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11 min read
After our CEO Greg spending 48 hours in Dublin and bringing you some amazing travel recommendations, our Head of Operations Sam takes you on a journey to Sofia, capital city of Bulgaria.
A short break in Sofia? Sign me up! Bulgaria’s special and stylish capital is the perfect place to explore if you’ve only got 48 hours at your disposal. It’s big enough to provide loads of awesome attractions but small enough that you can scoot around in a weekend without feeling you’ve missed out on too much.
Sofia became the capital of Bulgaria in 1879 but it’s heritage dates back a whopping 7000 years making it one of the oldest cities in Europe. The streets are dotted with traces from all the different periods of Sofia’s rich history. Roman ruins and Ottoman mosques intermix with Stalinist architecture and Bulgarian Revival churches to create a spectacular cityscape. Sofia’s many enlightening galleries and instructive museums are splendidly complemented by the laidback atmosphere of its luscious gardens and relaxed locals. What’s more, Sofia is located at the foot of the picturesque mount Vitosha so the city is surrounded by amazing mountain views! Not a bad resume by my standards!
Below you can find a comprehensive guide to help you make the most of every minute in this truly marvellous city.
After a 3 hour flight from London Stansted, I land at Sofia Aiport (the main airport in Sofia). I want to make the most of my time in the city so I jump in a taxi and head straight to the 4* Central Hotel to drop off my bag.
As the name states, Central Hotel Sofia is located in the heart of the city in close proximity to most main tourist attractions as well as cultural monuments and amazing restaurants.
With an average rating of 4.5/5, I'm sure it's going to be a great stay!
Begin your holiday by brushing up on your knowledge of Bulgaria at the National Museum of History. Whether you’re a complete amateur or a trained specialist in Bulgarian history, this museum will blow your mind. It is packed with over 650,000 invaluable objects spanning from 6000BC to present day that tell the story of Bulgaria’s complex past. Try not to get lost as you explore everything from ancient tribes to khans and tsars.
Photo Credit: @nationalmuseumofhistorysofia
Head back into the city centre to fuel up with a locally roasted coffee at the popular Rainbow Café. It definitely couldn’t hurt to try some of their scrumptious food whilst you’re here too. Banitsa (a cheese filled flaky filo pastry pie) and mekitsa (a fried dough drizzled with white cheese) are two favourites of locals and visitors alike.
Photo Credit: @24kitchen_nl
Just ten minutes away is one of the most iconic symbols of Sofia, the Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This impressive neo-byzantine style basilica features a central gold-plated dome that sparkles brightly in the afternoon sun. Construction took 30 years, which perhaps is not surprising given that until 2000, this building was the largest Orthodox cathedral in the world. Inside you can see wonderful icons, huge chandeliers and the royal thrones. Don’t leave without visiting the crypt for a look at its collection of Orthodox Christian art. Walk through the grounds and make sure to find the sobering sculpture devoted to the 15,000 soldiers blinded by evil Emperor Basil II in 1014.
Photo Credit: @michaelebg
Tear yourself away from the cathedral to visit the amazing Saint Sophia Basilica. This church was built in the early 6th century and despite being hit by not just one but two earthquakes in the 1800s, it still stands proudly today. Venture into the catacombs to discover the ancient necropolis hidden inside. Go from this example of Early Christian architecture to an example of communist architecture and visit the National Palace of Culture. Known as the NPC, this building is a spectacular example of the scope and ambition of architectural design under Bulgaria’s Communist government. The vast complex of concert halls, theatres, gallery spaces and cinemas, spans an enormous 15,000 m2 area.
Photo Credit: @nnikolova11
I firmly believe that the best way to get to know a place is to do as the locals do. In Sofia that means when the sun starts going down, it’s time to pick up a beer and find a spot in one of the many parks for a relaxed drink. Grab your chosen poison from a supermarket or if you want to treat yourself (this is a holiday after all!) check out the amazing selection of craft beers at Kanaal. If the weather isn’t cooperating and al fresco isn’t an option, Kanaal is also a great place to have a drink inhouse.
Photo Credit: @branbeergeek
Alternatively, try Raketa Bar in Zaimov Park which specialises in Bulgaria’s unofficial national drink of rakia, a delicious, fermented fruit brandy. Continue your local experience with a bite to eat at Chevermeto. They have a large menu made up of all the best traditional dishes. Whatever you choose to order, it’s a good idea to pair it with a side of the Shopska Salad, a tomato and cheese salad that Bulgaria is renowned for.
Photo Credit: @chevermeto_
Sofia is as phenomenal by night as it is by day so keep the fun going with a night out dancing. Yalta Club is one of the most iconic nightlife venues in Sofia as it was the first place to play electronic music after the fall of communism in Bulgaria.
