Every guest of Sofia has a choice of how to explore the city: on his own, with the Free Sofia Tour, with a paid guided tour (check-out our offers) or with Sofia Green Tour. I have contacted Sofia Green Tour with a few questions about how they do their tours and run their business. The Q&A is below.
1. What are your project’s main goals? How was it started and when?
Our main goal is to show that Sofia is not just it’s city center. The city is one of the greenest in Europe (especially if we are talking about a capital) and while most of the tourists cover only the center, going through the parks gives a different experience and broader knowledge about the history and let’s say our urban legends. Like that the first bike alley in the parks was made for Todor Zhivkov, who had health problems and the advice was to do more sports. Also, we have the advantage of easy access to Vitosha and we can offer our guests an escape from the busy city into the quieter and recharging nature.
Sofia Green Tours started in 2012, as a project of Factor Foundation. The main person behind the project is Vyacheslav Stoyanov, who is a passionate traveler himself. The foundation concept is to promote the ecological and active way of living, to care about nature and ourselves.
2. Isn’t biking in the heart of Bulgaria’s capital a challenge?
Of course, if you are coming from a place like the Netherlands or Denmark, biking here is a bit exotic and maybe risky. But with each year there are more bike alleys, more people are using bikes as the main means of transportation and drivers are getting used to the sight of cyclists.
Still, as usual, people say that the drivers are irresponsible, but the same can be said for some cyclists as well. And yet we think that cycling in Sofia is getting easier with each year.
3. How did the car and bus drivers’ attitudes towards cyclists change during the past years?
As we are doing our activity for more or less eight years, we are seeing more responsibility from the drivers, some of them are also cyclists in their free time. Also, bus drivers are more cautious when there are cyclists on the road. And still as everywhere, if you are cycling on the streets you should be aware that you are part of the traffic and you aren’t 100% safe.
4. How long does the tour take? What distance is covered by the cyclists/bikers?
Our daily free bike tour takes around 3 hours. Of course, that depends on the group, the pace and the weather conditions. The route is the so-called big green belt of the city and it covers around 15 km.
5. Which are the main sights, located out of the city center, which could be seen during the tour? How many of Sofia’s parks does the tour run through?
Well, with the risk to repeat some other free tours – our bike tours go around many building in the center like the National theatre (that is where is our meeting point), the former Palace, the Parliament, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, but being on a bike allow us to expand the meaning of what is Sofia’s center. You’ll see the Monument of the Soviet Army (a place with a quite controversial status right now), the University, the National Palace of Culture. We also cover some of the big parks in and around the center – Borisova gradina, South park (without Cartman, Kenny or other characters from the famous tv series), the Hunters park, the City garden, the park around the National Palace of Culture).
6. Could you tell us more about the squirrels, birds and other interesting animals, which could be seen in Sofia’s parks? Is it true, that your tour made human and park animals socialize?
Some parts of Borisova gradina will give you the feeling that you are outside the city. There aren’t that many animals – the squirrels can be seen running from tree to tree, there are many tits (the Great Tit is one of the symbols of the city), crows, also if you are lucky you can see some reptiles. Some of our guides also have an interest in animal photography, so they feed squirrels and birds. So yeah, sometimes you may have the chance to make contact with urban wildlife if you carry raw nuts or seeds with you and you are patient. But in the high season animals try to avoid large groups of people.
7. Do you run any other interesting projects or tours?
We are trying to be diverse and to try new things. Our guides are volunteers, but also professionals, so we’ve made a few other tours. As we mentioned earlier we are doing a daily hike tour to Vitosha.
We offer some private options for tours – bike tours that are more about the city’s history and architecture or mainly about the green side with more knowledge about botany, animals and landscape. Also, we have a mountain bike tour and other options for the hikers to experience nature.