Bustling Balkans: a student guide to Sofia

Published

Credit: Dennis Jarvis

Ross McMichael
Writer

Travelling on Ryanair’s direct and competitively priced flights from Glasgow Airport direct to Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, was a relaxing and comfortable experience. Upon landing, you immediately gets a sense of the direction that Bulgaria is rapidly moving towards. The impression was of a country looking firmly to the future, with an eye on welcoming global trade as the airport itself becomes ever more connected with new flight routes being added frequently. The airport is located around 15km away from the city centre and with great transport links via the bus or metro (both of which cost less than a pound), it takes virtually no time from landing to being right in the heart of the city.

A recurring theme of my trip to Sofia was just how cheap everything in Bulgaria is (for someone hailing from Western Europe). Lunch, which would consist of a cup of coffee, a sandwich and dessert, was always less than a fiver and of a higher quality than you would get in many coffee shops in the UK. The calibre of cooking in Bulgaria was unprecedented, with every meal we ate a nod to the different influences that have disseminated throughout the country.

On our first night we ate at the Izbata Tavern which consisted of traditional, local Bulgarian stews and meats, which were divine. The second night was at Hadjidraganovite Kashti; their food was heavily infused with Turkish and Middle Eastern flavours all to the backdrop of a traditional Bulgarian folk band which created a jovial and warm atmosphere. To complete the list of culinary delights we experienced, Restaurant Shtastliveca was a melange of flavour and spice all cooked with a delicacy that left the food so deliciously tender, with nods to the European influences that are prevalent in Bulgarian cuisine. And the best part about all this food? A 3-course dinner at these restaurants with a bottle of wine or a couple of beers costs less than £20 per person! A simply staggering price and one that is ideal for a student budget.

The cuisine in the city is not, however, the only reason why it is becoming more popular with tourists. Sofia is steeped in history and this can be felt all around as you make your way across the city. The spectacular Alexander Nevsky is an absolute must; the walk up the boulevard to the church itself inspires awe and marvel at the sheer majesty of the grand building’s exterior. There are also plenty of museums that are definitely worth a visit, including the National Art Gallery and Museum of Socialist Art, both providing an eye-opening insight into the history of Bulgaria.

Sofia is very easy to navigate, with a few main boulevards acting as the veins of the city pumping all the traffic and people through. Indeed, it is probably best discovered by foot as it allows you to soak up the atmosphere and stunning architecture that the city is built upon. Walking around the capital, it gives off the feeling that Prague or Budapest may have done 10 or 15 years ago, before the boom of cheap flights and holidays that are now salient there. The primitive footsteps of capitalism can be heard, but weirdly, their aesthetic is actually quite tasteful when juxtaposed against the old communist skyscrapers.

Accommodation in the city is very reasonably priced too – a swanky 3-star hotel was around £15 per night, and only a 20-minute walk away from the Nevsky cathedral. It was also located next to a bar that sold a quadruple measure of vodka for a pound too, which is always a nice surprise.

Sofia is a city rich in history, culture, and beauty; under the strong Balkan sun, it glistened magnificently off the soft, cotton snow that covered the city. It is an ideal destination all year round and a perfect getaway for students.