Currency - Bulgarian currency is called Lev (BGL), plural: Leva. One Lev is made up of 100 stotinki. It is tied to the EURO and the exchange rate is fixed at EURO 1 = BGL 1,95583. Money can be exchanged safely at most banks and also at reputable exchange bureaus. Hotels and airports tend to give less favorable rates. Exchange bureaus are no longer allowed to charge a commission for money exchange, so check this first. Never change money with anyone who stops you on the street and offers you a better rate. Most hotels, shops and restaurants in Sofia accept credit cards, but this is not so in smaller towns and rural areas. Cash is the accepted form of payment, so keep plenty of small notes on you when traveling in the countryside. Cash machines are widely available in cities and larger towns and provide a convenient access to local currency. All major European and North American debit cards are accepted.
Mobile Networks - There are three mobile operators which cover most of the country, though do not expect coverage really high up in the mountains. They offer a prepaid card system - Prima (from Mtel), b-connect (from GloBul) and "Opa!" (from Vivatel) which can be purchased from newspaper kiosks or mobile phone shops.
Important phones - In any case of emergency, please call to 112. You can also call to:
146 - Emergency Road Service;
150 - Emergency Medical Aid;
160 – Emergency Fire;
166 - Police/Road patrols;
Taxi Services - The cars of the numerous taxi companies are easily available at taxi stations and on the street. You can also order a cab over the phone or through your concierge. Below there are few examples of some well-known cab companies and their phone numbers in Sofia:
Yellow Business Taxi - tel: +359 2 91119
OK Taxi - tel: +359 2 9732121
1 Euro Taxi - tel: +359 2 9622226
Ricars Taxi - tel: +359 2 91114
Omega Taxi - tel: +359 2 91142
Fixed route taxi vans and hotel shuttle-busses: City van and shuttle-bus services are available at your hotel’s reception desk;
Rent-a-car in Bulgaria - Sofia, the big cities and resorts are available rent-a-car services of the well-known international companies as Hertz, Budget, AVIS as well as local ones at lower prices.
Sofia is over 2,000 years old and its centre is like a walk-through history lesson, with Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians, Ottoman Turks and Soviet-inspired communists all having left their architectural imprint. Essential Sofia:
- Alexander Nevski Memorial Church
- Archaeological Museum
- Boyana Church
- Natural Museum of History
- Earth and Man National Museum
- Ethnographic Museum
- National Military History Museum
Built by Russian architects, inspired by the glories of ancient Byzantium, this multi-domed ecclesiastical monster has been Sofia’s visual trademark ever since its completion in 1924. It was built in memory of the Russia’s nineteenth-century contribution to Bulgaria’s liberation, although the Aleksander referred to in the title,s is actually a medieval prince of Novgorod, who battled Teutonic Knights. Decorated from floor to ceiling with frescoes and illuminated by flickering candles, the vast interior is as atmospheric as they come.
Open 07:00 - 19:00.
Daily Liturgy - 08:00 and 17:00; Vigil - Sat 18:30; Mass - Sun 09:30
The oldest museum in Bulgaria, the museum of the archaeological institute has been in its present location the ‘Bujuk (Big) Mosque’ since 1899. The mosque itself dates back to the end of the 15th century. It recently underwent major restoration, reopening in 2000 and is without a doubt one of the most charming and interesting museums in Sofia. The setting in the white, airy 9-domed former mosque is ideal for displaying the country’s ancient treasures. Its collection includes treasures, coins and prehistorical monuments from Bulgarian soil through Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Well-displayed with Bulgarian and English captions. The highlights include the Valchitran gold treasure from the 14th century BC and the original floor mosaic from St. Sofia Church.
If medieval church art turns you on then the UNESCO-listed Boyana church will have you foaming at the mouth with excitement. Just about every square inch of the interior is covered with bible scenes and saintly portraits, rendered by hirteenthcentury artists. Nobody knows the identity of the painters, but their mastery of realistic depiction and sophisticated use of colour puts them on a par with Italian artists of the early Renaissance. It is a tiny church consisting of two parts: the oldest dates from the 10th century, when it served as the chapel of Boyana fortress. A second floor was added in 1259 by the Sevastokrator (or local governor) Kaloyan, who used the church as his family chapel. It was Kaloyan, who commissioned the frescoes for which Boyana church is famous. Restored in various stages over the past forty years, the main body of the church was never open to the public in its entirety until December 2006. Highlights include portraits of Kaloyan and wife Desislava dressed in sumptuous robes, and the earliest known portrait of the white-bearded St John of Rila, Bulgaria’s national patron saint.
