Sofia is vibrant city, full of art and history, delectable food to sample, and yet you will not find the usual crowds of tourists even during high season. If that doesn’t have you Google-ing plane tickets (which by the way, are quite affordable from most European cities and since it’s a short flight. The Sofia nightlife scene is excellent, much like you’d find in Budapest, too. No need to worry whether you’ll be comfortable with RyanAir), Sofia is also a great point to start off your Balkan adventures. It is well-connected to the rest of the country, as well as our neighbours.
Fun fact: fish for Sofia’s restaurants comes from Thessaloniki, since it is closer than our own seaside.
But while you can read about sights and must-visit monuments in any guidebook, the nightlife in Sofia remains largely unexplored by most foreigners (except those who live here, of course). And for that exact reason, I am coming at you with an insider review and recommendations for bars, clubs and discos in Bulgaria’s capital.
The Sofia nightlife scene is quite varied — from smokey rock clubs, to fancier clubs with great DJ sets, to the infamous chalga discos (lovingly called chalgoteka by the locals). Usually you would start the night off with drinks at a bar or a park in summer and then around midnight to 1AM people start heading to clubs.
Pre-drinks could also be a house party, of course, but when it’s warmer you will notice everybody gravitating towards beer in the park. Technically, drinking in public is not “very” legal, but unlike the US, it is kind of the norm during the the summer. Some nice Bulgarian beers are Zagorka Retro (highly recommended), Kamenitza and Ariana. As for cider (another popular park drink) — the only domestic one is an apple cider by the name of Kradetsat na Qbulki (look for a bottle with a fox on it) which is decent, but not spectacular.
As for bars in the Sofia nightlife scene, basically anything in the Vitosha street area is good. One of my personal favourites is The Cocktail Bar. It has an awesome atmosphere with its’ twinkle lights, retro vibe and the tiny, cobble stone-covered park in front of it (actually, it is so small that it might be best to consider it a garden), but as the name suggests, the cocktails are what makes it great.
Some recommendations — Whiskey Sour, Negroni or the classic Margaritas. The only downside to this one is the slightly higher price range. A cocktail can easily cost you up to 10 BGN (which is still cheap, compared to other European countries, but in regars to Sofia nightlife seems expensive).
At the other end of the price spectrum is Bar Katerina. This one is slightly hidden in a courtyard just next to Slaveikov square. Use Google Maps and try asking someone on the street if you are having trouble finding it. The entrance to the court is right between a pharmacy and a shoe shop. Once inside, look to the right and there you have it — your personal affordable cocktail heaven. Their Bloody Mary’s are probably the best in town, but honestly, you can’t go wrong with ordering anything from their impressively big menu. The one thing I do not particularly like is that they let you smoke inside, but that might be a perk for some.
Once you feel sufficiently tipsy, it is time to head to a club. To make it all easier here are my top picks for Sofia nightlife, divided by category:
Yalta is a classic and would be where the best DJ are invited, so check out their website and Facebook page beforehand. Bedroom Premium is impressive in atmosphere and decor, if somewhat overpriced when it comes to drinks.
Culture Beat is one of my recent discoveries with really awesome music, as well as location (it is inside the National Palace of Culture) and has an amazing view towards Vitosha. Another one in NDK (which is the abbreviation for National Palace of Culture) is the Sky Plaza Rooftop Bar. This one is literally the best when it comes to a good cool/affordable balance. As the name tells you, it is a rooftop bar. Getting there might be trick though — you don’t enter from the front, but you go to the right side of the building, walk down to its’ corner and go up the stairs where it says Studio 5. There you can ask the security guys if you have trouble finding the elevator. I know it sounds complicated, but trust me, once you are sipping that drink and enjoying some house music as you look over the skyline you will know it was worth it.
