Bulgaria has many wonderful places to visit, ranging from beaches on the Black Sea to mountain ski resorts. However, the nation’s capital city of Sofia is difficult to beat in terms of history and culture. While it has some of the grit and chaos typical of large Balkan cities, there’s no denying how much there is to see and do in this exciting destination. Today, we’ll talk about the best things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria plus we’ll take a look at how best to visit the city, what the major attractions are in Sofia, and what you should not miss.
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Where to Stay in Sofia, Bulgaria
There are a host of places to stay in Sofia, Bulgaria – here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Sofia, Bulgaria, mid-range places to stay in Sofia, Bulgaria, and budget accommodation in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Impresamente Art Hotel, Sofia: The Impresamente Art Hotel is located on Vincent van Gogh Street in Sofia, a great location surrounded by Sofia’s top attractions. This impressionist art-inspired hotel in Sofia features rooms with satellite flat-screen TV, a seating area, a safety deposit box, private bathrooms with shower, slippers, and a hairdryer, a desk. You’ll be able to enjoy a continental breakfast and free WiFi. Sofia’s Impresamente Art Hotel also has a sun terrace and a garden plus, a bar, and table tennis. The Impresamente Art Hotel in Sofia is a fabulous way place to relax in Sofia in stunning surroundings. See room rates for the Impresamente Art Hotel and availability here.
Rosslyn Central Park Hotel, Sofia: The Rosslyn Central Park in Sofia enjoys an excellent location right at the heart of Sofia. This four-star Sofia accommodation has rooms equipped with individually controlled air-conditioning, sound-proofing, a flat-screen TV, blackout curtains, a mini-bar, a private bathroom with a bath/shower and a hairdryer, and an in-room safe. Sofia’s Rosslyn Central Park Hotel also offers a lush dining experience at the 106 Restaurant and a relaxed drinking atmosphere at the Lobby Bar. The Rosslyn Park has outdoor furniture, to truly enjoy the view and, of course, there’s also free WiFi. The Rosslyn Central Park Hotel is a fantastic mid-range Sofia hotel. Read more reviews and room rates and see Rosslyn Central Park Hotel availability here.
Hotel Calipso, Sofia: Sofia’s Hotel Calipso is found in a great location, a short distance from central Sofia. Hotel Calipso’s rooms feature a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a private bathroom with shower, hairdryer, free toiletries, and air-conditioning. You can also enjoy in-room breakfast, an a la carte meal at their restaurant, and snacks from their snack bar. The Hotel Calipso in Sofia is an ideal hotel for those looking for budget-friendly accommodation in Sofia. Check rates and availability here.
Sofia is in the west of Bulgaria and this city reflects more than 2,000 years of history. There have been Roman, Greek, Ottoman, and Soviet occupiers here. You’ll find Roman remnants, Ottoman decorations, and Christian frescoes here. The capital city is gloriously contemporary these days and has a great café culture. These are the Sofia attractions not to miss and the best ways of exploring the city.
The Best Things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria
You’ll want to have a basic understanding of the history of Sofia (and Bulgaria) to understand her better. Sofia’s patron saint is Saint Sophia, and you’ll find her in all her glory on the coat of arms of the city. The best place to spot this is on the outside of the Sofia Hotel Balkan. But you’ll also be able to see her statue from several places around the city.
You shouldn’t miss Sofia’s Roman ruins (they’re free to see). And of course, as Bulgaria was ruled by Communists from 1946 until 1990, you can’t miss the communist architecture. It is most present in the centre of Sofia, where you’ll see The TZUM Sofia Central Department Store, the President’s Office and the Communist Party House all constructed in the post-war Socialist era.
Probably the prettiest of buildings is the National Art Gallery – which is vaguely reminiscent of an old train station. Equalling the photogenic Art Gallery is the Sofia Central Mineral Baths. The gorgeous white and yellow building combines Bulgarian, Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox design features and was opened in 1913, closing in 1986. You can try the mineral water from the public springs on the side of the building. It tastes a little odd but does smell a little sulphurous, but then again, Sofia has been recognised for its mineral baths since the 16th century.
So there’s your introduction. Shall we dive in and explore Sofia together?
