Incredible Luxury Is Incredibly Affordable In This European Capital

In Sofia, affordability and luxury go hand in hand.

By Sasha Mishkin

To experience luxury for less, book yourself a Balkan getaway to Sofia, Bulgaria’s vibrant capital. From lavish museums and captivating operas, to fine dining restaurants and top-rated spas, Sofia offers European indulgences that don’t cost a fortune. This list includes eight decadent ways for travelers to round out even the grandest Balkan fantasy, at extremely reasonable prices.

PHOTO:Takashi Images/Shutterstock

Live Like Royalty (If Only for a Few Days)

Sofia Hotel Balkan is the epitome of old-world grandeur. White-gloved attendants greet you by name, a weather report is slipped under your door each morning, and turndown service prepares you for a restful night after a full day of sightseeing. As part of the President’s Palace complex, the hotel features a historical Roman fortress that guests can view all around the property. Start your mornings with fresh coffee on the patio of the hotel’s Stardust Restaurant and watch daily life ensue in the plaza below.

INSIDER TIP While the cost of a classic room at the Sofia Hotel Balkan is typically $115 per night, you can expect a complimentary room upgrade as a Marriott member.


Tantalize Your Taste Buds

With savory offerings of farm-raised meats and fresh shopska salads, you’ll want to eat your weight in hearty Bulgarian cuisine. When you see the menu prices, you likely will. At Cosmos, one of Sofia’s most exclusive restaurants, you can elevate your taste buds with a truly original tasting menu.

INSIDER TIP Opt for the tasting menu with wine pairing for $75 USD per person and have a meal you’ll not soon forget.


Discover Sofia’s Lustrous History

If you thought Cinderella’s carriage was make-believe, all it takes is one trip to Sofia’s History Museum to prove otherwise. Have fun posing in front of the king’s gilded horse-drawn carriage before making your way to the National Historical Museum for a personalized tour of the exhilarating collection of Thracian gold and jewels. After a remarkable passage through time, settle into an elegant afternoon of coffees and cakes at Vila Rosiche.

INSIDER TIP An hour-and-a-half tour at the National Historical Museum is under $20, but if you’re pressed for time, opt for some self-guided fun at the Sofia History Museum.

PHOTO:Tempus Vini Wine Point

Drink Like a Greek God for Less Than $15

As the story goes, the ancient Dionysus was worshipped as the god of wine (and was more formally known as the god of the grape harvest) by the people in Bulgaria’s Thracian region. Located in Bulgaria’s southeastern tip and sharing a border with Greece, this area still makes wine of superior quality. Enjoy a few glasses, or share a bottle, at one of Sofia’s lively wine bars, and buy an extra glass as an offering for Dionysus.

INSIDER TIP Visit Tempus Vini Wine Point, a boutique wine shop, to bring a taste of Bulgaria home.


See an Unforgettable Show

Sofia’s National Opera and Ballet is as breathtaking as the performances that grace its stage. Take in a piece of literature come to life, like “Eugene Onegin,” Alexander Pushkin’s classic Russian masterpiece. It’s one of today’s most commonly performed operas, and you can see it for less than $20 USD.

INSIDER TIP During intermission, visit the bar for a flute of champagne. The cost is the same as a Starbucks latte and is certain to enhance Act II.

PHOTO:Yevhenii Slivin/Shutterstock

Get a Rose-Infused Glow From Head to Toe

The Bulgarian rose is coveted for more than its lovely scent. Beyond a healthy glow, it promises benefits like regeneration, hydration, and rejuvenation. In Sofia, you can treat yourself to a stress-relieving rose oil massage or facial at the Spa Demetra (where massages start at $26).

INSIDER TIP For deep pampering, book appointments for the first and last nights of your trip and experience Bulgarian’s wellness and beauty secrets.

PHOTO:Andrii Lutsyk/Shutterstock

Add to Your Art Collection

In Sofia, crowds of art enthusiasts gather every day of the week. On Tsar Samuil, you will find locals and tourists alike admiring the unique paintings, sculptures, and (most surprisingly) antique dolls that enliven the street’s art galleries. Whether you’re adding to an already growing collection or just starting out this is the best area to find impressive art at reasonable rates.

INSIDER TIP The Absinthe Gallery is known for its watercolor paintings. Stare at one willfully and you’ll be offered a complimentary glass of wine.


Enjoy a Nightcap in a Candle-Lit Barn

Hambara isn’t your typical speakeasy. If you didn’t already know about it, you’d have no chance of stumbling upon the wooden door at the end of an unmarked alley. The converted barn once served as a watering hole for the Intelligentsia. Even as tourists smarten up to Hambara’s whereabouts due to Sofia’s wildly popular pub crawls, Hambara stays true to its underground roots and is lit only by candles. Order your favorite spirit neat and philosophize with new friends.

INSIDER TIP As you could expect from a bar with no electricity, prepare to pay in cash with the local Bulgarian Lev.

This article was originally published by Fodor’s.

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