Authored by Naddya Wagner
Have you ever visited a city where layers of history, different religions and cultures, modern vibes, and welcoming people mix in a colourful union?
Are you ready to explore the most unexpected sights and activities in the Bulgarian capital? The following are unexpected things to do and see in Sofia.
Things To Do And See In Sofia
For the History Buff
Sofia History Museum
With over 7,000 years of history, Sofia is a place which should be on every history lover’s map. Be sure to visit the Sofia History Museum.
You might think that there’s nothing unexpected about a history museum, but you should think again! Hosted in the former Central Bath building, this masterpiece in Vienna Secession style was abandoned for decades, though you can now step foot inside.
Admire Orthodox icons in the former therapeutical pools, a Louis XIV carriage, clothes and home decors of the high society of the 18th century, and even a whole street completed with a tram.
Go Underground Below St. Sofia Church
One of the oldest churches in Sofia, the 6th-century Byzantine basilica St. Sofia hides in its basement not only the remains of three previous churches, but also a necropolis with around 50 tombs from 5th – 3rd century BC.
Visit the Communist-era Complex Kambanite (The Bells)
The concrete complex, erected in 1979 for a UNESCO children’s festival, hosts over 100 bells from all over the world.
Some of them are from countries which no longer exist, such as Yugoslavia and the two separated German republics.
For the Night Owl
Crawl the Bars and Walk Back to Your Accommodation
The newest trend in the Bulgarian capital is to organise your bachelor party and drink the night away on the streets of Sofia. Partygoers from all over Europe and locals mingle in the pubs and bars, share beers and shots, swap stories, and party till the early hours of the next day.
Walking back to your home or accommodation afterwards is only for the bravest. Navigating through unlit back alleys, skipping obstacles on the sidewalks, and avoiding unexpected company are only a few of the challenges you’ll have to face.
Still, the pride and satisfaction you’ll feel when you reach your bed will make up for any previous discomforts.
Hike Vitosha Mountain in the Dark
A night hike in the mountains might be actually less extreme than walking back to your accommodation after a night of drinking!!
Make sure you take enough batteries for your flashlight and a friend who knows where he’s going. The view of Sofia, peacefully sleeping at Vitosha’s foot, and the night sky above you are indescribable and will make for a great memory.
For the Shopping Queen
Find the cheapest deals at Ilientsi Bazaar
Ilientsi Bazaar in the outskirts of Sofia started out in the 1990s as a market for everything imaginable made in China.
Fake electronics, fake sports goods, fake everything – you could all find it here. Half of the stalls were illegal and only placed there on weekends.
Since then, the place has been transformed into a mall-like shopping centre. One thing remains from the 90s, though: the prices you’ll find here are still unbeatable.
Shop for Souvenirs and Local Brands in Pirotska Str.
Pirotska Str. in the heart of the Bulgarian capital is another perfect shopping area. Especially if you’re not comfortable with travelling to the outskirts of Sofia to visit Ilientsi, this is the right place for you to shop.
The 350 m long section of the street offers traditional Bulgarian souvenirs, covered bazaars and boutiques, supermarkets and drugstores, street food stalls and cafés.
Most local brands for shoes and clothes have their shops here, and you’ll get the best value for your money in whole Europe.
Tired of shopping? Walk into one of the eateries and try traditional Bulgarian food, a cuisine that should be on your bucket list.
For the Culture Aesthete
Catch a Concert in the Bulgaria Hall or a Ballet in the Sofia Opera and Ballet
Bulgarian musicians and singers are famous for their talents. Young rising stars as well as establish performers act together on the scenes of the Bulgaria Hall and the Sofia Opera and Ballet.
You can enjoy a concert or a performance of an excellent quality. The best part? It will only cost you a fraction of the ticket price in Milan, for example.
Discover the Street Art and Graffiti Scene
Street art installations and graffiti are becoming more and more popular in the Bulgarian capital in recent years, and you’ll find a great diversity of styles at unexpected places in Sofia’s streets.
Don’t be afraid to look up and discover huge figures watching over you from the side of a concrete residential building or waving at you from a parking lot.
Buy a New or Used Book at Slaveykov Square
At the square, named after the Bulgarian poets and writers, father and son, Petko Slaveykov and Pencho Slaveykov, you’ll find books from every possible genre in multiple languages.
Some are brand new and have just left the publishing house. Others have been read by generations before landing on a stall at Slaveykov Square.
Even if you don’t buy anything, don’t miss to take a photo with the bronze statues of the writers.
Do you think you can handle a visit to Sofia? What’s the first thing on this list you’d like to do?
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Photo credits: Featured header image by niki georgiev. Pinterest image of Gold-plated Iconostasis by Dennis Jarvis. Sofia streets at night by Juan Verni. Decorated pots by Ali Eminov. Ivan Vazov National Theater by Ava Babili.