Welcome to Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria. If you’re planning a trip to this beautiful city, you’re in for a treat. Sofia is a hidden gem nestled in Eastern Europe, offering a unique blend of natural beauty, historical landmarks, and cultural heritage. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or simply looking for relaxation, Sofia is the ultimate city break destination. In this complete travel guide to Sofia, Bulgaria, we will take you on a journey through the city, uncovering its top things to do, the best restaurants and cafes, and must-see attractions. With a perfect blend of captivating historical landmarks, a mesmerizing modern cityscape, and an atmosphere filled with vibrant culture, Sofia is truly a city that should never be missed. Let’s dive in and discover the top things to do in Sofia!
Table of Contents
- 1 How to get to Sofia, Bulgaria
- 2 How to get to Sofia City Center from the Airport
- 3 How to Get Around the City
- 4 Where to Stay in Sofia, Bulgaria
- 5 Top Things to Do in Sofia
- 5.1 Check Out the Museums in Sofia
- 5.2 Visit the Churches of Sofia
- 5.3 Explore the Parks of Sofia
- 5.4 Go Shopping on Vitosha Boulevard
- 5.5 Go on a Walking Tour
- 5.6 Visit the Ancient Serdica Archaeological Complex
- 5.7 Discover Vitosha Nature Park
- 5.8 Relax at Mineral Hot Springs
- 5.9 Visit the Seven Rila Lakes
- 6 Other Noteworthy Things to Do or See in Sofia
- 7 Where to Eat and Drink in Sofia, Bulgaria
- 8 How Many Days to Spend in Sofia
- 9 Best Time to Visit Sofia, Bulgaria
How to get to Sofia, Bulgaria
To reach Sofia, Bulgaria, you have several options available. The most convenient way is by air, as Sofia has an international airport with connections to major cities worldwide. Many airlines operate regular flights to Sofia, making it easy to find a suitable itinerary. Alternatively, you can also access Sofia by train or bus if you prefer a more scenic route. There are direct train and bus services from various European cities, providing affordable and comfortable travel options. Additionally, if you are already in Bulgaria, Sofia is well connected with other cities within the country via an extensive network of highways, making it convenient if you’re renting a car especially if you would like to combine a visit to Sofia with another city.
How to get to Sofia City Center from the Airport
To travel from Sofia Airport to the city center, there are several convenient options available. The most popular and cost-effective means is by using the airport’s metro station, conveniently located near Terminal 2. Simply follow the signs directing you to the metro, purchase a ticket from the machine, and hop on Line 1 heading towards the city center. The journey takes approximately 18 minutes, and trains run regularly. Alternatively, you can opt for a taxi or transfer service. Avoid grabbing a taxi found outside the arrivals hall as the drivers may scam tourists to pay more than they have to. It is advisable to confirm the fare with the driver beforehand to avoid any surprises. Another option is to take a bus, as Sofia airport is well connected to the city’s public transport network. Look for bus line 84, which takes you directly to the city center, or check the bus schedules and routes for other convenient options.
How to Get Around the City
When it comes to getting around the city of Sofia, there are several options available. First off, there’s no better way to explore and see Sofia than by walking. Sofia is a relatively small and compact city, making it perfect for exploring on foot. Many popular attractions, such as the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the National Palace of Culture, and the Vitosha Boulevard, are within walking distance from each other. Using Google Maps is a great way to navigate through the city. Otherwise, Sofia has an extensive public transportation network consisting of buses, trams, and an underground metro system. The metro, in particular, is very convenient and covers most of the city’s major areas. You can purchase tickets at metro stations or use a rechargeable card called a “Sofia City Card” for easy travel. Taxis are readily available in Sofia and are usually quite affordable. Look for licensed taxis with a company logo or use a ride-hailing app like TaxiMe for convenient and reliable transportation. Always insist on using the taxi meter or negotiate the fare upfront. Sofia has been improving its cycling infrastructure in recent years, making it increasingly bike-friendly. You can rent bicycles to get around the city while enjoying the sights at the same time. Lastly, if you prefer more independence and flexibility in your travels, consider renting a car. Several car rental companies operate in Sofia, and having your own vehicle gives you the freedom to explore the city and venture into the surrounding areas at your own pace.
