Have you ever thought of visiting Bulgaria? If yes, Sofia is probably on your list. Although we do recommend to go see other Bulgarian cities. Meanwhile, Here is your Sofia guide for a day.
Bulgaria is the first Eastern European country I’ve visited in my life. It’s the type of destination you do while you are a backpacker going through many destinations in the region. To go by itself as a family destination or couples destination is still far off, unless you like the outdoors, Bulgaria does offer some amazing mountain treks, etc.
Back to Sofia, we suggest you to spend minimal time in Sofia and take the train (or bus if you are very budget) and do a loop within Bulgaria to end up in Romania. This is by experience what I did in the past for my Eastern European trip. Suggested cities are: Varna, Sozopol, Veliko Turnovo, Plovdiv.
Myself, I did from Sofia to Plovdiv, Dimitrovgrad, Stara Zagora, Burgas, Sozopol, Nessebar, Sunny beach, Veliko Turnovo and a train to Romania.
In Sofia, a friend of mine that lived in Montreal happened to be in town so showed everything that needed to be seen in Sofia, including walking around the main area where government buildings & churches are. Now let’s start with the actually Sofia guide.
Essential things to know before going to Sofia
When to visit Sofia
The best time to visit Bulgaria is between May and September, just like any other European cities so you can enjoy some sun and warm weather.Note that the the summer is indeed the peak season for visitors and can have quite heated days. Best to go early to do your walking tour of the city centre to avoid crowds!
Although, if you like the cold and winter sports, Bulgaria has ski slopes open between December and April. It will be cold in the winters with an average of -5 degree Celsius and only less than 4 hours of daylight in December and January!
How to Get to Sofia
- By plane: If you reside in Europe, you can find many cheap flights to the city. I personally flew from Montreal and booked round-trip which at the time I was able to find at around 700$US. Flights to Bulgaria from other places than Europe aren’t that budget considering that Sofia isn’t considered as a travel hub.
- From the airport: A taxi will cost you around 20$US to get to Sofia city. You can that the metro train using Line 1 and buses, the information counter will give you the latest updates on the best route to take depending of your accommodation.
- By train: You can get to Sofia from any of the neighbouring countries except for Macedonia which you will have to travel either via Serbia or Greece to do so.
- From the train station: It is literally only 2.5 KMs from St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, so a taxi won’t be too much to get around your accommodation.
- By bus: You obviously can get to Sofia taking any buses in Europe and the bus station is literally less than 500 M from the main train station.
How to get around Sofia
There is no Uber available in the city of Sofia. Official taxis are yellow and should be operated by meter, so don’t forget to always verify that it is on. They are also quite affordable. Although, everything you need to see in Sofia is pretty much accessible by walking and the recommended best way to explore the city so make sure to draw your itinerary clear!
You could also use the public transport which includes the trams, buses and trolley cars in the city. Get the tickets at kiosks of the major bus stops and newsagents. There are passes or transit cards that are valid for 1 day, 5 days or a month depending on what you need. They also sell Kartas, which is coupons of 10 tickets.
Where to stay in Sofia
Number of hotels and budget accommodation are available. Sofia isn’t a city populated yet with a lot of beautiful hotels with artsy and modern interior design. Most 5 stars are quite conservative. Our recommendation for a modern hotel would be the Sense Hotel by Design Hotels, which has a stunning rooftop bar overlooking the cathedral. If you are going very much budget, Hostel Mostel is a popular choice and very central.
What to eat in Sofia
When in Bulgaria in general, you need to try local food! I was lucky enough to have many Bulgarian friends back home in Montreal to know these and have to opportunity to explore for the original things when I visited Bulgaria! Here is the list of MUST eats.
- Banitsa: Pastries filled with cheese, ideally dip it with yogurt, my favourite!
- Shkembe: This is odd. You might not want to try because it is trip soup which will taste delicious if you add tons of garlic. I love it, you might not be as adventurous though!
