Is winter travel on your to-do list? If not, it should be! And why not choose a unique winter destination in a lesser-traveled part of the world: Sofia, Bulgaria!
We’ve had the pleasure of spending a big chunk of summer and (sadly) a small part of winter in this cheap but delicious destination. So, we’d like to share some reasons why you should visit Sofia this winter!
For a complete guide to this city, no matter the season, check out our post on things to do in Sofia!
First of all, why winter in Sofia?
Because the summer is too hot!
Not that Sofia, as well as the rest of Bulgaria, aren’t fun in the summer. Who doesn’t want to pass by endless fields of sunflowers with huge mountains as a backdrop?
Even so, we felt that traveling in the winter was even better! Temperatures during our December visit got down to 18 F in the morning and some of the days didn’t get above freezing.
So if you’re planning on an even colder journey in January or February, please pack appropriately! The last thing you want to do is be freezing cold while exploring! That’s a recipe for disaster.
However, if you do find you’re short on warm clothes while in town (we were!) you’ll find bargain shopping just about everywhere. From locals lined up selling gloves, hats and scarves (look near local markets) to brick and mortar shops near the touristy areas, you can find a good deal on warm clothing in Sofia!
So what’s so special about seeing Sofia when it’s freezing outside?
The colder season has so much going for it: cheaper prices, way less tourists, and of course, a likely chance of snow! That’s why winter in Sofia is a great idea, especially for budget travelers!
That’s not all!
The Bulgarian cuisine, best enjoyed when it’s so cold outside, is to die for.
Let’s talk about some reasons to visit Sofia this winter!
Adventure atop Vitosha Mountain – Ski and Snowboard
Take a waltz down Vitosha Blvd. in Sofia and look up from the hip, restaurant-filled street. You’ll see Vitosha Mountain and it’s calling you to the slopes!
Granted, if the weather during your winter stay in Sofia is anything like ours was, you probably won’t be able to get a great view of the mountain from the city center. The snow and low hanging clouds were relentless.
So, how do you see Vitosha Mountain, one of the highlights of Sofia, if the weather doesn’t permit it?
You go up and see it firsthand!
Even if you can’t catch a glimpse of Vitosha’s snow-covered peak from the city streets, it’s easily reachable via public transportation. Take bus 122 to the “Simeonovo” Lift and you’re all set! However, be sure and check the ski lift times (you’ll want to translate the page).
You can rent gear or bring your own. If looking to rent, check out the “Aleko Hut” atop Vitosha Mountain or rent in town and bring them with you!
As was the case during our summer stay in Sofia, complete and transparent information about Vitosha is hard to find. Hopefully our post answers some of your questions but if not, you can always refer to our hike up Vitosha for more details on how to get there!
Traditional Bulgarian Restaurants
All this cold weather will have you craving something warm. Good thing you’re in Bulgaria because there are plenty of warm and hearty (vegetarian too!) meals to be had.
The best place to warm your bones? A traditional Bulgarian restaurant. Every single one we visited, no matter the season, had the perfect atmosphere. The decor alone was a spectacle.
But the real deal in these restaurants is the typical Bulgarian dishes, served hot and for an awesome price! For serious, the portions are huge compared to the price. That is, of course, unless you eat in the main tourist area in town. Don’t do that!
Try the famous kebapche, stuffed peppers or, since it’s winter, try one of the many hot stews and soups. You can’t go wrong here! Lamb, pork, fish, or strictly vegetables, there’s a soup for that!
Pro Tip: For less tourists, more locals and legit Bulgarian cuisine, throw Pod Lipite or Manastirska Magernitsa in your Google search and make your way there! They are both vegetarian-friendly and delicious!
Warm Up With Rakia
All of this talk about Bulgarian food but we haven’t mentioned what to follow it up with. One of the best digestives you can get, be sure and order rakia with your starter or to finish off your meal. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, have a couple.
You choice of different fruit that makes the rakia, and are at least 40% alcohol so be careful with this one! Rakia is a popular drink throughout the Balkans but is especially good here.
If you’ve been wandering through Sofia’s snowy streets and need a way to lose that winter chill, simply stop in one of the many bars and order a rakia. You’ll feel warm, and maybe a little fuzzy, in no time!
If going up Vitosha just sounds too cold or you’re not a fan of the slopes then how about some casual ice skating? You’ll find Sofia’s friendly rink near Borisova Garden. Skates are for rent onsite and remember that warm Bulgarian food we mentioned earlier?
Pod Lipite is next door! Sounds like the perfect winter night in Sofia to us!
As with any city, especially in Europe, snow makes everything beautiful. Whether you’re just walking down Vitosha Boulevard (the main avenue in Sofia) or appreciating the architectural blend of the city’s religious and communist buildings, snowfall adds a little magic to the scene!
Besides admiring the really cool buildings like the Sofia Opera or the iconic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, there are many parks to explore too!
As mentioned before, where the winter ice skating rink is located, Borisova Garden is a massive green area and one worth exploring. Well, it’s green in the summer. With snow on the ground, it’s more of a winter wonderland.
South Park is another large scenic area that’s livened up when it snows. This is also a good spot to catch a glimpse of Vitosha Mountain, as you’re closer here than the city center!
Summary of Reasons to Visit Sofia This Winter!
Sofia is worth visiting year round, of course. Each season has its pros and cons. That said, we think winter in Sofia is a special trip to be had and one you won’t forget! Remember to pack a lot of warm clothes and be sure to eat your heart’s desire in Bulgaria’s capital.