JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH MONICA VAKLINOVA FROM SOFIA, BULGARIA!
Monica Vaklinova is a 28 years old Bulgarian writer and blogger. Her biggest passion is to travel and explore new places. She believes before seeing the beauty of other countries one should first explore their own. Her full-time job is of a supervisor at the security section of Sofia’s airport and in her free time she loves writing and helping people through her blog monicavaklinova.com
Sofia is the capital city of Bulgaria. It is a new modern city for all tourists. It
has a rich history and beautiful nature. It is also the largest city in Bulgaria. Being in the center of Balkan peninsula, it is midway between Black Sea and Adriatic Sea, and closest to the Aegean Sea. The population in Sofia is increasing with every passing year because it’s one of the best cities for living in Europe.
Which is the best time to visit Sofia?
That really depends on the preferences you have. We have four seasons in Sofia, Bulgaria. The perfect weather you can catch is during the Spring or Summer. This is because it is going to be really nice for long walks and you will be able to see everything around the city without bringing a lot of clothes and umbrella. And there is a lot to see. Of course, Autumn and Winter also have a lot to offer. It really depends what time is perfect for you and when you feel most comfortable.
I think May and June might be the best months when the temperature is around 17 to 20 degrees outside. If you pick May or June be prepared to meet many people around the city just enjoying the good weather and many tourist groups.
Which is the most convenient and favoured transport of Sofia? What are the different modes of transport available from the airport to city?
Today Sofia has a really good transportation system. The last few years were crucial for the development of the subway. And this subway system is still growing. You can use not only the subway but also there are buses, trams and taxi. Of course, the subway system is personally my favorite – it is easy, fast, cheap, and there are no queues and traffic.
I definitely recommend using the subway to go to the city center because of the heavy traffic there whole day. From the airport you can catch subway, bus or a taxi. But then again the best option is the subway because it covers the best parts of the city and I feel it is the most comfortable transport in Sofia.
Which are the top 3 must visit places in Sofia?
Well, I can definitely think of three places right away.
The first place is the Orthodox cathedral St. Alexander Nevsky. This is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world and a great symbol of Sofia. It is so majestic and fascinating at the same time. The occupied area of the church is 3,170 square meters and it can hold 5,000 people inside. It is one of the largest Christian church buildings and the second largest Orthodox cathedral located on the Balkan Peninsula. The construction of the building started in 1882 and most of it was built between 1904 and 1912. The name comes from the Russian prince Alexander Nevsky who died during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878 as a result of which Bulgaria was liberated from the Ottoman rule.
The second place which is a must visit in Sofia is The National Palace of Culture. This is a lively place in the central part of Sofia. It was opened in 1981 and it is actually multifunctional conference and exhibition center, one of the largest. The history of the building is long and rich but I don’t want to bore you. This place is filled with people at every single moment of the day. Many people meet there because the garden in front of the building is gorgeous. There are many beautiful fountains there. The whole atmosphere is magical, especially during the long summer nights. Plus, there is always a nice exhibition, a concert or other event you can attend.
The third place is actually my favorite place – The National Theatre “Ivan Vazov”. This place will grab you and show you another magical world. The building of the theatre is breathtaking. This is also the oldest and most authoritative theatre in the country. Its facade is facing the City Garden, which is a charming garden with a fountain. It is a favorite spot for many people. I love going there watching the building, listening to the jazz music of the street artists and just feel far away from the busy life.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Sofia ?
The truth is that all of the history and nature places are far away from the capital city. There are many nice nature locations around Sofia.
One of the places is the Vitosha mountain where you can go for a nice hike. In the Vitosha mountain there are many interesting routes that lead to beautiful destinations. It’s only an hour and a half away from the city of Sofia. In the summer and on weekends, the trails closest to the city can get crowded.
Another nice place I found recently is the eco trail Bistrica – Jeleznica. You can approach the trail from both Bistrica and Jeleznica but the trail is closer to Bistrica which is in the end of the capital. It is around 10kms from the city center. If you use public transportation it will take you approximately 40 minutes from the city center to Bistrica. The trail is around 4.5km long but it is filled with lovely views and breathtaking nature. This one is perfect for people who love long walks, fresh air and good views.
One of the closest cities to Sofia is Plovdiv and you have to visit it. Its old town is filled with traditional streets with old but renovated houses. The spirit there is amazing. You will need an hour and a half to go to Plovdiv. Two or three hours are perfect to walk around the Old Town and if you want to visit the modern center of the city you will need another 2-3 hours. I definitely recommend this place.
