for an opera or a musical are quite cheap, so you can have the chance to see some of the Bulgarian artists. And most of the smaller galleries are free to visit and enjoy local arts and crafts from photography to jewelry.
#9. Are there any possibilities for exciting day trips from Sofia? Where to?
There are a lot of opportunities for day trips to see the beautiful Bulgarian nature. As Sofia is close to the borders of Serbia, Macedonia and Greece, you can even go to the neighboring countries for a day.
If you like hiking or you’re up for skiing in the winter – you can go to Vitosha Mountain. Koprivshtitsa is a small town (108 km from Sofia) that has a very authentic feeling, rich history and Renaissance architecture. Tsari Mali Grad is a medieval fortress that was recently restored and opened for the public. It’s only 54 km from Sofia but due to the curvy road passing through the mountain (great views there while on the road) the drive is about an hour. Going to the Rila mountain (the highest mountain in Bulgaria) – you can visit the famous beautiful Rila Monastery or go to the spectacular Seven Rila lakes.
Or you can head towards the Northeastern part of Bulgaria where you can visit Veliko Tarnovo and some of the small towns and villages around it (Tryavna, Bojentsi, Arbanasi). They all have beautiful authentic architecture. Imagine cozy wooden houses nestled in the trees with shutters and stone facades.
In Veliko Tarnovo (capital of Bulgaria during the Second Bulgarian Empire) is located the medieval primary Bulgarian fortress Tsarevets. It’s absolutely amazing and if you happen to be there in a summer weekend you can observe the Sound and Light audiovisual show (starting at 19:30).
There are a lot of beautiful waterfalls, caves and monasteries you can visit just for a day. Even in Sofia you can go for a day or half-day trip – for example Vrana palace – a royal residence with beautiful gardens that is almost out of the city and therefore not that popular with tourists.
#10. What are the best traditional festivals or events throughout the year?
There are tons of festivals dedicated to traditional customs or music, including a yoghurt festival in town of Razgrad, just a proof for the wide variety. Depending on your interests and what you want to explore, you can find something interesting in every season.
Most of the music festivals besides Horizon are held during the summer. Horizon music festival is usually in the beginning of March and it’s in the city of Bansko which is up in the Pirin Mountains. If you love electronic music and skiing this is the place to be in the winter.
In the summer you can enjoy some rock music on Sofia Rocks and Spirit of Burgas festivals. In the recent year the Beglika Festival held in the Rhodope mountain got very popular not only with the music program but with the idea and the organization behind it that reflect the young people’s vision and needs.
One Design Week and One Architecture Week held in either Sofia or Plovdiv are our favourite art and design events, because they gather artists from all over the world, show amazing projects and exhibitions and create a great atmosphere in the city. Sofia Breaths is cultural event usually held throughout the whole August in Sofia and changes the city’s look by organizing bazaars, plays, workshops and everything related to the art scene.
There is also an International film festival that encourages people to get to know more than just the Hollywood movies, but independent directors and European quality cinema, that you won’t usually find in the Bulgarian cinema theaters.
Have you been to Sofia or is it on your travel bucket list? What do you think about the city when you see all these beautiful pictures?
If you want to participate in “Holiday like a local in…” series on Travelling Buzz, send an email to: [email protected] with the city you live in. Currently wanted: Athens, Barcelona, Istanbul, Paris, Valencia, but always ready to include other European cities.