Sunday, 10 September 2017

BULGARIA: Sofia Is Pretty Safe But Police Take Bribes,Avoid Stray Dogs And Football Tshirts

Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria. It is also the biggest city in the country with about 1.7 million citizens including suburbs.

Sofia is a dynamic Eastern European capital, distinguished by its unique combination of European and Communist-style architecture as well as many beautiful orthodox churches. Furthermore, it claims to be one of the few European capitals with beautiful scenery and a developed ski-resort so close to it - the Vitosha mountain.

The city is at the foot of Vitosha Mountain in the western part of the country. Being in the centre of the Balkan peninsula, it is midway between the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea, whereas the Aegean Sea is the closest to it.

Sofia has been an area of human habitation since at least 7000 BC. Being Bulgaria's primate city, Sofia is a hometown of many of the major local universities, cultural institutions and commercial companies.Sofia is one of the top 10 best places for start-up business in the world, especially in information technologies.Sofia is Europe's most affordable capital to visit as of 2013.

When planning a visit to Sofia, keep in mind the major national holidays,Christmas, Orthodox Easter, 1st, 6th and 24th of May, 6th of September. During these holidays the city is deserted as most citizens take advantage of the long weekend and travel on vacation. Most small shops and galleries close for the holidays.

Sofia was founded 2,500 years ago. Over the centuries, it has been given several names - Serdica , Sredetz and the remains of the old cities can still be viewed today. Because of its strategic location in the middle of Balkans for a while it had been selected for a new capital of the Roman Empire. Near Sofia is the Boyana church, one of the most valuable memorials of Bulgarian and European culture. The church has frescoes, acclaimed by specialists as the best examples of Eastern medieval art during its twelve century history.

Sofia City Province has an area of 1344 km2.Sofia's development as a significant settlement owes much to its central position in the Balkans. It is situated in western Bulgaria, at the northern foot of the Vitosha mountain, in the Sofia Valley that is surrounded by the Balkan mountains to the north. The valley has an average altitude of 550 metres (1,800 ft).

Unlike most European capitals, Sofia does not have any large rivers or bridges, but is surrounded by comparatively high mountains on all sides. Three mountain passes lead to the city, which have been key roads since antiquity, Vitosha being the watershed between Black and Aegean Seas. A number of low rivers cross the city, including the Vladayska and the Perlovska. The Iskar River in its upper course flows near eastern Sofia.

The city is known for its 49 mineral and thermal springs. Artificial and dam lakes were built in the twentieth century. While the 1818 and 1858 earthquakes were of very high intensity and were destructive, the 2012 Pernik earthquake occurred west of Sofia with a moment magnitude of 5.6 and a much lower Mercalli intensity of VI (Strong). The 2014 Aegean Sea earthquake was also noticed in the city.

Air pollution is a problem in Sofia due to its location in the Sofia valley, which is surrounded by mountains that reduce the ability of the air to self-clean. The air is polluted mostly by particulate matters and nitrogen oxides. Sofia has the most polluted air of any capital in the EU.

The decline of Sofia during the Turkish Ottoman Empire was followed by the rejuvenation after the Russian liberation in 1878, when Sofia was chosen as the capital of Bulgaria at the First National Constituent Assembly, and followed by a brisk and straight-forward period of construction.

In Sofia there are 607,473 dwellings and 101,696 buildings. According to modern records 39,551 dwellings were constructed until 1949, 119,943 between 1950 and 1969, 287,191 between 1970 and 1989, 57,916 in the 90s and 102,623 between 2000 and 2011. Until 1949, 13,114 buildings were constructed and between 10,000–20,000 in each following decade.

Sofia's architecture combines a wide range of architectural styles, some of which are aesthetically incompatible. These vary from Christian Roman architecture and medieval Bulgar fortresses to Neoclassicism and prefabricated Socialist-era apartment blocks. A number of ancient Roman, Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian buildings are preserved in the centre of the city.

These include the 4th century Rotunda of St. George, the walls of the Serdica fortress and the partially preserved Amphitheatre of Serdica.

After the Liberation War, knyaz Alexander Battenberg invited architects from Austria–Hungary to shape the new capital's architectural appearance.

Among the architects invited to work in Bulgaria were Friedrich Grunanger, Adolf Vaclav Kolar, and Viktor Rumpelmayer, who designed the most important public buildings needed by the newly re-established Bulgarian government, as well as numerous houses for the country's elite.Later, many foreign-educated Bulgarian architects also contributed.

The architecture of Sofia's centre is thus a combination of Neo-Baroque, Neo-Rococo, Neo-Renaissance and Neoclassicism, with the Vienna Secession also later playing an important part, but it is most typically Central European.

After World War II and the establishment of a Communist government in Bulgaria in 1944, the architectural style was substantially altered. Stalinist Gothic public buildings emerged in the centre, notably the spacious government complex around The Largo, Vasil Levski Stadium, the Cyril and Methodius National Library and others.

As the city grew outwards, the then-new neighbourhoods were dominated by many concrete tower blocks, prefabricated panel apartment buildings and examples of Brutalist architecture. They still make Sofia's housing very high compared to post-Western block countries,

After the abolition of Communism in 1989, Sofia witnessed the construction of whole business districts and neighbourhoods, as well as modern skryscraper-like glass-fronted office buildings, but also top-class residential neighbourhoods. The 126-metre (413 ft) Capital Fort Business Center will be the first skyscraper in Bulgaria, with 36 floors.

However, the end of the old administration and centrally planned system also paved the way for chaotic and unrestrained construction, which continues today.

The city has an extensive green belt. Some of the neighbourhoods constructed after 2000 are densely built up and lack green spaces. There are four principal parks – Borisova gradina in the city centre and the Southern, Western and Northern parks. Several smaller parks, among which the Zaimov Park, City Garden and the Doctors' Garden, are located in central Sofia.

The Vitosha Nature Park which is the oldest national park in the Balkans includes most of Vitosha mountain and covers an area of 266 square kilometres (103 sq mi),[87] with roughly half of it lying within the municipality of Sofia. Vitosha Mountain is a popular hiking destination due to its proximity and ease of access via car and public transport.

Two functioning cable cars provide year long access from the outskirts of the city. The mountain offers favourable skiing conditions during the winter when multiple ski slopes of various difficulty are made available. Access to the ski slopes is regulated, they are maintained daily and health and safety personnel is available to assist in case of injury.

Skiing passes typically allow unlimited access to the ski slopes, cable cars and other transport facilities. Skiing equipment can be rented and skiing lessons are available.

Sofia has a humid continental climate with an average annual temperature of 10.2 °C (50.4 °F).

Winters are cold and snowy. In the coldest days temperatures can drop as low as -15°C or even lower, most notably in January. Foggy conditions are frequent, especially in the beginning of the season. On average, Sofia receives a total snowfall of 90 cm (35.5 in) and around 60 days with snow cover.

Summers are warm and sunny. In summer, Sofia generally remains slightly cooler than other parts of Bulgaria, due to its higher altitude. However, the city is also subjected to heat waves with high temperatures reaching or exceeding 35°C in the hottest days, particularly in July and August.

Springs and autumns in Sofia are short with variable and dynamic weather.

The city receives an average annual precipitation of 591 mm (23.27 in), reaching its peak in the beginning of the summer when thunderstorms are common.

Sofia is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Bulgaria alongside coastal and mountain resorts. Among its highlights is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the symbols of Bulgaria, constructed in the late 19th century. It occupies an area of 3,170 square metres (34,122 square feet) and can hold 10,000 people.

Sofia holds Bulgaria's largest museum collections, which attract tourists and students for practical studies. The National Historical Museum in Boyana district has a vast collection of more than 650,000 historical items dating from Prehistory to the modern era, although only 10,000 of them are permanently displayed due to the lack of space.

Smaller collections of items related mostly to the history of Sofia are in the National Archaeological Museum, a former mosque located between the edifices of the National Bank and the Presidency. Two natural sciences museums,the Natural History Museum and the Earth and Man display minerals, animal species both alive and taxidermic and rare materials.

The Ethnographic Museum and the National Museum of Military History are other places of interest, holding large collections of Bulgarian folk costumes and armaments, respectively.

Vitosha Boulevard, also called Vitoshka, is a pedestrian zone with numerous cafes, restaurants, fashion boutiques, and luxury goods stores. Sofia's geographic location, in the foothills of the weekend retreat Vitosha mountain, further adds to the city's specific atmosphere.

Sofia is the economic heart of Bulgaria and home to most major Bulgarian and international companies operating in the country, as well as the Bulgarian National Bank and the Bulgarian Stock Exchange. The city's GDP PPS per capita at current market prices stood at €26,700 ($35,500) in 2013, which was 100% of the then EU average, according to Eurostat data well above the same year's national average of 47%.

The city and its surrounding Yugozapaden NUTS II planning region had a per capita PPS GDP of €20,600 in 2014, higher than any other region in the country. In 2008, the average per capita annual income was 4,572 leva ($3,479).For the same year, the strongest sectors of the city's economy in terms of annual production were manufacturing ($5.5 bln.), metallurgy ($1.84 bln.), electricity, gas and water supply ($1.6 bln.) and food and beverages ($778 mln.).

Economic output in 2011 amounted to 15.9 billion leva, or $11.04 billion. The average monthly gross wages paid in December 2015 amount to €645, the highest in Bulgaria and the lowest among EU capitals.

In 2015, Forbes listed Sofia as one of the top 10 places in the world to launch a startup business, because of the low corporate tax (10%), the extremely fast internet connection speed available,one of the fastest in the world, and the presence of several investment funds, including Eleven Startup Accelerator, LAUNCHub and Neveq.In 2015 Globalization and World Cities Research Institute ranked Sofia as Beta- world city.

Historically, after World War II and the era of industrialisation under socialism, the city and its surrounding areas expanded rapidly and became the most heavily industrialised region of the country.The influx of workers from other parts of the country became so intense that a restriction policy was imposed, and residing in the capital was only possible after obtaining Sofianite citizenship. However, after the political changes in 1989, this kind of citizenship was stopped.

Increasingly, Sofia is becoming an outsourcing destination for multinational companies, among them IBM, Hewlett-Packard, SAP, Siemens, Software AG. Bulgaria Air, PPD, the national airline of Bulgaria, has its head office on the grounds of Sofia Airport.From 2007 to 2011, the city attracted a cumulative total of $11.6 billion in foreign direct investment.

Up until 2007 Sofia experienced rapid economic growth. In 2008, apartment prices increased dramatically, with a growth rate of 30%. In 2009, prices fell by 26%.

In January 2015 Sofia was ranked 30th out of 300 global cities in terms of combined growth in employment and real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in 2013–2014. This was the highest rank amongst cities in Southeast Europe.The real GDP (PPP) per capita growth was 2.5% to $33,105 (28,456 euro) and the employment went up by 3.4% to 962,400 in 2013–2014.

