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The Hostel as a Way of Life

Dessislava Tomova

The hostel is an ideal place for travelers, looking for a cheap and nice place to stay in the heart of the city. I took a stroll around some of Sofia’s hostels. Everywhere, I was greeted with a warm welcome, so typical for the hostel business. Staying at a hostel has become popular not only among young people, but among all of those who are young at heart. It seems that to be a part of the underground is turning into mainstream, and to explore the world with a backpack is no longer unusual, but is rather something normal. The hostel is becoming the place of choice not only for budget travelers but also for more affluent tourists running away from the cold and impersonal hotel rooms, offering all modern conveniences. The guests are mostly foreigners, but sometimes you can meet the occasional Bulgarians looking for informal contacts with people from other cultures and sharing with them the dorms, the bathroom, the kitchen, and all other hostel facilities. The hostels listed below are rated as top hostels in Sofia by the site The order in which I present them doesn’t reflect their actual rating. All of them offer a top location, in the heart of downtown, within walking distance from all tourist sites – churches, mosques, synagogues, the National Theater, the National Palace of Culture. Read on to find out about their unique histories, their founders, and the amenities they offer.


The Art Hostel (21A Angel Kanchev Str.) opened in 2001. Its founders are Teodor Kotov, Dessislava Petrova and Reni Moneva. Their idea was to create a place where backpackers could meet and rest. The backpackers represent the alternative independent young travelers who visit different places to meet with other backpackers and with the local art community. Usually, they are not very interested in the typical tourist attractions. As one of the projects of Destination Bulgaria Foundation, the Art Hostel serves as a culture center where different art events take place – exhibits, performances, concerts. The main goal of the hostel’s founders is to introduce Bulgarian art and culture to their guests. In the summer, the hostel’s garden is a favorite place for get-togethers with guitar music, beer drinking and chess games. In other seasons, the parties move to the basement - the alternative art space. The guests also enjoy the three theme rooms – the Time Room, the Hanging Table Room, and the Hammock Room.

“We used to have this project named the Chamla Kingdom, which was a part of the hostel. This was an abandoned village high up in the Rhodope mountains which was turned into an art residency and an eco settlement for holding seminars and exchanges for large groups of people of different nationalities – Portuguese, Greek, Spanish, etc. Unfortunately, this place was later bought by some rich people with no concept for developing art or ecological activity. This project was a major example of the hostel’s involvement in such activities. For me, the hostel is a lifestyle,” commented Reni Moneva.


The Nightingale Hostel (2A Slaveykov Blvd.) opened in the beginning of 2007. Its name is a word play with the name of the square where it’s located – “slavey” is the Bulgarian word for “nightingale”. Most foreigners of course don’t even notice the word play unless somebody explains it to them and only then they tend to find it amusing

The chief receptionist at the hostel, Boyan Stefanof, who is 24 and is a full-time law student at Sofia University, takes care of all aspects of the hostel’s management. For the few people who are in the hostel business in Sofia, the work brings decent money but can’t be considered a big business. “Our hostel might not be absolutely the cleanest one in Sofia, or with the most antique building and the oldest traditions, but it sure is one of the most fun places to stay. We focus on the personal interaction with the guests. This is something typical for all hostels. In contrast, the hotel business encourages formal interaction with the guests. Nobody working for a big hotel chain can afford to approach the guests the way we do. We wear informal clothing. We don’t use formalities in language. Our guests are people who practice the so called “unorganized tourism”. They don’t use the services of tourist agencies or tour operators. Those are people who freely pick up their backpacks and travel mostly around Europe. Large groups of Canadian, American, Australian, New Zealand, but most of all British travelers”, says Boyan.

For him, the hostel is both work and a way of life. This is not a place where you can get rich. But it gives you a balance between work and personal satisfaction. While at work, you can see friends who like coming to your workplace. You make friends with people from all over the world. This job is satisfactory in so many ways. The hostel offers rooms for 2, 4, 6 and 8 people. This is the optimum balance between number of beds and comfort given to the guests. A private room costs between 50 and 60 BGN, depending on the specific season or day of the week. The cheapest stay is in the dorm room for 20 BGN per bed. A major upside of this hostel is the kitchen area available to guests around the clock.


Georgi Miladinov is the owner of the place that houses the hostel Be My Guest (13 Ivan Vazov Str.). This is an old family house built over 100 years ago. Georgi’s son gave the idea to turn the house into a hostel. They started the business 4-5 years ago. The guests who come here just for a day almost always decide to stay on for a couple of more days. Be My Guest is rated a Top Hostel for 2007 by the site

Here are some details about the founding of the hostel, in the words of its owner: “The person who gave the name to the hostel is my son’s friend. The name reflects our focus on hospitality and we really like it. It turned out that somebody in Cambridge authored a travel guide titled “Be My Guest”. His representatives contacted us about the registration of the name but we explained that all this was a pure coincidence.”

The hostel offers 5 rooms – a single, a double, a studio with 5 beds, and 2 rooms with 6 beds each. The four bathrooms with toilets are a great convenience for the guests. The guests can have free hot drinks and snacks (usually croissants) all day around. They can also use the free Internet service, typical for most hostels, which allows them to search accommodation for their next destination and to make an online reservation for it.


Internet Hostel Sofia (50A Alabin Str.) was established by Marin Pashov 5 years ago. Together with his partner, he originally planned to open an Internet cafe at this downtown location. The idea for opening the hostel came when some friends of theirs visiting Sofia had trouble finding a place to stay. This made Marin and his partner realize that the property they had was actually good for a hostel.

Later on, when the business picked up, and there was need for extra rooms, especially in the summer season, they opened the Red Star Hostel. Now, both hostels offer a wide range of services. There are different types of accommodation – rooms with private bath, dorm rooms, and a small studio located on a separate floor above the hostel. The studio offers a higher class accommodation and has its own private entrance.

“I studied Silicate Design at the National Art Academy, but unfortunately I don’t practice what I have studied. At the moment, I am involved in the management of the two hostels. This is a small business and we offer really low prices for accommodation, probably the lowest that could be found. Our guests are the backpackers looking for a quick, cheap and comfortable accommodation. The profit here is many times lower compared to Sofia hotels with the market prices at the moment. Our rate includes the standard services – accommodation, snacks, free Internet. The place next door to us is a vegetarian restaurant and we send them customers all the time. I have an idea to open a bar soon, which would be another attraction for our clients. The hostel business has strong traditions in West Europe, so we cannot offer something very different from the standard things,” comments Marin Pashov.


Welcome to the Smokin’ Pig Youth Hostel Sofia! This is the only Irish hostel in Sofia. Here, the smiling faces and the warm welcome are always guaranteed. This hostel has just recently opened. The remodeled building has a top location in Sofia’s downtown (33 Bratia Miladinovi Str.). The staff is doing their best to keep the place perfectly clean and to provide a quiet and comfortable stay among friendly people. What really distinguishes this hostel from others is that it offers extra services like hunting, city tours, a tour of the Vitosha mountain, car rentals, running in a marathon, and so on.

“Our hostel’s history is very, very interesting. A few months ago, Johnny had this idea about the smoking pig. We contacted some graphic designers and they created the image, which became a symbol of the hostel and of the website. We chose Sofia because we live here and we want to offer good accommodation for travelers, “says Patrick O’Connor, the hostel manager.

You can find more details about staying in the above-mentioned hostels on their corresponding websites. In all of them, you can check in at all times of day or night. Check out these places and tell your friends to join in the adventure.

This article was published in the online edition of 24.10.2008