Sofia has been steadily moving toward shopping malls culture, slowly replacing the once popular markets. 20 years ago almost everything was sold on stalls, while today the markets are mainly used to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. If you want to immerse yourself in the local market culture, here are the best places to do it.
Central Sofia Market Hall (Tsentralni Hali)
This is one of the oldest market buildings in Sofia still in use. It first opened back in 1911. Nowadays it’s been renovated and hosts food stalls, fast-food restaurants, hairdresser’s, bank offices, souvenir shops and more. It is located in the center of Sofia, across the Banya Bashi Mosque, in the middle of the Square of Religious Tolerance.
For many years the Lady’s Market has been a interesting spot, offering a mix of fresh fruit and vegetables, cheap clothes, tax-free cigarettes (illegal, of course), and kitchenware. It used to be a dirty, noisy and quite smelly place, loved by the tourists for its authenticity and frowned upon by the locals for its inappropriate image in the center of Sofia. A few years ago the Lady’s Market was completely renovated, with new stalls built and most of the illegal sellers chased away. It still keeps some of its previous features but in a more civilized way. Do have in mind that Lady’s Market sellers are notorious for cheating with the scales. It’s five minutes away from the Central Hall Market.
The Antique Flea Market
This antique market has a retro Communist whiff – you can find old Communist-era medals, badges, photos of Fidel Castro or Stalin, World War II relics, knives and much more here. It’s situated close to the Saint Alexander Nevski Cathedral and comprises just 15-20 stalls.
Malashevtsi Flea Market
This is a true exotic flea market that looks more like Asia than Europe. While many people come here to buy car parts, instruments, old radios or cheap footwear, the one area that really gives color to this flea market is where you can find all kinds of second-hand, much-used trinkets. Many of the sellers lay their wares directly on the ground. You have to pay a small fee to enter the market ($0.20) and it’s best to have a local with you as most of the sellers don’t speak English. The market is open on Saturday and Sunday morning.
A few tips for shopping at Sofia markets
Haggling is not a common practice in Bulgaria but you can still try your skills at the markets. If you see a price tag, don’t haggle unless you want to buy in bulk. If you don’t see the price, feel free to bargain. It will help if you can say a few basic phrases in Bulgarian because it is not very likely that you will meet English-speaking market vendors.