Sofia Airport is 9 km east of the city center. It is the busiest airport in Bulgaria, with annual passenger traffic of over 4 million.

Over 20 airlines operate service to/from Sofia, with direct flights to/from many European and Middle East cities.

Aegean Airlines (Athens), Aeroflot (Moscow-Sheremetyevo), Air Berlin (Berlin-Tegel), Air France (Paris-Charles de Gaulle), Air Serbia (Belgrade), Alitalia (Rome-Fiumicino), Austrian Airlines (Vienna), British Airways (London-Heathrow), Dniproavia (Kiev-Boryspil), El Al (Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion), flydubai (Dubai-International), Jet2.com (Seasonal: Manchester), LOT Polish Airlines (Warsaw-Chopin), Lufthansa (Frankfurt, Munich), Qatar Airways (Doha), Swiss International Air Lines (Zürich), TAROM (Bucharest), Turkish Airlines (Istanbul-Atatürk), Vueling (Seasonal: Barcelona).

Bulgaria Air, the national carrier operates service to/from Amsterdam, Athens, Berlin-Tegel, Brussels, Burgas, Frankfurt, Larnaca, London-Heathrow, Madrid, Milan-Malpensa, Moscow-Sheremetyevo, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Prague, Rome-Fiumicino, Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion, Varna, Vienna, Zürich, Barcelona, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca, Seasonal: Beirut, Budapest, Düsseldorf, Alicante, Lisbon.

Low-cost companies traveling to Bulgaria are:

EasyJet to/from London-Gatwick, London-Stansted and Manchester,

Ryanair to/from Athens, Barcelona, Berlin-Schönefeld, Birmingham, Castellon, Charleroi, Cologne/Bonn, Dublin, Eindhoven, Glasgow, Hamburg, Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden, Liverpool, London-Stansted, Madrid, Memmingen, Milan-Malpensa, Pisa, Rome-Ciampino, Stockholm–Skavsta, Treviso),
Transavia to/from Amsterdam.

Wizz Air to/from Alicante, Barcelona, Bari, Basel/Mulhouse, Beauvais, Bergamo, Birmingham, Bologna, Bristol, Budapest, Charleroi, Catania (begins 26 March 2017), Cologne/Bonn, Copenhagen, Doncaster/Sheffield, Dortmund, Dubai-Al Maktoum, Eindhoven, Geneva, Hahn, Kutaisi, Larnaca, London-Luton, Madrid, Malmö, Malta, Memmingen, Naples, Nuremberg, Rome-Fiumicino, Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion, Valencia, Varna.

There are domestic flights to/from Varna and Burgas.

Budget airlines including EasyJet, Ryanair, Transavia and Wizz Air operate from Terminal 1, while the traditional carriers including Bulgaria Air operate from Terminal 2.

There are shops, cafes, post offices, ATMs, and money exchange offices at the airport.

There is a free shuttle bus operating between the terminals every 30 minutes between 7:00AM and 7:00PM. Outside of those hours, a free shuttle bus can be requested at the information desk or you can use Bus #84 (see below).

To travel between the airport and the city centre:

Sofia Metro Line 1 (Red) operates service to the airport between 5:30 and 24:00. The stop is located in the eastern part of Terminal 2. The journey to the city centre takes 20-30 minutes. The journey to the central bus station takes approximately 30 minutes and a transfer is required. A single ticket costs 1.60 lev. You do not need new ticket when making the transfer from one metro line to another.

Public Bus #84 operates service between both terminals and the city centre. The journey takes 30-40 minutes. Tickets can be purchased from news stands or ticket machines in the airport. A single ticket costs 1.60 lev. If you are traveling with luggage bigger than 60х40х40, you will need to punch an additional ticket for each item or possibly pay a fine of 40 lev.

Make sure to have a ticket with you and validated it after boarding because this bus is the one that inspectors love to check the most because of the highest rate of fines. The bus makes a stop at Orlov Most the Sofia University metro station, where you can transfer to the metro.

Public Bus #384 operates services between Terminal 2 and the nearby neighbourhood Druzhjba. The line operates only in the rush hours and makes a connection to the Metroline. It does not go to the city center.

Taxi service from the airport is regulated. OK Supertrans AD is the contracted taxi operator from the airport. It is best to request a taxi either from the taxi stand or the taxi office. Beware of touts offering taxi service as well as fake taxis with the fake "OK" logo! A taxi to the city center will cost approximately 15 lev.

The regulated taxi fare is: initial fee of 0.70 lev, price per km 0.79 lev in the day or 0.90 lev at night, price per minute of stay of 0.22 lev, price for ordering a taxi via phone of 0.50 lev.

Since July 2015 there are coloured paths (Terminal 2) to the different types of transport. An yellow one will lead you to the taxi stand, a blue one will guide you to the metro station and a red one is for the bus station.

Sofia Central Bus Station or Centralna Avtogara is in the north part of the city centre and is within walking distance to the central attractions. Schedules and fares are available in Bulgarian online.

Eurolines Bulgaria is the largest operator of international buses to/from Bulgaria. Buses operate to/from Belgrade (5 hours, €23) and other cities in Serbia, Vienna (15.5 hours, €59) and other cities in Austria, Paris (36 hours, €120) and other cities in France, Berlin (28 hours, €110) and other cities in Germany, Budapest (11-13 hours, €48), and Prague (21 hours, €63).

MATPU 96 is the largest operator of buses in Bulgaria. The schedule is available in Bulgarian online. Buses operate several times per day to/from Skopje (5.5 hours, €15).

There are 3 smaller bus stations that serve only local destinations. The bus to Samokov operates from the south station near Metro Station.

There are trains to/from Varna (8hrs, 34 leva), Burgas (7hrs07, 21 leva) or Plovdiv (2hrs40, 10 leva), as well as other cities in the country.

International trains provide a large number of routes to Sofia, arriving from such places as Kiev, Istanbul, Vienna, Belgrade, Bucharest, Moscow and other common cities. Always check in the local train stations for the most up to date information. Due to the refugee situation, border closings may be installed, causing some lines to be cancelled.

The train to Istanbul is called the Balkan train and runs once daily in each direction. It leaves from Sofia at 20:40, arriving in Istanbul at 07:18 the next morning. There are a few stops within Bulgaria, but after the Turkish border it continues its way without any more stops until Istanbul. It leaves from Istanbul at 22:30, arriving in Sofia at 09:10 the next day. It costs 70 leva.

The primary trains from Bucharest to Sofia, and back, run twice daily through the border cities of Giurgiu and Ruse. For example, recent trains are scheduled from Bucharest to Sofia in the daytime departing 12:45/arriving 22:25 and a night train departing 20:04/arriving 06:00.

From Sofia to Bucharest there are also two trains: a) Sofia 09:00 - Bucharest 18:58 and b) Sofia 19:30 - Bucharest 05:44. One way ticket is 140 Romanian Leu. Discounts are available for under 25s. Passport control and customs takes place in Giurgiu (RO) and Ruse (BG), approximately mid-trip.

There are two trains from Sofia to Thessaloniki and vice versa each day. One way tickets cost €16.80, return tickets cost €33.60. Train 360 towards Sofia departs from Thessaloniki at 06:55 and arrives at 14:07, train 361 to Thessaloniki departs from Sofia at 15:00 and arrives at 22:22. Train 1461, coming from Bucharest, leaves Sofia at 23:50 to arrive in Thessaloniki at 06:30 the next morning.

The opposite direction of this route is served by train 1460 leaving Thessaloniki at 23:10 and arriving in Sofia at 05:50.

From Belgrade: 10h, one overnight train. Return ticket cost €41.20 and €6 for couchette reservation.

All services are operated by the Bulgarian State Railways, whose schedules are available on the internet in English.

The main railway station - Tsentralna Gara can be somewhat confusing. Domestic departures go from the main terminal and that is where you can buy tickets for domestic travel. If you want to travel to an international destination, upon entering the station from the front, turn to your left, walk past the heated waiting room on your left and some small shops and go to the office at the end of the wide corridor with "RILA" on it.

It is straight ahead of you. They speak some English and to book a ticket you will need your passport. Credit cards are accepted.

Platforms can be accessed from the main floor down the escalators at the far left corner. Platform numbering is somewhat confusing: Roman numerals indicate the platform number (I to VI), and Arabic numerals (1 to 12) indicate the actual track. Each platform is divided into East and West. Departures and arrivals are indicated on reliable electronic panels, but beware: they indicate the track number, not the platform!

The rail travel and ticketing in Bulgaria is unique. When buying a round trip, you have to obtain a second stamp on your ticket at the cashier before boarding the train on the return journey. Otherwise you will have to pay a fine to the conductor or be kicked off the train to get the stamp.

On 26 April 2016 the central railway station was reopened after nearly 2 years of renovation. The new station has new waiting rooms, solar panels, more security and is more accessible to disabled people.

Access by car to Bulgaria's Capital is via several entry points:

From the North & South via E79/A6 2. From the East - via Thrace Highway E80/A1-A3 or from the old road paralelling the E80 Highway - Zlatitza - Pirdop - Pazardzhik route. 3. From the West - via A1/E80 Liking the city and the Bulgarian-Serbian Border point of Kalotina.

- A1 connects Sofia to Burgas on the Black Sea.

- A2 is planned to be from Sofia to Varna and as of July, 2013 it ends at Yablanitsa and continues from Shumen to Varna.

- A3 is planned to be from Varna to Burgas, but currently has only a few kilometers built.

- A4 connects Sofia with Turkey. With the completion of Highway "Maritsa" this road is completed.

Otherwise coming from Greece the road E79/A6 is in very good shape, so the 300 km from Thessaloniki are done fairly fast if you don't happen to fall into Friday/Sunday traffic jams in the area of Sofia or Pernik.

Coming from the Republic of Macedonia, via Kiustendil the roads are relatively good but driving within speed limits would avoid you much hassle caused either by traffic police, or road conditions.

From Central Europe you can drive almost the whole length on highways (via Slovenia-Croatia-Serbia or Hungary-Serbia), with only the last 100 km between Nis in Southern Serbia and Sofia being heavily trafficked mountain roads around the Nishava ravine in not the best shape.

Note that the highways are poorly lighted and some sections are very old and in bad shape,Trakiya from Plovdiv to Sofia and the entire Hemus section.

The legal speeds are:

- 50km/h in towns and populated areas

- 90km/h on the regular roads

- 140km/h on highways

The fines for speeding starts from 20 leva for up to 10km/h over the speed limit and has no top limit. Usually traffic police does not stop cars on the highways but they do stop cars on the regular roads quite often.