Photo Credit: @yaltaclubsofia
The nights here are particularly popular because the minimalist interior gives the venue the feel of a giant house party. If that’s not your style, how does a spot of karaoke sound? Let loose at Versus Karaoke Bar safe in the knowledge that you will likely never see anyone in the audience again!
After a nutritious breakfast, travel back in time to Sofia’s oldest building, the St George Rotunda. This red brick structure dates back to the 4th century. It is surrounded by Roman ruins and it is thought to stand on the site of a Roman temple. It might seem risky to go inside such an old building, but it is worth it for a peak at the wonderful 10th century frescoes within.
Photo Credit: @yen_hirondelle
Just next door from here, you will find another of Sofia’s treasures. It shouldn’t be hard to spot the custard-yellow walls of the Viennese style former royal palace. This marvellous building is much to admire from the outside, but it gets even better inside. The palace is now home to Bulgaria’s National Art Gallery as well as its Ethnographical Museum. The gallery walls are covered with 50,000 works of art including medieval paintings as well as pieces by Bulgarian National Revival artists. The Ethnographical Museum collects and preserves artefacts connected to Bulgaria’s cultural heritage.
Photo Credit: @tonyanova
Visitors can learn all about bygone ways of life in the country and discover interesting facts about the traditions and beliefs of the Bulgarian people. The wood carvings, musical instruments, and ritual objects are all fascinating, but the showstopper is the collection of traditional embroidered clothing. By the time you leave the palace you will be an expert on all things Bulgarian!
After that morning, I can guarantee you will have worked up an appetite. Lucky for you, I know the perfect place to replenish your energy – Sofia’s Central Market Hall. No BRB itinerary would be complete without visiting a local market, and this one really is a wonderful way to experience a slice of Sofian life. Within the enchanting neo-renaissance style building you will find stalls selling all sorts from olives and sweets to souvenirs and jewellery.
Photo Credit: @talentedbg
Make a bee line to one of the market restaurants if you are desperate to put your feet up. Or fill your belly with samples as you hop from stand to stand following your nose around the market. With your strength regained, the museum tour continues!
Just across the street from the market hall is Sofia’s Regional History Museum. Housed in the magnificent former mineral baths, this museum finally opened its doors to the public in 2015 after years of restoration and planning. Prepared to be engrossed as you travel through Sofia’s past admiring treasures such as costumes, a horse carriage from Marie Antoinette and a golden clock presented to Prince Ferdinand by Queen Victoria. You can even take a seat on a retro tram if your legs begin to feel tired!
Photo Credit: @iratxin_dlop
Last but definitely not least is the St Nikolai Russian Church. Built in 1913 for the Russian diplomats, this church was intended to impress, and it lives up to that expectation. From the immaculate white façade to the green tiled roof and the crowning golden domes, everything about this sweet little church is exquisite.
Photo Credit: @alexgeleva
If there is ever a time to treat yourself, it is definitely on the last day of a holiday! So, go all out with a spectacular pre-dinner cocktail at Top Secret. This bar is set within luscious gardens where you can listen to soothing jazz music while sipping your cocktail by a pool or in the jacuzzi. Sounds like a pretty perfect way to start an evening to me!
Photo Credit: @zlatinapachedzhieva
Keep the sophistication going with a superb dinner at Grozd. This restaurant takes old Bulgarian recipes and gives them a modern makeover to create some really excellent dishes that will leave you licking your lips.
Photo Credit: @restaurantgrozd
Squeeze the most out of every second of your 48 hours in Sofia by extending the evening with a drink at Sense Hotel’s Rooftop Bar. The sleek furnishings and their spacious terrace make this a lovely place to spend your last moments in the city. What makes this bar really special though is the incredible view it offers of Sofia’s glittering skyline. I can’t think of a better place to say goodbye to the city that has just stolen your heart.
Photo Credit: @all.ex_15
If like me you love taking short weekend breaks across Europe and spending 48 hours in cities like Barcelona, Prague, Porto, Split, Bologna, Stockholm or Venice, but if like me you hate wasting hours trawling travel sites to plan and research your next weekend break, only to be hit by increased flight prices just before booking, then BeRightBack is for you!
The team at BeRightBack believes that the mission of a travel company should be to save you both time and money.
With BeRightBack, you get three trips a year to three surprise European destinations, all for the monthly cost of £49.99, which includes your return flights and your hotel.
With BeRightBack, creating a trip takes 60 seconds. Simply tell us how you like to travel when you create your account, and our concierge service does everything else for you. You won't have to lift a finger.
Best of all, you always pay the same price for your trips, no matter when you go away and we help you spread the cost of your travel, thanks to our monthly subscription.
I hope you enjoyed my 48 hours city guide to Sofia and do not hesitate to use our website chat or to email us if you have any questions!
Sam Norman (Head of Operations at BeRightBack)
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