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Sofia Hotels

Hello people of the RS Bulgaria Forum, is anyone out there? I am a veteran of the RS Italy and Spain forums, but a newcomer to Bulgaria and this forum. I have just booked the RS Bulgaria Tour for September, and could use a little guidance. I am fortunate to be able to fly over on mileage, and to arrange that will arrive in Sofia for 5 nights before the tour begins, a great opportunity to explore. The tour spends its first two nights and its last night at the Crystal Palace Hotel in Sofia, which from its web site and reviews seems marvelous and certainly reasonably priced around US$80 per night. Ordinarily for nights before a tour, I love to book the same hotel as the tour, without needing to move. But for five nights, maybe some diversity of hotel and neighborhood would be good too.

I have spotted the Magic Castle Hotel, also seems very nice with great reviews, with an even lower price around US$50 per night. Do any of you know either or both of these, or perhaps recommend a different hotel in Sofia? I am NOT interested in real fancy or elegant or international chain hotels, but a nice friendly, comfortable, centrally-located smaller hotel, even B & B, to make my home as I explore Sofia and nearby areas. While I appreciate affordable and good value, I certainly am not choosing by price alone. Thanks, and if there are helpful folks on this forum, I'm sure I will be back with some more questions.

Posted by
12546 posts

Bulgaria is one of my favorite places. Maybe because it’s the number of tourists you meet, maybe it’s the people (love them). I’m “okay” with villages; some have been interesting, some not so and a few just somewhat disturbing. The further off the beaten track you get the more likely are the Turkish toilets which are “interesting”. We hit quite a few last year during our 7 day drive from Sofia to Istanbul.

I happen to like Sofia. I think it gets a bum rap. But my interests are extremes, either put me on an isolated river with fishing pole or put me in a city. The grey areas just don’t light my fire. You can easily spend three full days in Sofia seeing the history and all told I have spent close to a week there and could spend many more days if necessary. A guide might make it more meaningful to you and I will PM you the name of a guide I like. She can take you out of town on day trips too if you like. Out side of town one of the more enjoyable days was spent on the Septemvri - Dobrinishte narrow gauge railway. A good day or overnight trip with interest at both ends.

As far as your hotel, I don’t like the location of Ricks hotel or the one you mentioned. I suggest you find a hotel near the main pedestrian shopping street; Vitosha blvd. Good food, some night life, lots of shops, well located to see the rest of the good parts of town. The two hotels near there that I am familiar with are the Art ‘Otel and the Premier Thracia Hotel.

If you hadn't booked your flights yet, I might be inclined to fly first to Bucharest and spend a few days in Romania, then move on to Sofia. Istanbul would have been my first choice a few years ago, but having seen it, I wasn't as impressed as I had hoped I would be. As pointed out above Israel would be fascinating. The trouble with all of these is if you already have your flights you will be doing round trips and that wastes a lot of time. In that case I would stay in Bulgaria with a good guide maybe. Another option would be a circular route through Macedonia returning to Sofia. Its nice three night trip. Again, I guide would help.

Posted by
865 posts

I can only speak to the Crystal Palace Hotel. It's a perfectly nice, chain-style hotel. My room was right over the main entrance and across from the charming little park, but I didn't experience any noise issues. Some people on our tour, however, mentioned being kept awake till all hours by the music pounding out of the hotel bar.

There are several restaurants in the area, and the hotel is within walking distance to pretty much everything.

Enjoy the tour!

Posted by
19172 posts

I'm with Kaeleku on the Sofia situation. With the tour seemingly spending about 2 days there, I wouldn't be looking to add more than one additional day in Sofia. I liked both Plovdiv and Veliko Trnovo (pickpocket alert), plus the coastal towns of Sozopol and Nessebar, but the latter are far from Sofia and dense with tourists (beaches!).

I had such good luck with two low-cost tours I picked up locally in Romania that I will suggest you consider that option in Bulgaria. Trains and public buses in the Balkans don't cover ground very rapidly; I found 30 mph was a good average, and there were places I simply couldn't visit in a reasonable timeframe without a car. You can see a lot more with a small-group tour if you're interested in more rural destinations. Even having a private car and driver for a day or two might be affordable.

Posted by
2265 posts

Thanks to all of you for these speedy, thoughtful and detailed responses! And here I thought maybe nobody was watching the RS Bulgaria Forum, since there were so few comments this year., hah! I have read and done further research on everything you mentioned here or in James's PM, including hotels, possible day or multi-day trips, photos and tour companies/guides. First, I should give you a little more big-picture information about my whole trip. I will do both the RS Bulgaria Tour, and then the RS Turkey Tour, separated by 4 days in Istanbul, before the RS tour covers the main sites in Istanbul over 3 days. The only way I could manage this was that (1) these two tours are nearby each other and both quite low-priced among RS Tours (2) they were both "on sale", and (3) I was able to arrange the California-Europe flights "on mileage". You probably all know that it is hard to schedule mileage flights on the exact days you want, and the only day I could fly for a Sept 4 RS tour starting in Sofia was to depart Aug 29, arriving Aug 30. I never planned to spend all those days until Sept 4 just seeing Sofia, and expected to do some day trips, either on my own or with day tours. I will start a separate thread focused on day trips from Sofia, but I certainly won't be spending those days in Turkey. I do not plan to rent a car and toodle around Bulgaria by myself, and don't expect that I will be able to hire a private guide and car just for myself either, but who knows. So, I may be limited in terms what is feasible, unless I happen on other tourists in Sofia who want to share an experience, expense and maybe a car. James, I looked into your recommended hotels and others, and came to a tentative decision. Since I will be at the Crystal Palace for 3 nights with the RS Tour, I figure I will get to know the Sofia "hotel scene" at that time. So, I have made a reservation (still changeable) at a very nice and highly-recommended (through Booking.com) Casa Ferrari B & B, which is highlighted by a very personable and helpful local owner/host family. It is on a residential street and something of a healthy but reasonable walk to the very center of town, but I figure it will give me a good "down home" welcome to Bulgarian life, and at the modest price of US$43 per night, I could even manage to leave my things there in my room and make an overnight trip away from Sofia, if I decide to. Maybe some of you know this #1 rated B & B.

