For a 2017 European holiday stacked with culture and quirky venues, Sofia has to be top of the list. A cosmopolitan sprawling city, the capital of Bulgaria is a playground for culture vultures and party animals alike. From the bass thumping night clubs to the artefact stacked museums, Sofia is alive with an eclectic blend of old and new. Away from the city, the picturesque landscape of the Vitosha Mountains provide an adventure playground for sport enthusiasts of all types and ages. Winter ski slopes see skiers whizzing across powder perfect snow, while the summer months turn the slopes into grassy terrain, perfect for hikers, bikers and casual explorers.
Water parks can be found in the nearby towns of Breznik and Pancharevo offering visitors the chance to see a different way of Bulgarian life away from the busy capital. With a superb choice of restaurants serving a wide range of international and local cuisines, along with top-notch metropolitan hotels, Sofia is a city to enjoy again and again.
Top resorts in Sofia
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A Sofia holiday is much more than just a city break. With a wealth of adventure and discovery dotted around the city, you may need to come back to fit everything in. Whether you’re digging up treasures in Sofia’s archaeological or national history museums or bartering for bargains at the Bitaka Flea Market, you’ll uncover hidden gems everywhere in the capital. For budget-conscious travellers there’s a free tour of Sofia which runs twice a day. Starting out at the Palace of Justice on Vitosha Boulevard, it takes in all the top sights. This whistle stop tour allows you to see over 35 of Sofia’s main attractions all in one day, giving you the chance to create a shortlist to revisit at your leisure. If Sofia’s bustling streets leave you longing for some down time, head to Borislova Gradina Park. Designed by three different gardeners, each section offers charming places to relax and escape city life. To truly get back to nature, head out of the city to Vitosha Mountain. In the summer months the hillsides are lush, green landscapes full of wild flowers and surrounded by spectacular views. In winter you can practice your turns and stops on the snowy pistes.
Wine and Dine
Foodies will not be disappointed on a Sofia holiday. Bulgarian menus are bursting with bold flavours, fusion cooking and new dishes for adventurous travellers to try. A great dish to start your culinary journey with, if you’re tasting Bulgarian cuisine for the first time, is Bulgarian Moussaka. Using potatoes instead of aubergine, the dish is a great introduction to the country’s food. With Turkish, Greek and Middle East influences, Bulgarian menus really are diverse and packed with flavour. Just as eclectic, Sofia has a reputation for being home to some wonderfully quirky cafes and restaurants. Some, such as Adi’s Cook and Book, encourage you to settle down to lunch with a book from their well-stocked shelves. Others host live theatre performances to keep you entertained while you eat. A holiday to Sofia wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Pod Lipite Tavern. This rustic pub is also one of the oldest restaurants in Sofia. Chock full of charm, the pub serves up authentic Bulgarian meals, created used produce from its own meat and dairy farms.
Families considering a holiday to Sofia can be rest-assured that there’s plenty to keep travellers young and old alike entertained. The two central museums focussing on archaeology and national history are packed with exhibits to feed the imagination of young eager minds. The ever-popular Puppet Theatre’s regular shows will delight children and amuse the adults in equal measure. Away from the city there’s the expansive Bulgarian countryside to roam. Wilderness explorers will want to hike the slopes of the Vitosha Mountains in summer. Keep an eye out for rare birds, wolves, wild boars and deer. Lucky visitors may even spot a brown bear. Further afield there are two water parks to make a splash in. While back in the city there are free guided tours available on foot or by bike, depending on how active you’re feeling. In winter, skiing the pistes of the Vitosha Mountains is accessible to everyone. Children’s ski schools teach budding winter sports enthusiasts, with nearby advanced runs for more proficient skiers.
Action and Adventure
The nearby Vitosha Mountains offer visitors to Sofia the chance to get out of the city limits and burn off some steam. Hike or bike your way up the slopes - stopping to look out for the often elusive wildlife on route. In winter, you can whizz your way across the powdery pistes, before returning to the city for some après-ski. Free guided bike tours of Sofia bring the action right to the heart of the city, though with many sights to see the pace may be a little slow. On the edges of Sofia the Kambanite Park is a peaceful place for a walk among the trees.
Life's a Beach
Beach-lovers face a lengthy drive to access Bulgaria’s sandy shores. The east coast is around a 4-hour drive away, but rewards visitors with heavenly beaches. Sunny Beach on the Black Sea Coast is the country’s largest and most popular beach. True sun, sea and sand fans may want to include a mini-break to Sunny Beach during their Sofia holiday. For something a little closer to Sofia, head to Breznik. An hour’s drive west of the city, Breznik is home to Aqua Park Konza. Packed with sun loungers, umbrellas, pools, jacuzzi and plenty of slides, the water park is a fun day out in the sun. For a more laid-back poolside break, head south of Sofia to the Korali pool and spa complex. Sip exotic cocktails by the pool, take in the views of the nearby lake or book yourself into the spa for a relaxing treatment. What Sofia lacks in sandy beaches, it makes up for in spades with cultural, gastronomic and scenic escapes to keep even the most ardent beach fans happy on a city break.
Party animals will love Sofia’s lax licensing laws. The city never sleeps, with bars, pubs and clubs often staying open until 5 or 6am. You don’t need to be worried about your wallet’s staying power on a Sofia holiday either, the drinks are cheaper than you’re used to back home. At just over £1 for a pint, your drinks bill should stay on the reasonable side. Local bars keep the national drink Rakia flowing cheaply too, allowing you to enjoy a night in Sofia, without breaking the bank. For thumping bass and banging beats head to Ulitsa Rakovski or Bulvard Vitosha for the best of Sofia’s club scene. Away from the disco lights and Balkan beats, Sofia has some slightly more laid-back evening entertainment on offer. The lively Raketa Rakia Bar serves up several varieties of the strong fruit brandy, Rakia. Line your stomach with the bar’s tasty offerings - including local and international flavours first - some Rakia’s are quite potent!
If you’re looking for a romantic city break, Sofia is the ideal destination for couples wanting to see the city by day before enjoying a romantic dinner at night. Roman ruins, historic churches, expansive parklands and quirky, secluded cafes all add up to an idyllic day trip treading the streets of Sofia together and sharing new experiences. If you’re looking for an upbeat evening in the city with the chance to bust some moves, but want to steer clear of Sofia’s clubs, head to Swingin’ Hall. Live music follows a different theme every night and locals display their swing dance moves. Learn some new steps or just soak up the atmosphere with a drink.
A Sofia holiday is a must for culture fans. Home to the National Palace of Culture. Europe’s largest conference centre, this striking building is home to some of Sofia’s most powerful and acclaimed events. Thousands of exhibitions take place in the centre, so be sure to check out the current listings on a visit to the capital. Away from the more structured art exhibitions, Sofia is a city bursting with artistic talent. Cafes host pop-up theatre events, art galleries line the infamous Samuil Street - the place for your work to be seen and be sold and urban artists are transforming the city landscape. A walk of Sofia’s streets uncovers small works of art adorning functional street furniture. Drab, grey electrical boxes exhibit the work of unsung urban graffiti artists and painters, all striving to bring colour and humour to Sofia’s sidewalks. For a night at the theatre with a twist, check out one of the many performances put on by Sofia’s Puppet Theatre. Renowned for their repertoire of work, they’ve been entertaining crowds for over 60 years. With historic buildings, cathedrals and glorious parks and gardens to enjoy as well, Sofia has plenty to offer inquisitive travellers looking for unique experiences.