Open 09:00 - 17:30.
Admission: 10Lv. Combined ticket including National History
Visitors are admitted to the church six at a time, at ten-minute intervals, so be prepared to wait.
Located in a park-shrouded former government palace on the northern side of the Okolovrusten put (Sofia’s main ring road), Bulgaria’s National History Museum offers a highly enjoyable chronological journey through at least eight millennia of human civilization on the Balkan Peninsula. Representations of the Earth Mother Goddess, dating from the sixth millennium BC include a fabulous pair of buttocks from the Sofia region. Next up is the Thracian room: unfortunately, many of Bulgaria’s most famous Thracian treasures are touring western museums at present, and it is not known quite when they will come home. However there is still plenty of Thracian gold- and silverware, fantastically decorated with mythical animals, to make a visit here worthwhile. Biggest disappointment is the medieval section, which is largely based on replicas of items kept elsewhere, or on photographs of ruined castles and churches throughout Bulgaria.
Open 09:00- 17:30.
Admission: 10Lv. Combined ticket including BoyanaChurch: 12Lv.
English-language tours cost 20Lv and can be booked in advance on tel. 955 42 80.
Situated just behind the Hilton hotel at the beginning of the Yuzhen Park, this museum has a fascinating, if somewhat poorly displayed, collection of giant crystals and gemstones from around the world. Unfortunately there is also very little explanation in English or other foreign language. The venue is also used for temporary art exhibits as well as musical recitals, the resonance from the crystals adding to the quality of the musical performance.
The museum housed in the eastern wing of the former palace, gives an insight to Bulgarian folklore and traditions including Easter eggs and breads as well as costumes from various regions. Although started in 1878, many valuable exhibits were lost during the bombing in 1944 and probably the most interesting exhibit is the beautifully carved wooden ceiling.
Open: Tuesday - Sunday from 10.00 to 17.00.
This Museum was opened in 2003(?) and is slightly off the beaten track. No doubt of interest to military buffs and children as the courtyard features a large selection of military machines. Recently decommissioned weapons are also on display as well older memorabilia including uniforms, and a lock of Levski’s hair.
Open: 10.00 - 18.00 (No day off).
For more information and tips, please visit www.sofia.inyourpocket.com.
bul. Knyaz Dondukov 71, tel. 843 54 19, fax 846 84 46, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.restaurant-bulgary.com.
For an elegant dining experience, head for this historic house crammed full of sepia photographs of old Sofia.
Open 12:00 - 23:30.
ul. Alabin 35, tel. 988 75 75, email@example.com.
Spread out in a large basement in the heart of the downtown shopping area, this is a rather elegant take on a familiar down-on-the-farm rustic theme.
Open 12:00 - 23:00.
ul. Kozloduy 75, tel. 931 31 48, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.kashtite.com
Hugely enjoyable theme restaurant located mid-way between the town centre and the train station, consisting of four large rooms, each designed in the folk style of a particular region of Bulgaria.
Open 11:30 - 02:00.
bul. Cherni vrah 31, tel./fax 963 03 08, email@example.com, www.chevermeto-bg.com
Despite it’s location in the basement of the greying Hotel Hemus, an evening at the “Spit-Roast Lamb” comes across as an entertaining journey into Bulgarian rural ethnography. Traditional textiles are draped across every surface, and folk groups perform nightly after 8pm. The sizeable menu includes just about everything in the Bulgarian culinary repertoire, so there should be something here to suit all tastes and pockets.
Open 12:00 - 24:00.
ul. Han Asparuh 67, tel.980 38 83/0899 94 94 00, www.magernitsa.com
Sheltered in an elegantly decorated nineteenth-century house, the restaurant offers an imaginative approach towards traditional Bulgarian cuisine - the owners have collected traditional recipes from Bulgarian monasteries and reproduced here.
