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I know. It’s terrible. Please forgive me now for what I’m about to say! I’ve never felt this way before about any town! Sure, there were a few cities I just didn’t care for that I had had high expectations about, for example, Aachen, Germany. Then there were cities like Stuttgart, Germany that I just overall didn’t like. But never before have I absolutely hated a city and wanted to leave ASAP as I did with Sofia, Bulgaria. 

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Originally titled “I’m Sorry…but I HATED Sofia, Bulgaria” but I received too much hate mail to keep the controversial title. At the time of writing this post, I felt nothing but pure anger from our experience in Sofia. Now that time has passed, I’ve changed the title because it’s rare that I actually HATE anything and it is such a strong word. Perhaps one day we will return and give Sofia a second chance. Read all the way through, but in case you don’t feel like hearing me out, just hear this, I am in NO WAY telling anyone they should NOT visit!! But I am certainly NOT going to lie and tell people it’s amazing when it was anything but for us. We were truly saddened by our entire experience. Thank you for your understanding.

I’m also not gonna lie, I wanted to go to the capital mostly to see their big and glorious Alexsandur Nevski Memorial Church. I do love me a beautiful piece of architecture and I’ll go anywhere for a pretty building. So, when I discovered that we would be driving through the Balkans for our two week honeymoon, it seemed like a no brainer to add the city to our itinerary. 

I did my due diligence and researched like crazy, bought travel guides and knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that having once been a communist country, the quality of buildings would be poor and in that typical 70’s style cement architecture that was so cheap and fashionable back then. I knew that buildings would like be hanging on for dear life, but I wasn’t expecting it to be soooo bad. I had figured the country would have started rebuilding and renovating by now. And sure, they have, but clearly not fast enough and money is being funneled into the pockets of corrupt politicians, clearly visible by the parking lot directly in front of the Alexsandur Nevski Memorial Church and Parliament buildings. 

I try not to go anywhere with unrealistic expectations, but sometimes it can’t be helped and my imagination runs wild with picture perfect alleys, amazing architecture and Instagram-worthy spots. Every blog post I found about Sofia only raved about how amazing the city was, great places to see and eat and never once mentioned any negative things about the city. Once there, I realized that all these posts had built up this image in my head that the city would be amazing, full of history and everything a traveler could ask for. But, for me, Sofia lacked anything I could fall in love with and I started to wonder if other people REALLY loved the city or if there was something wrong with me. Maybe I just didn’t get Sofia.

Mind you, I should mention, we had a terrible experience with our hotel the night before, were forced to stay there as I couldn’t find an affordable last minute change of hotel, woke up with bug bites which left us very bitter. This was supposed to be one our honeymoon, not an overnight stay from hell. This bitterness most likely rolled over into our sightseeing experience which affected the way we took it all in, but from a local’s perspective, there are many things to do in Sofia which just shows me that Sofia isn’t as bad as we experienced. 

Nonetheless, crappy hotel aside, we tried to make the most out of our stay, but quickly decided to cancel the second night in Sofia and instead made a beeline for an overnight stay in Plovidv, which had originally been planned as a quick stop by day trip. Turned out to be a blessing in disguise!

What I didn’t like about Sofia

1. Sketchy Buildings

We had dinner reservations for an authentic Bulgarian experience which included live singing and dancing at Chevermeto which I was not willing to skip. However, upon arrival, I immediately wasn’t sure it would be safe, as it looked incredibly sketchy, but it was next to the Palace of Culture and the parking lot was full of expensive looking cars. It had to be safe, right?

So, we gave it a go. Turned out to be the best part of our entire 20 hours in Sofia.

The singing was rather dull as they just stood there in the corner, in what felt like stage fright. However, the dancing was amazing, full of partner dances, costume changes and encouraging the diners to join in the dancing. Turns out, folk dancing is still VERY MUCH a part of Bulgarian tradition and the audience was mostly locals who happily joined in the dance several times. Would I recommend it? Definitely! 

2. No Parking Garages

The next day, we had planned to do a full day of sightseeing in Sofia, but having checked out of our disgusting hotel, all of our belongings were in the car. As we couldn’t find a real parking garage, as these seem to be non-existent there, we found a sketchy dirt parking lot with a loud Bulgarian yelling at us the price as if yelling would make us understand better. Nonetheless, we parked as we saw they at least had surveillance cameras and there were other nice cars in the lot and quickly did a 3-4 hour walk through the “city” on our own because it took us so long to find a parking lot and we missed out on the free walking tour.

