My Sofia in 24 hours

April 23, 2019

Only a short stopover in Sofia? Here are some hidden spots - told by a local

Who knows a city better than a local or someone who has lived there for many years? Global Executive MBA alumna Iliana Schmatelka, born and raised in Sofia, always likes to return home and share her favorite bars, places and hidden spots in Sofia, which give it such a special flair. Discover the city from a very personal and, most probably, very different perspective.

Picture of Iliana and friends
Iliana Schmatelka shows us her Sofia.

“Sofia will never become Prague,” a senior representative of a famous hotel chain said to me a few years ago after I had worked very hard to show him the best sites in the city for building a business hotel. At the time, I was deeply upset by his comment. Today, I would be much more self-confident and reply that “there is absolutely no need for Sofia to be like Prague” because Sofia has so many other beautiful and interesting things to offer:

  • a wealth of historical wisdom dating back as far as the seventh century B.C.,

  • the charm of a modern European city and, above all,

  • the fact that the locals give all visitors the feeling of being among friends and home away from home.


You can never truly experience a city in as little as 24 hours. However, since Sofia caters for all tastes, spending a day there will definitely make you want to come back for more.

Eat & drink

What is your favorite place to eat in Sofia?

“Made in Blue” is a must-go-to in my opinion - not only because the great food, prepared with lots of love and imagination, tastes like home-made but also because the wonderful variety of old furniture and the pictures on the walls of the Sofia house, help to create an atmosphere redolent of the Bulgarian homes of the past. If you intend to have lunch there, it is always advisable to book a table.

If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you will generally enjoy the Bulgarian cuisine a lot, but your visit to Sofia would not be complete without going to “Sun Moon”. The chain offers not only a wide range of vegetarian and vegan delights in a pleasant atmosphere but also many rare varieties of freshly made bread—because “Sun Moon” is actually a bakery.

In case you fancy savoring a gourmet dinner before listening to some good music over a cocktail at the in-house bar, you should definitely make a booking at the new Spaghetti Kitchen & Bar.

Following that, I recommend you go to Sense Hotel's Roof Bar for a drink and enjoy the most beautiful panorama of the city and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, before finishing off a Friday or Saturday night at Swinging Hall, which I consider one of the city's most interesting live-music clubs. At the club, jazz, pop and rock fans can - if they are lucky - hear many well-known international musicians, and some of Bulgaria's top talent, perform in a relaxed atmosphere. Swinging Hall is all about spontaneity and celebrating the joy of music. To learn more about the featured groups and music styles, take a look at the current program on their facebook page.

Mostly from Thursday to Saturday, the very popular Piano Bars in Sofia also offer live music. My favorite among them is the Camino Bar with a Whisky Bar & Dinner for all who love salon music and the Night Bar with popular international and Bulgarian music. 

Hidden spots

As a Sofia insider, what places do you recommend visiting which can’t be found in a tourist guide? Please share your hidden spots.

When you take a walk through Sofia, be sure to visit the following places:

First of all the oldest building of the city - the Church of St. George. Situated directly behind the Sofia Balkan Hotel and in the immediate vicinity of the numerous excavation sites around Sveta Nedelya Square, it is a must-see when you are in Sofia.

Iliana Schmatelka in front of the Church of St. George.
Iliana Schmatelka in front of the Church of St. George.
Iliana Schmatelka at Zhenski Pazar

Next, have a coffee at the Central Sofia Market Hall, or “Halite” for short, which is a Renaissance Revival architecture building. Following that, go on to experience the huge variety found at the largest open-air market in the city center, the “Zhenski Pazar” (Women's Market). It begins directly behind the Central Sofia Market Hall, at Ekzarh Yosif Street, and ends near Lavov Most (Lions' Bridge).

If you would like to spend a second day in Sofia, or if you relish an adventure, I have another must-do for you: take a ride to the Vitosha mountain massive with the old open “Dragalevtsi-Goli Vrah” chairlift. Its valley station is located in Dragalevtsi, a quarter of Sofia, directly in front of the famous “Vodenitzata” (The Watermill) folkloric restaurant. From the “Goli Vrah” (Bald Peak) top station, you can get to the well-known “Aleko” hut in about 15 minutes, and in 1.5 to 2 hours you can reach “Cherni Vrah” (Black Peak). At 2,300m, it is the highest peak of the Vitosha massif. Be sure to check the weather news before you leave, especially if you plan to ascend “Cherni Vrah”. This trip, combined with a lunch or dinner at “Vodenitzata” restaurant, will make for an unforgettable day.

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