- Shopska Salad: Found at every household eating time, this salad contains tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers, sirene cheese and parsley.
- Tarator: Its a refreshing cold soup made from mainly cucumbers, ground walnuts, garlic, and yogurt or tahini. Sometimes there are extra herbs and vinegar or lemon juice added to the mix. Everyone makes it a little bit different!
Will I struggle with the language barrier in Sofia?
In Bulgaria, you could encounter some language barriers, but mostly when you are out of Sofia. Note that Bulgarian isn’t like Russian, although there is a lot of similarities and of course, same cyrillic alphabet. Maybe learning few basic words would be great:
- Hello: Zdravei
- How are you: Kak si
- Yes: Da
- No: Ne
- Thank you: Blagodarya or merci
- Good bye: Divizhdane or ciao
- Beer Please: Bira molya (1 = eno, 2 = dve)
- The Bill Please: Smetkata molya
What to do in Sofia
Eat Banitsa at a local restaurant
When in Bulgaria, you need to eat tons of these delicious Banitsas. We personally went in a local restaurant right in the middle of a lake to enjoy a Banitsa, which is a traditional pastry stuffed with delicious cheese.
Visit a few monuments
Like many European cities, all you will pretty much visit is monuments, museums and churches. This can be quite repetitive and boring and at the end are all quite little variations that you only need to see a few iconic ones. In a day, these are the monuments we would recommend you.
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Or written like this in Bulgarian, Храм-паметник Свети Александър Невски, this cathedral is a must-see. Actually probably the most iconic monument that represents Bulgaria. It is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world. It has been named after a Russian prince who lived in the 13th century.
The Russian Church
Not too far of a walk away is this little cute chapel, built in 1914, that actually served as an official church of the Russian Embassy.
Ivan Vazov National Theatre
This oldest theatre in Bulgaria built in 1907 by the Austrian architects Helmer & Felner has a beautiful facade you must see. If you love photography or want a “gram” opportunity, you might want to get to this spot. Its interior is remarkable as well if you are into that.
You might be also interested in seeing the largest Synagogue in South Eastern Europe, built because of its sizeable Sephardic Jewish population in early 1910’s. Did you know more than a thousand people can fit in there?
Walk on the Vitosha Boulevard
A walk on Sofia’s most famous boulevard is a must. You’ll find cafes, restaurants and of course tons of shops. If you are lucky, there might be some flea markets or vendors around. It’s also a great spot to sip on a coffee and do some people watching if that is what you are into. This street has a wonderful view of the Vitosha mountain in the background.
Look up for a Chalga bar
You will need to experience the local night club scene! Immerse in the Bulgarian culture by finding a bar/night club to end the night like a local dancing to chalga beats. This style of music is typically Bulgarian and sounds quite like Arabian beats mixed with … actually it’s quite hard to explain haha. You can click here to have a glimpse at it haha! (Chose you one with a mix of Arabic 😉 )
We went to one of the most popular clubs in Sofia (at the time, I don’t know about today), where they were blasting some Chalga and having girls dance around with very limited clothing.
Hike up Vitosha Mountain
Sometimes it’s hard to do active activities in European cities. Other than biking tours, what else can you do? Lucky for you, Sofia has Vitosha Mountain that is 30 minutes away from the city centre. In the mountain, you can go to Kopitoto to have a beautiful Sofia city view. You can actually get there by car or get a tour company that will offer you either transport or hiking trails.
Other things about travelling to Bulgaria
Bulgaria is still a cheap place to travel and the train system is actually decent to navigate within the country. You might need a local sometime to speak in Bulgarian to get around, but you should be fine, Bulgaria is a place that needs more exploring other than Sofia!
Went for a walk in a nice park and took a break at a coffee place named Tabasco. A little whiskey during the day didn’t hurt!
Hope you will use our travel guide and that we’ve given you enough information to plan perfectly your only or few days in Sofia. Don’t forget to share this guide of things to do in Sofia and do not hesitate to send us other recommendations if you think they might be a good addition to the guide!