Amazing experiences I had during my travels in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Though I already wrote a straightforward list of fun things to do in Bulgaria’s capital city, I want to share another article highlighting my own unique, personal experiences in Sofia. The four days I spent there were truly magical, and here are some of the reasons why.
I spent my first day wandering though the city alone, taking in all the sights and thoroughly enjoying my first impressions of Sofia. The sun was shining and the rich blue sky made all the gorgeous monuments and churches look stunning. In between exploring and taking pictures I chilled out in numerous parks and found myself impressed at the amount of greenery that Sofia has.
I stepped into a health and beauty store just to browse, and somehow ended up wearing every different product in the shop because the outgoing saleswoman insisted I try everything. I put on eye cream made from snails, hand lotion made from yogurt, and endless sprays and lotions infused with rose, Bulgaria’s favorite natural product. The woman was so enthusiastic and happy to tell me about all of Bulgaria’s specialties and their health benefits, and I even bought some rose and yogurt lotion because it was so incredibly cheap.
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the city’s most famous landmark, so of course I spent ample time exploring the inside and admiring the outside of this giant, majestic building. While I was inside the dark, intricately decorated church, a group of three men started singing hymns in melancholy harmony. The beautiful sound echoed off the stone walls of the cathedral, filling the space with haunting, mesmerizing music. I somehow stayed in here for about 20 minutes, just standing in one spot and absorbing the surreal moment.
My accommodation in Sofia was Hostel Mostel, where I paid only seven euros a night for a comfy bed in an 18 bed dorm room. I had so many wonderful experiences thanks to this hostel, including meeting countless interesting, like-minded people in the cozy common room. The hostel organized a pub crawl, which was so fun and consisted of drinking cheap wine, having interesting conversations, dancing to heavy metal music at a nightclub, and eating cheap street pizza at 2am. Hostel Mostel also offered an impressive breakfast buffet full of homemade waffles, Bulgarian yogurt and cheese, and lots of vegetables, fruits, and cereals. I quickly learned that Bulgaria takes pride in its dairy, so cheese and yogurt made frequent appearances throughout my trip. (sorry for the poor quality of the following photos)
On the topic of food, I was blown away with the quality and prices of food in Sofia. I ate at many vegetarian restaurants and treated myself so much but everything was so cheap that I couldn’t help myself. My first meal in Sofia was at Dream House, a vegetarian cafe where I ate amazing quinoa soup, rainbow salad, hummus, and raw coconut berry cake all for the equivalent of about $9. My friends and I also made a habit of eating at the Sun and Moon vegetarian restaurant, where we dined like kings, paid affordable prices, and fell in love with our amazing Bulgarian waiter who served us every time we ate there.
I had a few magical adventures outside of the city as well. The hostel organized a day trip to Rila Monastery, Bulgaria’s largest and most iconic Eastern Orthodox monastery. Though the weather was freezing and rainy, our guide still took us on a snowy hike up into the Rila Mountains after we explored the monastery.
We hiked to a hidden stone church next to a tiny damp cave where Saint Ivan of Rila lived for years before creating the monastery. His story is pretty incredible, and it was cool to see the actual spot where the saint lived with absolutely nothing except a strong faith in God. Instead of crawling back down the small stone steps we took to reach the cave, our guide told us to leave through a hole in the roof. So one by one we climbed a small wooden ladder and squeezed our way through a tiny opening in the rocks, covering ourselves in dirt and snow in the process.
After our visit to the Rila Monastery, our guide brought us to a random local restaurant in the middle of the mountains for lunch. Wanting to sample a traditional Bulgarian dish, I ordered tarator, a cold yogurt-based soup with cucumbers and dill. Other specialties I tried throughout the weekend included Banitsa, a flaky pastry filled with crumbly white cheese, and a vegan version of the traditional tripe soup which used mushrooms and coconut milk.
My friend and I decided to spend some time in nature by hiking Vitosha Mountain, located just on the edge of the city. The weather was absolutely perfect, sunny and warm with a cool breeze and the natural scenery transported us to a peaceful state of mind.
We spent a few hours hiking along streams, up and down steep rocky trails, over deserted windy grasslands, and through forest paths lined with towering trees. After reveling in the success of reaching the top and overlooking the entire city, we got lost on our way back down the mountain and ended up walking through random, quiet residential villages. Once we finally found our way home our legs felt like jelly and we were beaming with satisfaction.
I definitely had more magical moments in Sofia, but to include every single one would mean writing a novel. I’m sure this post is already long enough and anyone who has actually made it this far, thank you for reading!
Anyways, I am still shocked at how much I loved Sofia, considering I did not research it much beforehand and it’s a relatively unpopular European destination. Ryanair’s cheap flights into Sofia are causing the city to rise in popularity, so hopefully the city’s special culture does not become overrun with tourism. But everything was so affordable, the people I met were amazing, the food was delicious, the natural beauty was refreshing, and the experiences I had were unforgettable, so I would highly recommend Sofia to any budget travelers looking to explore Eastern Europe.