SHOPPING in Sofia:
The Vitosha Boulevard is Sofia's ritziest avenue, and comes in 32nd worldwide when it comes to the most expensive shopping streets. It's still worth a stroll - after all, you don't need to buy everything you see. That would be quite expensive, indeed, because the brand portfolio of the posh street is no different from the Parisian Champs-Élysées or the Via Montenapoleone in Milan. Versace, Bulgari, D&G, Escada, Max Mara, Van Laak, Ermenegildo Zegna, Moreschi, Marella, Armani, Ferré, Boss, Baldinini and, of course, also the slightly more modest colleagues such as Sisley, Bennetton, Hilfiger, Lacoste, Pepe und Levi's. Once you've had enough of this glamour world, check out the side streets. You will find many nice boutiques with an ample choice.
If you're interested in Bulgarian fashion you might want to take a look in the Daka Style Shop. The focus is on stylish business fashion for women. The quality is good and the selection quite interesting. If you look around for a bit you'll find a few cool pieces that are classy and elegant at the same time. Blouses, suits, but also shirts and dresses, and all sorts of accessories, for example bags and scarves. For the quirky Daka Style offers a special feature: It also produces uniforms, which will certainly draw some attention. The clothes for chambermaids, Spa-employees and receptionists are nice and ideal for daily use. The brand has been around for ten years, and is now so popular that there are three shops.
If you take a walk through the shopping malls in Sofia you may doubt that Bulgaria once had anything to do with communism. Here capitalism reigns, and the Bulgarians who own the necessary capital enjoy every bit of it. The City Centre Sofia at the Arsenalski Boulevard is an impressive mall that extends over six floors. Included in the entertainment programme are bars, restaurants and an imposing IMAX cinema. Fashion lovers can buy French fashion at SInequanon and Turkish glass ware such as vases, drinking glasses and bowls. Highlights are the Nolita Shop, with unique fashion for unique women, and the Ra-Re Store, which not only offers clothes but also history and way of life along with it. Morover, there are Kookai, Energie, Fornarina, Stefanel, Missoni and other international brands. Kenvelo is a kind of Czech H&M and a Mecca for Bulgarian youth.
EAT in Sofia:
The opera club is definitely the place to be. For the cosmopolitan, bon vivant, music lover and every one who wants to chill after a day in the city. The way it's sitting there, in the city centre of Sofia, it's not so far from the flair of the equivalent clubs in London, Paris and Vienna. Modern style meets baroque patterns; minimalism harmonizes perfectly with ornamental knick-knack. The menu lists delicious dishes, with influences from all over Europe, artfully combined. Whether for lunch or brunch, coffee or cake - the Opera is always a busy hot spot. After dinner, when the garden becomes enchanted, the DJ sets the colours of the cocktails to lounge music. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday people party and enjoy till the morning hours.
In the fast-paced club scene you can almost call the Tiffany Club an oldy - for five years now it's been one of the top places to party all night long. The restaurant offers a broad spectrum of European dishes, as well as creative and tasty sushi. The furnishing appears to be very retro at first glance, and ultramodern at the second: Crystal on the ceiling, cushioned benches, different easy chairs and stools, leather on the walls. One tends to order a Martini and feel like James Bond, yes, even as a woman. If you want to enjoy the bar at your ease, you should come for lunch. It offers the right framework for a business meeting or a nice chat with friends. At night it's getting louder, when the DJ starts to make everybody dance. Special parties and events keep people from getting bored.
When Audrey Hepburn graces the restaurant with a smile from the wall, then you can't go wrong, can you? The brasserie is a slice of Paris in the middle of Sofia; not overloaded with things, but the devil is in the detail, and here he makes it quite obvious that this is a step up from most places: Gilded frames, crystal chandeliers, intricate stucco. On the floor checkerboard tiles, along with simple bistro tables and wooden chairs. The mix makes you feel immediately at ease, making you want to stay longer every time you have to leave. On top of this you'll find a great variety on the menu. The French delicacies on the fixed menu are complemented by daily changing specials. For those who love greens, there is a separate salad menu, full of vitamins and interesting combinations. You combine that with the right wine, from Bulgaria or elsewhere, et voilà the perfect night.
