Markets of Sofia: From food to antiques
A quick guide to the rich market ecosystem in Sofia
Do you long for the freshness of local produce? Do you feel like stores around you are limiting and boring? Or, are you simply a curious spirit who needs to explore the world in its full authenticity?
This short guide that we’ve compiled will tell you what kind of markets you can find in Sofia, what to expect from the products at each of them, and give additional insights directly from a Sofia native.
At your average farmer’s market in Sofia, you will find small local businesses selling products like:
- typical Bulgarian yogurt
- dairy products
- various types of jam
- meat and meat products
- rose products
- and many more
The current summer seasonal fruits include, but are not limited to: melon, watermelon, berries, plums, peaches, pears, and apples. If you want to try seasonal vegetables, look for: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, peas, and lettuce.
One of the most famous farmer’s markets in Sofia is located right in front of the Ministry of Agriculture and is open only on Wednesdays between 10:00 and 18:00.
“Hrankoop” is the first Bulgarian food cooperative that brings together producers and consumers of clean healthy food. Its main goals are to support small-scale producers of this food and to make consumers’ access to it easier, organizing farmers’ markets, cooperative deliveries, catering with farm products, workshops, and demonstrations, and participating in various events on clean healthy food and sustainable way of living.
Currently, they run farmers' markets in Sofia: The Roman Wall (Rimskata stena), located near “Vasil Levski Stadium” metro station, open every Saturday from 9:00 to 14:00, and Ivan Vazov market, open every Wednesday from 12:00 to 19:00. Other farmer's markets organized by Hrankoop are in Bankya and Balchik.
What’s more, just last month a new farmer’s market was established in the Mladost 1A neighborhood as part of the national campaign “I choose 380”, which aims to stimulate national agriculture in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. The market will be open between 10:00 and 18:00 every Saturday during the next 12 months.
Located in a little garden near Alexander Nevski cathedral, this market is full of little treasures like paintings, old cameras, jewelry boxes, coins, medals, and even Russian matryoshkas. Among the many stands there, you can also find tablecloths and clothes hand-made by none other than your friendly neighborhood babushkas.
Iliyantsi & Lyulin
Both are large areas with many small shops where you can purchase cheap goods - from clothes to kitchen supplies, to gadgets you didn’t know existed. Don’t expect anything fancy here – much of the merchandise is Chinese productions, and you can’t always trust its quality, but with an experienced Bulgarian guide, you will always find something worthwhile here. And if you happen to get hungry during the shopping spree, fear not. You can find anything from donuts, ice cream, and Serbian grill in Iliyantsi, to kebabs, pancakes, and pastries at the Lyulin market.
“Vazrazhdane” open-air markets are a group of 3 markets under the same leadership. These include:
Zhenski Pazar was established more than 140 years ago, making it the oldest market in Sofia. It was renovated several years ago to give it a more modern appearance. You can find all sorts of things there, ranging from fresh fruit and vegetables to traditional souvenirs, to different types of clothing, and you can even get exotic foreign spices and condiments there. You can also grab something to eat from one of the many food stalls at the market and sit near them. The market’s typically opens every day between 8:00 and 19:00, according to the information provided in Google. You can also check out this video made by an American to give you a better view of the market itself.
„Dimitar Petkov“ market
In this market, you can find typical Bulgarian goods, like fresh fruits and vegetables. But the main reason why my family and I have visited has been primarily the abundance of flowers and decorations. This market was also modernized a few years ago, with small house-like stalls built to give the market a more clean and organized look. Of course, the market also offers a variety of food stalls in case you get hungry. It’s open every day between 9:00 and 20:00.
Currently, the market at the “Rotunda” square is only planned, but not yet implemented. The team of “Vazrazhdane” open-air markets has declared that “the goal is to turn [the square] into an attractive, [...] modern urban space with public and commercial functions.” We still don’t know how this will turn out, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for future developments, especially after the pandemic has come to an end.
Open-air book markets, Slaveykov Square
This emblematic market has been operating since around 1989 but was forced to move due to reconstruction of the entire “Graf Ignatiev” boulevard two years ago. It has been located at a small garden in front of “Rila” hotel ever since, roughly 500 meters away from its original place.
Sofia natives like me who find the empty square so unnatural are still waiting to find out whether or not the book market will ever go back to its proper place, and whether or not it will have to change. Nevertheless, if you are looking for any kind of book, you can find a wide variety of foreign language books among the heaps of school books, fiction, and non-fiction in Bulgarian.
Additional information and a local’s insights
Neighborhood markets and random stalls and stands
It is not unusual for Bulgarians to have small market areas in their neighborhoods, typically for agricultural products. But don’t be surprised to see a lot of seemingly random temporary stalls/stands pop-up in your neighborhood periodically. Over the summer many people sell the fruit and vegetables they themselves have produced at their villages (because many Sofia dwellers also have a house somewhere in the countryside), and it’s also typical to see anything from flowers around Women/Mother’s Day to Martenitsi in February and March on these temporary stalls. This is a way for people to make additional income while satisfying a market need that many people have around the respective occasions.
Bargaining and perception of foreigners
Bargaining is still a common practice at Bulgarian markets, although it’s steadily losing popularity. Vendors typically won’t expect you to bargain, but if you decide to do so, you will most probably succeed in negotiating a lower price for the product(s) you want.
Just keep in mind that not every vendor will speak English and that a decent level of Bulgarian spoken with a broken accent can soften any patriotic vendor’s heart.
But beware: just as some vendors have a favorable attitude towards foreigners, others may see you as easier prey because of the language barrier, because they don’t expect you to know the typical price, or for any other reason. To avoid being tricked, simply take note of the prices wherever you go, and don’t hesitate to walk away from a vendor who is trying to cheat you out of your money.
I’d also advise anyone who has a scale at home to weigh their products. Some vendors tinker with their scales and sell you less for a higher price. This can happen to anyone, regardless of whether they’re a foreigner or not! And although not every vendor engages in this practice, it’s just better to be safe than sorry.
Writer’s note on hyperlinks used
Almost all the hyperlinks in this article redirect to pages available only in Bulgarian but nevertheless contain useful information. You can use the Google Translate option on every page to get a decent translation if you decide to check them out.