Driving in Sofia, Bulgaria
(by T.W. Anderson)

Driving in Sofia:

If you own a car or want to rent a car you can drive yourself, but you should understand in advance that the streets in and around Sofia are a nightmare for Western drivers.  This is a city that is millennia old and it was not designed with traffic in mind, which means many of the old streets are first and foremost too narrow for cars, and secondly they spiral in and out and jog this way and that without any apparent order, and there aren't any significantly visible street signs.

Plus, on top of that, there isn't a grid system for Sofia, so the streets are named randomly and there's no order to how things work.  This can be potentially impossible to navigate if you are a first-time driver in the city.

It should also be noted that if you are from a Western country where road signs, blinkers, stop lights, stop signs and police governing traffic are part of the regular driving experience, you will be in for a rude a wakening.  Taxi drivers in particular are notoriously aggressive with driving in Sofia and if you are going to be driving on the streets of the city you need to be prepared to deal with the kind of touch-and-go driving that will be part of your everyday routine.

Blinkers are rarely used, stop signs are largely ignored, and while stop lights are mostly followed the marker lines for different lanes are completely ignored, which means people drive their cars wherever they see a space wide enough for their car to fit.  Honking occurs regularly, especially if you are driving in any fashion resembling sanity, and you will find drivers aggressively maneuvering around you and flipping you the bird if you can't keep up.

Scooters and motorcycles are also a common means of transportation and they will weave in and out of traffic without regard to signals or the fact that your vehicle weighs significantly more than theirs does and takes longer to stop.  On top of that, trams and busses drive down the middle of the streets and you have to learn how the traffic rules for those work or you will end up having an accident or, worse yet, accidently killing someone.

Speaking of which, there is rule when it comes to driving in Sofia.  You have to lean how to deal with the buses and trams.  They drive down the middle of the street, in between your lane and the oncoming traffic.  When they stop, the tram stations are always on the sidewalk or pavement, which means the passengers disembarking the tram or bus will be exiting into your lane of traffic and passing into the actual street to cross to the sidewalk.

The trams and buses will always be on your left hand side as you are driving, and if a tram stops you must stop behind the tram because people are going to be exiting the tram from the right hand side and crossing the road to get to the sidewalk.  If you do not stop your vehicle to accommodate the buses and trams, you will very literally run into the people getting off the trams and buses.  Only drive once the tram is in motion and always look for pedestrians.

As far as parking goes, it is usually a matter of "wherever you can find a spot to park", and you will have to learn to deal with other people who come along later and park in front of you or behind you, blocking your access for potentially hours at a time.

Remember that part about many of the older streets not being designed for cars and traffic?  Since they are too narrow to handle traffic, you will find people parking with their cars literally straddling the sidewalk and the street, with the mirrors folded inwards so that there is just enough space to squeeze your car through if you drive like a snail and fold your own side mirrors in at the same time.  There's also parking garages at the malls, plus registered parking, but for the most part it's "wherever you can find space".

If you are a first-timer to Sofia, or are just there for a few days and staying in the heart of the city, it's best to rely on public transportation (trains, trams buses, subway, taxis) to get you where you need to go rather than driving in Sofia.  Unless you have your own car or have been there long enough to understand the way people drive, it's best to leave it to those who grew up with the system.

For more information about Tim Anderson and his travels, visit Marginal Boundaries

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