City Break Sofia
Would you believe me if I told you that Sofia has one of the most interesting cuisines in the South East of Europe? I would say that it’s a magical combination of Slavic, Greek and Turkish recipes. Banitsa, shopska salad, tarator soup, mekitsi, and the list goes on! Let me take you on a 4 days journey in the capital of Bulgaria where you will not only have the possibility to try the local food, but you will also find out some amazing facts about Sofia’s rich history, as it’s one of the oldest cities in Europe.
Presuming that you arrive in the morning, you will need to grab a coffee and eat something. I know exactly the place where you need to go: Fabrika Daga, the best place in town for breakfast and brunch. They have a lot of interesting things in the menu but I recommend the “traditional Bulgarian breakfast”, mekitsa. It is usually served together with Bulgarian white cheese and jam.
You can also check the Romanian version of mekitsa made by my grandma here.
If you want to learn something about Sofia’s history without making your own research, join the Free Sofia guided tour. The tour takes place 3 times/day during April-October and twice a day in the rest of the year. The duration of the tour is approx. two hours, so you have enough time to cover the main attractions and get some local insights from the guides. You can find out more here: Free Sofia Tour. The tour starts in front of the Palace of Justice and ends near two of most famous churches in Sofia: Sveta Sofia and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. If you still have energy, you can visit both of them or postpone the visit for after lunch.
The church of Saint Sophia (God’s Wisdom) is one of the oldest in Sofia (built in the 6th century). Nowadays, the red bricks construction is very close to its original form. During the Middle Ages the church of Saint Sophia was the first thing that people would notice from far away and they would say: “Look, there it is! Sofia!” And this is how the city got its name.
Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was built in honor of the Russian Emperor Alexander the 2nd, also known as the Tsar – Liberator, whose army liberated Bulgaria of the five-century long Ottoman Dominion in 1878. You can read more here. The Alexander Nevsky Square is also a popular fair and flea market hub during the weekend. We’ve witnessed a cool meeting of the car enthusiasts. So keep a close eye on the weekly events.
After the long walk you need to have something to eat (lunch or dinner, depending on the hour). You have two options: Lavanda or The Little Things. Both of the locations function in old houses. Also similar is the fact that they share the space with other locations. Lavanda shares it with One More Bar, which is considered one of the best cocktail bars in town, while The Little Things shares the garden with Mamma Mia restaurant.
Like many restaurants in Sofia, The Little Things has a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, that makes you feel like you are having lunch/dinner in your friend’s house. Each room has a different theme that comes along perfectly. The small garden is equally charming, especially when the wisteria that covers the house is in full blossom. The Little things is opposite St. Sedmochislenitsi church, a hidden gem is Sofia situated in a beautiful park. The church was created in 1902 on base of an abandoned Ottoman mosque. Before the mosque, at the same place existed a nunnery of the Rila Monastery and an Early Christian temple from the 4th-5th century. You can visit it if you still have time.
Lavanda also has thematic rooms, even one that transforms into a cinema so that you can watch a movie with your friends while enjoying a glass of Bulgarian wine. The menu changes according to the seasonal ingredients. I recommend the tarator soup for starter and the lime cheesecake for dessert. Book a table on the balcony if you want to enjoy a romantic atmosphere that will remind you of old Vienna or Paris.
Now that we are familiar with mekitsa we just can’t get enough of it so we head to Mekitsa & Coffee to have breakfast and find out in how many ways one can serve the traditional dish (jams, chocolate and nuts, ice cream, caramel and fruits, honey and walnuts, ham and even peanut butter or avocado). For those of you who like to eat healthy food – there are mekitsas with wholemeal flour with no added eggs and milk. You can also order buhti, smaller versions of mekitsa. If you’re there early you can sit at the long table near the window and watch people passing by.
If you’re craving for more coffee, head to Chucky’s Coffee House for one of the best coffees in Sofia. Now we are ready to dive into history by visiting two of the most representative museums: National Archaeological Museum and the Regional History Museum.