Take a Free Walking Tour of Sofia
One of the best ways of exploring a city is to take a walking tour. And Sofia is no exception. The Free Sofia Tour welcomes visitors on any given day of the year. This 2-hour walking tour, led by enthusiastic local guides, covers Sofia’s most famous landmark and I can attest to it being excellent. As a tour, it provides the ideal introduction to the city and its thousands of years of history. These free walking tours are available all year, regardless of the weather. You’ll need to reserve a place here.
You’ll start with a little history and then explore the old town, plus some of the religious aspects of Sofia. There are the Roman ruins to explore, and Sofia’s World War II history too. This tour finishes near the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral considered one of the most beautiful Orthodox buildings in the world. Like the sound of this? Reserve your place here. There’s no charge, simply tip your guide when you’re done.
Take a Free Food Tour of Sofia
You may be familiar with free walking tours, but have you heard of free food tours? Yes, where you go restaurant hopping and sample a variety of cuisines while filling your stomach with local delicacies…for free – you’ll just tip your guide when you’re finished. Balkan Bites is a great way to further explore Sofia – you’ll be taken to some of Sofia’s most interesting family-run restaurants, where you will be able to sample traditional Bulgarian cuisine. At the same time, you’ll get an understanding and knowledge about the food’s history and customs.
This really is a great tour – and comes with great restaurant recommendations for later (if you’re not full!) Enjoy every free bite and book your place now!
Visit the Sofia Opera
The Sofia National Opera, which opened in 1890, is Bulgaria’s oldest and most prestigious opera house. It has been 50 years since that autumn day in 1953 in Sofia, when the new National Opera was officially opened, located in the Monumental House of BZNS [The Agrarian Union of Bulgaria], named “Alexander Stambolijsky” after its popular leader. Some of the world’s most famous opera singers, including Nicolai Ghiaurov, Ghena Dimitrova, Nicola Guselev, and Anna Tomova-Sintova, began their careers on the Sofia stage. If you’re an opera fan, you’re in for a treat, tickets cost around 40 leva. Alternatively, you can, of course, take a photo on the way past!
Take a Photo outside the Presidential Palace in Sofia
The president’s office is located at 2 Dondukov Blvd. in the Presidency building. The building is impressive, and although the changing of the guards is not as elaborate as in some other European capitals, it is still worth seeing. Every hour, 5 minutes before the hour, the procedure takes place, allowing you to easily combine your Sofia sightseeing with a quick photo visit to the Presidential Palace.
Over the centuries, the functions of the head of state in Bulgaria have been performed by a monarch, a Regency Council, and, later, collegial bodies such as the Presidium of the National Assembly and the State Council throughout the history of the modern Bulgarian state. The President of the Republic is a relatively new institution, coming into place in 1991 and it was associated with Bulgaria’s democratic transition and the reorganization of institutions that occurred as part of that transition.
See the Palace of Justice, Sofia
The Sofia Court House, also known as the Palace of Justice, is a structure in Sofia that houses all of the city’s courts. The Palace of Justice was started in 1929 and completed in 1940. The Bulgarian National Bank in the 1930s and the Largo in the 1950s were the first structures in the city to be built in this strict monumental style. Nikola Lazarov designed the initial architectural plan, which was later redesigned by Pencho Koychev.
The Courthouse is constructed of white limestone and features a prominent cornice on the top floor. There are five large gates and 12 columns on the facade. The Court House is eclectic in style, combining several Classical themes, including the fourth floor with no balusters and Roman and Byzantine style decorations on the doors, windows, and corbels.
This is a popular place to meet – and it may surprise you to see how many people are just “hanging around” here. They used to sit on the stairs in front of the Palace of Justice a few years ago, but now a new fence prohibits this for people who work and visit the palace to have better access to the building.
See the Roman Ruins of Sofia
Around 29 BC, the Romans arrived in Sofia. Serdica was the name given to the settlement built around the hot mineral springs (or Serdika). Serdica had grown in importance by the third century due to its strategic location on the Via Militaris, a major road connecting the Eastern and Western Empires. There were many new buildings as the city grew. Emperor Constantine made his home here, reportedly saying, “Serdica is my Rome.”
The most important Roman ruin is the Serdica complex, which spans 9,000 square meters in the Bulgarian capital and draws comparisons to Rome, is now open to visitors. This area wasn’t discovered until 2010 when the Serdika Metro station was being built! The main Roman town was small and walled, with burial grounds and an amphitheatre on the outskirts. The majority of what you see today is within the original walled area, though the wall itself is mostly gone. You can now walk around the foundations of antique buildings, 8 (original) streets, and a Christian basilica that have been preserved. The road’s 2000-year-old pavement has been almost completely preserved. There are lots more Roman ruins to see in Sofia – and this is a guide to the best of them.
