Sofia was a surprise. The wifi is AMAZING. It’s everywhere, and it’s fast. I mean, really fast. Bulgaria ranks at the 20th position in the global Net Index Explorer for broadband internet accessibility and speed. The average download speed in Bulgaria is 33.5 Mbps and the average upload speed is 22.8 Mbps. Apparently, the main reason for the good internet speed in Bulgaria is the fragmentation and competitiveness of the ISP sector in the country.
Also surprising? Besides for all the copious amounts of wine — did you know that Winston Churchill’s favorite wine was Bulgarian? — it was the way Bulgarians nod their heads yes. I had heard about this but never seen it live in the flesh. It’s a unique side-to-side-low-swinging movement that cracked me up each and every time. (Sorry, Bulgarians.)
I had a delightful time in Sofia and the surrounding areas. So will you! Here are my recommendations on where to sleep, eat and explore.
Stay at Arena di Serdica. Located about a 10 minute walk from Serdica metro station, this hotel had great wifi connectivity, a fantastically magical mattress — The Magniflex — and tasty if basic food in the two restaurants. Ah, and Roman ruins in the basement. The only thing I didn’t like about this place was the chaos at breakfast. Uncleared tables, staff arguing with customers…all a little crazy. But the price was right, the bathrooms were huge, and the location — just down a flight of stairs from the National Art Gallery — was great. Visit the Arena di Serdica website. Note the hotel calls itself 5 stars but I’d say more 4-ish.
Wine and Dine at Grape Central. One of my tour guides sent me here when I asked where I could try Bulgarian wines. I ended up visiting during lunch so I only had a glass of Bulgarian Chardonnay, but I liked the vibe and the food. My potato pancakes with olives and green salad were just what I needed after a long morning of slogging around Sofia. Carbs, people. Carbs. Also good? The decent wifi connection. Visit the Grape Central website.
Visit the Central Market. This is one of the neatest, tidiest food markets I have ever visited. All very chill. I wish I had had a tour guide to show me around and tell me what to try. Instead, I just ogled the display cases. Next time around, I’ll come here for snacks for a picnic. There are a number of small bakeries and a few wine shops, along with fruit, veg and butcher stands.
Take the Sofia Food & Culture Tour: Truth: I booked this tour because it contained the word “food.” And it did have some food — a shopska salad (the national salad of Bulgaria — tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh cheese) and some charcuterie — but it wasn’t the tasting that I expected. During our 3.5 hour meander, I think my tour guide got a little annoyed with me asking, “So is there food at the next stop?” Because I was STARVING. I had purposefully had a very light breakfast and skipped lunch in preparation of this tour. While our guide was amazingly informative about all things Sofia in an amazingly detailed, detailed way, the tour didn’t live up to my food expectations. If you’re in it for the history, you’ll get a lot of that for sure. But don’t go hungry! Check out this tour on Viator.
Hang out on Vitosha Boulevard: Downtown Sofia is refreshingly pedestrian. It’s kind of amazing actually. There’s this huge pedestrian street — Vitosha Boulevard — with a fab view of the mountains, and it’s lined on both sides with cafes and shoe shops. (People in Sofia seem to like shoes. There were many shoe shops.) I spent a meandering hour or two here, wandering from one shop to the next as all of Sofia strolled by.
Visit Villa Yustina Winery: I really wanted to see some Bulgarian vineyards so I found Ivaylo online and he drove me out to the lovely Villa Yustina, where we stood on the hillside and admired their young vines. Later, back at the winery, I got to taste a number of their wines. The 4 Seasons range is a good value with a wine — guess what — for every season. I particularly liked Winter — a cheery Cab Franc. I loved my visit to Villa Yustina and gladly would have stayed longer had they had a restaurant or informal cafe. But I was hungry! (Yes, a consistent theme.) Visit Villa Yustina. Also, contact Ivaylo and ask for a tour!
Visit Plovdiv: For lunch, we drove over to Plovdiv and strolled around the picturesque streets and admired the many Roman ruins. (Man, that Roman Empire was huge.) I say stroll jokingly as the tiny roads are made of rough hewn bits of stone and”strolling” is an exercise in balance. After admiring the architecture, we dropped into the picturesque Philippopolis, where we sat out in the garden and enjoyed a lovely salad, mushroom risotto and chocolate ganache cake before heading back to the car for the 1 hr and 45 minute ride back to Sofia. I liked Plovdiv and hope to one day have more time to go back and explore. Check out this tour of Plovdiv on Viator.
I really enjoyed my time in Sofia. I was pleasantly surprised by what a good value it was, how easy it was to get around — the metro is fab — and how friendly the people are. If you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway, this is it!