Open 11:00 - 02:00.
ul. Solunska 28, tel. 980 17 27, www.pri-yafata.com
Traditional Bulgarian cuisine served up in a suite of rooms decked out in folk textiles and nineteenthcentury domestic nick-nacks. Some of the cheaper wines are a bit rough though.
Open 10:00 - 12:00.
ul. Tsar Simeon 78, tel. 983 14 17/0887 523 376, firstname.lastname@example.org
Homely bistro offering very reasonable food - good place for a quick lunch or a more leisurely three-course meal. The chef is a Frenchman who owns the place together with his Bulgarian wife, so it’s a real family restaurant. Good service and meals that live up to expectations. What more can you say?
Open 12:00 - 22:00, Sat 18:00 - 22:00. Closed Sun
ul. Saborna 14, tel. 981 17 94/0897 806 390, email@example.com, www.kumbare.com
Pretty much everything you would expect from a Greek restaurant is here in abundance, with a succulent repertoire of grilled lamb and fish dishes accompanied by luxuriant salads - all prepared under the watchful eye of the head chef. The loud and exuberant music will soon put you in the right mood to dive into the selection of ouzos and retsinas.
Open 11:00 - 23:00
ul. Lavele 11, tel. 980 24 89/0888 81 19 80, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.alga.free.bg.
Somewhat hidden behind the BulBank building at the bottom of Vitosha Boulevard, this cute little Italian restaurant is well worth a visit. It’s run by Georgio & Russistza, a man and wife team and their Sardinian chef. They will give you a very homely reception before you tuck into the complimentary olive pesto and homemade bread.
Open 12:00 - 24:00
ul. Tsar Samuil 60, tel. 986 08 54, email@example.com, www.festaitalianabg.com
It is the perfect place to enjoy Italian cuisine with ingredients imported directly from Italy and desserts, prepared on the spot. It has a decade of serving clients, behind their backs. They have both a Bulgarian and Italian menus and the staff speaks English, Bulgarian and Italian.
Open 11:00 - 24:00
For more information and tips, please visit www.sofia.inyourpocket.com
ul. Neofit Rilski 68, tel. 0886 655 093.
There’s nowhere else quite like this spacious, high-ceilinged nineteenth-century flat, each room of which is decked out with the kind of artworks and furnishings that you’d expect to find in the home of a slightly wacky friend. There’s an internet terminal in one lounge, play-your-own-vinyl DJ decks in another, and a space devoted to film projections too. If you want a drink, head for the kitchen to see who’s in charge of the fridge. There’s usually some form of exotic daytime snack food on offer: recent choices have included houmous with pitta bread, and platters of sushi. Be sure to try the delicious homemade chocolate desserts.
Open 12:00 - 02:00.
Cappuccino bar & dinner
ul. Pozitano 8, tel.0896 645 362, www.barcappuccino.net
Despite its short life, Cappuccino seems destined to become one of the most crowded new additions to Sofia. Preferred for business lunches, dinners, parties or just for a cup of coffee or excellent cappuccino, the interior is a mixture of expensive Italian furniture with a classical combination of midnight black and crisp white, delicate lighting and enviable sound system. The long menu specializes in Italian dishes, complemented by an excellent selection of wine from all over world and a variety of cocktails, among the well-founded reasons this place will be sure to please even the most capricious visitors.
Open 08:00 - 02:00, Sun 10:30 - 24:00.
Chillout Bar & Dinner
ul. Triaditsa 5, tel. 980 02 03 firstname.lastname@example.org, www.chilloutbg.com.
A large lofty space with matt black walls, slender silver pillars and soft-cushion sofas, Chillout’s new city-centre venture looks like an inviting cross between medieval khan’s reception chamber and twenty-first century living room. With the same menu as its sister bar on ul. Baba Nedelya, Chillout is a good spot for downtown lunch, although it’s the prospect of evenings spent gurgling one’s way through the cocktail list that holds out most promise.
Open 08:00 - 04:00
ul. Baba Nedelya 6, tel. 953 35 04 email@example.com,www.chilloutbg.com
Drinking in Chillout’s black, red and blue interior is a bit like living inside an abstract painting. The place certainly lives up to its name, however, thanks to the moody sounds emanating from the CD player and the laid back, glamorous-without-puttingtoo- much-effort-into-it clientele. The drinks menu includes some potent and inexpensive cocktails, and food (including toasted sandwiches and savoury wraps) is served until about 10pm - at which hour DJs turn up and start upping the tempo.