What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Sofia?
Bulgarian people love holidays. We have many traditions and rich history and we love celebrating all of them. My personal favorite is the night before Christmas or Christmas Eve (24th of December).
That’s the day we all celebrate with our families, we gather for dinner. There are special traditional dishes on the table. The meals should have an odd number (7,9 or 11). On the table should be one of our favorite meals called “pita”, which is a special round and beautifully decorated loaf of bread. We put a coin in the “pita” and whoever finds it believe he or she will have good luck the next year. The bread is normally cut by the oldest member of the family. The meals are vegetarian. The main meals on the table should contain “pita”, “sarmi” (cabbage leaves stuffed with rice), stuffed peppers, fruits, walnuts and dried fruits. At the end of the dinner and the evening it is a tradition to leave the table like it is with all the food in it until the Christmas morning. People believe their ancestors are coming to eat during the night.
Christmas Eve is a really special night for all people here. They spend quality time with their families and spread love and positivity. The feeling is beautiful!
Which is the most happening area in Sofia?
I really love how full of emotion and people the City Garden in front of the National Theatre “Ivan Vazov” is. But another lively location you must see is the pedestrian street “Vitoshka”. It is a long pedestrian street close to the City Garden and the National Palace of Culture. This street is filled with cute ice-cream shops, restaurants and coffee shops. It is a beautiful place.
There are many restaurants you can try. One of the most famous lately is “Raffy” – the atmosphere is filled with joy and the food is SO delicious. There are many other traditional restaurants on the streets you can try.
What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Sofia? Is it vegetarian friendly?
There is a lot to try and I am sure you will fall in love with the Bulgarian kitchen.
I shared some of the traditional Bulgarian dishes when I shared about the holiday we love and care about (“pita” and “sarmi”). Of course, there are many other interesting and tasty dishes you have to try when you visit. One of the foods we are famous with is the yogurt. As per salad we have traditional salad called “Shopska salata”. It consist tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, peppers, and cheese. Bulgaria is famous with the fresh vegetables, dairy products and wild variety of spices.
Another dish which is a must is our “banitsa”. This is a piece of pastry which can be easily found on every bakery. It is filled with cheese but it could be also made with spinach and other delicious vegetables.
The next dish on your list should be “musaka”. It involves potatoes, eggs and minced pork meat. It’s incredibly delicious.
During the summer we love to make something refreshing called “tarator”. This can be called soup but it is eaten cold. Tarator is light. This is a yogurt based soup of cucumbers, garlic, dill and walnuts. It is really easy to make even in the comfort of your home.
There are of course the “kyufte” and “kebapche” meat balls. They are prepared from minced pork or beef or mixed pork and beef meat and then grilled. Bulgaria is famous with its meat balls.
Where to head for shopping in Sofia? Are there any popular weekend/night/flea markets which tourists must visit?
Shopping can be done everywhere in the city. There are many huge and modern shopping malls all over the city. But you can also go shopping all around the pedestrian street “Vitoshka”.
The city center is filled with cute little shops and you can find just everything there from handmade shops to huge well-known brands. Of course, there are souvenir shops there too.
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of the city?
Kopitoto or Vitosha TV Tower is a 186 m tall TV tower on the Vitosha mountain. It is the second tallest television tower in Bulgaria and can be spotted from anywhere in Sofia’s skyline. It is easy to go by a car and you can absolutely see the whole city from there. It is especially beautiful at night and breathtaking on special occasions when there are fireworks.
Would you suggest any shows in Sofia to drama, music, comedy or art lovers? Where can one spot street art in the city?
Our city is the best place if you love art and shows. There’s constantly something happening. The open theatre night was a few days ago. There are many beautiful theatres and museums and most of them are comfortable for tourists because they are located in city center and there are English subtitles for people who don’t speak Bulgarian. I definitely love watching comedy shows at the National Theater “Ivan Vazov”. As I said before this is a really special and majestic place. In the biggest hall here “Arena Armeec” you can attend interesting shows and concerts almost every day.
So far for the street art you can definitely see some at the pedestrian “Vitoshka” street, especially on Friday and the weekend.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in Sofia?
I don’t use many apps like these but I know few that could be of some help to tourists.
For transportation I recommend using schedules.sofiatraffic.bg where you can see the schedule of all the buses, trams and subway.
Another useful website to check interesting events is InYourPocket
Sofia as a whole is hidden gem. The city center hides many interesting places and spots for foodies and crafters so you will be a winner if you spend more time walking through the small streets in the central part of the city. And you will be surprised what you
are going to find.