Sofia is a city that is often overlooked, too frequently shunted and added to “skip it” lists without a second thought. And, to be honest, it might be understandable at first sight of Bulgaria’s capital city. Sofia is not beautiful and the few architectural gems it does have are often hidden by functional communist-era housing blocks, connected by a drab, sometimes crumbling pavement. However, this does not mean that Sofia isn’t worth visiting. Despite its dreary exterior lies a lively metropolis that is just as likely to charm its visitors as a more traditionally beautiful city, which is why spending a few days for a Sofia itinerary is a choice you will not regret.
We first visited Sofia in 2016 and were told by many not to expect much from the city. And we took that advice at face value, booked two nights in the Bulgarian capital with every intention to give the main sites a visit before heading on to Plovdiv and the Black Sea. However, Sofia took us both by surprise and we ended up extending our initial stay to close to a week.
We were enthralled by the energy of the city and the trendy enclaves and artistic vibe that inhabited the city streets. And since our first visit, we have longed to come back and discover more of the city. Upon our return in 2019, we found that Sofia retained its gritty charm and vibrant energy.
With a number of discount flights from Ryanair and Wizzair affordably connecting the Bulgarian capital with other European cities, mapping out the perfect 1, 2, or 3 days in Sofia itinerary is becoming more popular than ever. So if you’re considering spending a weekend in Sofia or even visiting the city for a longer Sofia city break, follow this itinerary and the city is sure to charm you as it has us.
When to Visit Sofia
Before we dive headfirst into this Sofia itinerary, we need to discuss when the best time of year to visit Sofia. The Bulgarian capital has a continental climate and very much experiences all four seasons and there are definite pros and cons to whenever it is you choose to visit.
If you’re willing to brave the cold and visit Sofia between the months of November-February, then expect high temperatures to average somewhere around freezing, often dipping quite a bit below. The winters are cold and snowy, though most places are very well heated inside.
Visiting Sofia in winter does give you the opportunity to partake in arguably some of the most affordable skiing in Europe within easy reach of the city centre. Sofia is blessed to be at the foot of the imposing Vitosha Mountain which has a ski centre that is easy to reach from the city and accessible at quite affordable prices.
Summers, by contrast, can get sweltering and humid, with temperatures soaring to well over 30°C (86°F). Many locals will use the summer months to flock to Bulgaria’s coastline as temperatures can get unbearable in the city, however, there are also numerous outdoor cafes and a great energy to be found in the summertime as well.
Like most of the Balkans, arguably the best time of year to visit Sofia would be in in the shoulder seasons between the months of March-May and September-November. While Spring can see a bit of rain and late autumn does start to get chilly, the majority of this time is blessed with mild temperatures that cling to summer warmth long after the season has passed.
No matter when you decide to visit Sofia, there are ample activities that can keep you occupied, even in the coldest or warmest of months.
Getting To and Around Sofia
Now that we’ve covered which season to visit Sofia, we need to talk about how you are going to get to and around the Bulgarian capital.
Sofia is now a popular place for budget airlines Ryanair and Wizzair, connecting it to many other cities in Europe. It is easy to reach the centre of Sofia from the airport as it is directly connected to the easy-to-navigate Sofia metro. A single ride ticket on the metro costs 1.60 BGN. You can buy tickets at the machines in the stations, however, they often only take cash.
If you arrive by bus from other cities nearby, it is worth knowing that the central bus station lies a bit outside of the city centre, however, it is also conveniently linked to the metro system. This makes it easy to get from the bus station to your accommodation at an affordable price.
Taxis are also affordable in Sofia, but you do need to be wary of taxi scams, just as you do in every city around the world. This can be better avoided if you call a taxi directly or use the TaxiMe app rather than hailing one directly off the street. Always make sure that the meter is running and you driver is taking the most direct route. If you have no data or just want to get a taxi from the bus station, the Yellow Taxi or Ok! Taxi are reputable companies. There is no Uber in Sofia, unfortunately.
