As you might know, I have the habit of looking for cheap flights to travel from Berlin, where I live. In one of these ‘treasure hunts’, I found flights that were not only super cheap, but also for the perfect times: leaving Friday night and returning Sunday night. Exactly for the weekend. A rare finding.
The trip was to Bulgaria, for 43 euros round trip with Ryanair. To give you an idea of how cheap it was: this is the usual price for a train ride in Germany (round trip) that takes about two hours each way, if you have the card that gives 50% discount, because the normal price is double. In other words, flying for this price is not bad at all. I called a dear friend of mine who always joins me in these adventures and we got the tickets.
Two colleagues of ours who are from Bulgaria had told us that one day is enough to see the capital, Sofia, where we flew to. And several websites with traveler reviews also suggested visiting the second largest city in Bulgaria, Plovdiv, which is 2 hours from Sofia. So, that’s what we did: we spent the Saturday in Plovdiv (day trip) and the Sunday in Sofia.
Bulgaria was the first country I visited whose language has another script (they use the cyrillic alphabet). Besides this, almost no one speaks English there. One thing that really helped was having written down the names of the cities we were going to visit in their alphabet, so we would be able to recognize them on signs.
It was a slight adventure – but I wanted to visit Bulgaria precisely for being a country that is a bit different from what I was used to.
You can go from the airport to the center of Sofia by bus or subway. We found it easier to take the subway, but it’s good to know that the station is in terminal 2, and the low-cost airlines (like Ryanair) use terminal 3, which is apart from the main airport building. There is a van that transports passengers between terminals 2 and 3 for free, but it’s not available all the time.
In Sofia we did the free walking tour, which was excellent, covered the main landmarks and told us a lot about the history of Bulgaria. The tour departs daily at 11 am and 6 pm from the Palace of Justice and lasts 2 hours.
POINTS OF INTEREST:
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (the main landmark of the city), Sofia Public Mineral Baths, Russian Church, National Palace of Culture (NDK), Ivan Vazov National Theatre (and the park around), Royal Palace, Vitosha mountain (a huge mountain very close to the city center), Vitosha Boulevard: the main pedestrian street, full of restaurants and shops (and tourists).
HOW TO GET THERE:
It is better to go by bus – the journey takes 2 hours while by train it takes 3 hours. The ticket costs 14 leva (7 euros) each way and can be purchased right before the trip at the bus station, which is right next to the train station. The buses usually leave every hour. To guarantee our return tickets, we bought them as soon as we arrived in Plovdiv. We stayed in this city from 11 am to 6 pm and it was enough. The bus is quite simple, but it takes you there.
You can find the website for the trains here (available also in English) and for the buses here (only in Bulgarian! This is when you compare the scripts to find the city you want, or use an online translator).
POINTS OF INTEREST:
Plovdiv is full of Roman ruins scattered throughout the city. The most impressive one is the ancient Roman Amphitheater – a huge auditorium built some time B.C., and that is still used until to host concerts and events. There is also the Roman Stadium (underneath the main street in the city center) and the Roman Forum.
Walk through the old town exploring its buildings (such as the Ethnographic Museum) and views to the city center. Near the train and bus stations, there is the Tsar Simeon Park, where a show of the ‘singing fountains’ occurs at night.
In Plovdiv there is also a free walking tour starting at 11 am daily in front of the city hall, in the main street.
Bulgaria may not be one of the first destinations that come to mind when thinking about Europe, but it’s certainly worth the visit. Most of its streets and buildings have a very simple and humble appearance, but there are several points of interest for tourists. It’s a country where you spend very little, and it’s possible to visit the two largest cities during a weekend.