See the Ivan Vazov National Theatre
The National Theater, named after Bulgarian poet Ivan Vazov, is one of Sofia’s most beautiful structures. He is regarded as one of the fathers of Bulgarian revolutionary poetry, alongside Hristo Botev, making the honour of having the National Theater named after him well-deserved. Even if you are unable to attend a performance due to a lack of Bulgarian language skills, you will appreciate the beautiful façade and lively square in front of the theatre.
The Ivan Vazov National Theatre, the city’s most prominent theatre, is another important landmark in Sofia’s sprawling landscape. The theatre, which opened in 1904, hosted performances and a theatrical school until 1943 when it was severely damaged during the bombing of Sofia during World War II.
The National Theatre is an iconic building in Sofia and it appears on some Bulgarian banknotes too.
Explore the Museums of Sofia
Sofia has nearly 30 museums where you can see the majority of Bulgaria’s national treasures and learn about the country’s ups and downs. Here is a list of the best museums to visit in Sofia if you only have a limited amount of time.
Sofia History Museum
The National History Museum is one of the Balkan Peninsula’s largest and most comprehensive history museums. It houses over 700,000 cultural monuments that span the history of Bulgarian lands from 8,000 years ago to the present day. Only 10% of these priceless artefacts and monuments are on display in the museum halls.
Sofia’s National History Museum was founded in 1973, and its first exhibition was held in the Sofia Court building in 1984 to commemorate Bulgaria’s 1300th anniversary as a state. Since the year 2000, the museum has been housed in the former government residence building No. 1 in Sofia’s Boyana neighbourhood.
This museum will take you on a journey through the history of Bulgaria’s capital. You can ride a tram from the turn of the century, see a king’s carriage, and visit a neolithic dwelling. It also allows you to explore interactive photo albums that depict past fashion and notable structures.
- Sofia National History Museum Address: 1 Banski Sq, 1000 Sofia, Bulgaria
- National History Museum Opening Times: Winter Working Hours (09:30 to 18:00), Summer Working Hours (09:30 to 19:00)
- Entrance fee for National History Museum: Entrance fee for individual visitors – 10.00 lv. For students – 2.00 lv. For visitors with children – 4.00 lv., for children over 7 years – 2.00 lv.
National Archaeology Museum of Sofia
You should come here for the building alone. It is magnificent! The National Institute and Museum of Archaeology (National Institute of Archaeology with Museum in Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) is dedicated to the culture of the tribes and peoples who inhabited present-day Bulgaria from antiquity to the 18th century.
The museum is an archaeological museum housed in the former Ottoman mosque in Sofia’s largest and oldest building. The Archaeology Museum houses prehistoric artefacts dating from 1,600,000 BC to 1,600 BC, as well as grave inventory and other treasures dating from the Late Bronze Age to late Antiquity, as well as artefacts from ancient Thrace, Greece, and Rome dating from the late Middle Ages.
- Sofia National Institute and Museum of Archaeology Address: 2 Saborna Str., Sofia 1000, Bulgaria
- Sofia National Institute and Museum of Archaeology Opening Times: 10:00 am – 06:00 pm
- Entrance fee for Sofia National Institute and Museum of Archaeology: Adults (10 lv), Students (2 lv)
Sofia’s Red Flat Museum
Entering the Red Flat is like stepping back in time to 1980s Communist Bulgaria. The museum is designed to let you learn about Bulgarian life during the Cold War. The Red Flat museum is like visiting the home of a regular Bulgarian family. You’ll find how they lived, ate, drank, worked and played. It’s fun!
- Sofia’s Red Flat Museum Address: 24 Ivan Denkoglu street, Sofia
- Sofia’s Red Flat Museum Opening Times: Every day from 10:30-19:30
- Entrance fee for Sofia’s Red Flat Museum: 18 leva
Museum of Military History, Sofia
Sofia’s Museum of Military History was founded in 1916 and has amassed nearly a million pieces of Bulgarian and European military history in the last 100 years. The exhibition is divided into three sections: outdoor, permanent, and miscellaneous and it purports to be one of the world’s best military museums.
