Sofia: the highlights

Why visit Sofia for your weekend away

Bulgaria’s capital city may often be overlooked but this youthful, modern destination has a lively atmosphere and amazing nightlife. Home to vibrant cocktail bars, late-night clubs and incredible restaurants, it’s a great place for letting loose. Plus, the city is steeped in history and culture and boasts stunning churches, art galleries, meaning there’s something for the more culturally inclined.

With a vast array of cheap hotels, bars and clubs and shops, Sofia is gaining popularity amongst tourists as well as stag and hen parties. Summers in Sofia get hot, with highs of 27C during July making it the ideal destination for outdoor parties. There’s also loads of outdoor space so you can soak up the rays while enjoying an ice cold beer or cocktail. During the winter, the weather may get a little cooler but there’s plenty of activities to keep you busy.

With reasonable flights and cheap booze, as well as loads of things to do and see, the capital of Bulgaria is not one to miss.

Explore the City

Cultured City

With so much to do and see in Sofia, there’s something to suit everyone in the group, whatever their age, taste or budget. One thing that definitely shouldn’t be missed is the city centre itself. Home to beautiful palaces, cathedrals and churches, there’s also a vast array of bars, restaurants and entertainment hotspots making it the hub of the city centre.

Party Bus Tour

What better way to explore the city than with a party bus tour? You’ll be picked up and taken around the capital from venue to venue as you enjoy great booze, great music and an even better atmosphere. All that you need to do is to decide which club to hit first. Even better, you don’t need to worry about getting home.

Day trips

Sofia is surrounded by a number of towns and villages, which are ideal for an adventure. The 7 Rila Lakes, Belogradchik Rocks, Plovdiv and Koprivshtitsa are a few of the most popular options. Plus, why not head out and visit one of the local thermal spas, ideal for relaxing in before a big night out. Experience the area, take part in a range of activities and don’t forget your camera.

Free activities

A popular destination with groups, Sofia is now home to multiple free food, biking, hiking and walking tours. Explore local stores and discover Bulgarian food, climb the surrounding mountains and head off on a bike tour for the taste of this European gem. Not only will you experience Sofia like never before but it’s also free, meaning you’ll have more money left over for the big nights out!

Pistol Shooting

While pistol shooting may not be the first thing you think of when you think of Sofia, just outside the city centre, there’s an adrenaline pumping range. It’ll release a little friendly competition amongst the group and it’s a great way to earn a few bragging points before the night ahead.

Water Parks

Recover from the night before at one of Bulgaria’s many incredible water attractions. Aquapark is the closest one to Sofia and offers slides, flumes, chutes and more - plus there’s various swimming pools for those who prefer a quieter experience. An on-site restaurant, cafe and picnic area mean you can easily spend the whole day here.

Nightlife Hotspots

There’s a whole host of clubs in Sofia, suiting a wide range of genres and budgets, meaning it’s great for big groups. From big-name clubs, chic cocktail lounges and classy gentlemen’s clubs, they’re all centrally located making Sofia a great place to plan a bar crawl.

Bedroom Bar

Dubbed as Sofia’s leading nightlife experience, this nightclub offers an unrivalled evening experience. With a wide range of club nights, exotic dancers, incredible sounds, the very best DJs and an amphitheater setting, this place will guarantee that the party continues until dawn.

Planet Club

Open day and night, Planet Club combines fantastic drinks, great music and classy interiors. Popular with locals and tourists alike, whether you’re looking for an early evening drink or want to cut some shapes on the dancefloor, this place will leave you satisfied.

Tiffany

This popular club is home to premium interiors, incredible female dancers and great music. Whether you want to enjoy the dancing on show or peruse the extensive drinks list, you’re guaranteed a good night out here.

Sinatra

Away from the lively club scene, Sofia is also home to classy venues ideal for a sophisticated night out. Sinatra is a local piano bar that serves tantalising drinks, matured whiskies and cognacs, alongside a wide range of cigars. Live music can also be heard and after midnight, it’s not uncommon for the waiters to join in and sing.

Eat like a local

When it comes to food, Bulgarian cuisine is not particularly well known. Traditional dishes tend to include soup and a salad but don’t worry, the city centre is also home to a wide range of restaurants serving a variety of cuisines.

Traditional Taste

The Thirsty Dragon Inn and Mahaloto are two of the cities most traditional Bulgarian restaurants. With a great menu and a hearty atmosphere, you’ve got to try the famous Wiener Schnitzel.