If somebody or the car on the other lane blinks with his high beams to you that means there are traffic police ahead. The policemen are known for taking bribes but do not be tempted as there are cameras on them or in their car so you might end up in jail. The fines are not so strict so better take your card and pay the fine.

Seat belts for front and rear passengers and low beam lights are mandatory at all times.

Some drivers can be quite aggressive. There are a lot of traffic rules violations, most of them not a big deal but you need to keep your both eyes.

Avoid buying fuel from the small gas stations as it might be tempered. The prices there are lower but it doesn't worth the risk. There is a well developed network of petrol and gas stations around the country. Some of the big ones are: Shell, OMV, Eko, Lukoil, Petrol, Rompetrol.

Visiting Places

Due to the construction of a new metro line passing trough the city center there are zones closed for public access from March, 26th 2016 to September 30th 2017. This results in changes in the public transport lines, parking zones and traffic complications.

Sofia has a well-developed and efficient public transport system that consists of buses, trolleys, trams, subway. The public transport operates from 5AM to about 12AM. Taxis are the only transport option at night.

From June, 1st 2016 the public service will cost 1.60 lev per ticket, the carnet of 10 tickets Card with coupons for ten travels for one passenger will cost 12 leva. The fine for not having a ticket will be 40 leva approximately 20 €

There are several kinds of tickets and cards in Sofia. The single ride ticket costs 1.00 Lev - 0.50 Euro, and is valid for a single ride, without limitation of time or distance. After buying the ticket, you must stamp it inside the vehicle with the yellow stamp-machines with perforators.

Another option for multi-travelling is buying a Card with coupons for ten travels for one passenger, the principle is the same with the rides. Such court of 10 tickets costs 8 Leva - 4 Euro. Beware that one such court cannot be used by two or more people on the same time, and the 10-th ticket must always be preserved and shown upon request to the ticket inspectors,this is to make sure that you are not using a punched ticket that you found on the bus. You can still use your 10th ticket.

Tickets for the subway are obtainable only from the ticket machines or kiosks inside the stations. The normal tickets for buses or trams are not valid there. Also the ticket for the subway is valid only for 30 minutes after buying it,you cannot buy a few subway tickets in advance to use later!

You could also use a smartphone app called Tickey. You can purchase tickets for the subway from it. It only works for couple of the center stations so be aware when you use it.

If you are planning a stay in Sofia, it is best to rely on single-day-cards. Such card costs 4 Leva or 2 Euros, and is valid for all buses, trams, trolleybuses and the subway. The card is stamped by the kiosk seller so you don't have to worry about stamping it inside the vehicles. It is valid after stamped until the closing time of the transport, so around 23:30 - 00:00.

You can also buy the 24h ticket for the next or another day, by simply telling that to the employee, and he will put the appropriate date stamp of the next or another day, you wish to travel. Just find a kiosk where this card is sold, and buy every single morning such a card, and travel as much as you like.

The card is valid for a single person only! Also when you use the day ticket in Metro system, always validate the ticket in the manned,in every station next the auto doors, ticket point. The employee scan the ticket with a bar code reader, and gives it a free entrance allowance . You must do that every time during the day, in order to pass inside the metro stations.

For the subway, you can buy an electronic card that costs 1 BGN then charge it with ten trips for the price of 8 BGN. When you return the card, you get your 1 BGN back. This is recommended if you are going to use the metro at least ten times as you can avoid queuing to buy a ticket every time and it is also 20% cheaper.

The ticketing system is simple. The whole city belongs to the same tariff zone, including the suburbs and the neighboring villages, where a public transportation from Sofia goes. The only exceptions are the lines 103 and 66, where tickets are bought from the driver only and act as an attraction lines.

If you are traveling by public transport with a large suitcase or backpack, be sure to buy a separate ticket for your bag/case if sum of its dimensions are larger than 140cm (eg.60x40x40cm) or you might be fined! You need no an extra ticket for luggage on the metro. The fine for not having a ticket is 20 BGN. If you have no ticket for yourself and a big bag, that would be 40 BGN.

The ticket inspectors are not always present but they can be rough if you don't have a valid ticket or you argue with them. Keep in mind that they not always understand other language than Bulgarian. Sometimes they are accompanied by a police car so if you are too aggressive about why you don't have a ticket you might end up in the local police office. If you do have a valid ticket you won't have any troubles.

There are 15 tram lines, 9 trolley lines, 93 bus lines and two metro lines. Some of the buses cover the area outside the city center including neighboring villages.

Useful routes are bus #84 from both terminals of the airport to the center; from the train/bus station to Orlov most - bus #213 or #214 or tram #1, #7 and #18 to Vitosha Street and Nedelya Square, #1, #6, #7 to the National Palace of Culture, #18 to Slaveykov square or #6 to Macedonia square.

The subway metro in Sofia has two lines - Red (M1) and Blue (M2). The Red line (Lulin, Obelya) goes through the city center to the southeast. Half of the trains continue to the airport and the other half to Mladost . The Blue line goes through the city center as well connecting Nadezhda r.d. (Lomsko shose), Central Train Station with city center ending at Lozentz r.d (James Bourchier).

Both lines meet at the Serdika station where one can transfer using a single ticket. One of the main stations in the center of town is called ND or National Palace of Culture - keep in mind that both names refer to the same station.

Streets have adequate tiled pavements, especially in the city centre. However, they are frequently uneven and potholed, and walking is further made difficult by parked cars, street vendors and cafes. Except for areas in the very centre, pavements rarely have slopes for wheelchair access or designated lanes for bicycle riders.

Pedestrian crossings are numerous and are relatively respected by drivers. Use pedestrian underpasses to cross large intersections, though avoid ones in the suburbs as these are usually derelict.

Mini-buses or marshrutki are relatively tourist unfriendly. They are numbered and their route is written on the window but only in Cyrillic. The big advantage is that they do not observe all traffic rules in rush hour and get you to your destination faster than public buses or taxis. They do not stop at bus stops unless you signal them!

They stop if you just wave a hand and usually are fast way to go somewhere without need to change the car. You pay to the driver when you get on the car. Prices are 1,50 leva about 0,75 euro. To get off: when the minibus is close to your destination you need to tell the driver where and when you want to get off.

Keep in mind that they run on certain main roads but in cases of congested traffic like morning or evening the drivers slightly alter the route and take side streets to skip the traffic jam.

Taxis in Sofia are yellow. Taxis can be caught on the streets or can be ordered by phone, they arrive fast and are reliable. A drive inside Sofia will rarely exceed 10lv and a trip from the airport to the city center between 8 lv and 15 lv. There are many companies offering taxi services, some of them are OK Supertrans taxi (973 2121), €1 Taxi, "962-22-26", Yellow Taxi (91119) and Radio CV Taxi (91263) with fares around 0,70 leva (0,35€) per kilometer.

There is a small fee for calling a taxi to your address usually about 0,70 leva. Please check the phone number and the prices before you board, because there are some taxis trying to imitate the most popular ones, but having outrageous prices up to 5,90 leva or 3,00€ per kilometer by letting you believe that it is 0,59 leva on them and usually hang around hotels, shopping malls and tourist spots picking on unsuspecting customers, its the top line for the per km fares and bottom line for time you need to look at.

The general rule is that if a taxi driver comes to you and offers you a drive, never accept it because they will try to rip you off. For short rides in the city center where there are many one way streets it is sometimes better to walk to your destination than taking a taxi. Be clear about your destination and don't let them take you to the scenic route resulting in higher bill.

They play this even to the locals so foreigners are particularly vulnerable. Also be aware that the taxi drivers may refuse to take you for short distances like 1-2 kilometers so in these cases you can negotiate a flat fare and the taxi driver won't use the meter.

Renting a car is possible, but not necessarily a good idea if you are not used to driving here. Be prepared for traffic jams and disorganized traffic. Parking is a major problem. To park you can use tickets for parking in the so-called Blue Zone or sinya and Green Zone or zelena. These tickets can be purchased from the people wearing bright green jackets, hanging around the parking lots.

The tickets should be clearly marked with pen and placed on the dashboard so they are clearly visible. The price is 2 leva per 1 hour for the Blue Zone and 1 lev per hour for the Green Zone. The easier and more convenient way is to text the vehicle registration number from a Bulgarian mobile phone to "1302" - Blue Zone and "1303" - Green Zone.

Five minutes before the prepaid time is up you will receive a warning SMS. You can either send another message for another hour or move your car. Zone parking is valid Mon - Fri 8AM-7PM, Sat 8AM - 2PM.

If a tram, bus, or trolley stops and is on the left side of your car you must stop in your lane and behind it, ie. public transportation vehicle should be on your left side and in front of your car. It is because tram rails are in the middle of the road and tram station is on the pavement so passengers will exit the right side of the vehicle into the road. Even buses have bus stops in the middle of a road.
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Sofia is one of the greenest capitals in Europe, with the big park zones ideal for biking. Slow traffic in downtown is perfect for cycling. On a bike you will save time and will enjoy sport activity.

Sofia also has the few bike paths around the downtown area and districts such as Mladost, Nadezhda, Hipodruma. Rent a bike Bike rental operates from 10AM to about 8PM (April to November). Discover Sofia by bike map or joint to an experienced bike guide. Renting a bike in Sofia is relatively expensive: 15 Leva or 7,5€ for a short period of three hours.

If you are visiting Sofia on your way to other destinations, you can leave your luggage and tour the city for a few hours. The Central Railway Station is located right next to the Central Bus Station and offers luggage storage. It is some 10 minutes walking distance from the Lavov Most Lions' Bridge area and the city center.

To find the Luggage department at the Railway Station look for old train placed as decoration in front of the central entrance. You can leave your luggage there for a period of maximum 5 days. Also a luggage Storage office is working in the Central Bus Station, for storing luggage for 24h the price is 2Lv per piece.

Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe and has ancient ruins throughout the city center.

In the administrative center of Sofia, the streets are covered with a specific yellow pavement. It was laid in the beginning of the 20th century and were a present to the Bulgarian Tsar Ferdinand for his wedding from the Austria-Hungarian royal family.

Sofia was founded because of the quality of its mineral waters. In the city, there are 7 independent mineral water springs. One of the springs is in the central area of the city and is accessible for everybody,cross the square behind the mosque, next to TSUM the intersection of Iskar and Ekzarh Yosif streets.

This is next to a tram stop and in front of Lidl, just nestled behind the former public bath. You will see many locals filling up plastic bottles of water.

Sofia Public Mineral Baths. It is an old building of interest, although it is in process of renovation at the moment.

Sofia History Museum, 1 Banski Sq, is a newly opened museum located in the beautiful building of the old city bath. The museum houses 8 rooms with permanent exhibitions tracing the history of the city from Roman times until the mid 20th century. Tickets for adults cost 6 lv for the permanent exhibits and 8 lv for the permanent and temporary ones.

