We’re back with yet another amazing guide of a Balkan capital city. This time, we’re going to take you to a stroll across Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Widely underrated in the past, this city has grown into a true metropolis with lots of things to offer to tourists. So, Sofia tourism has blossomed lately, and now many travelers have Sofia on their map. That’s exactly why we decided to visit Sofia Bulgaria this winter and spent three nights in this charming city.
We didn’t have high hopes, to be honest. Before starting our adventure, we went over some basic Sofia sightseeing ideas and prepared a modest bucket list. However, we fell in love with the city right away. I guess Sofia took us by surprise with its many architectural gems and archeological sights in the middle of the city. Hence, it’s only right to share our experience in this Sofia travel guide. So, prepare to learn all about Sofia, including where to eat, what to see and where to stay.
Basic Facts about Sofia
Before diving deeper into the topic of what to see in Sofia Bulgaria, let’s first go over some basic facts about the city. For that purpose, we’ll try to answer some commonly asked questions and hopefully introduce you to the wonderful city of Sofia.
Is Sofia Bulgaria Cheap?
Well, considering the country is in the European Union, we’d say the prices are average. It’s cheaper than other EU countries for sure, but more expensive than other Balkan countries. So, we’d say whether Sofia is cheap or expensive depends on where you come from.
Is Sofia Bulgaria Safe?
Safety is always a point of interest to travelers and that makes perfect sense. Well, Bulgaria is generally a safe country and consequently Sofia is a safe city too. Naturally, there are always scammers trying to take advantage of tourists and therefore you need to make sure you’re careful. So, don’t leave your things unattended, don’t trust just anyone and exchange money in trusted exchange offices.
Is Sofia Bulgaria Worth Visiting?
It really depends on what a person is hoping to see, but we believe that Sofia is worth visiting. This capitol has many attractions, historical buildings and nice sights. Plus, it’s not overly expensive and it often hosts interesting events. Therefore, if you have a few days to spare and want to explore Bulgaria, then Sofia should definitely be on your bucket list. If you are visiting Sofia during Christmas, be sure to visit the Christmas Market.
What Language is Spoken in Sofia, Bulgaria?
The official language is Bulgarian. However, English-speaking tourists will probably have no issues exploring the city and communicating with locals as many of them understand and speak English as well. This especially applies to employees at tourist attractions, hotels and restaurants.
What Currency is Used in Sofia Bulgaria?
Unlike most EU countries, Bulgaria still uses its local currency i.e. the Bulgarian Lev. At the time of this writing, 1 BGN was worth 0.51 EUR. You can find exchange offices in the central area as well as certain banks.
Driving in Bulgaria / Bulgaria Vignette?
Bulgaria doesn’t have any tolls. Instead, the country uses vignettes, which from 2019 can be bought online. Therefore, if you’re traveling to Sofia by car, you’ll need to take this expense into consideration too. You can check the official Bulgarian vignette website for more details regarding how to buy online vignette and prices.
Best time to visit Sofia
Travelers usually want to know when is the best time to visit a certain place. However, we’re not sure this applies to Sofia, as the city has something to offer pretty much throughout the year. It really depends on what you’re hoping to see and do. If you want to experience the Sofia Bulgaria Christmas atmosphere and the Christmas Bazaar, then you should go there by the end of November or throughout December.
Those hoping to go shopping will find that the period during the winter and/or summer sales is the best time to visit Sofia to cash in on all the discounts.
Other than such reasons for visiting Bulgaria’s Capitol, you can walk around the charming streets of Sofia any day of any month really. Just keep in mind that the summers are hot, and the winters are cold and snowy. So, maybe pick a season you prefer in case you hate soaring hot or freezing temperatures.
Things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria
Anyone interested in giving Sofia sightseeing a try, must wonder what the best attractions to see in the city are. Well, honestly, we were quite surprised of the Sofia tourist attractions and found numerous things worth visiting. Therefore, in this section we’ll try to cover the best things to do in Sofia Bulgaria.
Keep in mind though, that we were in the city for three nights, so if you wonder what to see in Sofia Bulgaria in one day you should carefully plan your visit. The city is large and takes time to go from one sight to the next.
1. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
This Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral should be on anyone’s what to do in Sofia Bulgaria bucket list. Built in Neo-Byzantine style, this is a marvel of architecture and hence a top attraction for tourists.