The National Archaeological Museum is situated in the centre of Sofia in a building that was once the largest and oldest Ottoman mosque in the city, completed in 1494. The museum stores a large number of items, divided in four sections: Prehistory Hall, Treasury, Main Hall and Medieval Section; some of them are threatened by damage due to the design of the building, which is characterised by high moisture levels during the summer season so hurry up before it’s not too late.
Next to the Museum you will see the Presidency building, where you might witness the changing of the guard. Step into the courtyard between the Presidency building and the Sheraton Hotel to see the Saint George Rotunda, which is considered the oldest preserved building in Sofia. The Rotunda is a part of a large complex of ancient buildings from the late 3rd and early 4th century. You can read more about its amazing history here.
Now we are really hungry so we go to Shtastlivetsa Vitosha Boulevard for a Bulgarian lunch:
or to Pastorant, the best Italian restaurant in Sofia (according to me):
If your energy level is good, then we are heading to the second museum on our list, the Sofia History Museum. The Museum is located in The Central Mineral Baths building, a landmark for the city known for the mineral springs in the area. It was built in the early 20th century near the former Turkish bath (then destroyed) and was used as the city’s public baths until 1986. My favourite part of the exhibition was the royal carriage.
Head back to the hotel to relax and get ready for dinner. You will need to make a reservation as both restaurants are popular with tourists. Ashurbanipal or L’etranger? The restaurants are very different but the food is sooo delicious.
Ashurbanipal looks like it’s closed from the outside and when you enter you might ask yourself if you are in the right place. The owner is also the chef and the waiter. You won’t have any menus, he will let you know what dishes are available but rest assured that there will also be vegetarian and vegan options. The salad and bread are complimentary and everything we tasted was delicious!
L’etranger is the typical French restaurant, fancy and romantic. If you are not the adventurer type, then the safe option is L’etranger. I loved the cosy atmosphere and the design of the location. The desserts here are some of the best in town, heads up for the lavender cheesecake and brandy flambated strawberries. Yum!
This will be a long day as we are going to discover Serdica, a Thracian settlement that developed into modern Sofia. Breakfast calling! Our destination today is Hlebar, located in one of the nicest neighbourhoods, Oborishte. Before we get there, let’s have a walk on Oborishte street, one of the most pleasant streets in central Sofia, flanked by the large neo-classical residences of various foreign missions.
Hlebar has the best banitsa in town (a traditional Bulgarian pastry derived from an Anatolian recipe). You can also choose something else from their daily menu as they also serve omelettes, soups or salads made from fresh local products. Their bread is delicious, as in many other places in Sofia. You can try to combine the banitsa with boza, a malt drink made from maize (corn) and wheat or millet. The fermented beverage is popular in many countries from the Balkan Peninsula and the Caucasian region.
Close to Hlebar is one of the nicest parks in Sofia, Doctor’s Garden. We can have a walk in the park before stopping at the beautiful flower-shop nearby.
Don’t forget about the best specialty coffee shop in town: Dabov. They provide roasted coffee to a number of coffee places in Sofia (the list is short as the trend is just starting to become popular in Bulgaria) and if you head to their shop you can also drink perfectly brewed coffee on the spot (no snacks though).
Next destination: Serdica. Short historical summary (thanks Wiki): Serdica was possessed by Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great and later by the roman emperors Trajan and Diocletian. Constantine the Great called the city “my Rome” and was seriously thinking of moving the imperial capital to Serdica but Byzantium (Istanbul) subsequently won. During the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the city was surrounded with great fortress walls whose remnants can still be seen today.
The starting point for Ancient Serdica is the Nezavisimost (Independence) Square, which is surrounded by the Largo, an architectural ensemble of three Socialist Classicism edifices in central Sofia: the former Party House in the centre, and two side edifices. The Largo also once featured a statue of Vladimir Lenin, which was later removed and replaced by the one of St. Sophia in 2000.
A few years ago, a glass lid on the floor emerged in the centre of the Independence square, so that the ruins of the ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica could be exposed in an impressive way.
