Sofia by night is a beautiful place to discover. Sofia has rather provincial than metropolitan charm. You feel the slow pace of life right out of the plane – at the airport. The classical architecture of some buildings reminds the passenger of Sofia’s old history and Bulgaria’s connection with the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Now, many students, green living enthusiasts, unknown but gifted artists and musicians are calling it home. They all make the atmosphere on the streets and in the small charming restaurants lively and interesting.
It’s been a while since I walked the streets of Sofia at night. It is one of my favourite ways to catch up with friends while I’m at home. I find it fascinating how stunning this city looks when the dark falls and all the mismatched architecture and sometimes bumpy sidewalks seem to cease their existence. Then, the glittering lights and the soft jazz music come to reign.
The restaurants showcase their vitrines seductively inviting clients in with the smell of freshly cooked meals, and the chatter and warmth that only a friends-get-together can produce. At nights, in Sofia, the festivities are on a display no matter if it is Christmas or summer season. People of Sofia love their city and proudly show it to their guests. And you know what is best here? The social life that is part of our cultural identity, that you can see and feel invited to, even as a visitor, by just walking the streets of central Sofia by night.
Explore SOFIA, the Bulgarian Capital, by Night
More and more foreigners discover the beauty of Sofia. Still not extremely popular to the mass tourist (and I hope it will never be!), one is surprised when visiting the city for the first time.
The newcomers will find that Sofiantsi (as Bulgarians call the people living in Sofia) love to walk at night in the city centre. Although Sofia is interesting in every season, Summer is the best for the evening strolls. The reasons for that are many as many are the alfresco restaurants and bars, illuminated churches and monuments.
Explore the Neighbourhood – Sofia Centre Example Walk Itinerary
Start your evening walk from the Presidential Palace. It is part of The Largo – an architectural ensemble built in Socialist Clasicism (also called Stalinist Architecture). The change of the guards takes place every hour. And although it is not a grand spectacle like the one in Athens, the guards’ uniforms are unique and beautiful in a red-white combo that alters according to the season.
Just in front, is the Archaeological Museum. One of the museums that you should visit during the day. Bulgaria’s history is like a patchwork quilt – made of many and, oh, so different cultures and civilizations. You might want to join this three-hour tour to learn more about the city and Bulgaria’s history.
Sofia History Museum and Ancient Sofia Archeological Complex
You might have been to the Sofia History Museum during the day, but at night the building has different luminance. Walk to here from the President Palace. On the way, you will pass by some of the ruins remaining of Bulgaria’s Roman time. They are beautifully presented in an outdoor exposition – the Ancient Sofia Archaeological Complex in front of TSUM (the Central Universal Store built during the Socialist Era).
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – the Landmark of Sofia
Walking on the yellow Viennese cobblestones, you will reach the most recognisable building of all in Sofia. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Bulgaria’s Patriarch’s church. It is a pleasant sight in the day and at night. On the photo below and at the front right is the National Assembly.
Sofia at Night – The National Theatre Ivan Vazon
From the Cathedral Alexander Nevski, continue your walk in Sofia at night towards the National Theatre Ivan Vazov. On the way, you might decide to stop for a drink at Sense Hotel Rooftop Bar, although I’m not sure you will want to continue your exploration of the city after that. This bar has one of the best city views (the first photo in this blog post was taken there).
The garden in front of the theatre is a popular place for meetings and young and older love hanging around, sitting on the benches and chatting. On both sides of the garden are the alfresco bar of Grand Hotel Sofia and the former royal palace, now housing the Ethnographic Museum and the National Art Gallery.
If you visit during the Christmas period, take time to visit the Christmas market that is usually set up here. Even if it is nothing like the ones in Vienna, this market still offers mulled wine deliciously warming the blood. There are also sausages, gingerbread and handmade Christmas decorations and postcards.
Get on to ‘Vitoshka’
From there, join the crowd at the pedestrian Vitosha Boulevard, that we, the locals, call lovingly Vitoshka. The street is lined with shops, restaurants and cafes. In warmer seasons, people enjoy the European-style alfresco dining and meeting for a drink while people-watching.
My favourites places are Cafe Memento for the best coffee and social environment; restaurant Shtastlivetsa for unusual setting and good food, although the service sometimes is painfully slow. Restaurant and Gelateria Raffy is good for quick service and the most dynamic atmosphere on the street.
Restaurants further afield
Another favourite of mine is Bodega – Tapas and Wine. There are two of their restaurants in Sofia with that name and specialise in Spanish cuisine. The one at 6, Tsar Asen the First street (near the Palace of Justice) always delighted me with better food and more intimate interiors. The other one – at 8, Tsar Osvoboditel Ave, has a more vibrant atmosphere and is busier. But if you are lucky enough to get a table close to the windows, the view of the stunning Russian Church at night is astonishing.
The Cathedral Saint Nedelya on Vitosha Boulevard
Continue your walk at night in Sofia …
From Vitosha Boulevard, continue your Sofia by night walk on Solunska Street. Shops and street sellers of vintage stuff and old books al lining the sidewalk. Along, there are several restaurants – Moma Bulgarian food & wine, Cactus, Old is New. Probably the better one of the Raffy restaurants in Sofia is across the street from Old is New. And Pavag, known in English as The Cocktail Bar is a beautifully set coffee-by-day and bar-at-night in the green corner along the street.
Following the tramway line, you will see Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church. It always amazes me how different it looks at night, with the greenish lighting on it.
End your walk at the National Palace of Culture
The National Palace of Culture is an imposing building built during the Socialist Period of Bulgaria. It is still used for different cultural activities. Park and gardens on a few levels surround the ‘palace’. The whole ensemble is balanced by the long line of fountains that were restored in recent years. Locals and visitors love wandering around. In summer can be rather busy and in winter it can look like a Christmas wonderland.
Walking in Sofia is always better in a company! It is safe to walk at night, as far as you don’t take risks and stay in the central part. Use your common sense.
There is a lot to do and see in Sofia. Bulgaria is a good choice of destination – and not only because it is cheap! Take your time to get to know the city. The wise lady (although the writing of the name is different, the city is named after the biblical Sophia) ‘grows but never ages’, and has different personalities at day and by night.
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