Where to Stay in Sofia, Bulgaria
When choosing a hotel in Sofia, it’s important to consider your travel itinerary and the amount of walking you plan to do during your visit. If you’re only planning on walking to explore the city, then a hotel located in the heart of the city center should be sufficient. However, if you plan to spend a lot of time exploring the surrounding area, a hotel located a bit further from the center may be more convenient.
Hyatt Regency Sofia: Staying at Hyatt adds an extra layer of luxury to your trip without breaking the bank as rates in Bulgaria are on average lower than other European countries.
Juno Hotel Sofia: Situated right in the heart of Sofia this new boutique hotel boasts cozy rooms, high-end amenities, and a convenient location.
Oborishte 63: Designed to blend art and culture, this boutique hotel offers spacious rooms with a modern flair.
Grand Hotel Millennium Sofia: The Grand Hotel Millennium Sofia, is a luxurious property offering easy access to historic and cultural sites. It also comes with a spa center, 24-hour front desk, gym, a heated swimming pool, as well as a bar and shared lounges.
The Heart of the City Center Lux Apartment: Right in the vibrant city center, this Brooklyn-inspired apartment will make you feel right at home.
COURTHOUSE PRIVATE GARDEN Apartment: This chic apartment is situated in a trendy area, offering plenty of dining establishments, lounges, and bars. It can comfortably accommodate 4 people.
SCA Sofia City Apartments: These large apartments are perfect for families, offering everything you’ll need for a comfortable vacation, including a fully functional kitchen and spacious living room.
Apart-Hotels-Sofia: These apartments are ideal for solo travelers as well as large families, with various sizes available less than a kilometer from the famous Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski.
Explore more hotels in Sofia
Top Things to Do in Sofia
Sofia is a city that offers a wealth of experiences for visitors. The city is home to many historic landmarks, such as the Church of Saint George, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and the National Palace of Culture. For a taste of modern Bulgaria, visit the city’s bustling streets, lively squares, and diverse cuisine scene. You can also explore Sofia’s parks, museums, and art galleries to discover more about the city’s rich cultural heritage. With its vibrant atmosphere and endless possibilities, Sofia is the perfect destination for travelers of all kinds.
Check Out the Museums in Sofia
Regional History Museum
The Regional History Museum of Sofia holds an impressive collection of historical exhibits that offer a comprehensive view of the city’s past. Covering the time frame from ancient times to the present, this museum captures the essential events and people that have contributed to the city’s rich cultural heritage. Housing the former Turkish Mineral Baths building, the museum showcases a wide range of cultural events and exhibitions. Visitors can expect to find an array of artifacts and exhibits, ranging from royal family memorabilia to educational displays from the communist era. The museum hosts a diverse range of topics, making it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in learning more about the city’s rich history.
The Red Flat
You can get a taste of the seemingly utopian way of life in communism by exploring an interactive exhibit at the Red Flat. The museum showcases the typical home of a Bulgarian family in the 1980s, allowing visitors to experience what everyday life was like during the era of Reagan and Gorbachev. From work to school, partying to household chores, everything is recreated to give visitors a realistic glimpse into communist Bulgaria. It’s advised to book a spot ahead of time as the time slots tend to sell out.
The Palace – National Art Gallery
The National Art Gallery in Sofia is a museum dedicated to showcasing Bulgarian art masterpieces, which span from the medieval era to the present day and is housed in a former royal palace. It is a must-visit destination for art enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
The National Gallery, a renowned institution for Bulgarian as well as international art, is located in the heart of Sofia, on the picturesque St. Alexander Nevsky Square. Its former name, the Royal Printing Office, dates back to the 19th century. The gallery is part of a historical structure and serves as a cultural hub for the nation. The entrance is about 5 euros.
National Museum of Military History
Part of the defense ministry, the National Museum of Military History preserves and processes culturally valued articles related to the military history of Bulgaria and Europe. It features a wide range of items, including rebel flags, parade uniforms, vehicles, and weapons. The outside exhibition is free for all visitors and is full of military aircraft, vehicles, and more.
National Archaeological Museum
The National Archaeological Museum in Sofia is home to an extensive collection of artifacts from various periods of human history. From prehistoric times to the medieval period, visitors can immerse themselves in the museum’s exhibits. Its location, within the building of the largest and oldest former Ottoman mosque in the city, adds to the museum’s cultural significance.