It's cheaper for students and pensioners. Admission is free every Thursday. The museum is located right in the center of Sofia, on the square next to department store TZUM and behind the mosque.

Muzeiko, 3, Prof. Boyan Kamenov Str., is the first children's museum in Sofia. The exhibits are all thematic, educational, and high quality. The staff speaks very good English. There is a nice gift shop with a good selection of educational toys. There is also a cafe and an outside playground. There are different admission prices on weekdays and on the weekend.

It's closed on Mondays, but the rest of the weeks it's open 10 am - 6 pm. The museum is easily reachable by public transport - take the metro to station "G.M.Dimitrov" and follow the signs to walk to it, which should take no more than 5 minutes.

National Museum of Military History, 92 Cherkovna Str. 10.00 to 18.00. ticket price for adults 8 leva (on march-15-2012)

Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum, 1 Kniaz Aeksander I sqr. Has a permanent collection of traditional Bulgarian costumes as well as a changing exhibition. Not working on Mondays and public holidays. 3 / 1 leva.

Earth and Man National Museum, 4 Cherni Vruh Blvd. 10AM-6PM. 2 leva.

National Museum of History, 16 Vitoshko lale str. Take trolley #2 southwest from the corner of Praga Blvd. and Patriarch Eftimi Blvd. Get off at the roundabout at the end of the bus line. Cross the busy Okolovrustino Shosse (ring road) and walk through the trees. The museum is not visible from the road, nor are there any signs.

The National Museum of History in Sofia contains more than 650,000 exhibits and is one of the largest history museums on the Balkans. The aim of the museum is to provide a comprehensive view on Bulgarian history from the prehistory to present, in as broad an European context as possible. Be prepared to spend several hours as the museum is quite large. About half of the exhibits have English captions. 10 leva just 1 for students.

National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, 2 Saborna Str. 10:00 to 18:00. 10 leva.

National Polytechnic Museum, 66 Opalchenska Str. 09.00 to 17.00.

National Museum of Natural History, 1, Tzar Osvoboditel Blvd. 10.00 to 18.00. Has four floors of everything from rocks and minerals to insects and stuffed bison. It is a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Museum of Socialist Art, 7, Luchezar Stanchev Str. 10AM- 5:30PM. Located outside the city center but accessible by metro, this site consists of a large outdoor garden full of socialist sculptures and monuments to party leaders. Inside is a small gallery of propaganda art. 6 / 3 leva.

House-Museum of Ivan Vazov, On the corner of the streets G. Rakovski and Ivan Vazov.

Museum of Sport, 1A Bulgaria Blvd. National Stadium Vasil Levski. 09:00 to 17:00.

Museum of Paleontology and historical geology, 15 Tzar Osvoboditel Blvd.Inside Sofia University.

National Literature Museum, 138 G. S. Rakovski Str., floor 2.

National Agricultural Museum, 30 Suhodolska Str.

National Ecclesiastical History-Archeological Museum, 19 Sveta Nedelya Sq. 09:00 to 17:00.

National Gallery for Foreign Art, 1 St. Aleksander Nevsky Square. 11:00 to 18:00. 4 leva.

National Art Gallery, 1 Batenberg Sq. 10:30 to 18:00. Has old Bulgarian art, icons, etc. 4 leva.

Sofia Art Gallery, 1, Gen. Gurko Str. The entrance is from Kniaz Al. Batenberg Str. 10:00 to 19:00. free.

Sofia City Art Gallery 1 General Gurko St.

St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. One of the largest orthodox churches worldwide.

Boyana Church, 1-3 Boyansko Ezero Str. (Getting here is quite difficult. From NDK station (National Palace of Culture) take a trolleybus (e.g. 8, 4-5 stops) to the medical university (Медицински университет). Walk a little further to the next traffic light, turn left on bulevard Akademik Ivan Evstratiev Geshov.

The final stop of bus #64 is 100m to the left. The stop for the church is a small plaza with a few shops near the end of the #64 bus line. Ask the driver or the other passangers where to get off and then walk uphill and turn left.

09:00 to 17:30 (Nov-Mar), 09:30 to 18:00 (Apr-Oct). This small 14th-century church and garden is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The church contains some very well preserved murals. It is located at the foot of Vitosha mountain and is a good starting point for day trips in the mountain. Entrance is 10 Lev, or 2 Lev for students.

Church of St. George,Behind the Sheraton Hotel.

Hagia Sophia Church, 2 Paris str.. It is located just across the square and to the right from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. It was built in the 6th century over an even older church. It is a witness of the whole Bulgarian history and is a valued cultural monument. In the 14th century it gave its name to the city of Sofia. It was destroyed several times and during the Ottoman rule it was used as a mosque.

Catholic cathedral St. Joseph, 125, Knjaz Boris I ,next 2 Sheraton Hotel, Holy Masses: SAT 5,30pm & SUN 10,30am bulgarian; 12,00pm latin; 6pm bulgarian

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church, in the small park between Graf Ignatiev and Tsar Shishman streets. This nearly 500 year old mosque was converted into a church in 1902.

Banya Bashi Mosque. A rebuilt bathhouse, hence the name. Planned by master architect Sinan who also did the mosque in Edirne.

Sofia Synagogue. 09:00 to 16:30. One of the largest in Europe.

Banya Bashi Mosque. A rebuilt bathhouse, hence the name. Planned by master architect Sinan who also did the mosque in Edirne.

Sofia Synagogue. 09:00 to 16:30. One of the largest in Europe.

Amphitheatre of Serdica, 4 Budapeshta Street,Located in the lobby of the Arena di Serdica Residence Hotel. Open 7/24/365.

Battenberg Mausoleum. The mausoleum and final resting place of Prince Alexander I of Bulgaria (1857–1893), the first Head of State of modern Bulgaria.

Knyaz Battenberg's Palace, Right in front of the city garden.

Monument to Vasil Levski. It commemorates the hanging of Bulgarian national hero and major revolutionary figure Vasil Levski in the city on 18 February 1873.

Monument to the Tsar Liberator. Representing the power of freedom and across from it are the National Assembly and the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

Monument to the Unknown Soldier. Across from Alexander Nevsky cathedral; on the side of Hagia Sofia's Church.

Largo. 3 buildings of Socialist Classicism architecture.

Prince Alexander of Battenberg Square. The largest square in Sofia. Includes the National Art Gallery.

Petko R. Slaveykov Square, (along Graf Ignatiev Str. , between Solunska Str. and Rakovsky Str.). 0 - 24. A Famous Square, real Sofia center with a monument of writers father and son Slaveykov's. It`s a biggest open-air book market on the Balkans. There are round benches and street musicians act very often.

Sofia University Metro Station, (along Graf Ignatiev Str. , between Solunska Str. and Rakovsky Str.). 0 - 24. Popular with street musicians and dancers.

Patriarch Evtimiy Square.

Borisova Gradina or Boris Garden. The oldest and best known park in the city. Includes the Ariana Lake where in the summer you can rent a raw boat or a paddle boat; in the winter, a part of the lakes is turned into a skating ring. There is a large playground with some paid rides for kids and snack stands very near the lake. Maymunarnika is an open air bar in the center of the park, with regular live music.

Yuzhen Park or South Park. Yes, and it's not the cartoon series. A nice park in the south-east part of the city, although a bit to crowded on weekends. Vibrant with open area cafes, entertainment for children and grown-ups, and a few ponds with ducks.

City Garden. It`s the oldest and most central public garden, in existence since 1872.

Sofia Zoo, 1 Sreburna Str., [16]. 09:00 to 17:00. The zoo is not up to Western standards. The larger animals are kept in concrete enclosures. An adult ticket is 4 lv, children between 3 and 17 years-old pay 2 lv, and children under two go in for free. The zoo is open daily. Take any of the following buses and ask the driver when to get off for the zoo - 120, 122, 93, 88, 83, 64, 66.

Orlov Most. It`s a bridge over the Perlovska River in the centre of Sofia

Lover's Bridge. It is called that way because young couples hang there. It is usually a place with various exhibitions - photo, picture, music and so on. Located between National Palace of Culture and Hotel Hilton, over Bulgaria bulevard.

Lion's Bridge, bulevard Slivnitsa, 1202 Sofia. Since 2014 the bridge is fully renovated and its old fame for being a dangerous place is now in the past. It has a beautiful lion sculptures (hence the name), flower garden, benches to seat, a tram line. There is a metro station next to it.

National Assembly of Bulgaria, 2 Narodno Sabranie Sq.

Sofia University, 15 Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd.

Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, 1 15 November Str.

Ivan Vazov National Theatre, 5 Dyakon Ignatii Str.

SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library, 88 Vasil Levski Str. 08:30 to 20:30.

National Palace of Culture, 1 Bulgaria Sq. The biggest congress center in the Balkans, a massive monolithic communist-style building. If asking for directions, ask for NDK (en-de-ka), as most Bulgarians refer to it by this acronym.

Central Military Club. It`s a multi-purpose monument of culture building in the city center.

Sofia is crossed by a few tiny rivers that even the locals call (dirty) channels (Kanala) because of their limited water capacity and pollution. In summer the heats hit 35C and there are a few outdoor swimming pools for you to chill. Despite the fact that Sofia sits on a number of hot mineral springs, the mineral baths & spa culture is not developed for its natural resources.

Happy Beach Viktoria, 12-14 Pencho Slaveykov Blvd 10 minutes walk from the 5 Corners intersection, 5 minutes walk from the stops of trolley 5, 8, tram 4, 5. Small open air swimming pool. Its advantage is that it's right next to the city center. Happy is also a popular chain of restaurants so you can have a bite.

Maxi - Water World, 110 Simeonovsko Shose Blvd,Close to the ring road, getting there by public transport is complicated, bus 67, 102, . Outdoor swimming pools, hotel, spa center relax, sauna, hammam, massage

Tsarsko Selo, Dragalevtsi district, 72 Ring Road,No public transport. Indoor and outdoor swimming pools, hotel, spa center (relax, sauna, hammam, massage, fitness). Restaurant with traditional Bulgarian decoration

Varadero, Levski G district, Poruchik Georgi Kuyumdzhiev Str. behind Domko store,The closest public transport stops are buses 78, 120 or trolley 1. Located in not particularly beautiful living district, it has an outdoor swimming pool, water slides for kids, restaurant, cafe

Liulin Beach, Liulin district, 30 Dzhavaharlal Neru Blvd (Metro stop Liulin, trolley 7, tram 8, buses 42,111). Located in the largest district of Sofia, it has 3 outdoor swimming pools, fitness center, sand area, volleyball and football playgrounds, bbq, pizza, fast food, cafeteria

Leda, 3 Shavarski Pat Str (Close to the zoo). Popular for its music night parties, the outdoor pool is also open during the day edit
Close to Sofia

Korali, Sofia, Pancharevo,Technically this pool is not in the city. Pancharevo is rater a village close to the city. A place with natural mineral water,temperature of the spring: 49ºС near Sofia. Spa (Hydro and aromatherapy, sauna, whirpool baths, turkish bath, massage, fitness).

