Sofia is a magical place to visit and one that often goes undetected on the tourist radar. For any lover of hidden gems and off-the-beaten track experiences, Sofia, in beautiful Bulgaria, is a city that will definitely please. Here is my list of five must-sees for any avid city breaker looking to see the quirkier side of this magnificent city.
Monument to the Soviet Army
Built as a means of honouring the Soviet men who fought for the Bulgarian war effort in World War II, this monument is often used as a platform for protests. It is a site much-visited by vociferous vandals, political protestors and young counter-culture driven radicals who, by disfiguring the monument and turning the figures into popular icons, use it to make their voice heard.
The sculpture depicts an action war scene that has been decorated countless times in different waves of protest. The first time it was painted, it was done more in jest than as a political objection, but this act started something that continues today.
National Palace of Culture
The brainchild of Lyudmila Zhivkova (daughter of former Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov), this exhibition was established to promote the arts and culture of the country. Designed by a famous architect, Alexander Barov, and completed in 1981, the huge palace is home to concert venues, gallery rooms, theatres, conference rooms and cinemas.
Every space is decorated with artistic pieces in the form of carvings, paintings and sculptures. It is fronted by a fabulous park, which is perfect for strolls, people-watching and soaking up the atmosphere created by buskers and the bustling cafes. I love the fact that the complex even houses part of the Berlin Wall.
For an evening with a twist, head to this funky retro restaurant, themed to represent the Soviet socialist era. Well known for its extensive selection of Rakia, Bulgaria’s national drink, it also serves up some traditional snacks. Decked out with communist memorabilia and mid-century decor, this place takes you right back in time. I am always impressed by the fabulous atmosphere here!
Museum of Socialist Art
Despite the rather plain looking appearance of this building, the bland, drab aesthetic is actually befitting of the collection it houses. The rather dilapidated neighbourhood in which it stands only accentuates the atmosphere of the museum itself. Displaying exhibits collected from a time when Bulgaria was a communist state, it features works from many famous artists of the time.
Amongst the socialist paintings, sculptures, depictions of communist leaders and other examples of propaganda are works featuring working peasants and steelworkers of the time; this is a fascinating exhibition of social history. The front courtyard is also a prime attraction, as it hosts several communist statues taken from other buildings that were destroyed during the ousting of Zhivkov in 1989.
The Snail House
A real off-the-beaten track hidden gem, this fabulously quirky monument is as vibrant as it is unique. Have you ever seen a rainbow-coloured gigantic slug, complete with smiling face? If not, the Simeonovo neighbourhood is the place to find one.
This flamboyant structure is a five-story house, occupied by residents who have decided to live in a massive slug! With no corners or edges, curved windows and two tentacles, this snail is an ingenious construction. Every part of the snail has a function – for example, the radiators were made to look like frogs and ladybirds. The best part of this totally incredible innovation is the fact that it is completely eco-friendly.
Sofia really is the perfect city for the curious traveller looking to get off the tourist trail and experience real heart and soul.
How to Get to Sofia
With a good number of airlines providing the three-hour flight from London to Sofia Airport every week, you are spoilt for choice. Red Wings are among the most popular choice of airline, but easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways also have regular direct services. Sofia is a relatively inexpensive city to fly to and, if you plan ahead, you can pick up return flights for a bargain.
From the airport, the easiest and most efficient way to make the short 30-minute trip to the comfort of your hotel is by organised transfer. Shuttle Direct is the company I always choose, as they take great pride in offering a friendly and personal service in a private or shared vehicle. With an option to boo in advance, youcan look forward to a stress-free journey to your accommodation.
Where to Stay
Artistic Penthouse – Exuding an air of urban chic, the Artistic Penthouse is beautifully appointed and furnished with a modern yet homely touch. The two-bedroom apartment has a living room and you can look forward to free toiletries in the bathroom – good news if you are travelling with hand luggage only! The free WiFi is a bonus, especially when you want to upload photos in the evening.
I love the mountain views and the lovely terrace, as well as the wonderful location. It is only a mile from the Ivan Vazov Theatre and the Boris Garden, which are easily reached if you hire a bike from the property.
Downtown Wanderlust Apartment – Close to all of the main attractions, the Downtown Wanderlust Apartment is located in a 1920s building and is a great accommodation option. The bright and beautiful rooms are airy and open with quirky features and pretty statement tiles.
With plenty of space and lots of facilities for self-catering, this really is a home away from home. The terrace is a lovely place to hang out, catch up with your travel diary and enjoy an evening drink with your feet up!
Block 531 ApartHouse Mladost – Conveniently close to the airport, this modern apartment block is simply furnished, yet oozing a cool style. They are comfortable and offer free WiFi. The local supermarket is only a five-minute walk away, and the restaurant close by is a good option for an evening meal.
Block 531 ApartHouse Mladost is beautifully clean, well equipped and an excellent option if you don’t mind being slightly farther away from the city centre.
About Shuttle Direct
Our team at Shuttle Direct take great pride in offering an exemplary transfer service. Regarded as one of the top companies in Europe and North Africa, we provide shuttles from airports to hotels and resorts, aiming to make your journey a stress-free, comfortable and pleasant experience.