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Sofia used to be on my city break bucket list, but over the last year or two I had begun to go off the idea of visiting for absolutely no reason in particular. As the second stop on my 17 day Balkan trip it was probably the destination I was least looking forward to, but Sofia has absolutely stolen my heart and is somewhere that I’d recommend to anyone looking for a relaxing summer city break.
From the moment I arrived I was greeted by wide roads lined with bustling cafes, views of the surrounding mountains interrupted only by the impressive green domes of multiple Orthodox churches, and an instant feeling of being on holiday.
Bright yellow trams trundled along busy streets, and the sweet smell of pastry drew me towards every hole-in-the-wall bakery that I walked past. Two and a half days later and I was in love with the place! Here’s why Sofia makes the perfect relaxing summer city break followed some tips on what to do, where to eat and where to stay.
Why Sofia is the Perfect Destination for a Relaxing Summer City Break
Sofia offers a laid back city break
Sofia (mid September) felt ultra laid back, and I couldn’t help but feel relaxed. The fact that I’d just come from the sensory overload that was Istanbul probably played a part, but Sofia instantly made me want to sit outside a cafe with a coffee and watch the world go by.
There was no pressure to run around seeing as much as possible, which was helped by the fact that the main attractions could be achieved in less than a day if needed. Even with just a couple of days there was time to sit back, relax and soak in the atmosphere (and the sunshine).
Sofia is full of beautiful parks…
Long, straight roads mean that the views go on into the distance, and these roads usually lead to one of the many parks in the city. Each park that we visited was rich with statues, fountains, brightly coloured flowers and smiling locals. As you’re allowed to drink in public spaces in Sofia, you can find people relaxing with a cold beer in the sunshine after work whilst lying on the grass with friends.
… and beautiful buildings
As well as pretty parks, Sofia has some incredibly beautiful buildings to be admired such as the Alexander Nevksy Cathedral and The Russian Church (also known as the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker). I can guarantee you’ll have neck ache by the end of your Sofia city break from constantly looking up in awe.
Sofia is a great city break for foodies…
The locals in Sofia are proud of their culture and love to demonstrate this through food and drink, in particular by sourcing produce from local suppliers and staying true to traditional cuisine. We took a free food tour which explained the history of Bulgarian/Balkan cuisine and how it’s developed into its modern form, whilst still celebrating the past.
… and wine lovers
Whilst we’re on the subject of food and drink, let’s talk about the wine in Sofia. Bulgarian wine is delicious and we found the perfect place to enjoy it: Tempus Vini Wine Point. Tempus Vini is owned by Kalin Kyushev who left his job in pharmaceutical sales a few years ago to pursue his passion of wine and set up a shop/bar selling only high quality, local wines that he’s selected himself.
We sat outside on the street and made our way through two bottles of the best red wine (Bulgaria is a red wine country according to Kalin) I’ve ever tasted. Only 1,200 bottles have been made, so it felt a privilege to drink two of them. Kalin also kindly brought us out a cheese board and some rakia to enjoy whilst the sun went down.
Sofia is the perfect city break if you have no sense of direction
You can’t get lost in Sofia. My sense of direction is terrible but even I could find my way around Sofia fairly easily. It’s made up of a grid system and there are two main roads that you’ll find yourself on as a pedestrian (Vitosha Boulevard and Graf Ignatiev Street), so if you get lost on a side street you can just make your way back to one of these. The locals are friendly and most speak English, so you can ask for directions if you need to as well.
You can live like a Queen (or King) on a Sofia city break
Sofia is a cheap travel destination! Breakfast each day cost less than £5 for the two of us including food and coffee, and an Aperol Spritz was usually about £3. That incredible bottle of red wine I’ve just told you about? It was only a tenner despite it being so rare!
It doesn’t stop at food and drink either, as accommodation prices are also low – we paid around £30 a night for the most luxurious AirBnB I’ve ever stayed in, more of which I’ll tell you about at the end of this post.
Things to Do in Sofia on a City Break
If you’ve made it this far through the post, you’ll know that I spent more time relaxing and people watching than sightseeing during my Sofia city break. However, I did manage to see the main sights and engage in some activities. Here are some recommendations for things to do in Sofia:
Hire an electric scooter
This was the most fun (and most terrifying) activity I did in Sofia, and was a great way to see a lot of the city in a short space of time. The scooters are dotted all over the city, and you book one by downloading an app called Lime, taking a picture of the QR code on the bike to unlock it before whizzing off into the sunset.
The app warns you that riding on pavements/sidewalks is forbidden and I found it quite scary to be on the roads on a scooter that I hadn’t yet got the hang of, so we mostly stuck to the parks and enjoyed some greenery.
Go on a free food tour
I’ve briefly touched upon this already, but it’s a fantastic way to understand local cuisine and culture whilst getting some free food! Our guide was fantastic and the food was delicious.
As well as the food tour, there are also other free walking tours around the city which I’ve heard are excellent, and you can book onto a free bar crawl if you want to discover Sofia’s hidden bars whilst making some new friends.
