Sofia was our first stop in Bulgaria. We’d planned on just passing through on our way to go skiing in Bansko, but as we slowly started to discover more and more historic sights and vegan restaurants, we slowed down.
Sofia isn’t a city like London, Paris or Rome though. It’s history is a cultural mesh of Eastern and Western influence. Churches, mosques and Soviet buildings all share the same small space of the city.
For slow travellers, Sofia is a choice destination. We travelled during the winter when the city is quiet – because you need to wrap up warm to get around! I imagine that in the summer and spring time, Sofia is even more of a pleasure.
Slow Travel Activities in Sofia
We mostly enjoyed walking around Sofia, admiring the beautiful religious and Soviet era buildings and eating more vegan food than our bellies could manage. Here were our favourite slow travel activities and sights:
Join a Free Walking Tour in Sofia
The first thing to do when you get to any European city is to always check whether there’s a free walking tour or one which is organised by a local non-profit. We joined the Free Sofia Walking Tour and loved it. We’d already explored Sofia in the day, so took an evening walking tour as part of a small group of seven.
Our local guide had a great knowledge of the city’s history and shared lots of stories about how the locals in Sofia gel as a community and the tensions surrounding the Soviet buildings in the city. The tour includes a number of churches and religious buildings, and ends at the National Parliament.
The Sofia Free Walking Tour runs twice everyday and you can just turn up.
Observe the Triangle of Religious Tolerance
In the city centre near Serdika, three main religious buildings sit next door to one another – the Sveta Petka Church, Banya Bashi Mosque and Sofia Synagogue. Locals call this area the Triangle of Religious Tolerance. Sofia is home to people from different cultures, ethnicities and religions who coexist peacefully.
Admire the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Sofia’s Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is one of the city’s highlights. The Bulgarian Orthodox Cathedral stands proud with beautiful shaped golden dome roofs. Inside it’s dark and musky, but there’s also a feeling of strong silence and solitude.
Discover the Church of St George
Hidden away from the main streets of Sofia is the very small but beautiful Church of St George. Supposedly the oldest building in the city, It’s red brick rotunda is located in a courtyard surrounded by the Sheraton Hotel and the Presidency.
Walk Along Art Street Samuil
It took us a little digging to discover that Sofia’s Tsar Samuil Street is considered the city’s art street. It’s home to a number of resident artists proudly displaying artworks in neat shop windows. There are some small galleries along the street too.
Visit the Museum of Socialist Art
The Museum of Socialist Art wasn’t quite what we expected. Located far out of town, the museum is really more like an outside “dump” of art from the Soviet period that the Bulgarians didn’t value too highly. Nonetheless, we thought it was fascinating. Amongst the statues outside is the red star that formerly topped the Soviet headquarters – the star was taken down in the hope that it would be made from real ruby, but unfortunately for the Bulgarians it was just red plastic.
Eat Local Food in Sofia
We ate to our heart’s content in Sofia! We were undertaking our vegan travel challenge when we were travelling in Bulgaria, which mean that we spend a lot of time researching the best places to eat vegan in Sofia. Nearly everything we ate in Sofia was delicious, and we sure took our time eating it slowly. Here are some of our foodie unmissable highlights:
Eat Banitsa for Breakfast
The local breakfast food in Bulgaria is banitsa. These long pastries are so good – crunchy on the outside, a little chewy inside and stuff full of yummy things. Hlebar was a popular place to eat banitsa.
Try Traditional Bulgarian Cuisine
Bulgarian cuisine has plenty of dishes that vegetarians and vegans can enjoy. My favourite of them all was mish-mash, which is scrambled eggs (or tofu for vegans) with onions and peppers. Don’t miss out on a hot bowl of bob chorba (white bean soup) or the traditional relishes lutenica (made with tomatoes) and kyopoolu (aubergine based). Sun & Moon Bakery is a great spot to try all of these dishes.
Local Accommodation in Sofia
We stayed in a shared apartment hostel (part of Canape Connection Hostel) through Airbnb when we were in Sofia. The room itself was really spacious though the apartment was a little on the chilly side during the winter. The awesome thing about it for us was that it was on the same block as multiple vegan restaurants!
Where to Go From Sofia
From Sofia, you can travel to a number of different places in Bulgaria or cross the border into neighbouring countries. We travelled in a triangle between Sofia, Bansko (where we went skiing) and Plovdiv (a very pretty, historic city). We also travelled across the border from Sofia into Macedonia’s capital city, Skopje, by bus.
Have you travelled to Sofia? What did you like most about Bulgaria’s capital city?