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How to spend 24 hours in Sofia, Bulgaria’s Roman influenced capital city

With a past rooted in Ottoman culture and socialist struggle, Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia, emerges as a sparkling centre of energy and cultural richness. Here it is not uncommon to see contrasting buildings, huge grey monuments commemorating the pre-1989 style, and then a McDonalds paying tribute to capitalism. The city’s identity is being built as we speak, so you definitely chose a good time for your visit. Here is our guide to 24 hours in Sofia and all the best things to do, see and taste.

Women traditional Bulgarian costumes throwing roses in the air at the annual Roses Festival

10:00am – tuck in to the local food

Start off your 24 hours in Sofia on a tasty note by walking around the historic neighbourhood of Vitoshka and trying local delicacies. I suggest trying out fried yellow cheese with some lutenitsa and fries, a Bulgarian favourite that any café will offer. If you are into meats, kufte (meatball) and kebabche (long meatball) are also worth a try, as well as gyuvech – baked meat and vegetable stew served with greens in a clay pot.

Banitsa and airan are two other must-tries in the morning, just go to one of the street stands and get some Bulgarian pastries – they are super cheap (£0.5/piece). This way you’ll start learning your way around the city, get a feel for local culture and take things up a delicious notch.

12:00pm – visit one of the Orthodox churches

The history surrounding the city of Sofia is endless, every church or monastery has a story dating far back. Make sure to visit Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The scale of this building will amaze you – there is room for 10,000 people and it’s the second-largest cathedral in the Balkan region. When you’re inside, look up at the ceiling of the main cupola, which has a mural of the Lord God Sabbath. The crypt here is also open to visitors and has a big collection of icons. Photography is usually forbidden inside.

Another interesting landmark is the Russian church built in 1914, just a few blocks away from Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Done in the 17th-century Muscovite church style, it’s one of Sofia’s most beautiful buildings and a great source of pride to many locals.

Alexander Nevski Cathedral by@immovingtolondon


13:00pm – spot the street art

Street art can be found everywhere in the city, but probably one of my favourite spots to see cool graffitis & paste-ups is the Tsar Ivan Shishman Street. It’s colourful, creative and fun.

Street art in Sofia by@immovingtolondon


14:00pm – visit some of Sofia’s best museums

History lovers will find some unexpected treasures in the museums of Sofia. One of my personal favourites is the Museum of Socialist Art, dedicated to showcasing works from the communist period in Bulgaria. You can explore the park with over 70 sculptures, an exhibition hall of paintings, and a video hall with films and newsreels from the communist era.

Another fascinating Sofia attraction is the Earth and Man National Museum, which is also one of the largest mineralogical museums in the world. Its collection encompasses 40% of all known minerals, including massive gems, volcanic rocks and sparkling geodes. You can also find man-made ceramics created by Bulgarian scientists.


15:00pm – relax in one of the parks

Sofia is a very green capital with lots of beautiful parks. The biggest and possibly the best in the city centre is Borisova Gradina. Here you can find a small lake, a lot of statues of famous Bulgarians and 2 large stadiums. The City Garden, located directly in front of the National Theatre, and the South park nestled south of the National Palace of Culture, are also both great places to relax.

The City Garden next to the National Theatre by@immovingtolondon


16:00 – shopping time!

Sofia is an amazing shopping destination for a few things: leather, little known designer clothes, and jewellery. All three are much cheaper here than in most of Europe or America and are really good quality. For shopping sprees, I recommend going around Graf Ignatiev, Vitoshka and Gurko, where you’ll find small boutiques offering unique pieces at reasonable prices.

If you are after traditional Bulgarian pottery, paintings or antiques, all of these can be found in the garden in front of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Street shopping in Sofia is much better than going to a mall, and the choice you have here is more diverse. Definitely worth having a look around during your 24 hours in Sofia.


18:00pm – enjoy a glass of Bulgarian wine or rakia

What better way to end your day than to relax on a terrace with a glass of Bulgarian wine? From the spicy Mavrud variety of the Asenovgrad area, through to the deep dark Gamza of the northwest, to the chilled whites of Dimyat of eastern Bulgaria, the local tipples are absolutely fabulous.

One other drink worth trying in Bulgaria is rakia, which is normally served as an aperitif. A common way to sip it is in the good company of fresh or pickled vegetables. Many Bulgarians swear by a saying “a psychotherapist can help you but rakia is cheaper”. But remember, a small measure in Sofia is 50ml and a double is 100ml, so if you are coming from Europe, USA or Australia, beware that the measures are huge in comparison.

Rakia


19:00pm – watch a live performance at the Ivan Vazov National Theatre

Many theatres mainly based in the centre of Sofia can tempt you with modern or classical performances. The Ivan Vazov National Theatre is Bulgaria’s largest theatre, as well as the oldest in the country. Founded in 1904 it is a Neoclassical building, designed by famous Viennese theatre architects Hermann Helmer and Ferdinand Fellner. Step in to enjoy a magnetic and breath-taking live performance here during your 24 hours in Sofia.


Ivan Vazov National Theatre

21:00pm – get your foot tapping at a traditional folklore show

Traditional Bulgarian music and dance is fast-paced and thrilling, so make sure to enjoy a special folklore show where you can see the famous horo dance. With a quick beat and a line of swirling skirts, you can’t help but tap along to the music.

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