Ask someone to point to Bulgaria on the map and you might not want to hold your breath. Despite being at the historical hinge point between Europe and Asia, and hosting a vast array of mountains, rivers and a slew of other natural wonders, this Eastern European gem has remained one of Europe’s greatest travel secrets.
Additionally, after the infamous Eastern Bloc dissolved in the early 1990s, Bulgaria has taken its time catching up to the rest of the world, making it one of the cheapest countries to visit on the continent.
With budget airlines like Ryanair and Wizz Air opening up cheap flights from around Europe into Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia, it has never been easier to travel to the former bread basket of the Soviet Union. Want a budget vacation with a side of amazing food and dose of historical relics? Here are the best ways to enjoy Sofia on the cheap and deep.
Go all in on the subway
Skip buying single-ride tickets of 1.60 lev (about $1) and buy a full-day, unlimited-ride ticket for 4 lev (about $2.50). There are currently only two lines in Sofia’s underground metro, but each will get you to where you need to go — including the airport.
Travel tip: Though the train will get you there, Supertrans taxis are still the best option from the airport. Check in with the taxi kiosk or risk getting ripped off by savvy cabbies.
Speaking of green spaces …
Go get lost in Park Borisova Gradina, Sofia’s Central Park. With legitimate trail running right in the middle of the city and outdoor fitness stops scattered throughout, this park will keep you on your exercise routine no matter what.
Want an outdoor concert venue, two soccer stadiums, an equestrian center, a ropes course and loads of creepy communist monuments? Yeah, well, Park Borizova Gradina has those too.
Take a trip to the grunge side
Oddly enough, the music made popular by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden has found a home in the Bulgarian capital. Perhaps it’s because the musical era coincided with the fall of communism and the rise of MTV, or perhaps people just really like flannel and greasy hair, but grunge is alive and well in Sofia.
To score free acoustic performances of some of the all-time greats, hit up Bar Roderic on Thursdays, Fridays and select weekends. Beers are pricey, but tunes are free.
Find Bulgaria’s Eye in the Sky
Get some of the best views of Sofia thanks to the people who used to watch all of Sofia. That’s right, this former headquarters of the Bulgarian secret service is now one heck of a rooftop restaurant.
Still a government building, the location requires a passport to enter, but after reaching the top of the elevator and then climbing another set of stairs, this is the cheapest rooftop lunch in the city.
Near Battenberg Square, this site isn’t on the map, but ask a local to point you in the right direction for the best views in Sofia.
Get the meatballs — all the meatballs
No, these aren’t your Italian grandmother’s meatballs; these are Bulgarian meatballs, served up flat with an unbelievable array of flavor and spice. To get one of the best in the Bloc, seek out the food stand next to Dos Primos restaurant near Journalist Square, where you can score a meatball sandwich full of veggies and French fries for a whopping $1.50.
If veggies are your thing, stop by Sun Moon, Sofia’s best vegetarian restaurant, to try some traditional lutenitsa. The spicy tomato relish is a day-changer.
Stop at the Squat Shop
Over here! No, lower, lower … here! Relics of the Communist era, when people would sell contraband good from their basements, Squat Shops are convenience stores that are inconveniently situated at about hip height.
Located around the city, these are the best places to score cheap beer (read: $1.50 for two liters) and snacks. Then do as the Bulgarians do and enjoy your spoils in one of Sofia’s many green spaces.
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