Working in the Heart of the Balkans: A Guide to Sofia for Digital Nomads
Listen up digital nomads - I'm about to let you in on a little secret. I've found a city that's so damn cool, I almost don't want to tell you about it. Almost. But since sharing is caring, I'll tell you anyway: Sofia, Bulgaria.
Now, I know you're thinking - "Bulgaria? Really?" - but trust me on this one. It's got everything you could want as a digital nomad: a visa that lets you stay for a year, affordable cost of living, beautiful nature, interesting history, and a thriving startup culture. Plus, did I mention the amazing food and drink scene? Follow this guide for Sofia's best coworking spaces, restaurants, speakeasies, and hidden gems. It's a bit gritty on the outside, and such a vibrant and interesting city on the inside. Get ready to fall in love with a city you never knew you needed in your life.
Appealing Visa Options for Digital Nomads
If you're a digital nomad looking to stay in Sofia for more than the standard 90 days, you'll need to know your options. Lucky for you, Bulgaria is outside of the Schengen zone, which means that US citizens (and many others) can stay for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa.
But if you're planning to stay longer, you have a couple of options. First, you can apply for a long-term visa, which can allow you to stay in the country for up to a year. Alternatively, you can apply for a Bulgarian residency permit, which can give you even more flexibility and benefits. Either way, it's worth doing your research and figuring out which option is best for you and your digital nomad lifestyle.
Cost of Living
If cost of living is a big factor for you in determining your nomad destinations, you're in luck. Sofia is known for being an affordable destination, even by Eastern European standards. You can easily find a comfortable and well-located apartment in the city center for around $500-$600 per month.
Eating out is also a bargain, with delicious and hearty meals costing around $6-$10 in most restaurants. If you're a fan of fresh produce, you'll be happy to know that buying fruits and vegetables from local markets is the way to go, and it won't break the bank. And if you're into specialty coffee, Sofia has got you covered, with plenty of trendy coffee shops serving up a delicious cup for around $2-$3. All in all, Sofia can be a great place to live comfortably without burning through your savings.
Thriving Startup Scene
Sofia's startup scene is one of the most vibrant in the region. The city has attracted a large number of tech startups, and the community is continuing to grow. The SOHO coworking space in the heart of the city is one of the best places for digital nomads to get work done and network with like-minded individuals. In addition to SOHO, there are plenty of other coworking spaces in Sofia, including COSMOS Coworking Camp , Open Coworking (Vitoshka), and Korner Coworking Space Sofia. If you're looking to connect with other digital nomads and entrepreneurs, attending one of the many meetups and events in Sofia can be a great way to expand your network. From tech meetups to language exchange events, there's always something going on in Sofia's thriving startup community.
Rich History and Culture
Sofia is a city with a rich and fascinating history. It has been inhabited for over 7,000 years and has been ruled by Thracians, Romans, Ottomans, and Communists. As a result, the city has a diverse and eclectic mix of architectural styles, from ancient Roman ruins to ornate Ottoman mosques and communist-era concrete blocks. If you're interested in history and culture, there's plenty to explore in Sofia. I highly recommend doing a communist tour as well as the Sofia Alternative Tour to explore the nooks and crannies of the city in a quirky and gamified way. This is one of my favorite tours I've ever done, and you won't be disappointed!
The city has been inhabited for thousands of years, and it's not unusual to stumble across ancient ruins and artifacts as you go about your day. For example, as you take the subway to explore different parts of the city, you might catch a glimpse of the Serdika ruins right outside the Serdika station. These impressive remains of an ancient Roman city were discovered during construction of the subway and are now on display for everyone to see. It's a true testament to the layers of history that make Sofia such an interesting and unique place to visit.
If you're interested in dance and traditional costume, try this experience with Balkans Spirit for an hour of high energy folk dance with semi-frequent wine breaks and a good explanation of regional traditional costume.
Sofia is a city that celebrates religious diversity, with a rich history of coexistence between different faiths. You can find everything from ancient Orthodox churches to grand mosques and beautiful synagogues. As a digital nomad, I love exploring the many religious sites that dot the city. Regardless of your personal faith, you are welcomed into any and all to take in the detail and beauty. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a must-see, with its impressive onion-shaped domes and stunning murals. And if you're interested in Islamic architecture, the Banya Bashi Mosque, built in the 16th century, is a sight to behold. But my personal favorite is the Sofia Synagogue, which was built in 1909 and is one of the largest Sephardic synagogues in Europe.
I love a vibrant outdoor market. One of the biggest and most popular is the Zhenski Pazar, or Women's Market. Here you can find fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices, and interact with the friendly vendors, many of whom only speak Bulgarian. It's a great opportunity to practice your language skills and haggle for a good deal. And of course, the produce is always fresh and delicious, making it a great place to stock up on ingredients for a home-cooked meal.
Food and Drink
When it comes to food and drink, Sofia has something for everyone. The city has a vibrant culinary scene, offering everything from traditional Bulgarian cuisine to international cuisine. For vegetarians, Edgy Veggy and Supa Star are great options. Meat lovers can try traditional Bulgarian dishes like banitsa, kavarma, and kufte at Moma Bulgarian Food and Wine. Made in Blue and Made in Home are two sister restaurants with shabby chic decor, and a healthy selection of delicious soups, salads, pastas, and veggie options.
For a night out, 65 Fireflies and The Cocktail Bar are great starting points. If you're up for an adventure, go on a treasure hunt for these speakeasies. Hambara is down an alleyway with a nondescript wooden door. Knock loudly and hope that somebody answers! It's worth the hunt, as the two-story candlelit wooden bar will transport you to another place and time. Make sure you've secured the password before hunting down 5L's secret door. Try Club Maze for some quirky live music. I have been for both a Ska band and an electronic band with accordion and flutist, and let me tell you, it's never a dull moment. Hit the club at Carrusel or PM Club for the true Baltic "night out" experience.
Nature and Outdoor Activities
One of the unique features of Sofia is its proximity to beautiful nature. The Rila Mountains are only a short drive away from the city, offering stunning scenery and great hiking trails. The Rila Lakes hike is a popular day trip from Sofia, offering breathtaking views of seven glacial lakes. There are also plenty of other outdoor activities to enjoy, such as skiing, snowboarding, and mountain biking. If you're looking for a more relaxed outdoor experience, the countryside around Sofia is known for its production of flower oils, and you can find acres of fields filled with colorful flowers. Plovdiv is a charming town filled with pendant flags, colorful street art, and Roman ruins that could serve as a day trip. Bansko, the ski town and popular nomad hangout, is just a couple hours drive.
All in all, Sofia is a city with a lot to offer digital nomads. It has a unique blend of history, nature, culture, and nightlife, all at an affordable price. The city is constantly growing and changing, with new coworking spaces, cafes, and bars popping up all the time. And let's not forget the delicious Bulgarian cuisine, from hearty stews to fresh salads, and the local wine and rakia. As a digital nomad, you'll have plenty to explore and experience in Sofia, from the ancient ruins to the trendy coworking spaces. So pack your bags, brush up on your Bulgarian, and get ready for an adventure in the heart of the Balkans!
SAVE THIS FOR LATER: Sofia Google Maps Bookmark List