Cheap accommodation, cheap food and drink, cheap travel – what’s a student got to not love about Bulgaria as a getaway?
Sunday’s tend to make you plan and book things, that realistically you can’t afford, which is exactly what happened when my flatmate and I booked to go to Sofia, Bulgaria on little more than a whim. Overall, it seemed like a pretty attractive option for a holiday – flights coming to £120 with accommodation costing us just £40 each for four nights! With the promise of everything being dirt cheap, we were easily looking at a getaway for under £250 for 4 nights/ 5 days – bargain!
An hour after landing in Sofia and roughly 30 minutes after we got left by the most terrifying taxi I’ve ever experienced, we FINALLY found our apartment. It was nothing like promised, but it was clean and gave us a bed and toilet. For £10 a night I wasn’t about to complain.
Our apartment was roughly a 30 minute walk into the centre, or a 5 minute walk to the metro to take us cross the city. The metro definitely out does any metro/subway/tubes in the UK, at about 80p a ticket and the nicest underground stations I’ve ever seen. Vitosha subway even has the ruins of the old city on display as you walk through, which looks amazing!
Walking into the centre certainly allows you to see a lot more of the city – whether it sights you necessarily want or not. The areas around the outskirts leave a lot to be desired, as we walked through many streets of abandoned and run down apartments that seemed completely deserted – nothing you’d expect of a capital city. It was only a little bit terrifying doing a 4 mile hike around the city to get to the zoo…
The centre itself was absolutely gorgeous, brimming with culture and history, all tucked into popular shopping areas, with absolutely stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The cost carried over to tourist attractions as well, with many places doing student discounts on top of the already dirt cheap prices, meaning most places cost us around 2-4 Leva (£1-2) for things such as the national art gallery, national history museum, zoo etc. This made it so easy to completely absorb the culture we were surrounded by without costing us an arm and a leg.
Some places did leave a lot to be desired mind. Attractions in the centre seemed relatively well kept and updated. However, as we explored a little bit further out, we discovered this wasn’t necessarily always the case.
We visited the zoo as it had been recommended to us in various guide books, and compared to the price of zoos around Europe, it was cheap as chips to get in. it didn’t take us long to figure out why mind. The entire area appeared abandoned, post- apocalyptic even. All the enclosures were concrete built, representing little of any of the animals’ natural habitat. Many had been sponsored to ensure their wellbeing, but this didn’t seem to mean much, as we saw big cats in enclosures much too small, with their fur matted and unkempt, clearly uncomfortable in their situation. The conditions appeared horrific for any animal and many a zoo has been closed down for much better treatment than this! In the end, we had to leave as the conditions were too unbearable to hang around for!
This day of exploring carried on in much the same vein, as we moved onto the Palace of Culture (NDK) – again somewhere we had been recommended. What NDK failed to mention anywhere was that the building was currently under construction, and there were limits as to where could be accessed within the building, as the shops on ground floor were still operational. There were no barriers or signs to suggest that anything could be wrong, as we walked around this huge, empty, dusty building – only to get to the top floor and get an absolute bollocking from a cleaner and manager!
One place we absolutely DO recommend from this day mind, is the Thirsty Dragon pub. We found this through the ‘off the beaten path’ guide and absolutely do not regret it! It was a cosy little pub, which served some good traditional Bulgarian food for incredibly reasonable prices. Only thing it lacked in was being completely out of stock in any pint!
Our short stay was over in a blur, and before we knew it, we were back in the air, heading towards London, before I set off immediately for Manchester, to get ready for a trip to Berlin the next day!
There are a couple of extra stories from this trip, but each requires a post of its own!
- Flights: £120 (hang luggage only, Heathrow – Sofia, BA) This could have worked out cheaper, had we booked it later on it appeared. A lot of deals came up around a month before we went, which ended up being roughly £80 instead
- Accommodation: £80 for 2 of us for 4 nights – £10 a night each. Easily possible to get even cheaper than this amazingly, or spend a little extra to get close into city centre, which would be a bit nicer
- Spending money during the trip: We both spent roughly £80 worth of leva during our trip, which covered all 3 meals (we had planned to cook our own, but weren’t given a kitchen as promised), all of our sightseeing, metros every day and a few souvenirs. Easily possible to spend less or go a lot further a field and spend a little more
- Taxi to and from airport in Sofia – £26 for both trips (£13 each way) between us. Booked online before we went as we knew we wouldn’t have been able to figure it out once we got there and used this for some peace of mind
- Stay closer to the centre
- Do NOT go to the zoo
- Definitely make the most of the historical elements of the city, they’re incredibly interesting – HOWEVER, this will take you about 2 days most, don’t plan a week around this.
- If you can, make a trip out towards the mountains and surrounding country, I would have absolutely loved to have seen this if possible as it is said to be beautiful
- To save even more money, cook your own food, as food bought in bulk is incredibly cheap. However, balance this against the added costs of having a kitchen in your accommodation.
- Take comfy trainers – you will walk a LOT
- Immediately accept that the traffic is terrifying and you’ve got to just go with it
- Bulgarian police are useless – if you think you’re getting burgled, do not rely on them to help (but that’s a whole other story)
Vlog about the trip!