There are 250 pieces of military artillery, aviation, and marine equipment, including missiles and missile launchers, on display outside. Permanent collections include uniforms, the Balkan Wars, the Russo-Turkish wars, WWI and WWII, as well as photos, documents, and prints related to all of these.
- Sofia’s Museum of Military History Address: Ulitsa Cherkovna 92, Sofia
- Sofia’s Museum of Military History Opening Times: Closed every Monday and Tuesday, Open from 10:00-18:00 every Wednesday up to Sunday
- Entrance fee for Sofia’s Museum of Military History: Regular Admission (8 leva), Students (2 leva), Children and Military are FREE
The National Gallery of Bulgaria in Sofia
The National Gallery is housed in a rather glorious building, that I mentioned earlier, which looks like an old railway station. The Gallery, which opened in 1948 and houses over 41,000 paintings, sculptures, graphics, decorative, and contemporary artworks, is Bulgaria’s largest art museum. It houses the most comprehensive collection of Christian art from Bulgarian lands (4th–19th centuries), as well as exemplars of European art (15th–20th centuries) and one-of-a-kind artworks from Asia, Africa, and America.
- The National Gallery of Bulgaria in Sofia Address: 1, 19th February St., St Alexander Nevsky Sq., Sofia 1000
- The National Gallery of Bulgaria in Sofia Opening Times: Closed on Monday, Open from Tuesday up to Sunday from 10:00 up to 18:00
- Entrance fee for The National Gallery of Bulgaria in Sofia: Regular Admission (10 leva), Students (5 leva)
Go Food and Wine Tasting in Sofia
This is a great way to see and taste Sofia. Combine a pleasantly paced walking tour with the opportunity to try traditional Bulgarian food and drink. You’ll spend a few hours walking around Sofia in the afternoon to see the city’s main attractions. Try the refreshing Airyan drink and the traditional Bulgarian Shopska salad. You’ll also get to sample Bulgarian wines from all over the country. You’ll not only see the square known as Small Jerusalem, but also the Rotunda St. George, St. Nedelya Church, St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral, Banya Bashi Mosque, and Sofia Synagogue.
In the historic Central Hall Market, which dates back to the early twentieth century you can try traditional sweets like baklava and tolumbichki, or stock up on fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and sausages. And then in a typical Bulgarian restaurant, built from four houses with a common garden, that features 19th-century architecture and furnishings that represent Bulgaria’s four corners you can try fantastic Bulgarian wines with a variety of meat mezes, such as lukanka, babek, fillet Elena, and pastarma. Want to know more? This is an excellent way to explore Sofia and the food and drink of Bulgaria.
Explore the Religious Landscape of Sofia
Here in Sofia, you’ll find our patron Saint, Sophia presiding over an incredible mix of religions – there’s a Catholic Church and a Jewish Synagogue both side by side with an Islamic Mosque and a Bulgarian Orthodox Church. It’s an incredible mix. Make sure you stop by all of them.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
This is one of the world’s largest orthodox cathedrals, built in the neo-byzantine style. For a variety of reasons, the cathedral is at the top of every visitor’s must-see list. The first is its enormous size. It has a capacity of 10,000 people! It also has a lot of gold plating on the inside, including the dome and bell towers, which makes it sparkle both day and night. It also houses incredible works of art and exudes pure luxury, with the finest Italian marble even used on the walls. The cathedral is dedicated to the Russian soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8.
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Address: Ploshtad Aleksander Nevski, Sofia, Bulgaria
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Opening Times: Open Daily from 07:00 up to 18:00.
- Entrance fee for Alexander Nevsky Cathedral: FREE
St Nicholas the Miracle Maker – the Russian Church of Sofia
The beautiful gold domes of the so-called ‘prettiest church in Sofia’ can be seen walking down ‘Tsar Osvoboditel’ street. Its high dome, surrounded by four smaller domes, all made of gold, blends in perfectly with the church’s green majolica tile roof.
The Russian church, also known as St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker, was built from 1912 to 1914, this extraordinary white and green structure was designed by Russian architect Preobrajenski and built by Russian workers, some of whom had previously worked on the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The exterior of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker church is far more attractive than the interior, which is small and dim. Its frescoes, however, are worth seeing. The frescoes were painted in the Novgorod icon school’s style.
