Sofia is a great travel destination. The Bulgarian capital is fast growing, multi-cultural, vibrant and affordable. The city has a lot to offer from history and traditions to art and fun. Sofia is not to be missed and you need to include it to your travel bucket list. As a local let me share with you everything you need to know in my Sofia travel guide.
Let me start this Sofia travel guide with a little introduction.
Sofia is the largest city and capital of Bulgaria. It’s the 15th largest city in the European Union with a population of 1 307 376 people.
The city is located in the central parts of Western Bulgaria in the Sofia Valley, surrounded by mountains. The closest mountain to the city is Vitosha Mountain, 20 minutes away from the city center.
Sofia is the fourth highest capital city in Europe. The city is built on the terraces of the Iskar River. In the central parts of the city, and in Gorna Banya, Knyazhevo, Pancharevo, and Ovcha Kupel have mineral springs.
1/6 of the industrial production in Bulgaria is focused in Sofia, and the city is cultural, administrative, industrial, educational, and transport center of the country. In Sofia are based many universities, theaters, cinemas, galleries, museums, and etc. In the city center are reserved archaeological monuments from Roman times.
Sofia became a capital of April 3, 1879. The name of the city comes from the late antique cathedral ‘’St. Sofia’’. The date set for the Day of Sofia is 17th September. On this day the Orthodox Church celebrates Holy Martyrs Sofia, Hope, Faith, and Love.
Thanks to its strategic location on the Balkan Peninsula, Sofia and in the past was a big, buzzing city, as well as cultural and tourist center.
The distance between Sofia and the other major cities is not big, Plovdiv is just 150 km away, Burgas 360 km, and Varna 430 km.
The history of Sofia spans thousands of years from Antique to modern times. It is divided into ancient, medieval and modern.
Sofia was founded 2,500 years ago. Over the centuries, it has been given several names – Serdica, Sredetz and the remains of the old cities can still be viewed today.
The first artifacts on the territory of modern Bulgarian capital are from the Neolithic period. Traces of several Neolithic settlements have been discovered in the area of the Slatina district and date back in time from 5 000 BC. Remains from the Chalcolithic period were found in several places and is now close to the modern center.
Before the construction of Constantinople, Serdica (Sofia) certainly was the most important Roman city in the Balkans. At that time Serdika was the seat of a Christian bishop.
In the early 9th century on 9 April 809, Khan Krum joined Serdika to the territory of the First Bulgarian Empire. From the 12th to the 14th century, during the Second Bulgarian State, the crafts and trade are thriving in Sredets (Sofia). At that time Sredets was the main city of the Western Bulgarian lands. In the 15th century, the Ottoman authorities approved the new Christian name of the city – Sofia. Larger and beautiful medieval Bulgarian churches have been converted to mosques from Turkicised local dignitaries loyal to the new government. In the 17th century, Sofia declined with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. In 1816 Sofia was completely burned, and in 1857 a victim of plague meanwhile was overtaken by two earthquakes in 1818 and 1858.
On October 20, 1878, from Plovdiv to Sofia is moved the headquarters of the Provisional Russian government and on April 3, 1878, at the suggestion of Marin Drinov, Sofia is chosen as the center of Bulgarian lands as the capital of the Principality of Bulgaria. From April 4, 1878, until today Sofia is the capital of the Third Bulgarian State.
In Sofia, there are 200 Orthodox churches and chapels and more than 40 monasteries. The biggest and most important church in Sofia and Bulgaria, in general, is a temple-monument St. Alexander Nevski. Sofia Synagogue is one of the largest in Europe.
Across the city, there are a number of monuments from different eras. Some of them built during communist rule were destroyed.
One of the historical monuments who also became a symbol of the city is the Vasil Levski monument, which is located in the heart of the city. Another very famous monument in the heart of the city is the Monument of The King Liberator, known to the locals as the Horse. This is one of the most impressive monuments in Sofia, built in honor of the liberation of Bulgaria.
The city has a lot of museums, theaters, sports halls. The two oldest and popular bridges are Lion’s Bridge and Eagle’s Bridge.
Spring and autumn in Sofia are relatively short, variable and dynamic. The winter is cold and snowy. The temperature on the coldest winter days can drop to -15° C or even lower. The summer is warm and sunny, but is cooler than the rest of the country, because of its altitude. The temperatures can exceed 35° C.
The official language is Bulgarian. English is well spoken by the locals.
How are you-Kak si-Как си
What is your name-Kak se kazvash-Как се казваш
What are you doing-Kakvo pravish-Какво правиш
I’m fine-Dobre sum-Добре съм
I love you-Obicham te –Обичам те
I can’t-Ne moga-Не мога
I don’t want-Ne iskam-Не искам
The official Bulgarian currency is lev. 1(one) lev is divided into 100(hundred) stotinki.
1 EUR=1.95583 BGN
Money can be exchanged in banks or in any of the many currency exchange offices.
Most hotels, restaurants, and shops accept MasterCard, VISA, American Express, and Dinners Club.