Open 08:00 - 04:00
ul. Aksakov 18, tel. 987 27 23, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.motto-bg.coma.
The red-brick walls, comfy sofas and designer lampshades of this roomy bar and diner attain just the right mixture of snazziness and comfort. There’s a huge menu of cocktails and spirits, and a selection of light dishes if you’re hungry. The service lags, especially when the place fills up with Sofia’s fashionable set, but then you’ll never be short of beautiful people to look at.
Open 10:00 - 02:00.
ul. Rakovski 113, tel. 988 21 41 email@example.com, www.opera-bg.info
This classy designer bar in the basement of the National Opera is well worth looking in on at the weekends, when DJs spin plastic and revellers flock round the bar. At other times it looks like a furniture showroom, with rigid lines of fancy chairs and couches and not many people sitting in them.
Open 10:00 - 24:00.
ul. Moskovska 6A, tel. 989 46 96.
Head round the back of the National Art Gallery and you’ll come across this curious little café-bar, occupying the cast-iron pavilion in which the mercurial Tsar Ferdinand once kept his butterflies. The cocktails aren’t that great but who cares; everything else on the menu is perfectly drinkable, the wooden chairs add a dash of Parisian-café charm, and when DJs turn up they usually spin something more interesting than Top-40 teen fodder.
Open 09:00 - 06:00.
ul. Rakovski 127, tel. 0888 655 500.
An unmarked passageway on ul. Rakovski leads down to this vast barn of a place, regularly filled to bursting with adrenalinecharged, hedonistically-inclined Sofians. An anything-goes DJ policy keeps the dance floor constantly packed. If it gets too hot and crowded you can always head for the chill-out room (to the right of the coat-check), here you can sprawl on oriental divans and puff away on a hookah pipe
Open 18:00 - 05:00.
ul. Moskovska 3, tel. 986 31 12, www.briliantin.com
The name of this club is a tribute to the dancing skills of Travolta and Newton-John, as Brilyantin (“Brilliantine”) is the name by which Seventies’ musical Grease is known in Bulgaria. However you’re unlikely to see any latter-day hep-cats jiving away in their best rockand- roll frocks - Brilyantin is actually one of Sofia’s prime hang-outs for stylish young professionals, wannabe media types and expensive-cocktail conoisseurs. Matt black surfaces, the odd mirror-ball and a crowd-pleasing mixture of retro, house and dance-pop are the order of the day. Hard to get into at weekends - when you might have to reserve a table or arrive soon after opening time.
Open 17:00 - 04:00.
ul. Pirotska 5 (corner with George Washington) tel. 0888 888 358, www.clubliqueur.com
The place plays retro, rock, evergreen, R&B and dance music. The decoration is modernistic with columns wrapped in silver, the bar and bar plots are illuminated, the high chairs are with leather seating. The overall luminous effects are state of the art in red, green and yellow. Occasionally there is live music. There are also special alcohol promotions for each day of the week.
Open 22.00 - 6.00
Retro club Gramophone
ul. Budapeshta 6, tel. 981 14 10/0878 146 353, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.retroclubgramophone.com
One of the most popular Sofia’s downtown clubs, opened again with a new interior and a new program. The long bar is loaded with different brands of imported alcohol, including Johnnie Walker blue label. Lighting is with grade colours, fires burn down at the level of your legs and large white wings are spread high on the walls. From the DJ desk, already located next to the front door, you can hear different genres of music, depending on what day of the week you have chosen, for visiting the club.
Open 00:00 - 24:00.
ul. Aksakov 31, tel. 980 40 80/0888 50 80 80 email@example.com
Somewhat appropriately hidden in an alley and down in a basement, this alternative dance club is a must for anyone who likes something different. Boasting a simple and bright decor, a small bar area, a clientele that varies in age and ethnicity and an open space for them to strut their stuff, at times you will actually feel like you are in South or Central America. There is a joyous spirt here that is infectious, thanks to the welcoming customers, many of whom sport traditional dress, who are here to express themselves to the sexy latino rhythm.
Open 17:30 - 04:00. Closed Sun.