For top 40 style music your best bet is Once Upon A Time Biblioteka. It is literally located inside the National Library (hence the Biblioteka in the name) and is usually quite fun, although there is the occasional slow night. One cool thing about it is that the entrance fee is just 5 BGN and Thursdays are free entrance nights. The drinks they make are pretty decent and well-priced and you will love the retro vibe of the decor (if fun retro vibe in decor is something that impresses you).
Another place like that is Sugar. Be warned though, it is not very big and people smoke inside, so if that is something that bothers you, you would be better off avoiding the place. For Eastern European women and tourists alike, go on a Friday night, a.k.a. Ladies Night where you get a free entrance and free drinks (yup, really, although they are only slightly alcoholic cocktails).
Guys might feel kind of discriminated, since the entrance fee for them is 10BGN, but hey, at least there will be a lot of cute girls around. And a very important tip — in summer go up to the terrace, the fresh breeze is just what you need to power through dancing the night away.
The first recommendation here is slightly… soft core, if you will. It is still rock music, but they tend to opt for the hits so don’t expect a lot of classic rock outside what is popular (the Bon Jovi you are going to hear for instance — probably only It’s my life). That being said, in Terminal 1 there are always plenty of people so you are in for a really fun, long night. Also, they make great Bloody Mary shots, if you are wondering what to get drunk on.
For those of you that are not into that watered down version of hard rock, how about Rock’n’Roll-a? There is some hardcore metal, the alcohol is cheap and the place has a cozy charm to it (surprising as it sounds). There is not a lot of dancing there, for obvious reasons, but if you and your buddies are into that kind of music you will have a great time just chilling there and probably even make some new friends with similar interests.
This could become an article on its own. Basically, chalga, or pop folk, is our weird little mix of folk songs, belly dance-style rhythms and pop beats. It’s an integral part of Bulgarian culture. More than music, it is kind of associated with a certain lifestyle of a lot of cheap bling for the gals, and bulky muscles, gold chain necklaces and all-out macho attitude for the gents. You could say chalga fans are not the nicest of people. But still, somehow we all listen to chalga at some point of the night (especially at house parties). There is something about it that brings people to the dance floor.
So, to experience the chalga-frenzy you have two options. One would be the chalga clubs in the city center. I recommend Planeta Payner Club which is spacious, with a lot of room for dancing, the drinks are ok and the party goes on all night. One downfall is the lack of decent face control, which means you should really be careful who you hook up with — some of the people in the club might be underage. But then again, the same general rule applies to most discos, chalga clubs in particular. Another chalga place in the city center is Revue. It was recently renewed so now the interior is pretty nice, alcohol is well-priced and the crowd is pretty diverse. You will end up having a lot of fun.
Then there is Studentski Grad (a literal translation is Students’ town), which is slightly far away from the center and is an entire experience in itself.
First and foremost, if you are a student or if you still have your student ID (or ISIC card, and sometimes you might even pass with an expired one) bring it. There is no entrance fee for students, and even if it is just 5BGN, that money is better better spent on a vodka, right?
Secondly, since it’s not exactly in the center (and hence, close to your accommodation) have a plan for going back — a designated driver or extra money for a cab (side note, Uber is banned in Bulgaria, so that is not an option). It is also a good idea to do pre-drinks in the area. A place I always recommend is Harem Lounge since they also have shisha there.
Then for actual clubs, Club 33 and Plaza , which funnily enough are on the same street, one facing the other, are quite popular. There are often live performances and the chalga hits are usually played, so those are good places to be acquainted with the basics of pop folk. Another one is The Cotton Club and I hear it is pretty fun, although I have not actually been there myself, so no first-hand experience.
At the end of the night, look for the infamous Mandzha Street (no, it is not an real name of a street).
Your best bet is to ask any local outside the club. What you will find is basically a row of barracks where you can get huge, delicious and really cheap street food such as kebab, burgers and fries. Just the greasy meal you need after a night of drinking!
Got questions regarding Sofia nightlife? Leave them in the comments below!
PS: If you want to meet a local Bulgarian girl to show you the ropes of the Sofia nightlife scene, start here.
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