1. To understand what banitsa and tarator are.
Bulgarian contemporary cuisine is a mix of hearty Balkan food with a pinch of freshness typical of Mediterranean dishes. You will find some dishes similar to other Balkan countries – for example, tarator is similar to the Greek tzatziki, while banitsa is a baked pastry with Bulgarian feta cheese (sirene) and eggs found all over the region. Sofia is perfect for foodies with its variety of food venues – from typical Bulgarian mehana (pubs) and family diners to exquisite high-end restaurants. You can spend a whole day eating in Sofia.
2. To stand in the Square of Religious Tolerance.
Sofia is perhaps the only city in Europe that has places of worship of four different major religions located so close to each other. Right in the city center, you can visit an Orthodox church (Saint Nedelya), a mosque (Banya Bashi), a Catholic cathedral (Saint Joseph) and a synagogue (Sofia Synagogue). These buildings form a square called the Square of Religious Tolerance.
3. To delve into Bulgaria’s history and culture.
Most of the biggest and the best museums and galleries that will help you understand Bulgaria’s past and present are in Sofia. Start with the National History Museum, visit the Sofia History Museum, and spend an hour or two at the National Art Gallery and the Museum of Socialist Art.
4. To enjoy the city’s park culture.
There is one thing that Sofia dwellers definitely love to do during the summer, and that is spending time at its many parks. Festivals, puppet theater, live music, and cinema under the stars can be spotted almost every day from May to late September. Some of the biggest parks are Borisova Garden, Yuzhen Park (South Park), Zapaden Park (Western Park, quite wild), and Severen Park (North Park, recently renovated). Don’t skip the smaller, but full of events, central parks and gardens like Zaimov Park, Doctor’s Garden, Kristal Garden, and the National Theater’s Garden, where the capital’s youth gathers on summer nights.
5. To go hiking just 30 minutes from the city center.
Sofia is lucky enough to have a tall mountain just a 30-minute drive from the city center. Vitosha Mountain and its snowy Cherni Vrah Peak is visible from almost all corners of the city, inviting hikers to put their boots on and see the capital from above. Grab a map of the mountain, and spend a day enjoying fresh air and beautiful forest walks. There’s a tea house up on the peak, which makes the hike even better.
6. To attend excellent opera performances.
If you are an avid opera-goer, don’t miss to check the Sofia Opera House monthly program. Bulgarian opera singers are famous all over the world and, what’s more, the ticket prices are really affordable (starting from around $5). During the summer, they organize opera performances in parks and medieval fortresses in Sofia and all around the country.
7. To drink rakia.
Rakia is the national alcoholic drink of which Bulgarians are very proud. You can buy it at any supermarket or taste the homemade variety, as many Bulgarians still produce their own rakia. If you still don’t have local friends, the best place to try rakia in Sofia is Raketa Rakia Bar (its name speaks for itself!)
8. To drink free mineral water in the street.
Sofia is famous for its mineral water springs, and some of them have been turned into drinking fountains where you can drink mineral water for free. Many people in Sofia come and fill bottles with water from the springs because it tastes much better than the tap water. Bring your own bottle, and do like the locals at the hot springs behind the Banya Bashi Mosque.