Sofia's music, opera, and dance seasons are at their peak during the spring and early summer, but by mid-July most of the city's actors and artists have, like the rest of the population, deserted the sweltering capital and migrated to the coast, taking the city's cultural life with them. This also affects the general nightlife scene, which quiets down in Sofia when it takes off on the coast. To find out what's on during your stay, take a look at www.programata.bg, pick up one of the free seasonal or monthly guides, or purchase a copy of the weekly English newspaper, Sofia Echo.
Theater performances are almost always in Bulgarian, so stick to music concerts or opera. Tickets are extremely affordable relative to what you'd pay in a western European city, and while performances don't usually star top-end performers, there always are foreign imports with impeccable credentials. The monolithic National Palace of Culture (NDK), 1 Bulgaria Sq. (tel. 02/916 6208; www.ndk.bg), built in 1981 (ostensibly to mark the year Bulgaria turned 1,300), is the place to be during the Salon Des Arts Sofia, which usually runs mid-May to mid-June; as does the International Sofia Music Weeks Festival, hosted in the Bulgaria Hall and Bulgaria Chamber Hall, home to the Bulgarian philharmonic orchestra, 1 Aksakov St. (tel. 02/987 7656). Described as "the jewel in Sofia's cultural crown," the Sofia National Opera, 1 Vrabcha St., off Rakovski Street (tel. 02/981 1549), is where the city's most talented artists and guest performers from all over Europe play out the great opera and ballet classics. Check out what's on while you're there by logging onto www.operasofia.bg/index.php. If you're looking for a more avant-garde experience, check out the hip and happening Red House Centre for Culture and Debate (www.redhouse-sofia.org).
The Sofia nightlife scene is low-key but vibrant, with plenty of nightclubs and trendy bars in the city. The following three are staples, but it's worth mentioning that Brilliantine, 3 Moskovska St., is hugely popular, attracting a diverse and interesting crowd, as does gay-friendly Chillout Café, 6 Baba Nedelya St., just behind the NDK.
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