Shopping in Sofia
Shopping in Sofia has improved immeasurably in the last decade and aspiring Carrie Bradshaws need not feel too bereft once they set foot on Bulgarian soil. Traditional trinkets like rose oil vials and baklitsa (wood carved wine bottles) are in abundance, while Vitosha Boulevard offers everything from Zara to Swarozski. Relatively speaking, prices are a little lower than in other European cities, though those used to the bespoke ranges of London and New York will struggle to find something similar in Sofia.
The main shopping areas in Sofia centre are on Vitosha Boulevard, Ulitsa Graf Ignatiev and Ulitsa Pirotska. Outlet shops are also big news, with many small shops selling designer labels for less. Most are found around Vitosha Boulevard, which is worth a visit for the view alone, where mountains are framed by verdant green trees and streetlights in an arresting urban vista.
Sofia has several markets worth visiting. The Neo-Renaissance Tsentralni Hali (Central Food Hall) on Maria Luiza Boulevard is a spotlessly clean and well-organised bazaar, open daily and set over three floors. It specialises in bringing traditional fare to the fore.
Situated on Stefan Stambolov Boulevard, Zhenski Pazar (Women's Market) is open daily and sells all a woman (or man) could possibly desire. Here, you’ll find everything from food and clothes to homeware and antiques.
There is a large book market at Ploshtad Slavejkov, near the National Theatre, which mainly flogs Bulgarian language texts. However, visitors should find second hand novels in English too.
There is an antiques market outside the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral, which deals in military- and Communist-themed goods, along with wares you won’t find elsewhere in Sofia.
Over the last decade, several new shopping malls have helped transform the capital’s shopping culture. Mall of Sofia on Stamboliyski Boulevard is the largest, complete with bookshops, a food court and international brands like Nike and Swatch. CCS, on Arsenalski Boulevard, has six levels of bars, restaurants and a cinema, plus French fashions and Turkish homeware. Following a costly facelift, TsUM, on the Largo, now operates as a Western-style shopping mall, with cafes and shops across three floors.
Most shops in Sofia are open either 0900-1830 or 1000-1900, Monday to Saturday, though malls often don’t close until 2200. In central areas like Vitosha Boulevard, expect to find shops open on a Sunday.
Souvenirs such as reproduction icons, Russian dolls, jewellery, ceramics, wooden items, embroidered tablecloths and lace are for sale at stalls at Ploshtad Alekandar Nevski. Tourist shops also sell football shirts, naughty key rings and city-branded tat you can find anywhere.
Luxury goods available include Bulgarian wines, notably the full-bodied red Melnik, and rakiya (fruit brandy), which tastes like less viscous ouzo, though there’s a lot of variety.
VAT in Bulgaria is 20% and visitors who live outside the EU are able to obtain a VAT refund from the airport, next to passport control.