The crypt, located to the left of the main entrance, is more popular than the church itself. The former Bishop Serafin, who died in 1950, is buried here. Locals leave handwritten messages in a box to the right of the tomb. Serafin was never canonized, but he is revered as a saint who is said to grant wishes and prayers.
- St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker Address: 3 Tzar Osvoboditel Str. Sofia
- St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker Opening Times: Opens Daily from 07:30 up to 18:00
- Entrance fee for St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker: FREE
The Basilica of Hagia Sophia
The St. Sofia Church is located in the centre of Sofia. The church was originally dedicated to God’s wisdom, just like its namesake, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. It is one of Sofia’s oldest churches, and its history is intertwined with that of the city. This is the church that gave the city her name and it’s very close to the Nevsky Cathedral. This church is very simple compared to the cathedral. There have been five churches on this site, all destroyed by invading forces. The current basilica, with its two east towers and one tower-cupola, was built in the middle of the sixth century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565).
- The Basilica of Hagia Sophia Address: 1000 Sofia Center, Sofia, Bulgaria
- The Basilica of Hagia Sophia Opening Times: Opens Daily from 07:00 up to 18:00
- Entrance fee for The Basilica of Hagia Sophia: 10 leva
The Church of St George Rotunda, Sofia
The Church of St George (or отонда “вети еоpи” – Rotonda “Sveti Georgi” in Bulgarian) is a red brick rotunda and is believed to be Sofia’s oldest structure. You’ll find the ruins of Roman buildings, including public buildings with hypocaust floors and a basilica, as well as a street, surrounding the Early Christian church. The church is known for its magnificent frescoes inside the central dome, in addition to its excellent architectural preservation. There are five layers of frescoes in total, the oldest dating from the 6th century and the most recent from the 14th century. During the Ottoman period, when the church was converted into a mosque, the frescoes were painted over.
Today the Rotunda is surrounded by the Bulgarian Presidency, the Ministry of Education and the luxury Sofia Hotel Balkan.
- The Church of St George Rotunda Address: 2 Kniaz Dondukov Boulevard, Sofia 1000, Bulgaria
- The Church of St George Opening Times: Opens Daily from 11.00 up to 17.00 for tourists
- Entrance fee for The Church of St George: 1 lev
The Bania Bashi Mosque, Sofia
There were once 70 mosques in Sofia, but only the Banya Bashi Mosque is still operational today. It was designed in 1576 by Mimar Sinan, the greatest of all Ottoman architects, who also designed the Sultan Selim Mosque in Edirne and Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. This lovely mosque is a typical Ottoman architectural monument that adds colour to the Sofia city centre. The name Banya Bashi comes from the nearby Tsentralnata Banya, which means ‘a lot of baths’ (Central Baths). The Bulgarian word for a bath is “banya.”.
The exterior isn’t particularly impressive, but the interior is breathtaking. The mihrab and the eastern wall are covered in aquamarine tiles with calligraphy, citing texts from the Koran, and a large tile with an image of the Kaaba, the mosque in Mecca to which all Muslims must make the hajj or pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. The domed ceiling, which was restored to its original design after the fall of Communism, is a feature of the mosque. It’s also adorned with beautiful calligraphy. The dome measures 15 meters in diameter, and the structure is Bulgaria’s only remaining example of a domed roof on a cubic base. Next door, there are the ruins of a hammam.
There is no entrance fee to the Banya Bashi mosque because it is not officially open as a tourist attraction. Outside of prayer times, visitors, including women, are welcome if they are dressed modestly. Remember to remove your shoes before entering. You can take photos inside the mosque, but it’s best to ask first because someone might be praying at the time of your visit.
- The Bania Bashi Mosque Address: 2 Knyaginya Maria Louise Blvd.
- The Bania Bashi Mosque Opening Times: Opens Daily from 05:00 up to 20:00
- Entrance fee for The Bania Bashi Mosque: FREE
The Sofia Central Synagogue is rightfully regarded as the pride of Bulgarian Jewry. For nearly a century, it has served as a symbol for Bulgaria’s Jewish community. It is Europe’s second most populous Sephardic (Spanish-Jewish) synagogue. As Sofia’s only Jewish place of worship, the Central Synagogue, is along Ekzarch Josif Street and right next to the Central Market Hall. It is also known as Halite. The synagogue was designed by Austrian architect Gruenanger between 1905 and 1909 as a smaller replica of the Sephardic synagogue in Vienna (which was destroyed during WWII).
