Wow – what a city. Calm yet buzzing, a metro pole that gave all the small town feels, and so much history to discover. In October, we made our way from beautiful Pelion to Bulgaria. It was one of my first Eastern European places apart from Budapest, so to be very honest I had a lot of prejudices and wrong expectations. What had I expected? A dirty city with loads of clubs, and difficulty going anywhere with Olive. I was proven wrong on every point, though, so let’s talk through this gorgeous stay!
The historical value of this city is unheard of, having been in the hands of so many cultures that left their footprint on the city, and the city did an absolutely beautiful job at showing off all the beauty of the different ages that Sofia withstood. When you walk through the city center, there are historical buildings hidden around every corner, from the ruins of the old city that are hidden underneath the glass domes on the Parliament Square to the glorious golden domes of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. But even though the city boasts all these glorious buildings, the city center feels cozy, small almost, and it’s easy to forget that Sofia holds almost 1.3 million people in its bounds.
So let’s talk about our favorite places we visited while in the city – and which of these were pet friendly, of course!
In the two weeks that we stayed in Sofia, I think we went to Boho at least 3 times. I found the restaurant on Instagram a while back, and honestly the only reason we went here is that they had a post stating clearly that they were pet friendly on their Instagram, making our lives a lot easier!
So what would we advise boho for? Breakfast and brunch for sure – their menu is a divine mix of modern takes on classics like pancakes and eggs Benedict, and Bulgarian classics like Princess Toast and Mekitsa. My absolute fav was the eggs Benedict with their marinated lox salmon – so good!! Their coffee is also lovely!
For the dog people – the restaurant is quite narrow, and when we were there the outside area was not open due to it being winter, so beware that although it’s pet friendly, bigger dogs might be a bit difficult when it comes to space!
You can see her already glooming over the city – the beautiful peaks of Vitosha mountain are a sight to be seen (tip – head to Vitosha boulevard for the best city/mountain views!). Although we planned on doing more hikes around Bulgaria, in the end we unfortunately only had time to squeeze in one shorter one – so we picked the Boyonski waterfall hike. The car drive there was a little strange as the start of the hike basically started in a residential area, but luckily parking was easy and – the best part – the trail was so quiet!
The hike is quite a steep one, from the moment you step out of the car to the moment you reach the waterfall you are in an uphill battle, and my unfit booty was definitely having a hard time! However – it is also quite a short hike, reaching the top in about 45 minutes, and the way down was a lot easier. I loved the roughness of this walk, with regular little bits and bops of climbing, and the gushing river right next to us all the way until we reached the top. There are also some pretty neat views over Sofia when you get to the waterfall!
Anyhow – Sofia, to me, has the best combination of nature and city life. Being able to get to the mountains this easily was a major plus in my books!
Yes – Sputnik – how fun is that name? Anyhow – this bar is a bit of an experience. And – although it is dog friendly – I would advise not to bring a pet since it is just very, very loud.
When we arrived at Sputnik, we thought we’d just be able to hang at the bar, but it was fuller than full, and on reservation only. Initially we thought of just leaving as it seemed like a hassle, but luckily they were happy to seat us somewhere tucked away until a table became free, which ended up being quite fast!
The menu of Sputnik is full of special cocktails boasting homemade rakkia’s, but also some gin- and whiskey-based cocktails. What we saw was odd flavor combinations that you wouldn’t expect, gorgeous presentations, and extremely well trained people behind the bar that made shaking cocktails look like an art form. And the prices – for about €5.00 a cocktail we were very, very pleased!
We cannot forget a walk past our favorite sights of the city– so let’s walk through the walk we did almost every day for two weeks! Our walk started a short way from our apartment at the beautiful Saint Alexander Nevsky Patriarch's Cathedral. Even the walk-up to the Cathedral is a glorious one, the beautiful golden domes rising up behind the Parisian looking neighborhoods surrounding it. The Cathedral is Orthodox, built in Neo-Byzantine style, and is believed to be one of the 50 largest Christian buildings in the world.
From The cathedral, only a stone's throw away, is one of my favorite buildings in the city – the Russian church. Before visiting Sofia, I had never seen a structure with the classical Russian style yet, apart from on photo’s. The colors of the different domes and peaks were glorious, and it almost looked like it was made of candy.
Right at the Russian church starts Pushkin park, through which you can wander on your way to the City garden and the amazing Ivan Vazovtheatre, one of my other favorite structures in Sofia (in all fairness – most buildings are my fav in Sofia, ha!) It is just so grand, and red, and elegant, and if you’re lucky, or early you’ll have a gorgeous photo spot on the square in front of the Theatre as well!
After the Theatre, the walk to Vitosha Boulevard is not too long. Wandering the little streets full of amazing wine stores that double as wine bars (more on that later) you will eventually make your way to the best view of Vitosha mountain. The boulevard is lined with the more touristy of restaurants, so although I do not advise this spot for a bite to eat, the view from the boulevard is definitely worth a visit.
If you wander past the boulevard you end up at the National Palace of Culture, a lovely buzzing park that had some really cute markets when we visited. If by now you are not tired yet, I would advise walking to southern park. It’s a far walk, but it’s a huge park that has plenty of off leash opportunities and a fenced dog area too. Around the perimeter of the park there are loads of local bakeries and coffee places too, I can advise Claire’s bakery! It’s such a cute spot, and she made some shelter for the strays to sleep on the terrace. So nice to see!
If you are too tired, I would make my way back towards Church of Saint George's Rotunda. You might think well, another church, but this church is a bit different and is surrounded by the ruins of the old city. Parts of it your dog is not allowed in, however it is definitely worth to walk around the Rotunda church and around the corner around the Ancient Serdica Archaeological Complex. I was so impressed with how they managed to include the old ruins into modern structures, Sofia truly is a combination of many great times in history, all still visible in the structures you find in the city center.
There are many of these amazing food and wine bars in Sofia, but this was one of my favs and needs an honorable mention. From the outside it looks like a combination of a deli and a wine store, with the most glorious wines and champagnes displayed in the windows, and gorgeous cold cuts and cheeses ready to be eating behind the glass counter. The wine bar works a little different from your general place, you can pick any bottle of wine from the shelves or fridge and pay for it at the deli counter, where you will be asked if it’s for home or here. If you ask for your wine to drink at Imperial, you will be given two glasses and the bottle will be opened – all at no extra cost. And while you are enjoying your wine and delicacies, you might be lucky enough to spot the friendliest of black cats that makes a home out of the store.
In conclusion, Sofia is everything you won't expect it to be. Modern, Historic, Classy, Close to nature, a big city with a small city feel. I think Sofia is one of the most underrated places in Europe and would advise anyone to give it a chance and go explore one of the oldest cities of Europe.