Bulgaria is one of the underrated Balkan countries but it is getting more and more popular among outsourcing companies and digital nomads. Fast internet is only one of the reasons why!
Where is it & why should you go?
Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria and due to the fact that the country is not that big, you can easily use it as a base camp to travel around and even visit the nearby countries (Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey).
What is the weather like?
We are lucky to have all 4 seasons with their specifics and beauty. Hot summer days between 30 to 40 degrees Celsius invite you to go to the Bulgarian seaside, though, rather than stay in the capital. Temperatures can go to -7 degrees Celsius during the cold months but we have rather mild winters in the last couple of years. Sometimes there are even sunny days in December!
The best thing about Sofia is:
It is evolving with every single day. More and more hip cafes and restaurants are opening bringing a modern European vibe to the city. My favorite part is the food. From delicious traditional Bulgarian dishes to all types of international cuisine, gourmet street food and even vegan places! Exploring the little streets around the center can open a whole world of hidden gems and I am sure the foodie in you will enjoy the adventure.
The worst thing about Sofia is:
While all the main touristic sites are conveniently gathered in the very center and can be seen in 3 hours, I can’t say the same about the bars and entertainment. I find the lack of an “old town” or an area with bars cafes like in many European capitals a bit of a downside. There are a ton of places to go but they are a bit scattered around the center. It’s a good thing that Sofia is not big!
Is English spoken?
It is spoken to some extent. There’s a better chance to find cafes and restaurants in the center with English menus and people that will understand you. I would say that most young people speak it, but that cannot be said about the older people.
Is Sofia safe?
I don’t remember a situation whether I didn’t feel safe in Sofia especially in the center. Sofia is just as safe as most of the bigger European capitals if not safer. There is an area that is now a bit of a ‘problem’ (between Women’s market and Lions Bridge) due to lots of refugees and migrants finding accommodation there so the police are constantly circling around.
Best areas to live in?
I would choose the very center of the city if you want to have all of the cafes and bars around you. “Oborishte” is a lovely area that is still rather central but much quieter. “Iztok” is full of new buildings, parks and mainly families living there. It is quiet and well connected with the center. “Lozenets” is also a very good location. It is a big area with one part being so close to the center you can walk and the other one is close to a shopping center and the new line of the metro.
My favorite café’s to work from:
Colibri is a cocktail bar open in the summer but during the afternoons there are almost no visitors so you can chill in a sea-inspired atmosphere and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while working. Its sister venue 65 Fireflies is open all year long and is another cool place to visit.
+ Tova is café and a space for artistic events, working and workshops. Spacious place with great interior and delicious desserts. My favorite spot (and probably the best in town) for working.
Green Deli Café is a chain with a few cafes scattered around the city. You can get a great take away lunch from there but you can also sit and work. They provide not only coffee and pastries but healthy food options like soups and salads.
Peroto is located on the left side of the National Palace of Culture and serves as a literature club. But don’t get fooled, it is a café with a lot of tables providing a convenient space for reading, writing or working on your computer. Their facebook page (@clubperoto) says it is always open but I still haven’t tested their opening hours in the night.
Ma Baker is one of the sweetest bakeries in town with currently two locations at central places. It is quite cozy to work at and you have croissants, pastries, and coffee every time you need creative fuel.
Great co-working spaces:
Betahaus is located in a quiet area but close to the center. They have a café/bar and organize regular fun events and workshops. And when I say fun, I talk about Ice cream festivals and Sangria nights! You can test the space for free for a day or get a desk for €10 a day, €70 for 10 days, €115 for a month or other flexible options. Team desks and rooms are great for start-ups and small teams. They provide a discount for nearby restaurants and a lot of paid extras including 24/7 access to the space so you can work on weekend or nights.
Cosmos Coworking Camp is located in a nice house on one of the best streets in the center. Not only great artistic events are organized here, but you are just a few steps away from bars, cafes, and restaurants. “Angel Kanchev” street is one of my favorite streets when it comes to food. At Cosmos you choose a package and you get prepaid hours that you can use whenever you need them. A 40-hour package is about €50, 160 hours are €120 or you can get a single or double dedicated desk. Their coffice bar is open until 7.30pm but the space is open 24/7 for members.
SoHo is a holistic co-working space that you can visit on weekends when they organize interesting exhibitions, festivals, bazaars with young designers and workshops or book a space in their offices, holistic room or garden. Prices start from €9 per hour and can go up to €30 per hour depending on the location and how many hours you want.
At Sbar you can apply for a membership filling some essential info about you including your skills and interests. Their idea is to bring people together and help them share ideas and improve their business. I’ve only been there at seminars but the place is super trendy with a great design and atmosphere accompanied by a bar with cocktails! Nice way to work!
