Do You have few expectations about Sofia? Then it’s time to think about it again. Relaxing, quiet and full of interesting aspects, Sofia is a European capital of a pure Balkan flavour, amazing especially for the way in which different cultures and religions use to live together peacefully within the same city.
The Bulgarian capital is in fact one of the cities where one can find an Orthodox church, a Christian church and a Mosque on the same road, placed in front of each other. Sofia can be visited easily. If you like to wake up early you can also do within a day. So, plan even a weekend to live quietly this city and above all discover its most hidden and interesting sides. Walking through the main streets starting from the Orthodox Church of Sveta Nedelya, head to the south of Vitosha to stroll on the shopping street up to the palace of culture and to the east on Bulevard Tsar Osvoboditel to find the most important historic buildings up to the Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Do not limit yourself to a classic touristic tour, because Sofia is a city that should be experienced in its most hidden alleys which preserve the energy of the third oldest city in Europe. We took advantage of a free food tour, organized by non-profit association of enterprising guys of Sofia, to discover a part of the city apart of the main streets, as well as to taste the local dishes and learn about many curiosities about Sofia and Bulgarian culture. It would be perfect if those tours would be organized in every city in the world to give the opportunity to every kind of tourist to know the city with the eyes of its citizens. In fact, thanks to this tour we get to know a really fascinating part of Sofia, on the East of Vitosha street where one can feel the true essence of the city outside the tourist chaos, strolling on the market of second hand books and the streets rich of typical restaurants and shops of local artists. It is worth spending a couple of hours here and try the local street food in the road that heads to the Orthodox church of Veti Sedmochislenitsi. History, legends, culture, street performers and food make Sofia one of the most beautiful cities one can visit. Set aside a weekend for your visit, as after every trip you will come back enriched.
- Yogurt: Bulgarians are proud to have invented (by accident) yogurt. It is said that the proto-Bulgarians, a nomadic population who moved from Asia to Bulgaria had the habit of transporting milk within lamb skin pouches tied on the backs of their donkeys or horses. Because of the animal’s body temperature, the micro-flora of the bags and the movement of the animals during long journeys, the milk became acid but still tasty and nutritious. This containing the Lactobacillus Bulgaricus to whom the Bulgarians attribute their longevity (Bulgaria does have the highest percentage of people older than 100). Now I feel like I would like some yogurt !!
- The Lactobacillus Bulgaricus makes the Bulgarian yoghurt very healthy, lowers cholesterol, fights cancer and helps the bowel to work better.
- The Bulgarians say they are physically very strong (Spartacus was born in Thrace, today’s Bulgaria) this because they eat lots of garlic, and we can confirm it…
- Sofia is the third oldest city in Europe after Rome and Athens
10 Things to do in Sofia
- Food Tour of Sofia
- Hidden poetries of Sofia: around the city there are 28 poems written by authors from different European countries and drawn on the facades of several buildings. They create a good opportunity to visit the hidden corners of the city.
- Free Sofia Tour. These guys offer free tours of Sofia, including a tour full of stories and facts about the city, an evening pub crawl and comunist tour.
- Walking on Vitosha, the shopping street, and stop to have a coffee in one of the bars on the street. Then move on to the districts East of Vitosha and get lost on the streets, it’s really worth.
- Church of San Giorgio.
- Serdika Archaeological Site
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Entrance is free, but you have to pay a fee to take pictures inside the church.
- Historical Museum of Sofia, very interesting because it is located in an ancient SPA, of which there are still hot spring water fountains. We have seen people drinking from these fountains and we also tested the water…we were not hurt 🙂
- Church of Sveti Sedmochislenisti: look around the church to find an electrical cabinet covered by a graffiti which shows on the front two Orthodox priests hugging and on the back the same priests palpating their asses. There are many of these electrical cabinets throughout the city, they are called Transformers and were originally designed to give a new and more colorful aspect to the city.
- Antique market: in the vicinity of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral you can find everything from holy pictures to accessories of the Nazi period which may shock your sensibility.
What to eat
It ‘obvious to find garlic in the Bulgarian cuisine, except in desserts… Yogurt is present everywhere, both as a beverage and as contouring or sauce to be associated with meat and vegetables. The influence of Ottoman cuisine is still present in many spicy dishes. Cheese and meat of goat and pork are present on all menus.
To drink: try the Bulgarian red wine, the one which Roman Empire legionaries used to drink . Close your meal with a glass of iced rakie.
- Tarator: is a traditional summer soup, served cold and made by yogurt, salt, cucumber, dill and nuts.
- Shopska Salata: a salad of tomato, cucumber and grated cheese that resembles the colors of the Bulgarian flag, white, green and red. This is the national dish par excellence.
- Banitsa: Typical pastry looking salty cake, filled with cheese (the most typical), or apple, pumpkin, spinach, onion. Bulgarians use to eat it during breakfast. It will surely give you an energy boost throughout the day. It also represents the traditional New Year dish and during its preparation a coin is places inside the dough before putting it in the oven. Who will take the piece of banitsa with the coin will have a lucky year.
- Meshana Skara: mixed meat grill
- Kavarma: stew of pork and vegetables
- Buhtichki: or Bulgarian donut, served with powdered sugar, caramel or chocolate, they are easily found in markets.
Where to eat
- Hadjidraganov’s cellars: the best traditional restaurant we tried in Sofia, with furniture built by craftsmen from Bulgarian villages. It has some good red wines and a wide variety of meat dishes and vegetables. Also try the sugared typical wine. We were surprised to see a wooden cart at the entrance much like a Sicilian cart (does it means that Sicily and Bulgaria have something in common?) (Address: Ul. “Hristo Belchev” 18, 1000 Sofia)
- Supa Star: small restaurant with a wide selection of soups in Sofia (Address: ul. “Tsar Shishman”, 1000 Sofia)
- Sun and Moon: small vegetarian restaurant housed in an old bakery, only furnished with second-hand furniture. The bread is homemade and is seasoned with exquisite spicy sauces. Get used to the strong garlic taste. (Address: Ul. “William Gladstone” 18-Б, 1000 Sofia)
- Farmer’s: Bulgarian fast food chain, a good alternative to the various American chains, they serve organic products from regional farms. (Address: Ul. “General Yosif V. Gourko” 38-Б, 1000 Sofia)
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