SIGHTS in Sofia:
Once upon a time the omnipotent comrade Lenin stood here, today there is a twinkle-toed girl with the name of Sophia. Between Maria Louisa Boulevard and Todor Alexander Boulevard the patroness of the city finally got her space in the city centre. Despite her beauty, however, she wasn't welcomed by every one: Many locals clearly found her too erotic to be dancing around in public like that. The sculptor Georgi Chapkanov made an eight-metre high bronze, which is perfectly staged on the 16 metre high base. Next to herself the bright young lady has deposited three symbols: The owl for wisdom, the crown for power, the wreath for glory. A nice sight!
The National Theatre is a jewel in the centre of Sofia, and the locals are rightfully proud of it. Even the Austrians can take some credit for its glory. The architects Helmer & Fellner, professionals for theatre buildings, were hired from Vienna. The opening took place in 1907, and only later the theatre was named after the great Bulgarian writer Ivan Vazov. Just as many other great theatres this one wasn't spared the bad fate - in 1923 a fire broke out, and World War II destroyed large parts of the house. Yet it was rebuilt over again, grander than before. Today it provides space for about 1,000 spectators. Not only are the performances great, the façade is a feast for the eyes. It's 40 metres high and is supported by six marble columns ornamented with Apollo and the Muses.
Romans, Greeks, Turks - each of its changing masters has left traces in Bulgaria that shaped the country. Those traces were gathered in a laborious effort and are now on display in the biggest museum of the country, 650,000 pieces altogether. Aside from the internationally renowned gold of the Thracians you can admire Bulgarian traditional dresses as well as arts and crafts and traditional pieces of work. Unfortunately the exposition only spans the time up until the lead-in to World War II, yet the sheer number of treasures make up for the missing parts of history. The museum was founded in 1973 and is today one of the biggest in the Balkans. Since you have already delved into Bulgarian every-day life, here you have a chance to get to know Bulgarian history.
STAY in Sofia:
The Sheraton is one of the best hotels in town and deserves every single one of its five stars. It's located at a prominent spot, in the centre of the city. Even travellers with limited time on their hands get a chance to explore the city and plunge into city life. The motto? Luxury of the finest kind. It starts in the hotel lobby, which welcomes you with sophisticated stucco, columns reaching to the ceiling and marble floors. It goes on with spacious rooms with ceilings so high that the chandeliers almost seem to get lost. Not enough? Enjoy the comprehensive programme in the fitness centre, the sauna or the beauty parlour. If you don't want to go outside after a tiring day, you don't have to get bored: You can lose your money in the casino or invest it in an elegant evening in the Stardust Restaurant or the Lobby Bar Pliska. The terrace is particularly beautiful; from there you'll have a great view of the city centre - and this is really an unforgettable experience, especially at night. Doubles start at 125,- euros.
If you look for a private alternative to staying at a hotel, check out the Sofia Inn Residence. Beautiful apartments in prime neighbourhoods are on offer. There are no annoying fellow hotel guests, and you can go to have breakfast in your pyjama. The apartments can be rented for short stays, yet they are also a good deal for long vacations and business travellers. The apartments are fully furnished, in a way that you can receive visitors with no problems. There's a choice between 1 to 3 room apartments, which are professionally cleaned twice a week. In case you still end up missing the hotel feeling including travelling acquaintances, then you can simply linger a little bit in the hallway. All the Sofia Inn Apartments are in the same building! A night in a studio (with sleeping accommodations for two people) starts at 30,- euros.
In a historical building, in the centre of Sofia, you will find an extraordinarily charming hotel. Each room is different and named after varying metropolitan cities. Moreover, everything here is gay-friendly, however, open-minded heteros are just as welcome. The main thing is to be nice, it seems. The staff provides professional help around the clock, including tips on sightseeing and going out. In a way, you'll find everything you need or would want to see around the corner: shops, markets, and mineral baths. Another proof of the diversity: A synagogue, the famous mosque, and the Catholic cathedral are all within walking distance. Yes, all three. Doubles start at 80,- euros.