3. The Desperate Need of TLC of Many Buildings

I found it quite sad to see the Alexsandur Nevski Memorial Church up close and see the slow decay of the building. The frescoes on the inside were incredibly dark with years of water stains running down it’s ceiling and walls.

Just a few feet away was the Church of Sveta Sofia and it took us as quite a surprise that the floors on the inside were covered in puddles of water, and slightly smelled like urine. On the INSIDE! We found this incredibly sad as this site is Sofia’s oldest surviving church dating back to the 6th century!

The Rotunda of Sveti Georgi had a plaque commemorating the EU’s help in preserving this pre-Christian Church, but it was clear that either after the renovation the country let the church crumble again, or if the renovation was poorly completed. 

It just seemed to me there was no pride in the city’s history and architecture. And I can understand that during the Communist Era, religion was abandoned and unimportant, so the church was likely left to sit. But it’s been over 20 years since the fall of the Iron Curtain. You’d think by now the church would have received a little bit of TLC.

The only buildings that seemed to be in perfect working order, mind you they’re a few hundred years newer than the fore mentioned sites, were the former Communist Central Headquarters and the Presidency building

4. The Amount of Graffiti

I understand that every major city is plagued by completely random, pointless and ugly graffiti. It just can’t be helped. But, Sofia has a graffiti epidemic that I felt was taking over the city. Everywhere we went, there was a ton of graffiti degrading the beauty of the city. 

5. The Condition of Streets & Sidewalks

Never in my life have I walked through a town that had more danger zones than in Sofia. So many of the sidewalks, around memorials and even the streets were lined with crumbling paths. Stones were missing everywhere and I was afraid one of us would break an ankle tripping over a hole in the ground. 

6. Lack of a “City Center”

Yes, while we were in the city center, this statement makes no sense. But, we felt that either we missed, couldn’t find or there was no “heart” of the city center. Where were the rows of cafes, restaurants, shops? Where did people hang out? This is the most important part of any city and town, and yet all we could find were large former Communist buildings and apartments. Perhaps we overlooked it in our desire to quickly leave, but nonetheless, we were saddened by this.

7. No Breakfast Before 12pm

What? It’s the most important meal of the day! We had attempted to eat a lousy breakfast at our crummy hotel, only to sit down at the tables which were covered in stains and crumbs. Instead, we left our plates on the table and left, hoping to find somewhere to sit down for breakfast in town. Nope. Remember,  I said we couldn’t find cafes and restaurants. We did find a couple which were open, and when asked if they had breakfast retorted “No breakfast” or “No food until 12pm”. What? WHY? Do Bulgarians not eat breakfast? So, we ended up at a small cafe almost an hour after looking for food. Went to order the breakfast they had pictured on the wall… nope, they don’t have that. Then WHY THE HECK do you have the picture on the wall with the company logo?!? I give up. 

Overall Experience

I hate to be a Debbie Downer and I don’t like “City-Bashing”, but I felt I needed to write about all these reasons why we didn’t love Sofia. I still feel like we missed out on something great in Sofia because of our overall experience at the hotel. We were supposed to stay in Sofia for 2 full days and I had a list of sites I wanted to visit, of which we only saw half. I had planned to do a free walking food tour and a Communism tour, but that was abandoned when we realized in the few short hours we were there, how much we really didn’t like the city and how much we desperately just wanted to leave and go to Plovdiv

Of course, there were a few things that were very beautiful and not falling into ruins, but it wasn’t enough to make me want to stay longer and explore more. And when I flip through my tour guide book, or look at other travel posts about Sofia, I can see that there are some beautiful buildings like the Mineral Baths, the Sofia Synagogue, and the National Theater which we missed.

Not every trip can be picture perfect and the most epic trip of a lifetime. There are bound to be ups and downs on any given trip. Sofia just happened to be a “trip fail”. Perhaps, in a few years, we could give it another go and maybe some of my complaints will have improved. Perhaps next time, to get a true feeling of the town, we would be better suited to have a local show us around to show us what they love so much about their city.

Another travel blogger, Ada from Everlasting Voyage had a completely different experience in Sofia, of which I was quite jealous. She stated that she danced with locals, went on the free food tour and felt incredibly comfortable there. I was quite astounded at the stark contrasts between our visits, only a few short weeks shy of one another. 