Budget Eats

Increasingly gaining popularity with large groups, Sofia has its fair share of budget restaurants. From pizzerias to Mediterranean grills, whatever your preferred cuisine, the city centre is lined with cheap eats. Skaptoburger services juicy burgers and Sofia Eats offers a vast menu that’s tasty and affordable.

The Corner

As one of the area’s best loved pubs and restaurants, you definitely need to visit The Corner. Offering some of the best views of the city and Vitosha mountains, the menu includes fish and meat dishes, perfect for lining your stomach. Plus, you may find you want to spend the entire evening here as resident DJs ensure that the party never stops.

Places to Stay

Sofia has a number of places to stay which are ideal for large groups and those looking for good value accommodation. As well as being centrally located, many also offer double and triple rooms. Plus, there’s lots of hostels available - again suited to large groups. Pop Bogomil Hotel, Hemus Hotel and Hotel Sveta are some of the most popular options.

Sofia. Sofia. Sofia. So. Fee. Aaaaaaaah

Everything you need for a wild weekend in the Jewel of the East

The capital of Bulgaria is an up-and-coming destination for the young, trendy and adventurous. This affordable party city is a must-see for those looking for a stag weekend with a stylish edge, underground nightlife and dirt cheap booze.

Sofia at a glance:

• In the shadows of the breath-taking Mount Vitosha, Sofia is just a short distance from challenging ski runs, adventurous hiking trails and beautiful natural parks • Boasts a multitude of basement clubs, vibrant bars and impressive stadium venues, so there’s something for every musical taste • Sofia regularly plays host to some of the world’s biggest acts, including the likes of DJ Tiesto, Massive Attack and Aerosmith. • With beer from as little as 50p a pint and a reputation for some of Europe’s hottest women, it’s little wonder that Sofia is a top choice for stags

Things not to miss:

First impressions:

Soak up the diversity of this eclectic city as you arrive in Sofia. Watch as fashionable women strut around, coffee in hand, browsing boutique after boutique, then take a look around the distinctly post-Soviet ‘Studentski Grad’ (‘student town’) where you will experience the more down-to-earth hedonism of the numerous clubs and bars.

Local knowledge:

Vitosha Boulevard

Sofia’s throbbing artery This kilometre-long pedestrianised street offers panoramic views of the mountain after which it was named. It consists of Sofia’s main shopping hub and is filled with designer stores and trendy boutiques – emitting a noticeably Mediterranean vibe. Enjoy refreshment in the countless cafes and restaurants by day, or head back for beers as night falls and the trendy bars and clubs come to life.

Government Quarter

Follow the yellow brick road Follow ‘the yellow brick road’ to the Government Quarter. The ‘yellow bricks’ make up the road around this historic area where you can view the imposing Presidential Palace and the majestic Aleksandar Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral (the largest of its kind outside of Russia). If you’re into tourist sightseeing, pick up some of the authentic WW2 or communist merchandise as souvenirs in the extensive antique market. This area is also dotted with numerous parks should you wish to stop and take in some fresh air the morning after the night before.

Studentski Grad (Student Town)

Where the music never stops Located several kilometres outside of the centre, Studentski Grad is a buzzing town in its own right and is famed for its encouragement of self-indulgence and excess. It is the base of a large portion of the 100,000 students who study in Sofia, and home to a plethora of popular bars and nightclubs – many of them playing the famous Balkan ‘turbo-folk’ music and the local variant ‘Chalga’. You’ll also find plenty of 24/7 eateries offering Balkan, Turkish and western menus.

City centre

The perfect spot to soak up the atmosphere Sofia is a compact city which means you can easily explore it all on your thrill-seeking weekend. Fanning out around Vitosha Boulevard you will find many other roads awash with hidden city centre gems. Quirky craft shops abound on the cool tree-lined roads, nearby you will find a nice spot to sit and sip on strong espresso or feast on perhaps the best pizza you’ve ever had. Many of the bars and clubs here are underground with just a sign above the door opening into a subterranean grotto where beer, food, music and people mix freely. For an evening of rock music head to Rock’n’Rolla or Maze, or for an evening of chilled vibes head to The Apartment or Lorka.

NDK

The National Palace of Culture If you’re looking for a way to spend your downtime in Sofia, head to the National Palace of Culture, an imposing building in the typical brutal Soviet style architecture. In the day, walk through the surrounding parks or head to the sky bar on the top floor to look over the Palace gardens. Clubs underneath the building come alive at night, with Blender and Mixtape the best bet for big bands and DJ nights.