2. National Palace of Culture
This amazing building is another must-see when in Sofia Bulgaria as it represents the largest south-eastern European exhibition center. The majestic building was opened back in 1981 and it hosts many cultural events, including the Sofia International Film Festival.
3. National Assembly Square
Unmissable, the National Assembly Square is a wonderful place to take a stroll or relax. Also, it offers the perfect view of the National Assembly Building. This building is the home of the Bulgarian parliament. Designed in Ne-Renaissance, the National Assembly Square is among the top places to visit in Sofia thanks to its meaning and architecture.
4. St. George Rotunda
In my opinion, the St. George Rotunda is definitely one of the top ten things to do in Sofia Bulgaria. We actually found the Rotunda by mistake as we were randomly exploring the streets of Sofia on a winter night. We were cold and walking fast when we noticed an unusual building through a narrow passage. When we got there, we were mind-blown! The St. George Rotunda is a historical and architectural gem found right in the middle of a modern metropolis. Actually, it reminded us a lot of the Rotunda in Thessaloniki, which is also in the middle of the Greek’s metropolis.
5. Vitosha Boulevard
Those who enjoy nice and relaxing walks should surely stroll along the Vitosha Boulevard. Walking at least a part of it reveals the everyday life and habits of Sofia locals. You’ll see people going to work, mothers walking with their children, elders waiting for the bus. In other words, even though it’s nothing special, it really offers invaluable experience.
6. St. Sophia Church
Part of any free walking tour Sofia Bulgaria, St. Sophia Church is the second oldest one in the Capitol. This wonderful religious building dates back to the 4-6th century and it is considered a precious gem of Early Christian architecture in South-Eastern Europe.
7. National Archeological Museum
Fans of archaeology shouldn’t be wondering what to visit in Sofia. Namely, they should simply head to the impressive National Archaeological Museum and have the time of their lives. The museum has a prehistory hall, a main hall, a medieval section and a treasury – each one special in its own way.
8. Russian Monument Square
We found the Russian Monument Square on several free things to do in Sofia Bulgaria lists. Therefore, we spent lots of time walking to find it and, honestly, were a bit disappointed. I believe the reason lies in the fact we went there during the winter and the square was just gray and unimpressive. In summer though, at least according to online photos, it should be quite a view.
9. Sofia Synagogue
Completed back in 1909, the Sofia Synagogue is the largest one in South-Eastern Europe. Considering it has religious, historical and architectural significance, we’d say that it should be among the things to see in Sofia.
10. Ivan Vazov National Theater
Beautiful and charming, the National Theater building in Sofia is on every Sofia Bulgaria things to see. The magnificent Neoclassical architecture makes this building a real eye candy, plus it was designed by two famous Viennese architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer.
11. Serdica Amphitheater
The Serdica Amphitheater was the second mind-blown moment we had in Sofia. We were looking for it in vain, walking by a hotel, just to find out that it was in fact INSIDE the hotel. I mean really, we were out of our minds.
Anyway, the entrance to the Serdica Amphitheater is free. To get to the Amphitheater, enter the hotel and use the elevator by the reception area to go one floor down. A truly amazing experience really. Hence, if you’re ever wondering where to go in Sofia Bulgaria, go there, please!
12. Banya Bashi Mosque
If you want to see authentic Ottoman architecture, head to the Banya Bashi Mosque. This mosque was actually built over thermal baths, which is one of the many fascinating things about it. Plus, it’s near the many other attractions near the Sofia central area, so you should really include it to your list of what to see in Sofia Bulgaria.
13. Lion’s Bridge and Eagle Bridge
If bridges are your thing, then you can visit both the Lion’s Bridge and the Eagle Bridge in Sofia. Like the names reveal, these are bridges with statues of Lions/Eagles on them. In fact, they’re quite like the Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana, but less cool as we all know that dragons are awesome!
14. Russian Church
Unfortunately, we missed the Russian Church somehow. However, I’ve seen it on photos, and it looks amazing! So, I really think anyone who took the time to visit Bulgaria’s Capitol should find time to see this wonderful building too.
15. Sofia Ancient Serdica Archaeological Complex
Least but not the least is the Sofia Ancient Serdica Archaeological Complex. Believe it or not, this was our third mind-blown moment. Near the busy streets of Sofia, we noticed something like a hole and stairs and went near it. Boom, an entire Archeological complex! So, I’d conclude that this is another of the top things to do in Sofia Bulgaria.
