Photograph by VanSky, Stockimo/Alamy Stock Photo
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Hikers make their way up Mount Vitosha on the outskirts of Sofia, Bulgaria.

Photograph by VanSky, Stockimo/Alamy Stock Photo

Everything to Know About Sofia

Here's how to plan the best possible trip to Bulgaria's capital city.

Inspired by a promising future, young people fill Sofia's cafes and university halls chattering about the city's prospects. Older Bulgarians who experienced communism have a restrained reaction to the developments of the 21st century. Whereas younger generations yearn to prosper from the city's dark history through conservation and tourism, older Bulgarians pass laws to destroy these vestiges of the past, leading to a palpable tension that rewards the visitor who pauses to grapple with it.

When to Go

Sofia has four seasons, each offering something unique. Summer is the most popular with tourists when the city comes alive with locals pouring into gardens and parks. Come to Sofia in autumn to savor the changing foliage on Mount Vitosha or in spring when the city goes from snow to a carpet of tulips seemingly overnight. Winter sports enthusiasts might wait until wintertime when you can ski Mount Vitosha by day while enjoying the city after dark.

Celebrate

For something truly special, come to Sofia at the end of January during the Surva Festival of Masquerade Games. Held annually in Pernik, a town 45 minutes outside of the capital, it features the kukeri, Bulgarian men who guard their local villages by scaring off evil spirits. To achieve this, the kukeri dress in homemade fur and rag costumes, don crafted wooden masks and horns, and dance furiously for hours on end.

What to Eat

Banitsa, a Bulgarian cheese pie, is as delicious as it is ubiquitous. Crafted from phyllo dough, yogurt, Bulgarian feta (sirene), and eggs, it can be eaten at any time of day and can be purchased on almost every block in the city.

Souvenir to Take Home

Bulgaria is famous for its fragrant roses, as evidenced by the annual Rose Festival in Kazanlak each June. It is highly plausible that you’ve encountered Bulgarian rose oil in perfumes and soaps elsewhere since the country exports the bulk of the world’s rose oil. Rose oil and other rose-infused beauty products are a wonderful gift or souvenir that won’t take up much room in your suitcase and can be found all over the city.

Sustainable Travel Tip

The city’s historic core can be seen on foot in an afternoon. To explore the sites on the edge of the city, take advantage of Sofia’s nearly brand new metro, which expanded from just a few stations to more than 30 in the years since 2007, when Bulgaria joined the European Union. For a dash of nostalgia, opt to travel the city on Sofia’s picturesque yellow and green vintage trams.

Instagram-Worthy View

No one leaves Sofia without pausing to snap a picture of the gold and teal St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, but getting the ideal photo takes a touch of preparation. Go early in the day to avoid parked cars obstructing your shot and give yourself ample time to circle the building, which changes dramatically depending on your vantage point. For genuine photography enthusiasts, head to one of the neighboring rooftop bars to capture the perfect Instagram photograph from overhead.