Coworking space by Puzl is uniting the IT community. Apart from a desk and high-speed internet, they provide 24/7 access and a kitchen, games and brainstorming room. Cool, huh? Contact them to test for free or book with prices starting from €120 per desk.
Other favorite hotspots:
Smuggler’s Diner is inspired by the famous retro American diners. It serves burgers, shakes, pancakes and fries among a few other options. The space is almost never full which provides a nice atmosphere to tick a few things off your list for the day while eating.
Fabrika Daga (Rainbow Factory) is a favorite in town with its modern design and great food. Here you can have a traditional Bulgarian breakfast, delicious cakes or healthy lunch. If you want to stay longer, avoid the lunch hours when there’s a huge queue and the whole place is packed.
Rakia Raketa Bar is named after the famous Balkan drink “rakia” – a very strong fruit type of brandy. Here you can find many types of traditional Bulgarian dishes and rakia to try. The interior is creative and a bit retro. Next to it is a sister venue Sputnik – a creative cocktail bar with ethno motives.
The Little Things is a bit hidden and located in a 2-storey house with an amazing homey interior that appeals to everyone I’ve brought there. And I bring all my friends there! They have a daily menu together with the main one offering seasonal dishes as well as burgers, pasta, and tapas. Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong!
What is the internet like in Sofia?
The Internet is probably one of the best things in Sofia and Bulgaria in general. It is cheap (around 10-15 euro per month) and quite fast. My internet technician once tried to reassure my doubts about my wi-fi router with the following “You know, Bulgaria’s internet is one of the fastest in Europe, so even if you have some problems from time to time, you will still have a better connection than the rest of Europe”. Almost every café has internet, though unfortunately, we don’t have many hotspots.
Do you need a car to get around?
Not at all. The city is not that big and the connections that the public transport provides are rather good. In the center, almost everything is in a walking distance and the two lines of the metro reach a big part of the city. The buses are quite old and dirty but I would say the metro and most of the trams are quite good. We recently got a ridiculous 60 % increase in the public transport tickets which led to a lot of controversies but the prices are still okay if you are coming from Western Europe for example. There are pedestrian zones in the center which makes parking not very convenient and in the evenings there’s a good chance that you will look a lot for a spot.
Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe and is located just 150 km away from Sofia. It can be easily reached by bus for about two hours or even faster with a car. Its old town is spectacular and the hills nearby could be reached within a 10-minute walk and offer a stunning view of the city from above. Plovdiv is the European capital of culture for 2019 and has a creative district called Kapana where different festivals and events are organized like the Design Week every summer.
Veliko Tarnovo is another city rich in history and with an authentic Bulgarian look and renovated old houses. The fortress Tsarevets Castle can be seen lit up during the nights, so don’t forget to pay it a visit during the days. It is huge and you will enjoy a nice walk around it with some great views.
Rila Monastery and the 7 Rila lakes are two of the places that just cannot be missed. Organized tours as well as a private shuttle can take you there. The hike around all 7 of the lakes can last about 4-7 hours depending on your stops. The monastery is the most beautiful religious building in Bulgaria in my opinion (together with St.Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Sofia) and you can even spend a night there.
RENT: €100 – €150 (rooms) – €300-350 for studios and small appartments
COFFEE: espresso – €0.90, cappuccino and all the other types of coffee beverages €1- €2
STREET FOOD: €1 and up. A pizza slice can be as low as €0,50, though.
RESTAURANT: €6-12 (main course + drink)
ALCOHOL: In the supermarkets 2l. beer bottle is €1 – €1.70. A can is €0,5 – €0,8. A bottle of wine is €4 – €8.
At bars and restaurants €1.5 – €2 for beer, around €3 for Bulgarian craft beers (try Ailyak, White Stork, Divo Pivo), €2.5-4 for a glass of wine and €4-6 for cocktails.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Single tickets are €0,80 per ride. Monthly card for all lines – €25, day pass – €2, 3-day pass – €5. One year card is €183 (almost as a monthly card in London).
ACTIVITIES: free to €4 for museums, free food tour and walking tour, pub crawl €10, €9 for bicycle hire for a day
HOTELS: €8 – €10 for a dorm bed in a hostel, €20 and up for hotels
Recommended hotels & hostels:
Art Hostel and Hostelmostel are the two most popular hostels, because they are in the very center and attract a lot of visitors. Art hostel has a bar downstairs with some events and live music from time to time. Canape Connection is for the detail orientated that like more artistic places.
Facebook groups for Digital Nomads in Sofia:
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Sianna Marinova is a design student and one of the authors behind EO Stories. She lives in Sofia, Bulgaria but travels as much as she can and never passes up an opportunity to try an ice-cream spot. Find her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
All images by Sianna Marinova.