Bulgaria is a gem that remains undiscovered by many Americans. The mountains offer prime skiing conditions and the beaches of the Black Sea are the perfect place to relax. The best part about Bulgaria is that it is still relatively cheap compared to the rest of Europe. I only stopped in the capital city, Sofia, and it left me hungry for more. (Quite literally as the food was incredible).
Here’s what to do in Sofia
See its stunning places of worship
Sofia is home to some of the most beautiful places of worship I’ve seen. The iconic gold roofed Cathedral is Sofia’s most iconic site, but don’t miss the Synagogue, the Mosques, or the Russian Orthodox church.
Check out the ancient history
Hidden below Sofia’s modern boulevards is the ancient Roman city of Serdica. Restoration of the site began in 2011 and was met with some controversy. Parts of the site are inside under a large dome. Other parts of the site are out in open air. To preserve the outdoor ruins, preservers covered the ruins with modern day material like bricks and concrete, leading to an odd visual juxtaposition and protests from Bulgarians who believed this was destroying the ruins, not protecting them. The bricks still cover the outdoor part, so see for yourself as you wander the 2,000 year old streets.
Take Europe’s first free food tour
A well-known tourist attraction is the free walking tour, put on by companies who coordinate guides to give tours around the city. These guides are unpaid and rely completely on tips, so the tour can be completely free if you don’t tip, but that makes you an asshole. I usually try to tip around five dollars per person, sometimes more sometimes less depending on how the guide is and how much cash I have.
Many cities across Europe also have food tours, however since you’re getting food out of it these tours aren’t free. Balkan Bites wanted to change this and make Balkan food more accessible to visitors. It now offers a free food tour every day at 2:00. To guarantee your spot, shoot them an email and let them know the date and the number of people in your party. This tour is the same concept as a free walking tour in that the guide is unpaid, so please tip your guide.
On the Balkan Bites tour, you visit four or five places depending on the day, and have a small snack at each. All of these snacks represent traditional Balkan food, and therefore most of them are centered around some sort of cheese. At some of the stops, you have the option to purchase more food if you’re feeling extra hungry, or just really like the food you got. At one stop we got some crispy fried dough covered in powdered sugar, when our guide said it also came covered in cheese I knew I had to have it.
While walking from restaurant to restaurant, your guide will also talk about some of the history of the spots you see along the way. Overall this tour is quite literally a great way to get a taste of Sofia for around five dollars.
At this point in the trip, it had been a while since I’d had third wave coffee. Chusky’s Coffee is an incredible third wave coffee shop close to all of Sofia’s major sites. The pour over was rich, flavorful, and only around three dollars for a full Chemex that yielded around two small cups. There isn’t much seating inside, but if you can snag a seat in the modern, industrial space, it’s the perfect place to catch up on trip-planning or postcards. Bonus: There’s great Wifi.
5L cocktail bar
This bar is truly a speakeasy. Walk in the door and you’re not greeted with a bar, you’re greeted with some bookshelves and a ring of 31 keys. It’s up to you to figure out which key works, and I won’t ruin the fun. Once you get in, the basement bar is incredibly hip with upbeat jazz and bartenders who seriously know what they’re doing. I sampled a local favorite, a Negroni made with pear rakia instead of gin. It was sweeter than the classic Negroni, but the flavors worked well together. My favorite cocktail was a twist on the classic mojito featuring coconut rum and chili simple syrup. This drink packed some serious heat. Like my mouth was on fire, but after being deprived of spicy food for so long I was okay with it. As the snow fell outside, this drink made me feel like I could be on a beach