Congrats on deciding to visit Bulgaria! It is a lovely country with plenty to see and experience. Here is what you need to know about the Bulgarian cafeterias. These are all useful and curious, I promise 😉
1. Currency is BGN
The official currency in Bulgaria is the Bulgarian lev (BGN) which was introduced back in 1880. One Bulgarian lev is exchanged for around 0.50 Euros, so it is not at all difficult to calculate prices if you are familiar with the Euro. Euro is not officially accepted but some small businesses may agree to be paid in Euro if it is a one-time accident thing. For instance, a taxi driver in Sofia was fine with taking 5 Euro instead of 10 levs on my recent visit there. Euro will be introduced in Bulgaria in 2024 or later, so stay tuned.
2. Some tip is expected
Bulgarian waiters in cafeterias or restaurants expect a tip and they usually get one. It is very common to leave a tip, especially if you are a large group of friends at a restaurant. A Croatian friend was furious that a waitress in Sofia assumed he would tip her and just didn’t bother to give back BGN 1 (EUR 0.50).
3. Fancy hipster cafeterias are as expensive as those in Central Europe
If you expected to pay less just because you are in Eastern Europe, you’ll be disappointed. Some years ago Bulgaria was cheaper than most European countries. I even heard the phrase “extremely cheap” from a Norwegian guy once. Despite Bulgaria being at the bottom of every financial list about the European Union, the prices are high here now, so be prepared to buy coffee at the same price as you do in Central and Western Europe. A cappuccino stands at BGN 5.00 or more as of April 2023 (EUR 2.5).
4. Coffee is sold everywhere
You can buy coffee everywhere in Bulgaria! All alcohol-and-cigarettes stores are equipped with coffee machines. Same goes for all types of small stores around the country. Many Bulgarians just buy one fast coffee from the nearest store and continue with their daily tasks. One actually does not need to sit and have his coffee in an actual cafeteria.
5. Bulgarians order warm water
This one is the funniest fact on the list. We, Bulgarians, are very afraid of drinking cold drinks because we may get sore throat afterwards (so have we heard from our grandmas). Every cafeteria in Bulgaria is well-prepared for this local phenomenon and keeps some water bottles outside the fridge. The so-called “warm water” is not actually warm, but room temperature. If you are Bulgarian and you don’t specify whether you would like warm or cold water, the waiter may ask you. They would not ask a foreigner but you can still order “warm water” and they’ll have no further questions.
6. No tap or free water
Since we started the water topic, we should mention that tap water is not very popular in Bulgaria and customers are expected to buy the water they drink (unlike Croatia where customers get a glass of tap water for every coffee ordered). Asking for tap water at a cafeteria may even confuse the waiters. In some restaurants, however, they do bring tap water but it is more of an exception and not the rule.
Have fun in Bulgaria! If you happen to visit Sofia with children, check these cool places!