Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Destination: Sofia

Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia
I've lived in the Balkans for almost two years at this point, and it has afforded me the opportunity to travel to a lot of places that are off the so-called beaten path. But since the Balkans seems to be an up-and-coming travel destination, I thought I would start to share with you some of my favourite places in this region of the world. Spoiler alert: my all-time favourite place in the Balkans/the world is the Albanian Riviera and I plan on writing about that soon, but for now...First up is Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.

For the size of its population, to me Sofia seemed like quite a sprawling city and I was massively impressed with how much green space the city has! There seems to be a park on every corner in this city, which is a feature I personally love. In addition to its many parks, the thing that struck me most about Sofia is the juxtaposition of it's socialist/communist architecture with its many Orthodox Churches. Overall I think it makes for a very interesting city.

Ornate Gates Outside of the Alexander Nevski Cathedral
Being in Eastern Europe, it's of course much, much cheaper than cities in Western Europe. And it's not all that difficult to get to. Already being in the Balkans, I drove to Sofia, but it's easy enough to fly into Sofia, including on low-cost carriers like Easy Jet. For accommodation, we decided to stay right in the city centre at Hotel St George, which was comfortable and clean—and had a great location.

What really made Sofia a great weekend destination were the restaurants & bars, and the many beautiful churches. Here are some of my recommendations:

St Nikolas Russian Church
What to Visit: Alexander Nevski Cathedral is probably the most well-known and iconic location in Sofia. And for good reason: it is one of the most beautiful Orthodox churches I've ever been in. Even if churches aren't your thing, I would say that this one is worth a visit (especially as there is no entrance fee, so you can come and go at your leisure).

St Nikolas Russian Church, featuring Russian-style 'onion dome' architecture, is another beautiful church. It's not far from the Alexander Nevski Cathedral and on a sunny day it offers some benches in a cute garden where you can sit, surrounded by tulips, and people watch as Sofia-ians (Sofi-ites? who knows) walk by.

Statues at the Museum of Socialist Art
If there is one thing I recommend doing while in Sofia, it is to visit the Museum of Socialist Art. It's a little bit outside of the city center, but it's well worth the short jaunt—especially if you are a student of history. The museum features a sculpture garden, a gallery, and a documentary on the Bulgarian socialist experience. It's surreal and a bit bizarre to see the this much socialist/communist art assembled in one place, but it's a truly fascinating experience.

The most beautiful coffee in the world
Where to Eat: For lunch, you should definitely check out Hlebar (the name is a play on хлеб—bread—and бар—aka bar). They have a selection of tasty sandwiches that are made to order (featuring some amazing bread, btw!) and delicious desserts. Try the ginger cake!

For dinner, I really recommend you make a reservation at the Little Things, which is a quirky and cute restaurant located in an old house. The different rooms of the house have been converted into different dining rooms, and the menu at the Little Things is equally eclectic. It's a perfect place to share a bunch of starters and small plates with friends. The food was fresh and flavorful, and was a nice change of pace from traditional Bulgarian cuisine.


Where to Drink: If cocktails are your thing, visiting Raketa Rakia Bar is a must. Although it's advertised as a rakia bar, their drinks selection goes far beyond rakia (a type of brandy that is ubiquitous throughout the Balkans). My personal favorite might have been the absinthe cocktail that featured a side of cotton candy to wash it down. Sugar truly is the way to my heart.

Hopefully this helps give you a little bit of an overview of what Sofia has to offer. Let me know below if you have ever visited—or where your favorite place to visit is!

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