It is very hard to find a tourist map of Sofia. It is also hard to get information on tours etc. The tourist information office (which actually is hard to find) can give general information on what is available, but you have to go elsewhere to actually book or find out prices etc.
Unique Suggestions: Try and have a Sofia map before you arrive in the city.
Don't trust the exchange rates published largely on the board with some of the money changers. When you get inside there is a smaller table for the exchange rate that they actually use and you are a lot worse off. Ignore them and use a bank or get money off an ATM machine as they charge a more reliable bank exchange rate. It's prevalent here in Sofia.
Beware of the exchange offices on Vitosha Street. They are marked clearly with big red signs "CHANGE" and show a correct exchange rate. However, as you walk in, the rate changes and as you pass the money you are about to lose 10-15% of your amount. Official scammers! Threaten to call the police and some thugs will wander nearby. You have been warned!
Unique Suggestions: In weekends, as most banks are closed, you will need to exchange some money. If you don't have the possibility to withdraw cash from an ATM, look 4 times inside the exchange office for any details of the correct exchange rate. Ask the person behind the counter for the exact exchange rate. DO NOT GIVE YOUR MONEY FIRST! The moment you have passed them through the window you will never receive anything back except for the Levas they feel like offering.
Fun Alternatives: Definetely the ATM or a Bank is the Alternative for exchanging in Sofia. If you are in total need of Leva I would exchange small ammounts of money at these exchange rip-offs
Don't exchange any money in the airport!
When I was there in April, 2008 the airport gave me 1.65 on the Euro.
The same day, in the bank, I got 1.95 on the Euro!
Thanks to Linse, http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/26622/
I knew enough not to change more than 20 Euro at the airport.
Unique Suggestions: If you absolutely must change some - like I did - then change the absolute minimum of money that you might need till you can get to a bank.
Fun Alternatives: Use banks only!
The money changers can also fleece you.
Be sure that you have your passport with you.
Located close to Sheraton, Happy Bar and grill (corner Stamboliski bld and Vitosha) ..
At the front they show official exchange rates. But once you hand over your bills you notice that the difference between official and the used rates ( I noticed a difference of 30 %)
When you react: no mercy, they point at an hidden pannel, which you hardly notice with the used rates, u signed the papers and it s over.
I called the police: no mercy... lost some 30 euro this way....
Unique Suggestions: Don t go...
Check everything before signing...
Fun Alternatives: Banks are much better.
in Bank you get 1,955 Lev per Euro, here : 1, 55
No ther comment
If you book via internet be sure to check at least 3-4 different web sites and and least 4-5 hotels.
Sometimes - especially on web sites targeting foraigners hotels ask too much ... so, double check with various offers if the prices are real ...
Unique Suggestions: If you're not sure if the price is real or not - at least check the hotel photos and make sure it looks good :)
The Trams are nice, and very cheap. The taxies are cheap too, and is a good option if you don?t know the tram or the bus you have to catch. Sometimes, taxi drivers do not speak english, and you can have problems to explain where you want to go.
The buses are very old, but they work well.
As in each big city (although Sofia is not that big) the traffic in Sofia is very very bad... And I am not talking only about traffic jams, which are normal in the peak hours. When driving in Sofia keep in mind that nobody on the road follows the rules. Be ready for many dirty tricks. If you need to park especially in the center look for paid parking places. Don't just park where all others did as for sure they have just broken another rule.
Unique Suggestions: If you need to park in the center of the city try to search for a paid parking place. Paid doesn't always mean "guarded". There are two kinds of parking plots in Sofia center:
1. The so called "Blue Zone" - these are places in the city where you are allowed to park only if you have obtained the so called "Blue parking tickets" (Ask at you hotel where you can buy some. At some Blue zone parkings there are people dressed in signal yellow jackets striding between the cars - these are the people who actually sell the tickets but they are not found everywhere). You can get such a ticket for 0,50 Bulgarian leva (BGN) and it gives you the right to park in the blue zone for 30 mins or you can get one for 1,00 BGN and it is good for an hour. If you would like to park for more than one hour just make sure you use enough tickets. They have to be put under the front screen so the inspectors can see them. Then you have to mark the month/date/time you have parked on all tickets.
2. If you would like to park on a guarded parking plot you can recognize them easily - they always have a barrier at the entrance. However you will have to pay 2,00 - 4,00 BGN per hour.
Fun Alternatives: Here is something that I should NOT say. However I know how useful such an info can be so... If you ever get cought by the traffic police keep in mind that they (99% of them the minimum) are very corrupt. Which mean that for a little "tip" they could fail to see your fault instead of causing you undesirable problems. Don't be surprised when they start saying "and now let's see what we can do..."
In order to go into the Icon Museum in the St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral Crypt one should pass trough the Icon Shop.