The two underpasses, the one in front of the former Party House and the one with the medieval Church of St Petka, contain the traces of the fortified walls of ancient Serdica and an original roman street. The paved main streets were leading to the city forum, which was situated under the present square Sveta Nedelya. Luxurious villas with sewerage, water-mains and paved streets were located in the region of Serdica subway station.
While you’re there, you can also visit the Square of Tolerance called after the four churches within few minutes walk of each other: a mosque, a catholic cathedral, an orthodox church and a synagogue. The temples of the 4 major religions in this part of the world are all functioning in the same square.
For lunch we have two options: Made in Blue or Soul Kitchen. Made in Blue is one of the most “instagrammable” places in Sofia which makes it a very popular place. You will need to book a table in advance if you don’t want to miss it out. If you book a table in the garden, don’t forget to also check the house before you leave. The menu contains an interesting worldwide selection.
Soul Kitchen is a great place for vegetarians and vegans. Everything is prepared and served with great care for details. It also has one of the nicest gardens in Sofia!
If you’re still up for walking you should head to Arena Di Serdica hotel to see the remains of the Amphitheatre of Serdica. The Amphitheatre of Serdica hosted fights between galdiators and beasts and was considered the biggest in the eastern part of the Roman Empire and Bulgaria. You can read more here.
For a fancy night out you can choose between Sense Rooftop Bar and Jasmine Gastro Bar. The terrace at Sense Rooftop Bar offers you a 180-degree view on Sofia and some of its most emblematic buildings. The restaurant is on top of one of the most expensive hotels in Sofia, Sense, and it certainly lives up to its reputation.
Jasmine’s summer garden is perfect for a quiet dinner and the interior is equally inviting. The fact that it’s located on Rakovski Street, one of the main party streets in Sofia, makes Jasmine look like an oasis in the middle of the desert/noisy street. Their cocktail selection is amazing.
We cannot be productive on an empty stomach so we are going to have breakfast at Daro, a cosy place in the centre of Sofia where the Chef is one of the winners of Masterchef Bulgaria. It is also a good place for a quick brunch.
On our way to the most famous pedestrian street in Sofia we stop at Drekka for a matcha latte/coffee.
Vitosha Boulevard is the perfect place to relax on a Sunday afternoon while walking, listening to live music, admiring the Vitosha mountain (click here for Vitosha Mountain guide), watching people and why not, shopping?
If you feel like eating something sweet, there is a really nice place nearby where you can find the best sweets in town. It’s called Vila Rosiche, a beautiful house with a green garden in the middle of the town. You can also enjoy a cup of tea next to your cake and if you feel like you ate too much, you can take a walk in the National Palace of Culture Park nearby.
For lunch we have two options: the best burger place in town, Skaptobara, or the farm to table restaurant, Bagri. If you choose Skaptobara don’t forget to order the cheesy potatoes. They are delicious! Both locations offer a wide selection of Bulgarian craft beers + wines.
At Bagri, like in many places in Sofia, the menu is seasonal and changes accordingly. They have a sustainable approach as they want to offer the best taste by using healthy cooking techniques and supporting local, organic producers.
Last walk of the day will be towards the Ivan Vazov National Theatre and the beautiful City Garden, where many locals like to hang out. Ivan Vazov was a great personality of Bulgaria, often called the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Literature. You cannot miss the imposing Sofia Balkan Hotel, situated next to the park.
If you want to find out more about his life and legacy you can visit the Ivan Vazov House Museum that can be found in the vicinity of the theatre.
Now we need to get ready for dinner, as we have a reservation at Made in Home or Aubergine (it’s up to you, again). Made in Home is the elder brother of Made in Blue so you will enjoy it as much, if not even more. This might be the perfect place to relax on a Sunday evening and forget about all the worries in the world.
Aubergine offers an impressive selection of interesting dishes paired with local craft beer. As you might think, the main ingredient in their kitchen is the eggplant. The relaxed atmosphere sets the mood for a perfect romantic dinner.
Bulgarian Street Art
Walks and Parks: Sofia’s main attractions are located in the city centre so everywhere you want to go you can arrive by foot. While walking around you can stop in the many small parks and admire the surroundings.
I hope that you have enjoyed my selection.