I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting the capital of Bulgaria, but I also don’t want to lie to you and say how amazing it was. I think it’s important to share every experience, good or bad, in order to get a true sense of a place before visiting, to know what you’re getting yourself into. 

I’m sorry, but Sofia just didn’t do it for me. And this feeling of not liking a city really bothers me because I fall in love with practically every city! 

Looking for more practical information on Balkan Travel? Grab a copy the following travel guides which we found incredibly useful on our trip and has something for everyone from outdoor activities to historical sites!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase, I might make a little extra spending money, at no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own and these products/services have been found useful during our travels and come highly recommended to you from yours truly!

Other Posts About Bulgaria Which I LOVED:

The PERFECT 2 Week Balkan Road Trip

Exploring the Crown Jewel of Bulgaria: Rila Monastery

Head Over Heels in Love With Plovdiv, Bulgaria 

Bulgaria’s Old Nessebar on the Black Sea 

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Unlucky Misadventures in Sofia, Bulgaria | Why I Didn't Like Sofia, Bulgaria | Trip Fail - California Globetrotter

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Replies to Unlucky Misadventures in Sofia, Bulgaria

  1. Ugh, so sad that you had a bad experience. I always skip ‘traditional’ evenings, as (honestly) they’re always crap and just a tourist trap (exception for Belgrade, where these things are enjoyed by locals as well, as a special treat). Having said that, I totally hate Barcelona, so don’t worry about not liking a certain place. And yes, a nasty hotel or one bad encounter with someone can totally ruin an experience.

    1. Fortunately I didn’t feel the traditional Bulgarian evening was a trap because they locals even went and danced so it was amazing – it was just in a sketchy location and the singing was boring. I loved Barcelona but also went at Christmas during a “low” tourist season so it wasn’t overcrowded!

  2. I think it’s a great thing that you’re open about what you dislike. Lots of people might flame you for it, but so what? It’s your personal experience.

    And yes, a terrible hotel stay can totally destroy a city visit.

  3. Oh no, this made me so sad to read! I lived in Sofia, Bulgaria for four months and absolutely LOVED the city/country! I’m sorry you had such a bad experience…I wish I had known you were going to Sofia, I could have recommended a few things to you! Hopefully you give it another go! xo

  4. Lorelei I love your honesty in this post. I can’t see the point in writing about a place and fluffing it up to make it sound nice. If you didn’t enjoy (and clearly you didn’t) then write about your experience and help your readers avoid a similar disappointment. Hopefully you do make it back again in the future and look at Sofia again with open eyes, and who knows…

  5. I’m sorry you had a bad experience with Sofia. I don’t know much about the city but those things would definitely be a turn off. That hotel experience would definitely dampen any plans. I hope you leave a review on TripAdvisor. Thank you for your honesty with this post.

  6. I’m really sorry to hear about you bad experience in Sofia. I was twice there and my experience was quite positive. Sofia is definitely not beautiful as some other European capitals but it has enough to offer for a two nights stay. I like some architecture like Alexander Nevski Church, Banja Bashi mosque, St Nicholas Russian Church, Ivan Vazov theatre, Synagogue, St Nedelja Chruch etc. Also Vitosha Sreet should be the heart of city center, so I’m confused with the fact you weren’t able to find a place to eat because there are a lot of coffee shops and restaurants there.

  7. Thanks for your honesty, Lori – it’s so refreshing. I always like to hear 2 sides of the story – from those who liked and didn’t like a particular place so I can have a more balanced picture! Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy your stay in Sofia. Hopefully you’ll have a better experience if (or when) you go back!

    1. Thanks Michelle! It’s been quite surprising to see how many people support my honest opinion compared to the few hate mail I have received. I think it’s important to be honest, and I openly admit our time in Sofia was ruined by our TERRIBLE hotel experience. A bad experience with a hotel or rude people can make or break a trip.

      1. So true!! That’s probably why travel experiences are so subjective – but that’s why we love hearing other people’s travel stories, isn’t it? 🙂 And I’m always in disbelief at people who send hate mail. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

  8. Hahaha, I’m not surprised, Lolo. Sofia was never considered a great travel destination. I remember it as a very dull city, but it’s been quite a long time since I’ve seen it. I thought it might have changed over the years, but it seems it didn’t. The only thing that really impressed me there was the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. That huge nave still lingers in my mind after all these years. That breakfast is designed to keep your weight in control (lol!)