Rudartsi, Pernik, Rudartsi Village - There is a mini bus from Sofia to the village, Mineral water. 3 outdoor swimming pools, snack bar, cafeteria

Events And Festivals

Broken Balkanz - Annual Drum and Bass festival held by HMSU which hosts international and Local Drum and Bass DJs (July)

Sofia Film Festival - (March)

Sofia Design Week - international festival for design and visual culture. It features a professional forum with prominent speakers from all over the world, as well as an extensive program of open events aimed at the broader audience - exhibitions, workshops, discussions, talks, screenings, parties, book openings, events for children, etc. (in June) 2014 update: the organizers of this event announced that this year it will be held in the city of Plovdiv under the name One Design Week

A to JazZ Festival a few day open air festival held annually in South Park II (Ujen Park), behind the Park Center Sofia mall. It is open air and free (at the end of June or beginning of July)

Water Tower Art Fest - festival for contemporary arts and culture in Bulgaria (in June)

International Folklore Festival - local and foreign dance folklore ensembles (in July)

ON! Fest is gathering the most interesting from the modern urban art, entertainment, sport and lifestyle: music, dances, graffiti, parkour, technology, games, japanese culture, urban and extreme sports and parites (in September)

Da Fest - an international digital art festival, organized by the National Academy of Art, Sofia including exhibition, performances, film screenings, workshops, and lectures. (in September)

Sofia Dance Week - international festival for contemporary dance. The program consists of performances from Europe, Asia and America representative for different trends in the contemporary dance scene. The parallel program consists of workshops, ateliers, open air events, lectures, projections and discussions, as well as a special kids module with performances and workshops. (in October)

Sofia Contemporary - Sofia Contemporary presents diverse artistic means, traditional and new media, urban and interior spaces for and with art. The festival discusses various attitudes to the problems of our time, territory, gender, social and political frustrations as well as affiliations.

Challenges Days - three day festival dedicated to the extreme sports and adventures.It is organized by a large community of mountaineering, speleology, biking sport clubs and outdoor shops and travel professionals and photographers. (in November)

Sofia Architecture Week - international festival for architecture, a week-long meeting and idea exchange platform for architecture, interior design, landscape and urban environment. Many exhibition open to the general public and with free entrance, presentations, workshops, screenings and urban interventions. Every year Sofia Architecture Week focuses on a specific topic. (last week of November and beginning of December)

Sofia Rocks - It is the biggest annual rock festival in Sofia and Bulgaria usually happening around june/july. It had four events so far with bands like Metallica, Rammstein, Judas Priest, Whitesnake, Guns'n'Roses, 30 seconds to Mars.

The National Palace of Culture regularly hosts various events, exhibitions and fairs. Check its portal at NDK.bg

3KEY Rooms - Real life escape games, 102, Vasil Levski blvd. (Near St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral). Play in a game with 2-6 friends and be a real detective. Find all the clues. Solve all the mysteries. Find the Time Machine in the Detective's chamber and use it to return to the present. +/-20 lv/person.

Hour Escape - Real life escape game, 31, Alabin str. Near the main walking blvd Vitosha. +/-20 lv/person.

Escape Rooms Sofia, Ulica Sv Kiril I Metodiy, 126 Close to intersection with Hristo Botev Blv. 24h. +/-20 lv/person.

National Opera and Ballet

Arena Cinema. It`s one of the biggest Bulgarian cinema multiplex. Cinemas in Sofia play all films except children's films in their original language with Bulgarian subtitles.

Sofia Bike Tour (National Theatre Ivan Vazov), Dyacon Ignatiy, 5. Visit top greenest capital of Europe on a Bike. Every day Free Bike Tour (April-November) at 11am /5pm. Escape from the city and join to the Bike Countryside Tour around Sofia. Every day(April-November)at 11am. Start Point: National Theater Ivan Vazov

Balkan Bites Learn about and taste traditional Bulgarian food for free, Rakovska Str. and Tsar Osvoboditel Meeting point is in the middle of Park Crystal - next to the statue of Stefan Stambolov. 2 p.m. - 4 p.m.. free.

Area 51 - Action-quest escape room., 71, Klokotnitsa str. Near Opalchenska blvd. +/-20 lv/person.

The currency in Bulgaria is the Lev, plural Leva. You will also see the abbreviation lv. (лв.) or the ISO code - BGN. The currency exchange rate is fixed at 1 EUR = 1.95583 BGN. Exchange rate to any other currency (except for the EUR) is not fixed directly, but published by the Bulgarian National Bank and is used for a benchmark in the exchange offices and banks.

Currency exchange offices and most banks offer a buy rate of 1.95 BGN and a sell rate of 1.96 BGN to 1 EUR. However, at the airport and train station the rates may differ substantially. During business days, it is strongly advisable to use banks for exchanging money. Although there are some really good exchange stalls giving you up to 1.955BGN/EUR, be aware of those who switch the digits giving you 1.59BGN/EUR.

It's also possible to change money 24/7 in casinos where rate is good, but you are required to play even some. ATMs on all major credit card issuers (Visa, Mastercard, Amex, Diner's, etc.) are widely available, although you have to watch for your daily withdrawal limit imposed by your card-issuing bank. Credit cards are widely accepted, but in small souvenir stores or restaurants; you will definitely need to carry some cash.

Souvenirs can be bought many small shops in the subways in front of the old Party House and in the metro station at the Largo. The Ethnographic Museum has a small shop tightly crammed with souvenirs of all kinds from all over Bulgaria on the right, just as you enter the main entrance. Antiques and souvenirs can also be found in Alexander Nevski square, in stalls just opposite the church.

Vitosha Boulevard. It`s the main commercial street in the centre of Sofia. It is known as the most expensive street in Sofia.

The Mall, 115 Tzarigradsko Shousse Blvd. Many bus lines stop at THE MALL. Choose between bus no. 1, 3, 5, 6, 76, 84, 114, 204, 213, 214, 284, 305, 306, 313 and 604. 10:00 to 22:00. a convenience store, Largest shopping mall in Bulgaria; contains also a Carrefour store, large Arena cinema, a lot of cafes and restaurants, etc.

Central Sofia Market Hall, Marie Louise Boulevard (Opposite the Banya Bashi mosque.). Has many stalls selling all kinds of food, drink and cosmetics. The second floor has various fast-food cafés.

TZUM, 2, Knyaginya Maria Luiza Blvd.

Mall of Sofia, 101, Alexander Stamboliiski Blvd. It is centrally located. IMAX cinema.

Bulgaria Mall, 69 Bulgaria Blvd., 1680. Parking, Arena cinema

City Center Sofia, 2 Arsenalski Blvd., floor 3.

SkyCity Mall, 52 Kosta Loulchev Str. You can get there by tram No 20 and 23, bus No 9, and Route Taxi No 1, 19 and 21. 10:00 to 22:00. Also has an entertainment center.

Serdika Mall, 48 Sitnyakovo Blvd. You can get there by tram No 20 and 23, buses No 9, 72, 305. 10:00 to 22:00. Fair share of shops. The mall has a rooftop terrace with no such a stunning view but in summer they try to bring the beach atmosphere with sand and some open air events.

Paradise Mall, 100 Chern Vrah Blvd. You can get there by tram No 10, bus No 120. 10:00 to 22:00. Large shopping center with an effort to make you feel like being in nature and many fountains. The entertainment includes climbing zone Boulderland, cinema, bowling and game zone for kids.

Pirotska Str. The street starts at the market hall near the Banya Bashi Mosque and ends in the dodgy area of Zhenski Pazar (Women's Market). There are many shops for clothes, shoes and cheap Chinese decoration.

Ekzarh Yosif Str. The street runs parallel to the Pirotska Street and is popular for its many shoe shops.

Zhenski Pazar, Stefan Stambolov Str ("You). It is said to be the largest open air market in Sofia. It is popular with its stalls for goods and notorious with the fact that the sellers rarely let you choose your fruits and vegetables but instead along with the good always sneak into your bag some bad ones. Cheap low quality clothes, underwear and shoes, fake brands, and some second hand shops.

The area is full of people of gypsy origin often repeating "Tzigari, tzigari" (Cigarettes, cigarettes) meaning that they sell some contraband pieces. Late in the afternoon the food stalls give place to the flea market, expect to see the things thrown in the bins and found during the day. As of 2014 the municipality is trying to brush up the image of this place by reconstructing the area.

The market in font of Nevski, Oborishte Str., in front of Alexander Nevski Cathedral (Trolleybus No 9). Popular for the antiques from the communist era, icons and hand made home decoration. The place is absolutely touristic and unavoidable if you visit the tourist attractions nearby. If you are after the antiques and you can recognize authentic from fake, also check the Malashevtsi market

Malashevtsi, also known as Bitaka, Malashevtsi district, Lavanula Str. (Bus No 18, 20). Pretty far from the city center and the tourist attractions, it is the most authentic flea market in Sofia. Usually it is operating on Saturday and Sunday morning until about 2 pm. A lot of stolen stuff ends up on this market.

There are also old, almost ancient watches, coins and relics as well as things from the communist epoch. Some have real value, others are useless. If you are into the antiques and know what you are doing, here you can find some gems. A photo project with images from the Malashevtsi market can be seen here.

Stadiona, Evlogi Georgiev Str. in front of the Vasil Levski national stadium. (Bus No 204, 604, 72, 76). 9:00 - 15:00. Open air carboot market for sports equipment. Saturday and Sunday it is fully operating while during the week it has just a few hawkers. The goods offered highly depend on the season. In warms months it is full of new and second hand bikes and hiking equipment. In winter it is the place for ski, snowboards, accessories and wear.

Tsar Shishman Road. A very hip street near Parlament with lots of artsy cafes, bars, and shops. The city's largest English language bookstore, Elephant Books, is located there.

Fast food

You can easily find take away food in Sofia. For less than 2 leva you can get a slice of pizza, a hot-dog or a sandwich. You can get more traditional Bulgarian food in bakeries, offering banitsa and other kinds of pastry. This food is often consumed with ayran or boza. Another possibility is to get a katma, which is a big pancake filled with cheese, ham, jelly or chocolate.

Pizzeria-type restaurants and snack bars can be found all over Sofia. Although many are very uninteresting for the traveler looking for a meal with a local flavor, some include excellent Bulgarian dishes.