Bulgaria’s proud claim to fame is that while today there are less than 10,000 Jews living in Bulgaria, none were deported during the Holocaust.
The Synagogue is located in the “Square of Tolerance.” The mosque “Banya Bashi” is only 60 meters away, Saint Joseph’s Catholic cathedral is 300 meters away, and St. Nedelya Orthodox church is 500 meters away. Sofia sets a great example for the rest of the world in terms of how all major religions can coexist and tolerate one another.
- Sofia Central Synagogue Address: 16 Exarh Joseph Str., Sofia
- Sofia Central Synagogue Opening Times: Open from Monday to Friday from 9:00 till 13:30 and from 14:00 till 16.30
- Entrance fee for Sofia Central Synagogue: The entrance fee of 4 leva is symbolic (plus people under 18 go in for free) and the guided tour (which comes in several languages) is included in the price.
Boyana Church, Sofia
Boyana Church, also known as the Church of Saint Nicholas and Saint Panteleimon, is located southwest of Sofia, Bulgaria. The church, which is known for its medieval frescoes, is a UNESCO-protected cultural monument that was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979. It is most often visited on a day trip to Rila Monastery, but you can also take buses #64, #107 and the minibus #21 from the centre of Sofia to visit. Read all about Rila Monastery here.
The structure of Boyana Church can be broken down into several stages. The old church is a small cross-domed church built between the 10th and 11th centuries. In the 12th century, it was renovated. A narthex and a small upper-floor chapel were added to the Old Church’s western facade in the 13th century. A two-story anteroom dedicated to Saint Nicholas and Saint Panteleimon was built in the mid-nineteenth century. Boyana Church was in existence until 1954. The frescoes, date from 1259 and reflect the Tarnovo School of Painting’s 13th-century traditions.
- Boyana Church Address: 1-3 Boyansko Ezero St. Sofia
- Boyana Church Opening Times: April 1st up to October 31st (09:30 – 17:30), November 1st up to March 31st (09:00 – 17:00)
- Entrance fee for Boyana Church: Adults (10 leva), Students (2 leva), Free for disabled people, children under school age, and for all visitors, every last Monday of the month, after 3 PM.
Enjoy the City Garden in Sofia
Sofia’s oldest and most central public garden is the City Garden (in Bulgarian: Gradska gradina). It is situated between the National Gallery, the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, the Sofia City Art Gallery, and the Bulgarian Parliament. The City Garden is now not only a popular hangout but also a favourite hangout for amateur chess players. You’ll also find the famous fountain with a dancing woman here.
Climb a Mountain in Sofia – Visit Mount Vitosha
Vitosha Mountain, with its highest peak Cherni Vrah (2290m), is Bulgaria’s fourth highest mountain, located near Sofia. Almost every point in the city has a view of the mountain and it’s easy to get here. Vitosha is the Balkans’ oldest national park. It is known for its Zlatnite Mostove, the direct translation of which is “Golden Bridges” – and they’re actually rivers of stone. (huge boulders of stone). Duhlata, Bulgaria’s longest cave (17.5 km), is also located here.
There is skiing here from January to March. Vitosha is one of four ski resorts in Bulgaria – Bansko is the biggest, there’s also Pamporovo and Borovets.
There are several public transportation options to get to Vitosha Mountain from Sofia, depending on your destination. Most of the time, you’ll have to take the metro and then the bus (or the bus and then the gondola lift). Taking a bus to Simeonovski Gondola Lift and then taking the lift to Aleko Hut is the most popular method of accessing the mountain. Cherni Vrah, Kamen Del, and other peaks can be climbed from there. Alternatively, you can visit Vitosha from Sofia this way.
Map of Things to do in Sofia
You can also see this map here.
Places to visit Near Sofia
If you plan on making your base in Sofia, then it’s a great location to explore other places around Bulgaria. Our guide to the best day trips from Sofia is here.
How to Get to Sofia
Bulgaria is bordered on the north by Romania, on the west by Serbia and North Macedonia, and on the south by Greece and Turkey. The neighbours have relatively good road and rail connections (the overnight train to Istanbul has just reopened and is fabulous!), and overland travel is popular, particularly during the summer months. Details of going from Sofia (and Bansko) to Istanbul are here.