Relax in the park
I’ve already mentioned that Sofia has lots of gorgeous parks, and when we weren’t riding around on scooters in them we were sat in the sun watching the world go by. Although this post is about Sofia as a summer destination, I can imagine that the parks would look beautiful dusted with snow in the winter.
See the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
This is the cathedral that you’ll have seen in Instagram posts or Pinterest graphics about Sofia city breaks, and yes I will also be posting one of those pictures if I haven’t already. It’s a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral built in the Neo-Byzantine style and its huuuuuuge!
Unfortunately we got our timings all wrong and went to visit on an evening when it was closed, but just walking around the outside and even admiring from afar was a lovely way to spend some of our time in Sofia.
Visit St George’s Rotunda
This 4th century Roman Rotunda (round, red-brick building) is the oldest preserved structure which still serves it’s original purpose in Sofia – a place of worship.
The Rotunda stands a few metres below contemporary ground level and is part of the remains of the ancient town of Serdika. It doesn’t take long to walk around it so it’s definitely worth a visit even if you don’t have much time in Sofia.
Discover Roman ruins rights outside the train station
What I loved most about this site was that a) it was literally outside the Serdika metro station so took no effort to find it; and b) it was only discovered during excavations for the metro line between 2010 and 2012. It’s funny to think that if I’d visited Sofia as a kid I’d have walked over these with no idea what was below me.
Where to Eat and Drink in Sofia
As I only spent two days in Sofia, I didn’t have the chance to try as many restaurants as I would have liked, although I had a good stab at it! Here are some recommendations for places to eat and drink in Sofia:
One of the great things about Sofia is that you get to eat pastry for breakfast! There are a few different types of pastry eaten for breakfast but my favourite was the Mekitsi which is kind of like a flat doughnut without a hole.
If you want freshly fried Mekitsi on the spot you need to head to Mekitsa and Coffee. Traditionally its served with sugar or cheese but this place has a tonne of topping options split in to traditional and modern sections on the menu. We tried a variety: Black Sea yellow cheese, spicy cheese mixture and Nutella.
It was the cute entrance and even cuter courtyard that brought us into Beer Garden Na Popa, and it was the perfect find as we were in the mood for some authentic Bulgarian food. It was a bit of a strange experience because the waitresses did not seem to want to interact with us at all and came across as quite rude, but somehow that added to the charm and character of the venue.
As the menu was in Bulgarian, Billy and I decided we’d just take recommendation from the waitress instead of worrying about what things were… but she was not impressed with that suggestion! Instead we roughly translated the menu and ordered chicken soup, half a chicken and some pig ears.
The soup and the chicken were hearty and comforting, whilst the pig ears felt like more of a naughty treat as they were very fatty! But delicious nonetheless with plenty of seasoning and a sprinkle of chilli and spring onion on top. If you want to eat somewhere authentic, I’d highly recommend this place! It’s not easy to find so plug it into Google Maps otherwise you’ll likely walk straight past the entrance.
Remember early when I told you about our afternoon of drinking with Kalin at his wine shop? Well we asked him where was good for dinner and he recommended an absolute winner! Bistrello offers a modern take on traditional food accompanied by, as they describe, “a great dose of attention to detail, a pinch of adventure… a friendly attitude and a smile that will make you feel special.”
The food was beautifully presented and thoroughly considered, but at the end of the day it was still a tasty, satisfying meal. I did take pictures of my food but we were on our fourth bottle of wine at the time so they are all terribly out of focus and not suitable for sharing, so you’ll have to use your imagination.
Where to Stay in Sofia
The Air BnB that I stayed in whilst visiting Sofia was one of the best I’ve ever stayed in, and if you want your city break to be relaxing you can’t go wrong with this gem. I’ll start with the bathroom which was HUUUUUGE and included a double width jacuzzi bath (complete with two headrests, a TV in one wall and a ‘fireplace’ in another wall), a powerful rain shower, a ginormous electric sky light and the softest towels in the world.
Let me take you in to the bedroom: the king size bed was extremely comfortable and the room was full of textures from the fluffy throw on the bed, to the ultra soft rugs on the floor, to the pearls and flowers decorating the walls.
A modern kitchen made the apartment practical, whilst thoughtful decorations finished off this perfect little apartment in the centre of Sofia. I’ve put a link here to the apartment if you’d like to book it yourself, and if you haven’t used Air BnB before you can get £25 off by using my code – which you can find here.
If you prefer a hotel to an apartment, there are plenty in Sofia which you can take a look at on *booking.com.
As always, if you have any questions at all about your Sofia city break please get in touch and I’ll try my best to help! Finally, I’ll mention that I visited Sofia on a longer trip which took me from Istanbul to Venice. Sofia was sandwiched between Istanbul and Belgrade, so if you’re looking to do something similar these posts might be of interest:
- Istanbul to Venice by Train & Bus – a 17 Day Itinerary
- Why You Should Take the Night Train from Istanbul to Sofia
- How to Experience Istanbul in 48 Hours
- 30 Turkish Dishes to Try in Istanbul
- 15 Travel Destinations for a Cheap, European City Break