Soups

The soup places usually have daily menu of 4-5 different soups, nice interior and reasonable prices. These places are popular for a luncheon during the working days but there are also a few soup-restaurants that stay open 24/7 and are great for party people to have something to eat in the morning after the long night out.

Supa Star, 8 Tsar Ivan Shishman Str. Close to the Radisson Hotel. This was the first soup-place in Sofia. The second floor is a must: colorful design and nice view over the street

Soupateria, 6 Slaveykov Sq. Close to the intersection with Rakovski Str. Open 24/7. Traditional Bulgarian soups and interesting international cuisine elements. Salads, pastries.

Soupateria Take Away, 2 Garibaldi Sq. Next to the big KFC restaurant. Take away place, great in spring and autumn because you can grab a cup of soup and eat it at the sun in the nearby benches.

SoupMe, 55 Neofit Rilski Str Close to the intersection with Rakovski Str.

Soup House, 33 Tsar Samiul Str.

Baаlbek, Near Slaveykov Square. This is great Lebanese food. Downstairs is take-away kebabs and falafels, and upstairs a small eat-in. Excellent hummus and salads, etc., and cold beer.

Restaurant Petleto 2 Restaurant & Garden Petleto 2 offers Mediterranean and local cuisine, 44 Neofit Rilski Street,next to Vitosha Boulevard. 11:00 - 23:30. Excellent cuisine at affordable prices in the city center

Pizza Victoria. One of the best Bulgarian pizzas.

Trops House. It`s a fast-food type of place, offering traditional Bulgarian meals and drinks. It can be found in several locations throughout the city center.

Cactus, 20 Hristo Belchev Str. Located in the heart of the city it is popular among working professionals in the area with its lunch menu offers.

Carrera, 4 Golo Bardo Str. A fairly modern restaurant over in the Lozenetz area. The decor is well done, the service good, and the food very good. Prices are in line with the quality and style of the place. The wine selection is excellent. They also have a nice summer/winter garden area.

Crystal Palace Restaurant Cozy restaurant next to the Doctor's garden, 14 Shipka Street,Next to the Doctor's garden. Crystal Palace Restaurant will charm you with its exquisite International cuisine, healthy dishes, fine wine selection and an excellent service. It has a main hall and a business lounge for private receptions. It is a preffered place for formal lunches and dinners as well as for corporate events.

Esterhasi Bar, Blvd. Tsar Osvoboditel 21 between Eagle bridge and Sofia university. 8:00 - 24:00. Once known as the popular Viennese sweet shop in the heart of Sofia, now it still holds upon this tradition by making in house desserts with a slightly modern twist. Also offers gourmet meat, seafood, pasta dishes and sushi. Beautiful view, modern design, broad wine selection.

Hadjidraganovite kashti (Traditional Bulgarian Cuisine), 75 Kozloduy,2 minutes walking distance from the Lion Bridge, around the corner from Ramses II Casino. 11.30 a.m. - 2.00 a.m.. Amazing restaurant just off one of Sofia's main streets. The decor is old-style Bulgarian/Macedonian and the food is traditional Bulgarian, plentiful and very, very tasty.

Entertainment includes a Macedonian walking band and guests are primarily locals. Staff is very friendly and most speak english. Reservations are necessary, even on weeknights.

Hadzhidrganovite Izbi, 18 Hristo Belchev Str. Bulgarian authentic atmosphere and traditional dishes.

Happy's Bar and Grill, Just across the street from the Sveta Nedelya church. Happy's is the Bulgarian equivalent of an American diner, and the Sofia representative of a nationwide chain. There are English-language menus, and the staff (all microskirted young girls, who apparently have to be smiling when they serve you all seem to have at least some English as well.

Portions are generally huge and represent a sort of "watered down" version of their traditional Bulgarian equivalents, although more Western fare is also available.

Godzila, 75, Bul. Vasil Levski ,Under the Sofia's sport palace with entrance from Gen. Gurko street. GODZILA's first restaurant opened in 1999 in the sea capital of Bulgaria - Varna . There you can try some fresh salads, juicy barbecue, delicious pizza and various other dishes. The menus are also written in English and the staff speaks English as well. There are traditional Bulgarian cuisine and Western cuisine as well.

Kring, 72 Tsar Simeon Str. Close to the TZUM shopping center. Healthy body and soul food, the place has less than 25 seats.

La Terrazza Di Serdica Panorama Restaurant Panorama Restaurant in Sofia city center, Budapeshta St 2,On the top floor of Arena di Serdica Residence Hotel. La Terrazza di Serdica is a luxurious top-floor restaurant located on the 9th floor of the Arena di Serdica Residence hotel featuring sparkling Sofia city center view

La Tribuna Restaurant & Garden (Cozy restaurant with garden in Sofia city center), Budapeshta St 2,Next to Dondukov Blvd. 11:00 - 23:30. Luxurious restaurant with nice garden offering wide wine list and mediterranean cuisine

Maison Godet – French Wine & Dinner, 17 Al. Stamboliyski Blvd. Just 100 m west from the Sveta Nedelya church. French gourmet cuisine with excellent French wines, own production of the house. Modern and cosy atmosphere with a nice ancient Roman wall inside the restaurant. Reservations are recommended. About 12 lev average per dish.

Mehana Karajata (Mehana Karajata), Bul.Ovcha kupel and ul.Zhitnitsa crossroad. Try Bulgarian national cuisine - in a traditional Bulgarian home atmosphere. Nicely decorated restaurant with beautiful open garden, typical folk music. 10 EUR.

Moderato Restaurant & Bar,Extensive Mediterranean restaurant & bar in Iztok neighborhood,ulitsa,Right next to Apartment House Iztok. Preliminary reservation is required. Best Mediterranean Restaurant in Iztok area

Motto, 18 Aksakov str. (Motto is on the street right behind the Radisson hotel, and then two blocks East,turn to the right on the first small street behind the Radisson if you are walking from the big horse statue) - it's kind of hard to find as the sign is a small black sign with white lettering. This place is always fairly busy with a trendy crowd.

The decor is modern and cool, and the people typically good looking. The service here is usually pretty nice, and many of the wait-staff speak English. The food is consistent and enjoyable. 5 to 15 leva per dish.

Pod Lipite. Very good traditional food. Reservation is required.

Raketa Rakia Bar, 17 Yanko Sakazov Str. In the Zaimov Park. Raketa Rakia Bar is modern urban style mixed with nostalgic communism. The place is often venue of temporarily exhibitions like children books from the 60s or other items from the communist period. The interior design is interesting and people coming from the Western culture are usually impressed.

The menu includes simple but good Bulgarian dishes. Rakia is a typical Bulgarian drink (about 40%-50% alcohol, similar taste to brandy) and on the list there you can find more than 50 types of rakia - made of plum, grapes, cherry, pears, with honey and so on. 5-15 EUR.

Spaghetti Kitchen, 9 6-ti Septemvri Str. It it interesting how this big space could be on the same time so nice and snug. Moreover: every level, every corner and even every table gives a possibility to enjoy the meal, the drinks and the company of your friends - being together and separated with them, and in the same time to feel yourself part of the whole friendly and stylish atmosphere around.

Smoking inside a bar or restaurant is prohibited by law. However there are many bars and clubs where after 1-2 am smoking inside is allowed. They don't give ashtrays because officially smoking inside is prohibited so don't be surprised if you ask for an ashtray but you receive а saucer or a cup.

Light a cigarette only if other people have already done so. There are rare inspections by the government and if caught you and not the bar have to pay the fine. You have to go outside to smoke but all bars have designated smoking area near the entrance which even has a heater in the cold winter months.

There is a noise ban and especially in the Sofia city center the bars have to close their outdoor area by 10 pm. If you stay outside they will offer to accommodate you inside. Some bars have frequent problems with their neighbors,those along Shishman street and won't allow you to go outside with your drink to have a cigarette.

In the summer months you can still enjoy having beers on the streets or in the parks, everyone does so! Just don't be too noisy. Note that there are a lot of old people living in the center and if you are too noisy they can directly call the police and complain.

Wine is, together with beer and grape rakia, among the most popular alcoholic beverages in the country. Grape growing and wine production have a long history in Bulgaria, dating back to the times of the Thracians.

Rakia is widely considered to be а national drink produced by distillation of fermented fruit. The alcohol content of rakia is normally 40% ABV, but home-produced rakia can be stronger typically 50% to 60%. Home made rakia is hard to find on the markets in Sofia.

Stolichno is a Bulgarian bock beer. The beer was originally brewed at Sofia's Ariana Brewery hence the name, which literally means "of the capital city". It is a strong beer with an ABV of 6.5%.

Boza is a popular fermented beverage. It is a malt drink, made from wheat. It has a thick consistency and a low alcohol content usually around 1%, and has sweet flavor. It is popular with breakfast and it is not served in bars.

Dell 'Arte, 6, Luben Rysev st.. 11:00 - 00:00. Dell'Arte Restaurant will surprise you with exciting original proposals enviable list of premium wines, exquisite atmosphere and excellent service, and the unique garden is the perfect escape from the the busy world. $$.

Halbite beer pubs, Neofit Rilski str. 72. Halbite, The Beer Mug is a chain of beer houses dating back to the year of 2000, when was created the first one in Sofia. There you can find the best selection of beers, both imported and locally made, served at the appropriate temperature, in a unique mug and with the right dish.

Whether you are looking for a lager, stout, wheat, white or fruit beer, you can find it in Halbite – beer for all tastes and all occasions.

Starbucks, Corner of Vassil Levski Blvd & Gurko Blvd.

Onda Coffee Break.

Pchela Sweet Shop.

Nedelya Sweet Shop.

Costa Coffee.

Art Club since 1991, 6 Tsar Ivan Asen II Str.

Many cafeterias and bars are located on Vitosha Street. Most of them are open air places with cozy atmosphere and are very popular in summer. Due to some noise regulations all bars and restaurants in the city center have to close their gardens after 10 pm and guests are encouraged to move indoors.

Fines are serious and neighbours would call the police to complain of the noise, so do not be surprised if a waiter or waitress tells you that they are closing the bar at 10 pm, normally they mean that just the garden is closing. This is another reason why sometimes bartenders may refuse to give you a drink if you want to drink it outside the bar.

Skaptobara is a cozy bar, nestling in the heart of Sofia - at Bacho Kiro and Iskar streets. It is famous for its relaxed atmosphere, delicious food, good music and drinks. It is also the only university bar in Bulgaria, run by alumni of the American University in Bulgaria and always attracting a lot of English speaking folks.

JJ Murphys Irish pub

Clubhouse 19th Hole, Str. Hristo Belchev 6. New Irish bar with a big variety of drinks, great food and good company. In the summer there is a nice outside garden to enjoy your drinks. Also shows every important sports event on TV.