Sofia is one of the cheapest European capitals which makes her very budget-friendly. Hostels dorm rooms start at 8 euros and hotel rooms and apartment can reach up to 70 euros. The best area to stay in is the center. Good places to check near the center are Elegance Hostel and Hostel Mostel. Their location is very good, near the heart of the city, and their prices are more than affordable. You can also find a lot of apartments and rooms at Airbnb ( get $30 credit here ).
Sofia Airport is 9 km away from the city center. More than 20 airlines operate from/to Sofia. The low-cost companies traveling to Sofia from/to many European cities are Ryanair, Easy Jet and WizzAir. The airport is well connected to the Sofia metro and public bus #84 which goes to the city center too (Eagle’s bridge – Sofia University Metro Station). In Sofia, the public transport system contains metro, buses, trams, trolleys. You can also rent a car or bike. A single ticket for the whole public transport system cost 1.60 leva (0.80 euro). But most of the tourist attractions are within a walking distance.
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Things to do & see
Sofia has beautiful architecture, many churches, museums, green areas, theaters, etc. Things not to miss are:
-The ancient ruins throughout the whole city center
Sofia is one of Europe’s most ancient capitals and has ancient ruins all over the city.
-St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral
The second largest Orthodox church in the Balkans after St. Sava in Belgrade
– Walk through the vibrant streets Vitoshka, Graf Ignatiev, Tsar Ivan Shishman
Vitoshka is the main shopping street, it’s full of cafes and bars, shops and always buzzing. On Graf Ignatiev, you will find more shops and Slaveikov square along with the Book market. Tsar Ivan Shishman, Oborishte and Tsar Ivan Asen are some of the most attractive streets where the art, bars, and magic happens.
-Go for a beer in one of the many parks and gardens
The parks and gardens around the city are a favorite place for the locals to gather for a beer, take a walk, picnics or doing sports activities.
-Meet the history of Sofia at The Sofia History Museum
Museum of the History of Sofia is situated in a building of the former Central Mineral Baths. The museum has over 120 cultural properties and a specialized scientific library with about 12 000 units.
Working time of the Museum: Tuesday – Sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM, Monday off.
-Eat a traditional Bulgarian dish
-Join a free tour (list with all of the free tours in Sofia here)
Sofia free tour – Every day, twice a day at 11 AM and 6 PM. The tour starts from the Palace of Justice.
Sofia Graffiti tour – The tour starts in front of the Statue of Sofia (Serdika Metro Station), every Saturday and Sunday from 3 PM.
Balkan Bites – Every day at 2 PM. Meeting point Park Crystal.
-Go on a Communist tour of Sofia – Every Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday at 4 PM at the Palace of Justice. (For booking and rates contact the organizers)
-Climb Cherni vruh
The highest peak of the nearest Vitosha Mountain.
Just to name a few.
Food & Drink
In Sofia, you can find many restaurants, cafes, bars. Don’t miss to try a traditional Bulgarian dish. The foods that I recommend not miss: banitsa, bob chorba, shopska salad, tarator, mekitsi, lyuteniitsa, Bulgarian yogurt (the best yogurt in the world, trust me!). The traditional Bulgarian drinks to try are : rakia, ayryan, boza, and of course Bulgarian wine. Recently I found my best restaurant in the city. The restaurant is called Do-Re-Mi. The place is a little bit hidden on Neofit Rilski str 73, next to Halbite.
Other restaurants to check out are Made in Blue, Made in Home, Moma, Happy. Sofia has all kinds of bars, some good are Roderick, Switch, Hambara. Drinking out can be budget-friendly if you stick to the beer. Beer in a bar cost 3-5 leva (1.50-2.50 euros), and the one in the shops starts from less than 1leva (0.50 euro).
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The Bulgarians love to have fun. Every weekend the clubs are full. The largest discos in Sofia are concentrated in Student’s town. I don’t recommend going out there. It’s full of chalgoteki crowded with drunk students. The best clubs are in the center. Some of the famous are Yalta Club, Terminal 1, Jim Beam, Once Upon a Time, Stroezdha, Mixtape 5, PM Club, Bedroom.
Souvenirs can be bought at many places throughout the whole city. There are many small shops offering beautiful crafts, and all kinds of souvenirs from all over Bulgaria. This shops can be found at the main streets like Vitoshka and in the subway. Avoid people trying to sell you something on the streets. In areas like Lion’s bridge, there are people yelling around cigarettes? Perfumes?
Sofia host many festivals and events like:
Sofia Film Festival
Sofia Architecture Week
Sofia Dance Week
A to JazZ
Sofia Design Week
International Folklore Festival
National Opera and Ballet. The National Palace of Culture regularly hosts various events and fairs.
Sofia Money Saving Tips:
Couchsurfing – Sofia has large Couchsurfing community. This is a great opportunity to save on accommodation and find local friends to share with you the best places to go and things to see.
Eat at the bakeries
Go on a free walking tour
Explore the city on foot
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Now you know everything you need to start planning your trip to Sofia what are you waiting for?
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