ENJOYING SOFIA IN THE WINTER COLD
Through the cold weekends, after a long week of work, there's little incentive to go out for a day of walking. Especially when temperatures are below zero. Weekends spent at home are lovely but now that you won't go out of town or to the beach anyway, why not explore some of Sofia's cosy nooks. After all, dressing for the cold is easy and Sofia is known to reward its explorers. So let's start. You've opened your curtains and whether there's snow or not - it's pretty cold out there. Make a cup of tea, put on your boots and let's go. The city's awaiting you.
Let me know if you'd like any help with your day trip or have questions. My ideas are inexhaustible and I help with pleasure.
Head to the nearest metro station, or a kiosk for that matter. Each metro station and some kiosks sell day cards for public transport. It's 4 levas for a 'karta za edin den'. The nice lady will stamp your ticket with the day's date and you're a free as a bird to go anywhere you like. The ticket is valid for all city transport, meaning buses, trolleybuses, trams and metro. Each time you want to take the metro, the lady at the counter will have to scan and validate the ticket. Don't ask me why. If it's not validated and you insert it into the gate towards the platform, a loud male voice will tell you 'баркодът е невалиден', so everyone around will hear what's wrong with your ticket. Try it.
So you took the metro and now it's time for a coffee, the day only just started after all. Get off at Joliot Curie metro station. There's two choices. Directly above the metro station is OneCoffee (08:00 AM - 02:00 AM). Choose this place for a good coffee. Alternatively, take a walk to Park Hotel Moskva. The restaurant is open only from 11:00. Choose this place for a good view. The restaurant is on the top floor and you have a good view over the city.
Now that you had your dose of caffeine, it's time to face the cold. Go back to the metro, hop off at the next station, G.M. Dimitrov. Walk to the Museum of Socialist Art (10:00 AM - 17:30 PM - Closed on Mondays). It's right east of the tall Sopharma towers. Years after the fall of Communism, this is the place where the touchable memories are stored. In the garden, that has many communist statues, you can see the red star that used to be on the National Assembly building (the large square right above Serdica metro station). There are many impressive statues of Bulgarian communist figures in the garden and inside is an exhibition. The souvenir shop is rather uninteresting and unless you're a history buff, you wouldn't spend more than half an hour at the complex. 6 levas for adults and 3 levas for students.
Time to get to the center. If you drink as much coffee as I do, have one at the Architect's Club, Plus Tova or Art Club Sofia. You can have a good lunch at the Architect's Club or restaurant Red Coral Kitchen. Now walk through the Doctor's Garden, where, in the eastern part, you can see some ancient columns from Serdica. Then take San Stefano Street north and admire the abandoned glory of the Къщата с ягодите, strawberry house, on your left. It was built in the 20th Century by banker Dimitar Ivanov and was designed by Bulgarian architect Georgi Kunev. This website mentions that the house is currently in the ownership of Lukoil's director. Rather sadly, there's no plan for the house. At least, it doesn't seem so. After the gloomily abandoned, yet beautiful strawberry house, let's move on.
Take the underpass at Sofia University and browse through the Ciela bookstore. Then continue towards Aleksandar Nevski cathedral and enter St. Sofia Church. The brick church right in front of the cathedral. The at first seemingly uninteresting church has a long story below its foundations. It was built right on top of the remains of Serdica. This used to be the necropolis and there are many tombs that can still be admired. Some have fully intact painted murals inside. You can only imagine these tombs once used to be 'ground floor level' and the current city is just built right above them. There's a beautiful half-round mosaic floor. This is a replica and the real one, that came from this exact location, is on display at the Sofia Archaeological Museum. In winter, the Sofia Archaeological Museum is open 10:00 - 17:00 with Mondays being closed. On 24 and 31 December, it's opened from 10:00 - 14:00. Entrance is 10 levas for adults and 2 levas for students.
You wouldn't say but it's time for coffee or tea. Go to Cafe Wien (09:00 - 22:00) or Art Club Museum (opened 24 hours - not to be confused with previously mentioned Art Club). If you walk downstairs in the Art Club Museum, you will see the place was built on top of Serdica as well. The ancient city is right below the bar, on the right side of the restrooms. If you want to see more of Serdica, check out my other article. Now, let's walk to two ancient churches in Tsar Kaloyan Street, 'Sveta Petka Stara' and 'St. Nikolai Church'. Right across from each other and the first one, on the left, is partly underground. I'm hereby assuming that you've already seen the Rotunda church, in the presidential palace courtyard. It's easy to find all three churches in Google Maps.
Walk to the Central Halls 'Centralni Hali' and find some sweet chocolates or a falafel as a snack. It's cosy and warm inside the market halls and it's also a nice place to have a beer. If you check out the basement, there's remains of Serdica as well, right behind the escalators. Then, go back into the cold and take Pirotska street. With a detour over the Ladies Market 'Zhenski Pazar', check how delicious bread is made at Bakery Tanoor. Now I can't imagine you're still hungry but hey, no need to do all of this in one day. Visit Restaurant Ashurbanipal (find it in Google Maps - 08:30 - 19:30 - the owner buys ingredients from the market and cooks delicious Middle Eastern dishes). Walk to Lion's Bridge 'Lavov Most' and take a tram south for one stop, back to the Central Halls. You may admire the newly renovated Banya Bashi Mosque. Or the Sofia Synagogue nearby. On the same street as the Synagogue, Ekzarh Yosif Street, go east. You'll find Sofia's hot springs. Have a hot but refreshing sip of water of fill up your bottle. When it's really cold, it's great to just wash your hands. There's a Supa Bar for good soups and a Lidl right next to the springs.
If you're still not exhausted, follow Ekhzarh Yosif Street east and turn left on Rakovska Street. Sveta Paraskeva Church is a pretty building to look at. You can browse through the antique store on Boulevard Slivnitsa 192 and go back to Rakovska Street to take a trolley bus to Slaveikov Square. Walk along the book market or have a cocktail at Casa Latina, a hot beverage at Chucky's or some wine at Peroto (which is opened 24 hours). Make sure to visit wine bar Grape Central as well.
If it happens to be a weekday, have a coffee at Arhivite. This is the National Archive and an interesting place to see. You'll have to let the guard write down your ID card's details at the entrance. It's on Moskovska Street no. 5 and opened from 9:00 until 17:30 Monday to Friday only. Metro station Serdica or Sofia University. Tea House, (12:00 - 21:00 - Monday to Friday only) is a lovely place as well. Then, as you have your transport ticket for a day, you can take the metro to James Bourchier station. You can have a drink at The Corner Bar as well. It's opened from 11:00. Take bus 98 south to Bistritsa village. Get off there and visit pastry shop Foreste. You can then hike along the path towards Pancharevo Lake (Pateka Pancharevo - Bistritsa). To find that path, you should really download the free application Citymaps2Go and download the Sofia Province map. Or, check Openstreetmap.org. Then, you can swim year-round in the outdoor hot mineral water bath Korali (09:00 - 19:00) and take bus 1,3 or 4 back north into the city.
By the way, a good activity at any time of year, is joining one of the walking tours of Sofia. I did The Bohemian Sofia Tour and can highly recommend it!