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Without expectations yet satisfied - Sofia sees growth in weekend tourists

Photo: Free Sofia Tour

Foreign tourists in Sofia have increased by 19% since the time before the Covid crisis, reported the Sofia Municipality. But we do not need statistics to convince ourselves of the growing foreign interest in the Bulgarian capital - it is enough to walk in the city center to hear different languages spoken at every step. A common sight are the large groups that cross the historical part of the city several times a day, led by the Free Sofia Tour guides. 

"These are tourists who arrive from all the countries from which there are low-cost flights to Sofia. It is the low-cost airlines that fuel tourism in the city because it is mostly about weekend tourism," says Tomislav Rashkov from Free Sofia Tour

In front of Ivan Vazov National Theatre
What are the reasons why more and more tourists choose Sofia?‎
"This is a destination that is unknown to them, they don't have many expectations when it comes to this type of short-term tourism in Sofia. One of the first questions I ask them is, 'How many of you have any information or have read anything before they came here?" and more than 90% of the people in the group shrug their shoulders and say "We have no idea". Recently, an interesting phenomenon has been observed - people arriving here on so-called "surprise flights". You book a flight for a longer weekend at a relatively low price, but without knowing exactly where it will take you, and you arrive in a city like Sofia, which is an unexpected experience. For these people, Sofia is a surprise, a city in Eastern Europe, which seems to them more "exotic", different from what they are used to seeing in the so-called massively popular cities for tourism," explains Tomislav Rashkov.‎

Weekend guests from Italy, Germany, Romania and Turkey are the most numerous, visits from Great Britain and Greece are recovering, according to data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What impresses our guests the most? 
Saint George Rotunda in Sofia
"Firstly, it is that Sofia is one of the most ancient cities in Europe, that it has thousands of years of history behind it - these are different layers that are visible in a contrasting way and are concentrated in the center of the historic city. Within a few steps we are talking about ancient Serdica, about the Middle Ages, about different religious minorities and cultures that passed through this city. The city itself was at the crossroads of the Roman Empire. We are literally "diving" from one historical segment into another and we jump from period to period within 2 hours, and I think this fascinates them a lot," explains Tomislav Rashkov.

Foreigners are also excited by the history of Sofia as the capital of a country with a 45-year socialist past and want to visit the Museum of Totalitarian Art. They are interested in where to eat typical Bulgarian food and where to have fun. ‎

Rila Monastery
The most popular day trips from the capital city are the Rila Monastery, the Seven Rila Lakes and Plovdiv. Guests also head to Vitosha Mountain. But here they run into a problem. "Unfortunately, Vitosha is not sufficiently well developed as a tourist destination, there is no well-organized public transport to the mountain," says Tomislav Rashkov. And more:

Ancient amphitheatre in Plovdiv
‎"We often receive complaints related to urban planning itself, i.e. how to navigate and get from one place to another. We have 5 different types of signs in our urban space. Some of them are only in Cyrillic, others in Latin letters, with different colors and markings. This is extremely confusing. Also, Sofia is one of few cities in Europe where pedestrians have to go underground to cross the street, and cars have priority above ground. But in the end, the guests remain pleasantly surprised and satisfied with their stay in Sofia," said Tomislav Rashkov in conclusion.‎

Read also:
Photos: Free Sofia Tour, rilskimanastir.org, Plovdiv Municipality

English publication by Rositsa Petkova
Listen to the daily news from Bulgaria presented in "Bulgaria Today" podcast, available in Spotify.

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