One More Bar 12 Tsar Ivan Shishman Str. The house where the bar is was built in 1909, in the late 20th c. it became kindergarden. Today's bar owners encourage people to share their old memories and inside visitors can see many pictures of kids from this kindergarden. Cocktails are nice and the place is popular among open minded people from all ages. Drinks start from 4 EUR.

Sputnik 17 Yanko Sakazov Str. right next to Zaimov park,It is right next to Raketa Rakia Bar and run by the same owners. The place mixes the traditional Bulgarian drinks and the modern trends. Check the cocktails list where you can find the local interpretation of Bloody Mary - Fiery Mara mixed with rakia instead of vodka and other surprises.

Nightlife

Apartment. Popular among locals as well as foreigners is the "apartamenta", some sort of private club in the second floor of a turn of the 19th century mansion where you find a series of rooms, all in different styles and wall-drawings, colourful tapestries, etc. Go to the right, get a drink in the kitchen,everything non-alcoholic is 4 lv, and just pick and choose a room which looks cozy enough shouldn't be too hard to find one with all the couches lying around.

If you love the music, there are Mac computers in most of the rooms where you can pick something out of the playlist. Have a game of chess. There is also a Cinema room, if there is nothing running just go in, pick a movie out of the list and start the projection. There is also home-made chocolate and cream and all different kinds of organic drinks like Himalayan tea or Kiwi nectar.

Lodkite. In the huge "Borisova gradina" park near the stadium (just ask you way around) you'll find this open-air place, located in an old leisure-park parcour (you know, that type of small water-channels where kid can drive around in little gondolas). The boats have gone and the channels serve as improvised sitting places (basic tables made out of wood planks put between the two sides of the channel).

There are also some tables on the court and lights decorating the trees illuminate the scene. The public sound system has experimental electronic music, ambiance, progressive rock, or whatever the DJs feel like. The later it gets, the more you'll find people sitting everywhere on the floor on the trees. On warm summer nights, this place is a must-be.

Chervilo

Yalta, 20, Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd.

Mixtape 5, National Palace of Culture. In the subway under the Lover's Bridge. Electro swing, hip-hop and alternative music parties 5-15 BGN (2,5-7,50 EUR).

Club Terminal 1, 1 Angel Kanchev Str. Live sets, selected Bulgarian and foreign bands; check their program for up to date information 5-15 BGN (2,5-7,50 EUR).

Stroezha (Stroeja), 10 Lege Str. The club was popular place and initially it as located in Studentski grad district. In 2015 it relocated to the city center. Rock and alternative music parties, live performances; check their program for up to date information. 5-15 BGN (2,5-7,50 EUR).

Jazz bar, 27 St. St. Cyril and Methodius Str.. 19:00-02:00. A bar with live jazz and blues music on most nights. 3-14 BGN (1,5-7 EUR).

The largest discos in Sofia are concentrated in Students' town or Studentski grad in the southern part of the city and can be reached by buses #94 from Sofia university and Culture palace, #280 from Sofia University, Orlov most and #102. The last bus to Studentski grad departs from the city center at about 11.30 PM from Sofia University and Culture Palace.

The entrance fee for most discos is between 1 and 5 leva (€0.5 - 2.5). Discos that can be visited there include: Jim Beam, Plazza, Maskata.

The majority of hotels in Sofia have very high standards so it doesn't matter much where you go, as long as it is situated in safe and secure area.

Apartment House Bulgaria Perfect option for the long stay visitors, 16, Nevestina skala Str., 1680 Sofia, Bulgaria,Next to Bulgaria Boulevard and Bulgaria Mall. checkin: 14.00; checkout: 12.00. Do not hesitate and book it if you stay in Sofia for 4-5 days or more. Suites from €20.

Hostel 44, ☎ +359 877 967 880, [86]. City center location with over 90 beds. Dorm bunks are 9€, breakfast included. Groups welcome.

Levitt Hostel. Situated in the heart of Sofia’s main shopping, business and historical attractions, Levitt Hostel is the only hostel in Sofia positioned at world-famous Vitosha Boulevard.

Art Hostel, 21/A, Angel Kanchev str. provides cheap accommodation and a friendly atmosphere where tourists and locals mingle in the small basement bar. Dormitory beds start from 12€ (09/2011), Probably the coolest youth-hostel in Europe.

Canape Connection Hostel, 12 A William Gladstone Street. checkin: 14h; checkout: 12h. A new generation hostel that offers chill-out atmosphere in a small charming house in the city center. The spacious canopy beds ensure your good night-rest, while the rich and healthy home-made breakfast gives you a great start in the mornings. €11-16.

Crosspoint Sofia Hostel, #6, Parensov Street,Just a block away from Patriarh Evtimiy Square, and some 500 m away from the Parliament. checkin: 12 am; checkout: 11:45 am. A brand new hostel with a friendly atmosphere.Free Wi-Fi; 1m-wide spacious and very comfortable beds; metal lockers. Offers mixed and female dorms as well as private rooms. Great young staff with an attitude working there. €9-18.

Hello Sofia Guesthouse, 12 Stefan Stambolov Bul. checkin: 13h; checkout: 12h. Small charmy guesthouse located in the top city center with surprisingly easy access to train/bus & central metro stations. Unique decorated ensuite rooms with AC & HDTV, apartments and even small dorms guarantee that will find what you need. €11-18 p.p.

Hostel Lavele, 14 Lavele St,behind BulBank, which is in front of Sveta Nedelya Church. Cozy hostel with fantastic rooms and comfortable beds. Not a party hostel, but has a good staff that loves to help out and create a lively social atmosphere. Hidden in a small quite street. Good breakfast included in the morning including homemade yogurt and bread, filter coffee, and plenty more to fill you up.

Lots of good maps and information about Sofia, including a really cheap day trip to Rila Monastery. Internet in all of the rooms. From €10 for dorm..

Le Freak Deluxe, a cheap non-profit hostel. Twenty minute tram ride from centre and with a bus stop directly on the front gates. Running on a donation basis with 300лв (approx. €153, £122 or $244) being the minimum donation which entitles you to a stay of up to one month. Le Freak Deluxe as a seasonal alternative also provides camping facilities for 200лв per month - please see website for details.

Hostel Mostel has a huge lounge to chill out, you can browse the net on modern computers. All en-suite dorm rooms. They provide a map with an interesting walking tour of modern Sofia. Trips to Rila Monastery and Vitosha are run daily. Staff (travelers themselves) are efficient and helpful. From €9.

Nightingale Hostel, #2A, Petko R. Slaveykov Square,Close to the corner of Solunska Str. and Graf Ignatiev Str]. checkin: 2 pm; checkout: 12 am. At Famous Slaveykov Square/center of the downtown/, a non-smoking eco hostel provides not only beds/rooms but it is a social place with air-conditioning, common/TV room and lobby area. Breakfast, kitchen, PC and WiFi internet, lockers, maps, call a taxi, book a club, check timetables service, hot showers in renovated and sexes separated toilets and 24h reception desk.

Laundry, pick up, meals and drinks are available. Friendly and talkative staff. A lot of info for local life. €7-12.

Orient Express Hostel - Sofia 8A Christo Belchev Str. - This small hostel offers a variety of room options. From €8,5.

Nightingale Guesthouse, #8, Budapeshta Str,Close to the corner of Knyaz A. Dondukov Blvd and Budapeshta Str. checkin: 2 pm; checkout: 12 am. Cool place in a historical downtown city offer brand new rooms and facilities. Social and comfortable place suited for young backpackers,travelers and groups. 1500m from Central Station. €8.

Holiday Inn Sofia, 111 Alexandar Malinov Blvd. Modern five star hotel offering conference facilities and spa centre. Rooms from €68.

Park Inn by Radisson Sofia Hotel, Atanas Dukov Str. 36. Set in a building that resembles a baroque castle, this hotel offers 77 rooms as well as 36 one or two bedroom apartments.

Hill Hotel Sofia 4 star Hotel, Boulevard Next to James Boucher Subway Station. checkin: 14.00; checkout: 12.00. Very good hotel with affordable rates in Lozenets district Rooms from €34.

Holiday Village Diplomat is near Vitosha mountain and 20 min away from the city centre. Spacious rooms, large park area and friendly staff.

Maxim Hotel A hotel 5 min walking distance from the train/bus station and 5 min away in the opposite direction from downtown Sofia. It is a cute hotel with a nice bedroom and also a living/TV room, large private bathroom and includes breakfast buffet in the morning. Only negative is they do not have an elevator. Cost in slow season was €60 for 2 people, €50 for one person.

Metropolitan Hotel Sofia, 64, Tsarigradsko shose Blvd. Business 4-star hotel located near airport, ideal for business and leisure.

Red House B&B, 15, Ljuben Karavelov St., a charming B&B located in the Red House cultural centre. From €30.

Maria Luisa Hotel occupies an exquisite building dating back to the turn of 20th century and listed as one of Bulgaria's cultural monuments of national significance. Maria Luisa Hotel offers a combination of the standards and services found in a luxury hotel plus the privacy and independence of one's own home.

Arena di Serdica Residence Hotel 5 star, Budapeshta St 2 In the heart of the city center. checkin: 14.00; checkout: 12.00. Arena di Serdica is a unique hotel located in the eart of the city center of Sofia. In 2004 the construction works of the of the hotel unexpectedly came across a part of the Amphitheater of Serdica now exposed in the hotel foyer.

The Arena di Serdica Hotel in Sofia features top-floor Panorama restaurant, Restaurant with Garden, Spa center with variety of massages and therapies, state-of-art conference center. Rooms from €76.

Crystal Palace Boutique Hotel Cozy 4 star hotel next to the Doctor's garden, Shipka Street 14,Next to the Doctor's Garden. checkin: 14.00; checkout: 12.00. Crystal Palace four star-rated Boutique Hotel was opened in 2004. It is a part of the Bulgarian hotel chain FPI Hotels & Resorts. The building of the hotel is a cultural monument and is a part of the Doctor's Garden architectural composition in Sofia. Rooms from €70.

Sheraton Sofia Hotel Balkan, 5, Sveta Nedelya Sq.Opposite the statue of Sofia and Sveta Nedelya Church. checkin: 14.00; checkout: 12.00. Impressive 5-storey hotel, in classical design, houses 184 rooms, including 19 suites. All rooms are soundproof, with air condition control, direct dial phone, message alert, TV with satellite program, radio, mini bar.

Sofia is a pretty safe city compared to most bigger U.S. and European cities. You should keep common sense and avoid getting into conflicts with locals, also going into dark alleys and parks during the night.

If you have a car, you are recommended to park it in a paid guarded lot. Parking in the center is difficult; although you can find free spaces, the Bulgarian police tends to behave harshly towards foreign license plates. Even though the other cars appear to be parked legitimately, double check that there are no signs or pavement markings prohibiting it.

