LOOK's Anna Duff flies to Bulgaria's capital for an affordable but fulfilling European getaway
I’m on the 24th floor of a plush office building, sipping a cocktail and gazing across the city as the autumn sun sets behind it.
But I’m not in New York or Tokyo. I’m in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.
When you think of Sofia, you may imagine rowdy stag dos and boozy Brits abroad. It might not even be on your radar at all. But trust me, this isn’t a city break destination to turn your nose up at.
For starters, it’s incredibly affordable. That rooftop restaurant I was just reminiscing about? It’s called The View, and their main courses start at less than £10.
This isn’t the only place to eat gorgeous food. If you want to try genuine Bulgarian cuisine – and you should – head to MoMA. The chic eatery has nine themed rooms and moody lighting, with imagery nodding to the culture and traditions of the country’s young women.
I’d heartily recommend their local dish, a delicious blend of chicken, pork, vegetables and spices served in a bread bowl (£7.60). As an accompaniment, you can take your pick from an extensive list of Bulgarian wines.
When it comes to bars, there are plenty to choose from. I fell in love with the quirky Hambara, which would definitely win the award for most-hidden venue in the city.
To be fair, it is a secret bar. We’d been told we’d need a password to enter, but after getting lost down a dark alley and haplessly lurking around a ramshackle wooden door for a while, the barwoman ended up just letting us in.
Cringe, yes. But so worth it. There’s no electricity inside, so it’s lit entirely by candles. Paired with banister-free stairs and slightly uneven flooring, I’m not sure it’d pass a health and safety test in the UK. Which is what makes it so magical.
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If you’re looking for something more mainstream, make your way to Vitosha Boulevard. It’s the main pedestrian street in Sofia, and boasts a strip of bars that come alive on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
During the day, there’s lots of sightseeing to be done. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about Sofia’s history, but after seeing its mix of architecture I was keen to learn more.
We found the Free Sofia Tour online, a free English-language walking tour run by a non-profit organisation. Our guide was informative and fun, letting us in on fascinating local tidbits. One of the highlights of the weekend.
After that, we wandered over to the pretty Borisova gradina. The oldest park in Sofia, it features waterfalls, fountains and blooming greenery. It was even warm enough for a spot of sunbathing, despite it being October.
It’s not just the activities that are low-cost. Our flights were £68pp return (travelling with Ryanair, October 2017) and we stayed in a small but modern apartment for just £30 per night.
Sofia is a compact city. We didn’t use any public transport, only having to book a taxi to travel to and from the airport. In my opinion, this makes it perfect for an easy weekend away.
My advice? Get your Bulfarian lev and make your way to the airport. Stat.