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SOFIA, Bulgaria -- In Europe's most affordable capital, a night in a four-star hotel goes for less than 0.The dinner tab for two with a bottle of house wine runs about . The city ranks tops on several travel affordability indexes, including Trip Advisor's Trip Index Cities 2013, which tallied daily expenses at 8.42.And direct air service may begin next year from Chicago."Sofia is safe. Among them: Easyjet, Air Berlin and Wizz Air.• Where to stay: Sofia lodging rates are generally lower in summer due to a drop in business travel.You can also get lower rates at some hotels by pre-paying online directly with the hotel.• Grand Hotel Sofia, a full-service business hotel, has spacious rooms starting at about 5, double.Despite its centuries-old roots, Sofia didn't become a capital until 1879, a year after the Russians liberated the country from 500 years of Ottoman rule.
But low cost is only one reason to visit this little-known -- to Americans, anyway -- Balkan capital.
The tours, led by English-speaking students, take in the compact downtown's major sites.
We walk along the twice-baked clay cobblestones that give the streets their yellow hue and peer into unearthed remnants of the Roman city of Serdica, circa 300 A. (Emperor Constantine called the city "my Rome.") More ruins are visible in the city's new and efficient subway system.
It's a far cry from what expat Paromita Sanatani found when she arrived here in 1992."It was sad, gray and run down," recalls Sanatani, who married a Bulgarian and publishes the visitors guide, Sofia in Your Pocket. The Soviets developed Black Sea and ski tourism in Bulgaria in the 1970s as a means of attracting foreign currency.
In those early post-Soviet days, shops carried a mashup of random items. But beyond the bargain-basement sun-and-sea packages marketed to Europeans, tourism in Bulgaria as a whole, and Sofia in particular, is in its infancy. Sofia is vying to be the 2019 European Capital of Culture. "And, it's affordable."Bang for the buck Four-star hotel for two: .29Two cocktails: .91Two-course dinner for two with wine: .444-mile cab ride: .78Source: Trip Advisor If you go ...• Getting there: In addition to major international airlines, a number of low-fare carriers fly to Sofia from within Europe.