Bulgaria · Europe

Plovdiv & Sofia

On our drive from Sunny Beach back to Sofia, we decided to stop for a lovely outdoor lunch and a wander around the Old Town in Plovdiv, which is Bulgaria’s second largest city and also Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited city. We saw a number of beautiful sites in our brief 60 minute power walk, well as fast as we could go in 30 degrees, including:

Roman amphitheatre: uncovered in 1972 by a landslide and now hosts special events and concerts – we admired it for free through the bars

Church of Sveta Bogoroditsa: built in 1844

Dzhumaya Mosque: Bulgaria’s first working mosque originally built in 1364

Plovdiv was gorgeous, and seamlessly mixes its ancient history, modern cafes and shops, with the surrounding hills. The old town was made even more atmospheric by all the bunting that has been hung to celebrate Plovdiv being announced as Europe’s Cultural Capital 2019. The cobblestones throughout the city, although hard to walk on, added to its ‘olde worlde’ feel.

We arrived in Sofia in early evening and had dinner at Izbata Tavern (as it’s #10 on TripAdvisor for places to eat in Sofia at the time of visiting), which had great food and a good atmosphere. We then made our way to Bar Flip Flop (#1 on TripAdvisor for nightlife), which unfortunately didn’t have any atmosphere at all so we only had one drink and then left.

The next day we did the fantastic Free Sofia Tour, which you have to do if you’re in Sofia as it’s a great way to see all the main sights in the city, including:

– Sveta Nedelya Church: orthodox church where Communist’s tried (but failed) to assassinate the king in 1925
– Coat of arms of Sofia: Bulgarian’s think their country is shaped like a lion so have lion’s everywhere, including on their coat of arms (and their currency, lev, means lion in English)
– Statue of Sofia: only erected in 2000 as it was previously home to a statue of Lenin that was taken down after the fall of the USSR
– Saint Joseph Catholic Cathedral: where you can also see the Roman west gate to the city
– Central Sofia Market Hall: covered market that opened in 1911
– Museum of Sofia/ former Public Bath: also has the hot mineral water springs just next to it, which we all had a sip of (apparently it’s good for the liver)

The walking tour showed us that Sofia is a beautiful city, filled with ancient history and gorgeous buildings. It’s very walk-able and you don’t go very far during the 2 hours but there’s plenty to see. It surprised me how small the Roman town was, and walking from the west gate to the east gate takes around 15 minutes.

My favourite section on the tour was the so called Square of Tolerance, which is home to a mosque, a Catholic cathedral, an orthodox church, and a synagogue, all within few minutes walk of each other. They are all still functioning today and while we were there we heard the call to prayer at the mosque and loads of worshippers outside as there obviously wasn’t enough space inside to fit everyone in. I love how these four different religious beliefs can co-exist in such a small area.

It was also interesting to note that there are Bulgarian and EU flags flying everywhere. Bulgaria is clearly really proud to be part of the EU so it’s sad that there are many negative perceptions in the UK about Bulgarians and Romanians since they both joined in 2007. People we met during our short time there were hard working, friendly, and like people all over the world just want to make a decent life for themselves and their families.

Our guide, Dino, was very informative and funny and really helped us get a good understanding of Sofia and the history. We went for lunch at a restaurant recommended by Dino called The Little Things, which was situated in a lovely courtyard and had great food. Afterwards, we went inside the Sveta Nedelya Church and the Central Sofia Market Hall, however both were much more impressive on the outside.

Next we went to Salted, a cafe serving vegan food, including cake! They’d run out of quite a lot of things by the time we got there at 2pm but we managed to get a slice of cherry and lemon cake along with a couple of juices. We then watched the changing of the guards at the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, which happens every hour (ours was at 14:55).

That evening we had a drink at a bar overlooking South Park 2, and then were lucky enough to be in the city for the annual A to JazZ Festival, which is a free event and happens over three days. We were there on the first night and it was fantastic! We grabbed a cider and sat on beanbags, enjoying the evening sun and listening to some great music. When we got hungry we ventured back to near our apartment and had a lovely dinner.

Our 36 hour stop in Sofia was excellent. It’s a great city, really relaxed with a fantastic outdoor lifestyle in the summer months, with restaurants and bars teaming with people late into the evening. I would definitely take the time to visit if you go to Bulgaria.


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