From September 2016 till January 2017 we have studied, lived and partied in Sofia, Bulgaria.
On a first outlook the city looks like one of those cities you could see in one day. But if you dig a little deeper and look further than the typical tourist guides, you’ll find that Sofia has a lot of culture and history to offer.
Tips to explore Sofia
To get to that point where you really get to know the city, we ‘the Travelling Cheeseheads, recommend you to at least do/see/experience the following:
1. A free tour through history
Start your stay in Sofia with a Free Tour. The good thing about these tours is that the guides are locals and do not get paid much to do the tours, which means they do it purely out of passion/interest. Tours start every day at certain times in front of The Palace of Justice. There are two types of tours:
- Cultural tour: this tours takes approx. 2 hours and leads you by all the important parts, monuments and other cultural spots in Sofia (all with great stories and tales and lots of humour).
- Communist tour: this one also takes 2 hours and is completely focussed on the Communist history and present influence of Communism in the city
We recommend you to do at least one. Both are awesome (and not boring tours)!
2. The Socialist Art Museum
The Socialist Art museum is not big (around 1% of the Louvre), but definetely worth your time if you are interested in the history of Socialism/Communism. Paintings, giant statues of Stalin, Lenin and Marckx and Red Stars. All created to intimidate and to make the people feel small. That’s exactly what you will experience.
3. Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle Maker
We will just skip the Alexander Nevski church, since you’re probably going there anyway. The St. Nicholas church, an orthodox Russian church, is truely a miracle to see hidden amidst all the city’s tall buildings. You probably will not spend more then 20 minutes there, since it is quite small. But definitely worth your time.
4. Take a day trip to Plovdiv
From Sofia you can take a train to Plovdiv (approx. 2 hrs), the former European Capital of Culture. Plovdiv Old Town is like walking in the Middle Ages. Full of influence from the Roman Empire including their very own gladiator arena. A cozy city full of spectacular views.
5. Party hard in Sofia’s Chalga clubs
Chalga, a style of music not all Bulgarians like, but very much loved by the young. It’s folk music which has been given a ‘club sound’. The clubs have lots of female dancers, what to Westerners like us almost looks like a strip club.
As if this is not crazy enough: you know people in strip clubs throw money at dancers right? Well in Bulgaria you buy paper napkins (sometimes worth more than money), and at exactly 02:00 after lots and lots of Vodka, these napkins get thrown to the dancers.
Believe me, when I heard about it I was in doubt too. But the experience alone is so worth it, you’ll get a complete mindfuck and feel like you are in a movie for a while.