Visit the Churches of Sofia
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral stands proudly as the grandest Orthodox temple on the Balkan Peninsula. It is undoubtedly a must-see landmark in Sofia, captivating visitors with its magnificent architecture and exquisite interior. This iconic Bulgarian Orthodox church boasts a Neo-Byzantine style that leaves spectators in awe. Inside, a visit to its underground museum only adds to the sense of wonder and appreciation for this remarkable gem.
Saint Sophia Church
St. Sophia in Sofia, Bulgaria, holds the title of being the oldest church in the country. It originates from a Byzantine church dating back to the 4th century and showcases a predominantly brick interior adorned with beautiful paintings. Additionally, the church boasts an intriguing underground crypt. A noteworthy sight adjacent to the church is the Monument of the Unknown Soldier, where an eternal flame honors the memory of Bulgarian soldiers who sacrificed their lives in defense of their homeland. Don’t miss the striking lion sculpture situated close to the monument, whose gaze directs your attention towards the magnificent St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
St. Nedelya Church
The St. Nedelya Church in Sofia is a beautiful medieval Orthodox church with a stunning domed interior adorned with exquisite murals. The church has a rich and fascinating history that dates back to the 10th century when it served as the primary religious institution for the city of Sofia. Over the years, the church has undergone numerous reconstructions and renovations, further solidifying its identity and significance in Sofia’s rich cultural heritage. Today, the St. Nedelya Church, along with its surroundings, is considered among the significant landmarks of the city. Its impressive architecture, breathtaking interior, and intricate murals adorning the walls make it a must-visit destination for tourists and locals alike.
St. George Rotunda Church
The St. George Rotunda Church is a remarkable historical monument located in Sofia, Bulgaria. Built in the 4th century, it stands as the oldest building in the city and holds immense religious and cultural significance. This cylindrical church features a stunning frescoed dome, showcasing intricate artwork depicting religious scenes and symbols. With its ancient architecture and rich history, the St. George Rotunda Church is a must-visit destination for those seeking a glimpse into Sofia’s past.
St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker
The Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker is a Russian Orthodox church built in the early 20th century. It is known for its stunning architecture, adorned with ornate frescoes and gilded domes. The church is not only a religious landmark but also serves as a cultural and historical site. The church is located in the Russian Church Garden, a beautiful and quaint park ideal for strolling through with a coffee or for simply taking a break from all the sightseeing.
Explore the Parks of Sofia
Borisova Gradina Park: This is the oldest and largest park in Sofia, offering a perfect spot for a leisurely stroll, picnics, and boat rides on Lake Ariana.
South Park: Known for its lush greenery and stunning views of the Vitosha Mountain, South Park is a favorite among nature lovers and families.
National Palace of Culture Park: Surrounding the National Palace of Culture, this park which is also next to the South Park features tranquil ponds, and modern art installations, and hosts various cultural events throughout the year.
City Garden: Located in the heart of Sofia, City Garden is a charming spot with beautiful fountains, sculptures, and a lively atmosphere, including open-air concerts in the summer.
The Russian Church Garden: A quiet yet central park with various benches to sit, flowers and monuments. Found just a few steps away from all the famous churches of Sofia.
Sofia University Botanic Garden: The Botanic Garden features a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers in a small yet charming park not too far from St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Visitors have to pay a small fee to enter.
Go Shopping on Vitosha Boulevard
Vitosha Boulevard is the bustling heart of Sofia, filled with a vibrant mix of stores, restaurants, and bars. This iconic commercial street offers a delightful shopping experience, with a wide range of fashion boutiques, trendy shops, and designer brands lining its sidewalks. As the sun sets, Vitosha Boulevard transforms into a lively nightlife hub, welcoming locals and tourists to enjoy a diverse selection of bars and restaurants offering a variety of cuisines and delightful drinks. Whether you are looking to shop, dine, or simply soak in the energetic atmosphere, Vitosha Boulevard is hard to miss in the center of Sofia.
Go on a Walking Tour
Joining a walking tour of Sofia is one of the best ways to see the highlights of the city with an expert guide pointing out and sharing their insight about various monuments, buildings, and sites. Another walking tour worth joining includes the Communist Walking Tour, an educational 3-hour tour of the city’s communist-era landmarks – perfect for learning more about communist ideology and how it affected Bulgaria’s history. Booking a private walking tour of the city is also a great way to discover the real side of Sofia, its best places to eat, and tips on how to make the most out of your trip.
