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The Bulgarian city of Sofia is an exciting location with abundant wining and dining venues, and a pleasing fusion of architectural gems ranging from pictorial churches to grandiose Communist-era edifices. The 1,400-year-old Hagia Sophia Church is just one of numerous highlights. People exploring the mountain regions surrounding the city and the western area of the country with car hire will discover Sofia is an ideal base.
Who to Book With
All the usual global car rental companies are represented in Sofia, with the likes of Thrifty, Avis, Hertz and National among them. These firms are complemented by a profusion of local suppliers which include VEGER Rent a Car and Autorental Bulgaria. Booking online offers the best deals from both international and Bulgarian car supply companies.
Best Time to Go
For city sightseeing and forays into mountain resorts, any time from early May to mid-October is a good time to visit. July and August tend to be hot and accommodation fills up quickly, which pushes prices up. There are not usually any bargains to be found on accommodation or rental cars at this time of year. The ski season at the nearby resorts of Borovets and Vitosha starts in mid-December and lasts until early spring.
Need to Know Essentials
Hirers will need to show rental company representatives these items:
- A valid international or UK driver’s licence
- Their passport or other photographic ID
- The credit card they used when making the reservation
- The voucher confirming the reservation
Sofia’s streets are fairly congested and difficult to navigate at peak times of the day. Parking is also a headache, with street spaces in and around the city centre metered with charges of £0.44 an hour from 08:30 to 18:30. There are car parks with similar fees. Outside the city, roads and motorways are less stressful. Motorists pay a £4.43 toll to use these roads for one week. A recently introduced law requires drivers to keep dipped headlights on during the daytime.
Sofia’s urban transport system is well-developed, with an extensive bus network which is complemented by smaller bus and tram networks, as well as two metro lines. This comprehensive range of options makes cars something of a redundancy in the city centre. It is better to use self-drive rentals for sightseeing excursions or to reach specific activity centres that are farther afield.
The Central Railway Station is one of eight stations in Sofia and is a major hub for services to other nations in eastern Europe. Budapest, Istanbul and St Petersburg are among the cities with direct services to Sofia. The station is 0.6 miles (one kilometre) from the city centre.
Licensed taxis in Bulgaria are yellow and fitted with meters. In Sofia, drivers wait at taxi ranks in the central areas as well as at public transport interchanges. Flag fares are £0.30 plus £0.35 a kilometre from 06:00 to 22:00. The kilometre rate increases to £0.40 from 22:00 to 06:00. OK Supertrans is the biggest taxi operator in the city and takes phone bookings for a nominal surcharge.
Buses, Trams and Trolleybuses
Sofia has more than 90 bus routes which operate from 05:00 to 24:00 and serve all city districts and a few outlying villages. Trams operate on another 15 routes and trolleybuses on nine more. Single-journey fares on all routes are £0.44. Day passes are £1.77 and weekly ones £6.64. Tickets are sold at kiosks and are validated after boarding. Inspectors are vigilant.
First opened in 1998, the city underground lines are a recent addition to transport options here. The two lines intersect at Serdika Station and link suburban areas to St Nedelya Square, the city centre and the Central Railway Station.
Although the city’s attractions are plentiful, many visitors like to get a feel for Bulgarian heritage and enjoy natural attractions and activities on daytrips. Drivers taking advantage of the convenience offered by car hire can access nearby draws such as Boyana Church, Mt Vitosha, Borovets and Rila Monastery with the minimum of fuss. Even Baba Vida medieval fort in Vidin and the former capital of Veliko Turnovo are accessible on long daytrips or overnight excursions.
Rila Monastery - This is a fabulous complex of structures with ornate cloisters and arches, and a five-domed church with wonderful frescoes. The on-site museum houses Rafail's Cross. Rafail was a monk in days of yore who engraved the wooden cross with miniscule religious scenes and figures.
Borovets - This is a resort town in the Rila Mountains that offers 37 miles (60kms) of marked ski piste in winter and exhilarating treks in the summer. Extra draws in winter are weekly ski-jump exhibitions and the chance of joining ski-doo tours. The Seven Rila Lakes are a must-visit location for people in the area.
Bansko and Banya - Located three miles (five kilometres) apart in the foothills of the Pirin Mountains. Bansko boasts stunning architecture and is the access point for the Todorka ski slopes. Banya is famed for its hot springs which are said to be curative.