First time in Bulgaria. I only had a few days to spend in the capital, Sofia, and in the European capital of culture for 2019, Plovdiv, but I got a lot of opportunities to laugh and marvel at some of the interesting things and quirkiness of the country.

Bulgaria is just a border away for me, yet it took me almost four years to do the trip. No doubt I will be coming back for more! I was enchanted by the country, the people and the mixture of history and modernity that is all over the place in Sofia and Plovdiv.

Besides the vibrant history and culture of those two cities, some things just made me stop to snap a picture or simply made me laugh or think. While on your three-day visit in Sofia or during your tour of Plovdiv, keep an eye open for those! From how to better display the rich antic history in the middle of a modern capital to boobs on a horse and the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen in a city. The list is obviously personal, non-exhaustive and will be updated!

Giant dog pooping on a motorbike

Giant dog painted on a wall in Plovdiv
Street art in Plovdiv © Marion Dautry

Did the driver think of the funny picture his/her motorbike being parked in front of this giant dog who looks like ready to poop would make? I think yes.

A fully proofed street bin

A public bin fully protected by plastic
The public garbage shall be protected, they decided © Marion Dautry

In a street by the Cathedral Saint Aleksandar Nevski in Sofia

Don’t ask me why.

Sunday morning is for beer, not bread

A craft beer shop in Sofia © Marion Dautry
A craft beer shop in Sofia © Marion Dautry

Looking for an open bakery on a Sunday morning proved more difficult than finding a craft beer shop. There were a lot of them open in the area of Sredets. Good for the people who want to nurse a hangover with a beer, but what I wanted was a banica! Mind you, it was well worth searching a bit longer as we ended up at Sun Moon and I had the most delicious banica ever there. I was so much in food heaven that I forgot to take a picture of the place and of the food.

Antique metro

Sofia, metro Serdika among antic ruins
Sofia, metro Serdika among antic ruins © Marion Dautry

Sofia is one of the oldest city in Europe (Plovdiv beating it to being the oldest continuously inhabited) and is fortunate to still have within its limits lots of its antique heritage. It’s basically impossible to build something on an evergreen parcel in Sofia without digging up something. That’s exactly what happened in the city centre with the metro. If you go to the station in Serdika, you can walk freely among the ruins of ancient houses and see the old walls. Fun fact: the best way they found to preserve those was to top them with a layer of new stones.

Boobs on a horse

© Marion Dautry

Seen in the Knyazheska Garden in Sofia

Why?

Fake it if you can’t make it

ethnographical museum in Plovdiv
Painted facade of the ethnographical museum in Plovdiv © Marion Dautry

In Plovdiv, rich people who wanted to show off a few centuries back would paint antic-looking columns on the facade of their homes. As the guide from the Free Plovdiv Walking Tour said, they’re not fake columns, they’re real painted ones. We can’t all be Antic Greeks.

That being said, it also reminded me of how people would paint the facades and inside of their palaces in Genoa, so it’s not as ridiculous as some would like us to believe. Tax Evasion System

Old school tax evasion system

Tax evasion system in Plovdiv
Tax evasion system in Plovdiv © Marion Dautry

Another funny story we heard during the Free Plovdiv Walking Tour was that the reason for building higher floors larger than the ground floor was simply tax evasion: people would only pay taxes for the size of the land they would be building on, not for the size of the house.

Old school army

Buses for transport of the Bulgarian military in Sofia
Buses for the transport of the Bulgarian military in Sofia © Marion Dautry

We ended up near the Cathedral Saint Aleksandar Nevski in Sofia right in the middle of a military ceremony rehearsal. May 6th is Bulgarian Armed Forces Day, a public holiday marked by a military parade. Lots of soldiers were hanging around the cathedral waiting for their turn to do whatever they needed to do and while we were trying to get around them to get out of the area, we noticed the very old school buses in which they came in parked behind the monument. The tanks looked in better shape…

The most beautiful sunset ever

Sunset at the Cathdral of Saint Aleksandar Nevsky in Sofia
Sunset at the Cathedral of Saint Aleksandar Nevsky in Sofia © Marion Dautry

Not bad, eh? Sofia.

Speaking of the Cathedral Saint Aleksandar Nevski in Sofia, the majestic building is an incredible spot to admire the sunset. The photo speaks for itself, certainly. The Cathedral used to be the largest Orthodox church in Europe but is now second to Saint Sava in Belgrade.

Space-like architecture

Fascinating architecture in Sofia
Fascinating architecture in Sofia © Marion Dautry

As I mentioned above, Sofia has a lot of different layers of history and culture mixing together in the city. As a foreign communist country from the Eastern European block, it has its fair share of communist and Stalinist architecture with big broad residential buildings and oversized public buildings. It has also lots of construction whose style I’m not sure I can determine.

Endangered “squat shops”

A squat shop in Sofia
A squat shop in Sofia © Marion Dautry

Squatting is a Slavic thing. And the squat shops were for a while a very Bulgarian thing with people, at the fall of communism, opening little private shops in their basement. Customers have to bend over, or squat, to place their order and pay. There use to have lots of them everywhere, but many have closed in the past few years. Some remains, thanks partially to the tourists they attract. We found this one by the entrance of Vitosha street in the capital city.

A beer to help animals

Animal beer at Vitamine B bar in Sofia
Animal beer at Vitamine B bar in Sofia © Marion Dautry

This “Animal” craft beer found in Vitamine B in Sofia gives the profit to animal rights organisations. Drinking for a good cause.

No heels on the grass!

Keep out the heels! © Marion Dautry

Somewhere by the Temple of Bulgarian Martyrs in the park of the Palace of Culture in Sofia

Never saw that one before. Don’t destroy the grass with your high heels, people! Or is it don’t destroy your high heels with grass?

CCCP souvenirs

Souvenir shop in Sofia
So hard to pick one © Marion Dautry

USSR girls with big boobs and dangerous guns, Putin (of course), poorly printed roses on a shirt… Looking for souvenirs in Bulgaria is an interesting experience!

“Sponge Bob” is the coolest bar ever

We ignored the place on our way to the famous and touristy Hambara in a dark alley of Sofia’s popular district Sredets. But after two drinks in the gloomy atmosphere of Hambara, hunched over our glasses, we decided to move on to another location, the closest one being Sponge Bob’s bar right next door. I am still not sure why the name, but the bar turned out to be the perfect place for us with a great rock and relaxed atmosphere and a friendly barman/owner who took the time to chat with us, put up some cool Balkan rock music and give us some tips for our last day in Sofia. We even promised to meet him again in Pancevo, a small town near Belgrade in Serbia the next summer for Pancevo’s Wrong festival!

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5 thoughts on “15 surprising things to see in Bulgaria”

  1. Wow you’ve really managed to find some unique, quirky and hilarious things here! 😂 a very different kind of guide – but I like it!

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