Visit the Ancient Serdica Archaeological Complex
The Ancient Serdica Archaeological Complex in Sofia is a fascinating site that offers a glimpse into the rich history of the Roman city of Serdica. With its two parts, the complex showcases the remains of ancient streets, houses, basilicas, and thermae. Visitors can explore the well-preserved buildings with their intricate decorations and learn about the prosperous lifestyle of the city’s elite during its peak period. The second part of this archaeological site was discovered in 2010 during the construction of the nearby Serdika metro station, where the remains were brought to light and further excavated from 2012 through 2013. If you are interested in archaeological sites and want to immerse yourself in Sofia’s ancient past, a visit to the Ancient Serdica Archaeological Complex is free and definitely a must.
Discover Vitosha Nature Park
Nature enthusiasts will also find plenty to do just an hour away from Sofia. Sofia lies in a large valley, surrounded by mountains, with Vitosha mountain being the highest nearby. Visitors can take a hike through the mountain’s trails, which offer breathtaking panoramic views of the city. Vitosha Natural Park offers visitors the opportunity to experience a wide range of other activities, including skiing, exploring waterfalls, lakes, caves, and horseback riding, making it a perfect destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.
Relax at Mineral Hot Springs
With a history dating back to the beginning of the 4th century BC, Bulgaria’s mineral springs have long been cherished by locals and visitors alike. Exploring these mineral hot springs not only offers relaxation and wellness benefits but also provides a glimpse into the rich heritage of the city. Sofia is a special city because it has 42 mineral springs with 8 different hydrothermal zones where the water flows at a rate of 480 liters per second. These mineral springs are deep underground, making them clean and free from pollution. The water in these springs has a temperature ranging from 30 to 90 degrees Celsius, which makes for a unique and enjoyable experience.
Visit the Seven Rila Lakes
Located in the Rila Mountains, the Seven Rila Lakes are a pristine natural wonder just an hour and a half away from Sofia. Each lake has its own unique characteristics, ranging from tranquil to strikingly beautiful. Hiking through this breathtaking landscape offers stunning panoramic views and a chance to immerse oneself in nature’s serenity. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a photographer, or simply seeking a peaceful escape from the city, a visit to the Seven Rila Lakes is a must-do experience during your stay in Sofia.
Other Noteworthy Things to Do or See in Sofia
- National Assembly of Bulgaria: Head to the National Assembly of Bulgaria and its prominent square, where you’ll additionally encounter the Ancient Serdica Complex.
- Sofia Monument: Near the Ancient Serdica Complex it is hard to miss the famous Sofia Monument of Sant Sofia made from copper and brass.
- Ivan Vazov National Theatre: While it’s true that the performances at the Ivan Vazov National Theatre are in Bulgarian, the architectural beauty of the building itself is worth making the visit.
- St. Cyril and Methodius National Library: Head to St. Cyril and Methodius National Library, a stunning structure that boasts both external and internal beauty.
- Bulgarian Academy of Sciences: Go to the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the University of Sofia, both renowned educational institutions in the city.
- Banya Bashi Mosque: Take some time to explore Banya Bashi Mosque which serves as a reminder of the city’s past under Ottoman rule.
- Sofia Synagogue: During your time in Sofia, be sure to include a visit to the Sofia Synagogue in your itinerary. This religious site is also a notable landmark in the city.
- Mall of Sofia: If you’re a shopaholic, The Mall of Sofia is a must-visit destination in Sofia and one of the largest malls in both the city and the country.
- Sofia Opera and Ballet House: If you’re a fan of opera or ballet then visit the Sofia Opera and Ballet House which hosts Bulgarian and international musicians and dancers in a stunning theater and at reasonable prices.
- National Museum of History: The National Museum of History is located a bit outside the city, however if one is interested to dive deeper into Bulgaria’s history than a trip to the museum should be on their agenda.
Where to Eat and Drink in Sofia, Bulgaria
- Made in Blue: Rustic and inviting atmosphere in a converted home; fresh and home-cooked meals.
- Made in Home: Charming establishment with wonderful rustic ambiance situated on a cozy street in the heart of Sofia.
- The Little Things: Hidden away, this cozy and romantic restaurant is housed in an old mansion; delicious food and very friendly staff.
- Rakia Raketa Bar: At this trendy restaurant and bar with a nostalgic decor, you’ll find unique regional dishes and cocktails served up in a space with a twist that pays homage to communism.
