Arrive, receive a ‘survival kit’, and get on your way to discovering eight offbeat sites around Sofia. Ready for an adventure?

I’m always interested in tours that take you outside the usual sights, or experiences that make a game out of travel. The Sofia Alternative Tour sounded like a bit of both, so off we went!

Full disclosure: we received a complimentary version of the tour / experience; all opinions remain my own.

No spoilers, obviously.

Review: the Sofia Alternative Tour ()

The basic format is simple: get the survival kit, which contains a map, several business-card-sized pictures like this:

Review: the Sofia Alternative Tour ()

…and some other items (sorry, but revealing them all might spoil the fun). The first part is open-ended, and can be done at almost any time you like. While it’s best to do it on weekdays in the morning or afternoon, the first part is your chance to explore Sofia as fast or slow as you like.

The second part is held three evenings a week, and is your chance to discover the answers and history behind the questions and riddles. These times aren’t flexible, and you should budget about an hour to get into the spirit and learn what you might have missed in part one. You might almost think of it as a debriefing like at an escape room…

But let’s get back to the first, more exciting part — actually exploring the city.

Review: the Sofia Alternative Tour ()

A gorgeous church near Serdika station — might this have something to do with one of the clues?

Review: the Sofia Alternative Tour ()

Since posting photos of specifics would be a little spoiler-y, I decided to take some pictures of some oddball stuff seen along the way. Personally, I don’t need that XXXXXL size… but it’s great to know there’s a place in central Sofia that sells them.

Review: the Sofia Alternative Tour ()

O…K… why are there naked people on the sign? A closer look (both at the sign and through the windows) reveals them to be mannequins.

Review: the Sofia Alternative Tour ()

An interesting selection of tools at the Women’s Market… but is there a question or puzzle amongst the market?

Review: the Sofia Alternative Tour ()

One of Sofia’s more iconic sights, and one of your destinations.

Review: the Sofia Alternative Tour ()

Clues everywhere amongst this abandoned building! This was one of the more clever puzzles that was part of this tour.

In all, there are 8 places of the offbeat nature to reach, and seems designed to take about 2-3 hours. You’ll pick up your survival kit at 3pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then return to the starting point at 6pm on Monday, Wednesday or Friday. You don’t have to return that same day, however — take your time and try to reach everywhere, or simply plan to reach places as you travel around Sofia normally…

The second part…?

Review: the Sofia Alternative Tour ()

After arriving back, it’ll be time to relax, grab a seat, and see if you can match a couple of clues to some of the places you might have visited. There’s a fun presentation with pictures, and the tour guide is happy to offer plenty of details about the places you went to. If any of the riddles or questions gave you problems, this is your chance to learn more.

OK, now to the review…

I think the concept is brilliant — anything that brings a new edge or angle to traveling is worth trying out. I love the escape room, solve-the-puzzle sort of challenges as well. We managed to reach all eight spaces mentioned on the map, but only felt confident about our answers to about 70% of them. At least one puzzle seemed unsolvable, and I wished for some more specific questions or tasks associated with the locations. The tasks that are here are interesting and varied, and spread out over a few kilometers of walking around central Sofia.

If you’re used to escape rooms having specific questions that lead to specific answers, this isn’t quite the same thing. There’s less time pressure on you, and your mission isn’t to ‘escape’ or even to find all the answers. While you’re encouraged to explore and think creatively, there are some serious logical leaps regarding your interactions with the objects and elements around the city…

The second part of the tour that helped to explain things was finely presented and offered insights you wouldn’t (and couldn’t) have gotten from visiting sans guide. That’s where the guide comes in — but the explanation is disconnected from the exploration. The result? It’s hard to appreciate the place fully while you’re at it, and there’s precious little information at most sites.

Recommended.

Learn more about the tour here.

Ready to explore more of Sofia? Naddya has some great suggestions.

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Also published on Medium.