When I first arrived in Thessaloniki, the first place I was told to visit was Sofia, Bulgaria. Just a five-hour bus ride from Thessaloniki which runs about nine times every day, Sofia is the perfect spot for a close and cheap, weekend getaway.
I will be honest, I don’t think I’d ever heard of Bulgaria before coming to Greece and if I had, I had no idea where it was on a map. This once communist country turned capitalist less than 50 years ago and hasn’t looked back since. Filled with history of the Ottoman empire, Roman empire, Turkish, Jewish, Muslim, Communist times, and more, there is enough history in this city to keep you there for weeks. Unfortunately, I only had roughly 48 hours to soak it all in.
I stayed on the outskirts of the city center which in many cities can mean long walks to any location you want to go to. In Sofia, on the other hand, it means anything in the city center you want to see is 15 or less minutes walking.
My first recommendation is to take the Free Sofia Walking Tour. This tour runs 3 times a day [4 in the summer] and hits over 20 of Sofia’s hottest spots. I did this walking tour on Sunday morning at 11am. I would have done the 6pm tour the night before but I wanted to see everything in daylight. Whenever I go to a new city I always check to see if they have a walking tour and try to do it the first day I arrive. This gives me the chance to see all the big sites, get to know my way around, and make a list of everything I still want to do on my trip.
Before I arrived in Sofia, I looked up all of the must-see sights when I visited. Only 3 of the sights I wanted to see weren’t on the walking tour, so I checked those out when I arrived on Saturday. I took a stroll down Vitosha Blvd [called this because you can see Vitosha mountain when walking on it] which is filled with restaurants, high-end shops, and more. I refrained from buying anything other than a snack because I wanted to save my money for the next day if I stumbled upon anything before during or after my walking tour that I had to have that wasn’t some designer piece I could [if I had the money haha] buy anywhere.
The sun set at about 5:45 so I made it back to my Airbnb at around 6pm to avoid getting lost in the dark. I made myself some pasta for dinner, wrote a bit, and then watched the one English channel on the TV. It was called Fine Living which turned out to mix of HGTV and TLC but from the mid 2000s. Still, I enjoyed a bit of TV in a foreign country as well as relaxing after my long day of travel and walking around.
Sunday morning, I watched the sunrise from my Airbnb, packed my bag up and was out the door for my walking tour. I left earlier than I needed to so that I had the chance to walk around Vitosha again and grab breakfast. I found this cute place called Vitamin C. they had a variety of [vegan!!!] smoothies, juices, homemade health bars, etc. I opted for this sunflower seed and peanut butter bar which was delicious as well as the Raspberry bomb smoothie which had the obvious of raspberries paired with lime, avocado, mango, spinach, and coconut milk. My only critique you may ask: NO ICE. I don’t know what it is about Europeans having such a stick up their ass about ice cubes, but they do. Still, my room temperature smoothie was delicious, and I’d definitely go again. After this, I stumbled upon a souvenir shop where I bought a few postcards and some rose soap [something Bulgaria is known for] before continuing my stroll to the Palace of Justice, where the tour commenced.
For roughly two and a half hours, I walked around Sofia with a group of 20 or so other foreigners and Dino, our tour guide. He took us to all of Sofia’s historic sites and enlightened us on the grand history of Sofia and all of Bulgaria. He gave us recommendations on food, sites, museums, and more, as well as a good time during the tour. I got to see every aspect of Sofia that I’d wanted to and by the end of the tour could maneuver the city like a pro. After the tour, I had a few hours before my bus left for Thessaloniki, so I grabbed a cup of coffee from Costa coffee, a Bulgarian favorite, and continued my walk through the various parks and monuments that I wanted to revisit or didn’t get as close to as I’d wanted during the tour.
All in all, Sofia stole my heart. Every other building is yellow [including the palace turned history museum, the Starbucks, and every other building I took a photo of], I lucked out with a beautiful weekend of sunshine and 60 degree weather [in FEBRUARY], and I enjoyed the best tap water I’ve ever had while embracing a 7000 year-old city and all it had to offer.
Have you ever been to a Balkan country? Which one?