- Hadjidraganov’s Cellars: If you desire a satisfying Bulgarian meal with a traditional ambiance bursting with folklore, then this is the place for you.
- Bistro Pestro: Small and authentic Italian restaurant with amazing pasta.
- Manastirska Magernitsa Restaurant: Authentic Bulgarian cuisine in a traditional setting. Pretty extensive menu with both indoor and outdoor seating available.
- Supa Star: This place serves up tasty, colorful dishes made in-house with a relaxed vibe. Enjoy a delicious array of homemade soups, sandwiches, salads, and decadent desserts.
- Coffee Syndicate: Exceptional employees, outstanding selection of high-quality coffee and delicious eclairs and other pastries.
- Rainbow Factory: Popular brunch spot with great eggs, sandwiches and daily dessert specials. There are two Rainbow Factory locations in Sofia.
- Altruist – Urban Coffee Shop & Bakery: One location that should be on your list if you’re looking to indulge in a delectable slice of cake alongside a fine cup of coffee in a refined ambiance.
- Drekka: With a minimalistic style, this takeaway coffee spot specializes in gourmet coffee in addition to offering coffee and teas for purchase to enjoy at home.
- Chucky’s Coffee House: Best speciality coffee in Sofia! This coffeeshop is small and offers minimal seating, but their coffee is definitely worth visiting for.
- Pura Vita Belgian bakery: Handmade and delicious croissants at a reasonable price.
- y dough: For mouthwatering cinnamon rolls, their coffee is great as well.
- Wonderland Brunch & Cake: Exceptional brunch dishes and exquisite coffee. Due to its popularity, it is highly recommended to make a reservation, particularly on weekends.
- café Ma Baker: Homemade cakes, pastries, and sandwiches as well as coffee; limited seating available.
- Mekitsa and Coffee: Try traditional mekitsa here, offered with either sweet or sour filling options.
- Martines Specialty Coffee Shop & Roastery: High quality speciality coffee and super friendly staff.
- &bread: This bakery’s standout is its cubic croissant, but the pastries & bread are exceptional. Staff is friendly, helpful & skilled. The air is fragrant with freshly baked treats.
- The Cocktail Bar: One of the most famous cocktail spots in the city. It’s set inside a glass pavilion nestled within a courtyard.
- K.E.B.A.: From morning till late at night, K.E.B.A. is an eclectic cafe/bar offering laidback vibes and top-notch cocktails.
- One More Bar: One of the most famous bars of Sofia found within Borisova Gradina Park.
- Bar Me: Standout for creative and delicious cocktails, charming atmosphere, and attentive service. Rare combo of elegance and unpretentiousness. Arrive early, as this cozy spot is in high demand in Sofia.
- Hambara: Secret bar only lite by candlelight, Hambara is truly a hidden gem. Entrance is found down a dark alley; knock on the wooden door to enter this enchanting bar.
- 5L Speakeasy bar: Upon locating the primary entrance, you must retrieve the key hanging nearby to unlock the subsequent door; Exceptional cocktails in a charming atmosphere.
- Sputnik Cocktail Bar: An exceptional ambiance that evokes the aesthetics of space and the Soviet era can be experienced here. The cocktails presented are exceptional, with a distinctiveness and well-balanced flavor, despite their use of uncommon ingredients.
How Many Days to Spend in Sofia
Sofia is often overlooked, yet it is a fantastic weekend escape option. One of the major advantages of visiting Sofia is that the cost of living is low, making it an affordable destination for travelers. In addition to its affordability, Sofia has a rich history, fascinating architecture, and great food, making it a well-rounded destination. To fully explore Bulgaria’s capital, you should stay at least two nights in Sofia.
Best Time to Visit Sofia, Bulgaria
The best time for travelers to visit Sofia, Bulgaria is during the spring or fall seasons. In the spring, which spans from April to June, the city comes alive with blooming flowers and temperate weather. Travelers can explore the sprawling parks and vibrant outdoor cafes while enjoying the pleasant temperatures. Similarly, the fall season, from September to November, offers mild weather, beautiful foliage, and fewer crowds. This is an ideal time to soak in Sofia’s rich history by visiting ancient landmarks, like the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, or strolling through the picturesque streets of the city center. Whether visitors are seeking cultural experiences or outdoor adventures, spring and fall in Sofia provide the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable trip.