    1. Not very appetizing haha – the church was definitely impressive even though it desperately needs some TLC haha – Many people have said they loved Sofia and were sad we had such a terrible experience, so perhaps we missed the better side of Sofia!

  9. Lolo – So sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy Sofia and I can’t believe you had to deal with bed bugs on your honeymoon. But from your posts seems like the rest of the trip was amazing. #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  10. The good, the bad, the ugly…travel enough, and you see it all, right? It’s unfortunate that you had such a sketchy experience. I’ve spoken with several people who really enjoyed Sofia. I notice, though, that they didn’t mention any of the things you did – like the parking or the sidewalks, or the state of disrepair. As you say, it’s good to hear about all aspects of a city to make an informed choice. Thanks for sharing, Lolo! #TheWeeklyPostcard

  11. I love honest posts like these. Sometimes places just don’t live-up to your expectations. Hope your trip got better from there on! #theweeklypostcard

  12. Its only human that you won’t like some of the places you visit and I think you’ve been very fair in your comments. I’ve never been to Sofia myself, so can’t compare experiences but I can see why you didn’t think highly of it! I think its important for bloggers to highlight the reality of destinations rather than always make everything wonderful, so good on you!

    This wouldn’t put me off visiting, but rather make me more aware of what to expect and make sure I do a lot of research on where I stay, eat etc! Thanks for sharing #TheWeeklyPostcard

  13. WOW! Good for you sharing your experience even if it’s wasn’t great! I’m not usually one to share negatives, but that doesn’t apply to an entire place, I m glad you shared this perspective and photos, so the rest of us can be more informed! #theweeklypostcard

    1. Thanks! I honestly contemplated for a long time whether or not to write about it bc I knew it wouldn’t be very pleasant but I can never stay quiet about something that bothers me so much. Makes for a healthy marriage haha lots of open communication!

  14. Sorry you didn’t enjoy your time in Sofia. We recently spent 3 or 4 days there (no planning) and loved our time there, perhaps a bit of an adjustment from Western European capitals but we found it refreshing. One of my best friends from college is Bulgarian so I already a decent understanding of the culture, food, etc. which maybe helped? Hope you get a chance to return to give it a second chance, the poor hotel experience probably contributed to the negative viewpoint.

    1. I had to problem with the culture and food. Those were for sure amazing, I was just so shocked that out of allll the former Communist Countries, Bulgaria’s capital shocked me the most. The hotel experience certainly didn’t help.

  15. Agree with what other commenters have stated. You are entitled to express your experiences in the way you choose. At least you give the place a try. I am glad you had good experiences in other parts of the country. Some people discard an entire county because they didn’t like the capital. Also, I admire your willingness to write about something you didn’t enjoy. I have tried to do the same but I get a huge mental block. It is like I do not want to relieve what happened. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  16. Sorry you had such a bad experience. I completely understand the differences between people and what they will put up with I guess. I’ve heard the same for Cuba especially since it’s open to Americans now. Some people love it and some people hate it. Sounds like the next town you headed to was better. Can’t wait to hear about that. #theweeklypostcard

  17. Oh don’t worry about hating Sofia! I have had been in similar situations in which I didn’t like the city, no matter how others rave about the beauty of the city. That city is Hanoi in Vietnam. Although I had great friends with me during that trip, Hanoi just didn’t leave a very good impression on me – I just couldn’t see past the grey Communist buildings and rude people. I reckon it’s better to be honest than to say all the good stuff in a fake way. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  18. I also love the honesty. it is not easy- both as a tourist on vacation (which we are!) and travel bloggers to write about the dislikes especially if popular opinion finds it otherwise. my question would be- if your experience of visiting was different than your expectations? i personally never been but also would not have expected to fall in love either…

    1. No, my expectations were a little low because I knew we would be going to a former Communist country, but having been to many of them, I still thought that things would be much more improved. Look at Poland. Look at Prague. All very much improved.

  19. Interesting read! I bet if you’d had a good hotel and it hadn’t been your honeymoon it would have been a very different experience. What a pity! I must say though it does make me want to visit Sofia to see if I agree!

  20. Sofia is certainly not Western Europe, but I think the more you are open to the differences, the better it is. I lived there for two and a half months, and while it is not my favorite place I have lived, there is so much I love about it. As for breakfast, if Bulgarians are eating out, they usually hit up a bakery. Banitsa and boza is a classic!

