SOFIA (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to explore Sofia? Local correspondents help you get the most out of a stay in Bulgaria’s capital - famous for its cheap prices, good food, thriving night life and post-communist chic.
7 p.m. Start your visit at the heart of the city in the Independence Square, surrounded by the presidential, government and parliament buildings, nicely lit at night. The central building once hosted the headquarters of the much-feared Communist party.
Take the yellow-cobbled road, check out the former royal palace, which now hosts the national gallery and is worth returning to over the weekend for a taste of Bulgarian contemporary art.
Further down the road, right before the plenary hall of the parliament, turn left to see the gold-plated domes of St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral, one of the biggest East Orthodox churches in the Balkans and Sofia’s prime ecclesiastical monument.
8 p.m. After a refreshing walk, you may try the national cuisine at Manastirska Magernitsa, (67, Khan Asparuh St. www.magernitsa.com), a lively spot where you can enjoy traditional Bulgarian cooking and settings, or Pod Lipite (1, Elin Pelin St., www. podlipitebg.com) or Chevermeto (1, Bulgaria Blvd, www.chevermeto-bg.com) where you can also see some folk entertainment.
Try the famous Shopska salad and the local brandy - rakya. If you are into wine-tasting, opt for Mavrud, a native red grape variety which dates back to ancient times.
11 p.m. If your batteries are still charged, plunge into Sofia’s dazzling night-life and experience the joy of “chalga”, Bulgaria’s eclectic blend of folk and pop music, combining live dance tunes with oriental and gypsy motifs.
Nightclubs like BIAD (www.biad.bg) and Sin City (www.sincity-bg.com) offer live music as well as DJ sets. You can also check the clubs in Studentski suburb.
Parties can go on to the wee hours and sometimes involve dancing on the tables. Beware black-clad men with dark glasses and heavy gold chains as well as voluptuous and provocatively clad beauties.
9 a.m. Go for a Bulgarian breakfast including Oriental drink boza (a brown-colored beverage made of fermented wheat or millet) and banitsa (a flaky pastry filled with cheese) at any of the numerous patisseries throughout the capital.
In winter go skiing or in more seasonal weather take a walk at Vitosha mountain just 12 km south of the city center. Grab a taxi or seek public transportation to the mountain lifts in the nearby villages of Simeonovo or Dragalevtsi. Scramble around the huge boulders of the stone rivers near Aleko site or Zlatnite Mostove site, or try to climb Cherni Vrah (Black Peak), Vitosha’s pride at 2,290 meters elevation and enjoy the view.
1 p.m. You can have a snack in some of Vitosha’s huts or head down to the city. Good lunch stops include Dani’s (18A, Angel Kanchev St. www.bistrodanis.com) or the numerous restaurants along Vitosha.
3 p.m. Vitosha Street starts near the pride of the communist era - the National Palace of Culture where fairs and concerts are held -- and ends at St. Nedelya Church. More than 150 people were killed here in a bombing carried out by communists in 1925.
If you are keen on shopping you can try one of the city's burgeoning shopping malls. Try The Mall (www.themall.bg) or Mall of Sofia (mallofsofia.com) but mind they are usually packed during the weekends.
Walk around the city center to get a drink or snack at expat hub J.J. Murphy (6, Karnigradska St. www.jjmurpheys.com) or a dinner at Motto (16, Aksakov St, www.motto-bg.com) or Cactus (at the crossroads of Solunska and Hristo Belchev St, www.restaurant-cactus.com).
8 p.m. If you are up for a retro party on a Saturday night, visit some of the lively piano bars, which actually offer a lot of rock and pop. Try Sinatra (5, Arsenalski Blvd) or Camino (70, Neofit Rilski St.).
9 a.m. Kick off your day with a visit to the National History Museum (www.historymuseum.org). Situated at the foot of Vitosha mountain it hosts hundreds of artifacts of the ancient Thracian tribes, who populated the Bulgarian lands. It is home to the famous Panagyuriste golden treasure, which dates back to 4-3 century B.C. See the adjacent Boyana Church (www.boyanachurch.org), which is about 900 years old and has preserved its Mediaeval frescos.
1 p.m. Go to lunch in Boyana village (Chepishev restaurant, 27 Ivanitsa Danchev St.) or any other restaurant in the area.
Visit Sofia’s famous Women’s Market, close to the capital’s Lion’s Bridge - where you can find everything from fresh food to Chinese cheap goods to antiques. Beware of pickpockets.
Additional reporting by Irina Ivanova, editing by Paul Casciato