Flights to Sofia
The international airport in Sofia is popular, but be sure whether you’re arriving and departing from Terminal 1 or 2, as while there is a bus service to connect the two terminals at peak times, it is NOT an easily walkable distance! You can check flight options to Sofia here.
Direct flights from other European cities to Sofia are popular, and budget airlines such as Wizz Air, EasyJet, and RyanAir mean that not only has Sofia’s popularity as a short-break destination increased noticeably but also that more and more residents are taking advantage of the opportunity to travel. You can also fly internationally via nearby Istanbul (Turkish Airlines). Traveling with Qatar Airways via Doha, Lufthansa via Frankfurt/Munich, or Austrian via Vienna is the same.
Bulgaria Air is the national carrier, and while the fleet is aging and the service has never been great, there are a few advantages: you still get food on their flights, and passengers with small children are automatically given priority assistance.
Getting into Sofia City Centre
Sofia has a well-developed infrastructure and public transportation system, so getting around should be simple. Sofia has a well-developed public transportation system that includes buses, trolleys, trams, and the metro, which is run by Sofia Urban Mobility Centre. Route maps and timetables are available online. All tickets (except shuttles) cost around 1.6 BGN (0.82€) and can be purchased at street kiosks, vending machines, or directly from the driver.
The airport is on the outskirts of the city of Sofia and the metro goes all the way out to the airport (change at Serdika station) and is very easy to navigate. The metro connects the NEW terminal with the city centre and it takes just 30 minutes to get to and from the airport.
In Sofia, there are several taxi companies, and taxis in Bulgaria are relatively inexpensive in relation to Western Europe. It is best to order a taxi over the phone or online. OK Taxi Sofia (OK Supertrans) and Panda Taxi Sofia are two official taxi companies. Always check the fares displayed on the front and side windows, as well as whether the taximeter has been turned on.
Alternatively, pre-book a transfer and be sure of your costs.
Buses to Sofia
Sofia is a transport hub for Bulgaria and there are two main bus stations in the city. The Central Sofia Bus station is where most of the international buses run to and from. This is also where the main railway station is and where most trams run to and from. You can check most schedules for buses to and from Sofia here.
Ovcha Kupal is the second bus station and where some domestic buses run to and from.
Trains to Sofia
From here, international trains travel to Greece, Serbia, Romania, and other destinations. Domestic trains also run from here. They move slowly, though a ‘fast’ train to Thessaloniki, Greece, has recently been introduced, taking about 5 hours (you can drive there in less!). You can check schedules for Sofia trains here.
Where Else to Explore in Bulgaria
Don’t leave Bulgaria without checking out some of these other fabulous places.
- The best things to see and do in Sofia (Bulgaria’s Capital City)
- The best things to see and do in Plovdiv
- Veliko Tarnovo – Bulgaria’s Original Capital City
- Bulgaria’s Ski Capital, Bansko – in Summer
- The Annual Jazz Festival in Bansko
- The Ex-Dancing Bear Park at Belitsa
- Take a ride on the highest railway in the Balkans – from Bansko to Septemvri!
- Visit Bulgaria’s most beautiful building – UNESCO World Heritage Rila Monastery
Plan your Trip to Bulgaria
- Book the best tours and guides in Bulgaria on GetYourGuideand Civitatis
- Book fabulous Bulgarian foodie experiences with locals through Eatwith
- Save money in Bulgaria with a Wise debit card
- Book Buses in Bulgaria with Bookaway
- Rent a Car in Bulgaria with Discover Cars
- Find the right accommodation for you via Booking.com
Final Words on the Best Things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria
Bulgaria’s capital city has managed to retain a certain grittiness while displaying a somewhat cosmopolitan flair (it’s changed fundamentally since I first visited more than 15 years ago!). The city is historic, pretty in places, with glorious outside spaces, and stunning buildings, especially the Roman ruins and the religious buildings. It is a great place to learn about the history of Bulgaria and it is well worth exploring and spending several days here. Sofia is a particularly affordable capital to come and spend time in. It is easy to get to Sofia and around her. It’s a great place to stay and eat, and extremely inexpensive. It’s great in winter – skiing and snow sports at Vitosha, the weather in Spring is lovely and the free festivals are a great reason to come, Autumn sees cooler weather and is a very pleasant time to visit. What are you waiting for? Come on over!
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