  21. I wish I read this before visiting.
    These days is even worse than on your post.
    People were extremely rude with me. What a terrible exp

  22. Haha. I am Bulgarian and I hate Sofia myself. Bulgaria is definately a country for tripsters who don’t mind looking at long and depressive views of eastern european communistic buildings and people. Next time If you ever decide to come here again (because I know you wouldn’t) I would suggest to go visit Great Turnovo and Etara, Gabrovo also the Monumentum of Mt. Buzludzha i there. They are all really close to each other in the center of Bulgaria. However Sofia… well, It has a beautiful name… I guess…

    1. Maybe in 10-20 years I’ll come back and give it another go, but thanks for the recommendations and nice comment – I’ve gotten a lot of hate mail from others because of this post but we can’t all like everywhere we go!

      1. Interesting post and I can relate in some ways! I visited Bulgaria a few times when I was living in Germany (now back in Canada). The last time was in 2004 on my honeymoon. Sofia left a mixed taste for sure that time and it finally can’t say I survived the trip unscathed. First my sister got her wallet mugged within minutes of getting off a tram by gypsy women. The strange thing is though that 2 serious looking people in shades (one lady, one man) came shortly after and asked what happened claiming they were police. They left and then about 5-10 minutes later brought back the wallet with all the money, and no further words!
        However this left us a bit shaken, and then sadly a week later some fly-by-night airline which I booked had no plane at the airport waiting. Apparently they had left at 4 am, not 4 pm but didn’t send any email confirmations. So we were out over $1000 to get another flight back to Germany! Despite all this, I still would visit again and of course there’s a joke about Sofia – the nicest thing about Sofia is the sign saying “Road to Plovdiv”.

  23. This city still looks fantastic to me! 🙂 I like that you were actually “brave enough” to write about what you didn’t like, even though it might offend some people, but honesty wins. Off to new adventures! 😉

  24. I hear, ready everywhere how awesome Sofia is and how underrated that captial is, which triggered my attention as there surely are plenty of underrated places. So I looked at videos on youtube, pictures, did some google street view and frankly speaking I find it be pretty ugly. Those grafitities, cheap 70s construtions, the shop fronts, pavement. Everything feels extremely cheap and in bad condition. As a photographer I feel I’d have to zoom in a lot and cut out most of the scene in order to produce a good picture.
    I checked on the web if there were some negative comments about the city and you’re the only one I found. Sofia might have a great vibe, but it’s definitely not a pretty city.

    1. I mean there are some pretty beautiful buildings I found in my research of Sofia which was one of the reasons why we decided to go, but yes, there was a lot of graffiti, broken sidewalks, crummy hotels and in general, I was not comfortable there. I hope to one day give it a second chance visit since we didn’t manage to find those beautiful buildings and our overall opinion of our stay soured our first impression. Bucharest has slightly the same feeling but you can see that they are working to improve it, and there are also decay tours which take you into such old rundown buildings and parts of town where you can find beauty in the breakdown, which I would have enjoyed. But something about Sofia seriously rubbed me the wrong way, so we did the bare minimum and moved onto Plovdiv which I HIGHLY recommend visiting

  25. You will be pleased to hear that Sofia has changed quite dramatically since your trip in 2017 and has some wonderful restaurants and bars and some of the pre communism houses in the city centre have been renovated and returned to their former glory and some are now restaurants and bars. Sadly the only thing that hasn’t changed is the graffiti and tagging, it’s literally everywhere and gives the impression of being in a run down, third world and dangerous city, which Sofia isn’t. I find this incredibly depressing and the biggest concern is that the authorities don’t seem to want to do anything about it! Incredibly sad.

  26. Thank you so much for this article. I’m day 3 into my trip to Sofia, after researching how “safe” it is and all of these articles glorifying it, I’m grateful ONE article is honest about this city. I feel so unsafe & disappointed in this city that I feel forced to stay in my hotel at this point.

    I really don’t understand all of the articles encouraging people to come here because I’ve never felt so unsafe in my past 1 1/2 years of nomad life & this is my 4th Eastern European country.

    1. There seem to be some nice areas in Sofia we missed because we also felt very unsafe. Everything was so run down. But maybe one day we might try again should we ever find ourselves there. But don’t let that stop you from visiting many other Balkan/Eastern countries because there are so many other wonderful places to visit!

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