This place, in my opinion, is a typical tourist trap. The icons sold there cost an arm and a leg. The prices might g up to EUR 800 someimes even more.
One can buy icons of the same quality on the street next to the Cathedral for half of the price, even less.
Unique Suggestions: After all, if you had decided to buy an icon from that shop, do not forget to ask if the icon has a certificate it is not "national treasury" in other words you are not exporting a unique piece of art that should stay within Bulgarian borders.
Otherwise, you might have some problems when going trough the Customs.
Fun Alternatives: As an alternative I would suggest to you to buy icons on the street next to the Cathedral.
The other option that I would recommend is the icon shop near Radisson SAS.
Having looked at other people's tips about Sofia a couple of warnings seemed to be common - don't change money at the airport and be careful about the taxis.
Fun Alternatives: A lot of the bureau de change do offer poor rates, however there are two options to get around this. Turn left towards the cafe in the arrivals hall, head up about 3 or 4 steps and you will find OTP Bank (I think) which offers competitive rates. There are also ATMs to be found in the departure terminal and in the customs building next to the arrivals building.
If you are concerned about taxi touts there is now an office of OK Supertrans in the arrivals terminal between the two exits, they will book you a taxi for immediate collection and take you to the centre of town for about 6BGL.
24 April 04
I think a lot of rubbish has been said about Romanians / Bulgarians and people from the Czech Republic in here because ive been to all three countries and had NO trouble from Pickpockets / Gypsy's or anyone else because Ive been hiring English speaking guides (All Female) for years and they are worth their weight in gold.
I hire guides from travel agents or advertise for one the Net , and her job is to help me all day and sort any problems I come up against so think about the following and try it , you wont regret hiring a guide even if your a couple or group.
1 .... You don't get cheated by taxi drivers / shops / restaurants etc because the girl wont let them.
2 ..... if you want to go anywhere ? ? the girl knows how to get there.
3 ..... very few people would mug a tourist who's got a local girl with him .
4 ..... if you want to know about something in a museum .. the girl can translate the description .
5 ..... if any officials ( Metro Inspectors / Police etc ) ask you for anything the girl can understand and answer for you.
6 ..... talking to a local girl all day is a BIG bonus as you get to find out about other peoples culture and country ....and they may learn a little about yours.
7 ..... the girl can read / translate a menu you cant .
8 ..... you can go from the best areas of any City ... to the worst ... without trouble from local people.
How I do it is ... I give the girl some money every morning (usually about $ 50 in local currency) so she pays for all Taxis / Trams / Entrance Tickets / Camera Taxes / Meals / Drinks etc for both of us all day, and at the end of the day she gives me back what she hasn't spent ... and I pay her..... that way she's happy .... Im happy ... and ive NEVER been cheated once.
Dave ( Bristol UK )
Ps I got a great guide called Dessy from Iskra and Stefka at ...BrillTravel.com ...and I also met Vessela and Natalia in Sofia through .. amateur guides.com
Unique Suggestions: DONT Go Alone ! !
Good food, good wine (and not only), laid back life - after less than a week of that my friend couldn't take any more...
Unique Suggestions: Fasting - for months, no music, no dancing, work-work-work 48 hours a day
Fun Alternatives: No alternative (none that I know of)
Most of the taxi drivers will charge you a lot of money when they see you are a foreigner.
Still I would reccomend you to use cabs then other transportation like busses or tramways.
Unique Suggestions: I would advise you to take a carefull look on the taximeter while you are using a cab.
The usual rip-offs are everywhere for the unwary. But in particular, be wary of being befriended by seemingly good-natured fellows at bars who want to drink with you. If they buy you drinks, make sure you see the waiter deliver it personally--otherwise, it could be drugged. And don't let anyone take you home (yours or theirs). It's a good way to get robbed. It's not happened to me, but I've seen it happen to plenty of tourists.
Also, the government itself seems bent on ripping you off when you enter and exit the country. If you are staying for more than two days, you must 'register' with the authorities even if you don't need a visa. Hotels should do this for you, but if you are staying in private accomodations and don't register, you will be prevented from leaving until you go back into the city and pay a fine at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which means you will likely miss your flight. Additionally, DO NOT go through the red lane at customs unless you do have things to declare, even if there does not appear to be anyone manning the green lane. They will use that as an excuse to search you and take things from you. Conversely, DO NOT go into the green lane if you do have something to declare, even if there is no one manning the red lane. They will use that as an excuse to accuse you of trying to smuggle things and sieze everything you have, possibly even arresting you. This is not due to language problems--it has happened to Bulgarians, too.
This Ivan Vazov National Theater in the city park is a model of Baroque architecture. Along the facade of this majestic building six columns with beautiful capital support a large triangular pediment, decorated with mythological high reliefs. In the same way as the antique shrines, they remind us that this is a temple of culture. To the sides two towers rise up, topped by sculptures of the Goddess Nike.
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