Eastern Europe is become increasingly popular as a travel destination, and countries just east of Central Europe like Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia are now buzzing with tourists. While these countries are still a little cheaper to visit than Western European destinations, welcoming so many tourists inevitably causes price rises and leads to overcrowded cities, particularly in the midst of summertime. But never fear! There are still countries in Eastern Europe where you can get much more bang for your travel buck and avoid the crowds of tourists. These include Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
These slightly more off the beaten track destinations offer you the perk of not having to fight off hordes of people as you try and make your way around to see the local attractions. Plus the added bonus of visiting these places is that you get to feel a little more intrepid by travelling the region before everyone you know has! But if you’re wanting to live a little of the sweet life without paying thousands which city will truly give you your money’s worth? The answer is without a doubt Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.
Sofia is consistently ranked as one of the cheapest, if not the most affordable, city to travel to in Europe and unlike some of the cheapest destinations it really has a lot on offer. We’ve just completed a 3 month trip across Europe and this city was one of the highlights of my trip. We had four nights in Sofia and I am so glad we decided to spend a decent amount of time there because there was a lot to see and so much good food, drink and shopping to make the most of!
See the Sights
The most famous attraction in Sofia would have to be the Neo-Byzantine style Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Completed in 1912, it was built to honour the Russian soldiers who liberated Bulgaria from the Ottomans in 1877-1878. It is without a doubt one of the largest and most impressive Eastern Orthodox churches in the world!
Another fascinating aspect of Sofia is its long history. When work on the the city’s underground transport system started in the 1990s many ruins of the ancient Thracian/Roman city of Serdica were uncovered. Visitors can see these up close at the Serdika metro station.
Sofia is also one of the highest capital cities in Europe, being surrounded by mountains. It is just a stone’s throw from Vitosha Nature Park on Vitosha Mountain which is a great hiking destination in summer and is home to several ski fields in winter.
Fit in some Retail Therapy
The Vitosha Boulevard is Sofia’s main retail street with views down to Vitosha Mountain, this is also the best place to get a drink or dine out! Here you’ll find designer shops, mid-range shops like Adidas and Etam as well as your more affordable clothes brands like H&M and Zara. The prices are very competitive so you can refresh your wardrobe without feeling too guilty!
Savour the Local Cuisine
Another great thing about Sofia is how affordable it is eat rather luxuriously. There is a lot of great fresh produce because the Bulgarian climate is well suited to growing a range of fruit and veggies. You’ll find tasty salads with Bulgarian cheese and scrummy veggie (and meat) dishes in any good local restaurant.
There are also many foreign influences contributing to Bulgarian cuisine so you can easily find Balkan, Russian, Turkish and Greek food in local supermarkets and when dining out. Plus alcoholic beverages are cheaper here than in most countries in Europe too so you can sip Bulgarian wine or enjoy your favourite spirit or mixer to your heart’s content!
Top Travel Tips for Sofia
- If you love natural skincare products that are free from any nasties but don’t want to pay a fortune be sure to check out Zoya, there are 3 locations in downtown Sofia.
- My number one recommendation for eating out is Shtastliveca restaurant on Vitosha Boulevard. This lively restaurant is fitted out with charming 1930s style furnishings. We got a delicious three course meal with drinks there for three people for just under 14€/£12.50/ $16 US/$23 NZ per person! This sort of quality would easily have cost us triple in most other western countries!
- When it comes to accommodation don’t bother slumming it in a hostel- we booked a centrally located private apartment on Airbnb about 6 months in advance which cost us just 12 euro/£11/US $14/NZ $20 per person per night for 3 people. If you havent used airbnb before you can get free credit by signing up here. You can also check out booking.com for other affordable options.
- Bulgaria uses the Cyrillic alphabet so many words will look completely unrecognizable for anyone from countries using the Latin alphabet. These days in Sofia many things like shop names are written in Latin script. But it’s a good idea to make sure you have data/internet available on your phone, when this isn’t the case Google translate is your new best friend!
- Much of central Sofia is best explored on foot but for getting to and from the train/bus station or Sofia International airport the metro (underground system) is probably the easiest and cheapest way to get around.
If you’re yet to make it to Eastern Europe be sure to include Bulgaria in your itinerary and if you’ve already been to Sofia or Bulgaria, let me know how you found it!