If you drive out of the city or enter the country by road you must have a vignette on every high-way. Buy it right away at the border even though no one will tell you to and there may not be signs or before leaving Sofia rental car from any fuel station.

The price (2017) is 15 leva or 8 euro for one week - this is the shortest period available, also one-month (30 leva) and one-year (97 leva) vignettes are available. You must place it on the front window, in the bottom right corner. The fine, if you forget the vignette, is about 200 leva.

Car lights are compulsory at all times.

Places to avoid at night Generally at night, you should avoid the area around the Bus and Train Station, Maria Luiza Blvd, the Parks around the Palace of Culture and Borisova. This is especially true for single women and girls. Junkies get high there, prostitutes both female and transsexual offer their services, some people might want to tempt you with touts of contraband or stolen, illegal, etc. and/or then try to mug you.

These areas are also frequented with the homeless and the drunk. If your hotel is in the area you'll be alright, just don't hang around it unnecessarily. Try to act like you are familiar with the area and farmiliarize yourself during the day and look like a local. As long as you avoid the poorly lit areas, the centre is okay, stick to the well-lit areas such as Vitoshka, the Largo, the Sheraton hotel, the Ivan Vazov theater and Voennia Klub (Military Club).

It is wise to choose a hotel/hostel in a better location, such as the ones listed above. The area behind Tsentralni Hali or Central Halls is crowded with arabic people. Not necessary a bad thing but if you do not feel comfortable around them you should avoid that area. If you are renting a car or happens to be in a traffic accident try to remain calm.

There are more and more accidents these days where people that are part of the car crash get out of the cars and fight each other. If the other party is angry or aggressive better stay away and call 112 as soon as possible. Make sure there are witnesses. The majority of people are nice and calm and will help you out!

Avoid football fan groups, they tend to be drunk and aggressive. Avoid wearing football shirts or scarves of the Sofia-based football teams, especially on match days.

Justice system Foreigners may find themselves in serious difficulty if they get into any legal trouble. Beware that the drug carrying and usage is strictly illegal and Bulgaria has very harsh penalties for consuming and carrying even the smallest amount of drug.

Taxis Be careful with taxis, make sure you check the prices first before you get in,the fare is per kilometer and it should be something like 0.79 during the day and 0.90 during the night, avoid cabs that display their fare as above 1.20, also make sure the cab has the driver's card on the front with his name.

If arriving at the Sofia International Airport - Terminal 2 or 1 - and you need a taxi, order it only from the stands inside the Arrivals zone - there are two stands, one for OK Supertrans and one for 91280 Taxi companies, with people who will escort you to your ordered taxi.

Do not pay attention to all taxi drivers standing near the exits, offering "Taxi to the city centre" Taksi do Centara, as they will rip you off with the bill, which could come more expensive than the flight to Sofia.

Just ignore them and go straight to the taxi stands inside the Arrivals Hall. A normal trip to the city centre will cost you around 5 Euro - 10 Leva, or a trip to the Central Train Station will cost you around 8-10 Euros - 16 - 20 Leva. Also never stop one of the cruising around the terminals taxis - they all are overpriced!

If you want to use the public transportation from/to the airport or anywhere in Sofia, be aware that in Sofia tha luggage is charged with a single ride ticket after exceeding a specific size! The size, which is carried free of charge, is 60x40x40 cm, all luggage exceeding it must be charged with additional ticket! The fine for missing, invalid or lost ticket is 20 Leva - 10 Euros!

Be very careful with the ticket inspectors at the airport, as they tend to try getting a fine of 20 Euro from the tourists and thus ripping you off with 10 Euro! Tickets can be bought at kiosks or by the bus drivers, however be aware that the most kiosks close at 16:00 and many drivers have already sold their tickets by this time as well.

The best way to buy the tickets are the ticket offices, you will find a full list here. At the airport tickets are best to buy from the small supermarket on the right side inside the Arrivals Hall, you will see the sign "Tickets" pointing to it. Beware, however, that not all ticket sellers speak English, so in doubt you could ask a local to help you - the majority of the youngsters speak freely English and are helpful.

Money Exchange Also, be wary of money exchange shops. Some of them exchange money for generally lower rates than displayed on the exchange rate panel. Go to banks, otherwise you can easily become a victim and if you want your money back the security guard might intimidate you, rough you up or physically abuse you.

One such change shop is on Maria Louisa as you walk towards the Lion's bridge just after Halite and Ekzarh Yosif street you'll recognise it by the misspelling of currency, spelled 'currensy'. If possible, try exchanging money also in the exchange bureaus at the large shopping centers when available - one good example is Tavex Exchange Shop at The Mall shopping center.

Rates on Graf Ignatiev street at market area are generally better e.g. Interchange near the Lidl. Never exchange currency on the street!

Stray Dogs Sofia has a major problem with the homeless dogs. Although the majority don't disturb passers-by, there are recently some cases of attacked people in certain neighborhoods. It is best to avoid paths near abandoned buildings or dark alleys in the parks as it is sure there will be homeless dogs to find.

In the unlikely event of getting attacked or bitten, call immediately 112 and visit the nearby hospital, as these dogs could carry diseases.

It is also wise to avoid crossing certain underpasses during the night - especially be very careful with the underpasses near the Central Train Station, near the Opalchenska Subway station, all underpasses along Bulgaria Blvd. At best don't use them at all, and cross the street at a place, where many people are to find.

Disco Clubs When visiting a night club or disco be very careful with the crowd. It is wise to avoid the Pop-folk discos, the majority of which are in Student's Town, as the visitors there tend to become very aggressive when getting drunk, thus resulting in starting a fight.

Visit the discos in the City Center, which are a bit more expensive, but play decent music and are safe to visit. In case of a fight, never get involved, stay away or signal to the police.

After renovations done in 2015 the Central Train Station,do not confuse it with other train stations in the city, is no longer an unsafe place There are dozens of security cameras, a constant police station, very well lighted areas and the old scary and smelly tunnels are gone. But as in any other big city the train station is place where junkies and homeless people gather late at night.

So although pretty safe during the day, and not so dangerous at night, it is best if you can avoid after 10pm.

Sofia has a large number of mostly free wireless hotspots in bars, restaurants, and cafes. You may find also in hotels and public areas, like Park Zaimov. The airport has a free public wireless hotspot for use in Terminal 2. So does the entire central train station in Sofia.

Vitosha is a magnificent landmark mountain rising just south of the capital. It is easily accessible by public transportation or by car and day trips in Vitosha in a sunny day are highly recommended. In the winter it is well suited for skiing and its proximity allows one day ski-trips; in the summer it is great for hiking.

A great way to spend few days in Sofia, being on its balcony, enjoying sunny days on the mountain with a spectacular view on the capital. So going to Sofia provide gives you a unique chance to witness the rare symbiosis of the metropolitan city with its nature park.

Rila Monastery is the most famous monastery in Bulgaria, situated in the huge Rila Massive. It`s just one hour and a half drive away from Sofia. It's possible to take a bus from Ovcha Kupel Bus Station. There is just one bus at 10.20am that goes directly to the monastery; a ticket is 11lv. There are two more buses that go just to the village of Rila, from where you need to take another mini bus to get to the monastery.

The only direct bus back to Sofia leaves the monastery at 3pm.

Plovdiv is a large city in Bulgaria. It`s just one hour drive on a good highway away from Sofia. Plovdiv lies around three hills in the otherwise totally flat Thracian plain. It's historical center, Roman remnants & relaxed feeling make it a great day-trip.

Veliko Turnovo a beautiful city along a winding river, the former capital of Bulgaria in the middle ages. The original city castle and walls are reconstructed. Be sure also to visit nearby Arbanassi.

Koprivshtitsa is a small, but picturesque and historical town in a valley in Sredna Gora Mountain, that's possible to visit as a day trip. There are six well preserved 19th century houses of wealthy Bulgarian merchants that are representative of the period and way of life of an upper-middle class Bulgarian family.

Besides the six houses that can be visited, there are more houses in a similar style that you can enjoy by taking a walk on the cobblestone streets. It's possible to buy a ticket for each house or a cheaper, one-day combo ticket for all of them. The town is about 2 hours away from Sofia. The main way to reach the town is by train.

The best is to take the 7am fast train that takes 1.5h and costs 8.90 lv for first class and 7.10lv for second class. It's cheaper to buy a round trip ticket or, if you are three or more travelers, to buy a group ticket. The train station is 10km from the town, but there are mini buses waiting for the train travelers in the back of the station.

A ticket for the mini bus is another 3 lv. Be sure to ask the mini bus driver when the last bus to the train station is, as especially in the lower season they stop around 5pm. The last train to Sofia is at 7.46pm.

There are also many monasteries around Sofia.

Dragalevtsi Monastery is within easy reach, in the outskirts of the city. Dragalevtsi is also the name of a former village, now a neighborhood of Sofia at the bottom of Vitosha Mountain. Just take bus 64 from bus stop Vitosha metro station, get off at bus stop Kvartal Dragalevtsi, and walk up for about 40 minutes on a paved road.

Ask locals for directions, everyone should know the way. Alternatively, take bus 93 from bus stop Vitosha Metro Station to Lifta Dragalevtsi and walk up just about 20 minutes on a paved road past the ski lift.

Istanbul is reachable by bus. Located about 600 km from the city is frequent destination point for many backpackers. There are daily bus lines and the journey takes about 8-10 hours. Tickets can be purchased from the Central Bus Station. Price is about 25 EUR in one direction.

With a murder rate of 1.8/per 100.000 people Sofia is a quite safe capital city.Nevertheless, in the 21st century, crimes, including Bulgarian mafia killings, caused problems in the city,where authorities had difficulties convicting the actors,which had caused the European Commission to warn the Bulgarian government that the country would not be able to join the EU unless it curbed crime, though Bulgaria eventually joined in 2007.

Many of the most severe crimes are contract killings connected to the organised crime, but these had dropped in recent years after several arrests of gang members.Corruption in Bulgaria also affects Sofia's authorities.

According to the director of Sofia District Police Directorate the largest share of the crimes are thefts, making up 62.4% of all crimes in the capital city. Increasing are frauds, drug-related crimes, petty theft and vandalism.According to a survey, almost a third of Sofia's residents say that they never feel safe in the Bulgarian capital, while 20% always feel safe

.As of 2015 the consumer-reported perceived crime risk on the Numbeo database was high for theft and vandalism and low for violent crimes; safety while walking during daylight was rated very high, and moderate during the night.With 1,600 prisoners the incarceration rate is above 0.1%;however, roughly 70% of all prisoners are part of the Romani minority.



Tourism Observer