The parks of Sofia

Unwind amongst the greenery The capital’s main parks attract both locals and tourists in huge numbers, especially in the summer months. The City Garden, adjacent to the stunning Ivan Vazov National Theatre, sees friends and strangers meet amongst the lush vegetation, to enjoy a cold beer or fresh coffee, listening to the varied live music performers day and night, or relaxing to the sound of the cascading park fountains.

Sofia’s best bars and clubs:

JJ Murphy’s Irish Pub

Sofia’s original Irish Pub, JJ Murphy’s has been a popular haunt for more than 10 years. With a large beer garden and many TV screens showing international football and rugby, it’s a great basecamp to spend the afternoon before heading out to explore the real Bulgarian clubs, or an excellent place to grab a hearty full English to line your stomach for the day head. Serves a wide selection of European beers and whiskies, with friendly bar staff, fluent in English to make you feel right at home.

Rock‘n’Rolla Rock Bar

Located two minutes off Vitosha Boulevard, this basement bar will keep you coming back for more. Rock‘n’Rolla is deceptively large, open most of the week with themed music nights (70s/80s/90s/classic rock/karaoke). Expect dancing on tables and endless shots, to the beat of your favourite rock classics.

Alehouse

A brilliant novelty bar with a great twist ‘a la Prague’. The Alehouse brews its own beer in this microbrewery come bar/restaurant – all you have to do is choose a table and pour your own glass, as each table comes with its own tap. The Alehouse also features delicious home cooked Bulgarian dishes. The wild boar in red wine sauce is a must try.

Biblioteka

If you’re seeking a higher end clubbing experience, the Biblioteka is well worth a look. Famed for its incredibly loud pop and dance music and a 70/30 ratio of girls to guys. This venue is located in the basement of the National Library (hence the name). Why not order a bottle of rum for your table and dance the night away with Sofia’s most stylish?

Mixtape 5

Enjoy the biggest names in dance music at this awesome club venue, renowned for its showcase of international live DJs and live acts from Rudimental to Massive Attack. A two-room basement hotspot, Mixtape 5 is packed most weekends, with more than 1,000 people turning up to dance the night away. Don’t be surprised if you don’t re-emerge until after sunrise.

Food: eat like a local:

You’re never more than a couple of minutes from somewhere to eat in Sofia. Moussaka, stews and grilled meat tend to be the local dishes of choice and are often available for very affordable prices in the many cafeterias dotted around the city. Experience the local delicacies in a welcoming setting at Made in Home (Angel Kanchev), a family run restaurant where locally sourced organic veg, meat, fish and dairy are the stars. Soupateria (Slaveykov Square) is a great place to grab a light dish, 24-7, with the national favourite of tripe soup a must try. When evening comes, sit down and unwind in the elegant and contemporary surroundings of The Company (Slavianska Street), one of Sofia’s most upmarket eateries, famed for its gourmet menu. Or if you fancy the comforting dishes of the UK and Ireland, head to JJ Murphy’s (Karnigradska Street) where recognisable fare like shepherd’s pie will provide the comfort of home.

The best view of the city:

Take the weight off your feet as you climb aboard the cable car running up Mount Vitosha, approximately 20 minutes away via tram. Here you can enjoy the most spectacular views across the city from this snow-capped peak.

Getting about:

Sofia is well served by trams, metros, buses and taxis – making any journey across the capital a simple and affordable affair. A typical cross-city journey is about 1ly (around 50p). A 10-minute taxi journey should never cost more than 5ly (£2.50). The city centre is also nice and compact, so travelling on foot is generally a good option too. Just remember to take care at crossings, as drivers do not automatically stop for pedestrians.

Useful phrases:

Zdravey = Hello Dah = Yes Ne = No Molya = Please Dob-REH dosh-LEE = Welcome Blago-dah-RYAH = Thanks Nyamah zash-TOH = You're welcome Suzhe-LYAH-vam = I'm sorry

When in Sofia...

Sofia residents, as with other Bulgarians, shake their head to mean ‘yes’ and nod to mean ‘no’. Got that? No, us neither.

Staying safe:

Sofia is generally a safe destination, but as a city of two million people you should take the usual precautions. Pickpockets are also known to be a particular nuisance, so keep an eye on your valuables when you’re in busy areas.

Did you know?

Having been founded a hefty 7,000 years ago, Sofia is the second oldest city in Europe.