Accommodation in Sofia
As people who’s been only once in Sofia, it would be unfair to give definite opinions about hotels in Sofia Bulgaria. However, you can find the best area to stay in Sofia Bulgaria based on what interests you.
For example, we stayed at the Apartment Bregalnitsa because it was about 20 minutes to the center by foot, it had parking and was right next to the Mall of Sofia. That meant we had a great supermarket nearby, where to go shopping and eat until late at night. In other words, the answer to where to stay in Sofia Bulgaria depends on your reason for visit. Hence, plan your accommodation in a way to suit your Sofia sightseeing bucket list.
Those traveling on a budget can find options on Airbnb Sofia Bulgaria. If you join using our referral code, you can save between 8 and 22 EUR on your first booking. Sounds good, right?
In addition to cheap accommodation in Sofia Bulgaria like the Airbnb options or the Apartment Bregalnitsa we stayed at, you can find luxurious options too. Some of the best Sofia Bulgaria Hotels to stay at are the Magic Castle Hotel, Art ‘Otel, Metropolitan Hotel Sofia and Design Hotel 36. All these have superb reviews and offer lots of amenities to visitors.
Eating in Sofia
If you are a passionate foodie, you may wonder what to eat in Sofia Bulgaria. Well, the food in Sofia Bulgaria is delicious and, we’d say, meat oriented. Some unusual specialties to try when eating out in Sofia Bulgaria would be shkembe chorba (tripe soup), tarator (a mix of yogurt, cucumber and garlic) and mixed grill. Their popular minced-meat specialties include kebapche and kyufte, both delicious when combined with potatoes with white cheese. Those eating out in Sofia Bulgaria with a sweet tooth should give a try to baklava, baked apples and crème caramel!
In terms of best places to eat in Sofia Bulgaria, we don’t really have too many recommendations. We were there only for a few days and ate twice at the Christmas Market. However, a short research will show that the best-rated restaurants in Sofia are Aubergine, Bagri, Izbata Tavern, Skaptobara, Skaptoburger and Daro. So, if you’re looking for places where to eat in Sofia Bulgaria, you can pick one of those or simply go and explore something new.
Those who are looking for vegan and vegetarian options, will probably find many in any restaurant really. However, recommended options would be Hlebar, Furna, Sun Moon Albin and Salted Café.
Shopping in Sofia
What many people visiting Sofia don’t know is that this city is great for fans of shopping. Namely, shopping in Sofia Bulgaria can be done in various malls across the city. The three most popular shopping malls in Sofia Bulgaria, nonetheless, are Mall of Sofia, Paradise Center and Serdika Center. During out stay in Bulgaria’s Capitol we were accommodated right next to the Mall of Sofia Bulgaria. We really enjoyed window shopping as well as real shopping in the numerous stores inside. Plus, there was a Cineplexx theater as well as a great food corner.
Paradise Mall Sofia Bulgaria is another popular option for those that want large malls on multiple stores and with tens of shops. To those going to IKEA, we’d also recommend the Ring Mall Sofia, since it’s right next to IKEA Sofia and has lots of options for passionate shoppers too. A pro tip for those looking for discounts and sales is to go on shopping in Sofia in February for finding cheap winter clothes. Similarly, visiting stores in September/October is perfect for summer clothing shopping.
Tips for a Nice Vacation in Sofia
Finally, let us provide you with certain tips for a nice vacation in Sofia. Naturally, these may not work for everyone, but we do believe they will help you towards a smooth visit.
- Go in the summer if you want to see the nice fountains as they won’t work during the cold, winter season.
- If you’re wondering where to see folk music in Sofia, then head to a traditional taverna as these national restaurants often feature folk music.
- If you’re traveling by car don’t forget to purchase a vignette online.
- For those that dislike walking around, we’d recommend using the metro as it has great connections and costs only 1.60 BGN per ticket.
- In Sofia Bulgaria, the national number for emergencies is 112.
- Don’t forget that most areas in the city are parking zones, so you’ll need to pay for parking or get a fine.
- There are many cool things around Sofia, so if you have the time make sure to visit one of those too.
- If you have a single-day trip, make sure to make a list of what to see in Sofia Bulgaria in one day in order not to miss the top attractions.