Posted by
19172 posts

Congrats on managing two very interesting, top-quality tours on the cheap. I've managed my last two trips to Europe with airline miles, so I know that can be tricky.

I snagged the great and inexpensive 2-day trip I took to Maramures (Romania) last year by following up on a comment Google uncovered about a youth hostel that sends customers up there. I stopped in when I got to the appropriate city and there was a tour leaving in a couple of days. There weren't flyers floating around on that one; you had to know whom to ask. The one-day trip to Bucovina was marketed by hotels and thus easier to find out about. The tourist offices will know about most of the tour options. I agree that a private tour, even in Bulgaria, may not fit in with a tight budget. I think--don't hold me to this--one guide quoted a cost upwards of $150 (a lot of money in Romania) for a day-trip. But you may well run into another single traveler, or a couple, who is interested in a private tour. Check at the Sofia T.O. when you arrive.

Posted by
6745 posts

Hi Larry, I don't think anyone is actively watching the Bulgaria Forum. Ever since I discovered the "All Topics" link which simply shows all the incoming threads, I don't even go into the individual forums anymore. But I digress...

One thing that's well known in Sofia is their free (well, probably a small tip would be appreciated) city walking tours that are probably led by young people around the city. Even if this info is repeated on the RS Tour, why not take it? At least you'll have a sense of comparison between the RS Tour and a free mini-tour, and you'll have a nice introduction into the city. If you have time, I would learn some basic cyrillic symbols because that's probably the biggest challenge.

I think you're really lucky to have extra time to just soak in the atmosphere. There's nothing wrong at all with doing low key things - not every attraction needs to be on a top ten list. I enjoy just seeing different neighborhoods and hanging out and eating for hours and going to local stores and seeing the scenery as if I lived there. I'm sure I wouldn't be bored staying in Sofia for 4 days or even a week - but I don't get bored that easily. Maybe this will help too: http://www.inyourpocket.com/sofia

Having said that, I would definitely consider seeing the Rhodopi Mountains (or other mountain range like Rila) as a day trip - what can be more beautiful? The RS tour skips this altogether (except for the monastery visit which isn't exactly a nature hike), it's one of the highlights of the whole country. I saved this link for future travels - it has a choice of day hikes from Sofia that are guided (and includes unguided trips as well): http://bulgariawalking.com/index.php

Posted by
2265 posts

Thanks again acraven and Agnes. Agnes, in one message you gave me 3 great resources, including the RS "All Topics" link, that I had not noticed before, and which will save me lots of time instead clicking around the various forums. Related to lodging, the guests' comments about the B & B where I have my reservation highlighted how informed, enthusiastic and helpful the owner/host was, adding to guests understanding of Bulgarian culture and Sofia. In the confirmation I received, he shared that unfortunately he would be away on vacation during my visit, but that his "substitute" would take good care of me. So, while I still like the B & B and the affordable price, and still have my reservation, I am again open to alternatives. While I like to keep expenses down during a 5-week trip, I am also open to a spluge when it offers something special, especially related to experiencing and understanding the local culture.

Posted by
19172 posts

I was pleasantly surprised last year about how many young people speak English throughout the Balkans. Except for beach resorts, Bulgaria isn't flooded with tourists, so it will probably be easier than you imagine to strike up conversations with local residents.

Posted by
2525 posts

The Crystal Palace Hotel is very nice in a pleasant neighborhood with a park just across the street. I would gladly stay there again. Walking from there to attractions was easy, even for the somewhat directionally challenged. The RS Bulgaria Tour is great!

Posted by
2265 posts

A month from today I will be getting to know Sofia! I have not yet fully pursued the possibilities for other visits near Sofia before my RS Best of Bulgaria begins on Sept 4. I have been dealing with challenges for the second part of my trip following Bulgaria. I was to join the RS Best of Turkey tour after a few days on my own in Istanbul, but you may have heard that due to the political unrest in Turkey and subsequent US State Dept travel advisory, RS has, "with a heavy heart," cancelled all remaining 2016 tours in Turkey, first time they have ever cancelled any tour due to such conditions in a country. So, I am working with RS staff who are very helpful with any needed adjustments. Looks like there is an Adriatic Tour in my near future, maybe still with a few days in Istanbul on my own. Lemons to lemonade, for sure.

Posted by
6745 posts

RS has, "with a heavy heart," cancelled all remaining 2016 tours in Turkey, first time they have ever cancelled any tour due to such conditions in a country.

Larry, that's really sad news (the news wasn't posted anywhere that I know of - the tours just disappeared off the listings it seems). I suspected this would happen unfortunately because folks are probably cancelling in droves. Since you'll be in Bulgaria already, would you consider Romania as a substitute for the Turkish tour? I looked into the tours by Covinnus Travel since they were mentioned on this forum (http://covinnus.com/). Hope to finally go next year (was supposed to go this year)!