How Many Days in Sofia?
The ideal length of a Sofia itinerary is three days if you want to be able to see all of the main sites and still be able to dig a little bit deeper and get to know the city well. In contrast, if you only plan to spend one day in Sofia, then you will only really be able to scratch the surface and leave with a list of things to do in Sofia the next time you visit.
Sofia is a massive city with a lot of interesting things to see and do and one could easily spend more than a week in the city and not get bored. However, those embarking on a short Sofia city break or only have a weekend in Sofia still will be able to get a good feel for the city before they have to leave.
One Day in Sofia Itinerary
The first day of this Sofia itinerary sees you visiting some of Sofia’s main sites and monuments. Today will give you a great introduction to the city and is the ideal starting point if you only have one day to spend or 2, 3 or more.
Begin your Sofia itinerary at Serdika Metro Station. While this may seem like an odd choice to begin sightseeing, it is worth noting the Serdika has a lot more to offer than just a metro line.
Serdika, which was the ancient name for Sofia, sits at the historical centre of the Bulgarian capital and in the metro station, you can see the ancient remains of the former city. Seeing these ruins truly puts into context just how old Sofia is and how long humans have been living in the city.
Another sight near Serdika Station would be the Church of St George Rotunda, which is a 4th-century church that sits among the ruins. It is still in operation today and, though it is certainly smaller than most of the other spectacular churches in Sofia, it is still worth a visit.
Sveta Nedelya Church
After marvelling at the ruins of Serdika, walk only about 100 metres to the Sveta Nedelya Church. This Eastern Orthodox church is one of the most important in Bulgaria and is defined by its incredible architecture.
The Church is located in Sveta Nedelya Square which is considered to be the geographical centre of Sofia and therefore has been a historical crossroads of the city for hundreds of years.
Though originally constructed in the 10th century, it has been reconstructed twice, once in 1867 where it took on the look it has today, and once more in 1933 after it was nearly destroyed in a bombing meant to assassinate the reigning tsar of Bulgaria. The attack still remains the most deadly in Bulgarian history, with more than 150 innocent people killed.
Sofia History Museum & Mineral Baths
Close to Serdika Station and the Sveta Nedelya Church is the Sofia History Museum. Located in what used to be the central bathhouse of the city, the building now houses relics and history from the city from its ancient past until 1944. However, if you’re interested in visiting the Museum of Sofia because you want to learn more about the communist regime of Bulgaria, you will find that there is no information on that particular period here.
Outside of the museum, you will find a series of public fountains where you will notice locals filling up bottles and jugs of water, all giving off a faint smell of sulphur. This is because Sofia sits atop a bed of natural hot springs and these fountains spit out a never-ending stream of geothermally heated water.
It is safe to drink and the water is always around 35°C, so you will notice a distinct cloud of steam around the taps in the cooler months.
National Theatre Ivan Vasov
Around a 5 to 10 minute walk from the mineral baths and the Museum of Sofia lies the National Theatre. Named for who is arguably Bulgaria’s most famous author and playwright, the Ivan Vasov Theatre is one of the most famous and beautiful monuments in Sofia.
Opened in 1907, the theatre was considerably damaged during the WWII bombings in Sofia in 1943-44 and was reconstructed in 1945. It also sustained significant damage from a fire in 1923, but was reconstructed in 1929.
To this day, the theatre puts on some magnificent performances that are worth going to if you’re into theatre. Although the show will be in the Bulgarian language, it can still be worthwhile to see a lavish performance in such an historic building.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
End your tour of Sofia’s most famous monuments at perhaps the most iconic structure in the Bulgarian capital: the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
This beautiful Eastern Orthodox Cathedral was, up until the year 2000, considered to be the largest orthodox cathedral in the world and some still claim it is the largest in the Balkans. However, most reliable sources will say that the largest cathedral is the St Sava Church in nearby Belgrade, Serbia. Bulgarians say their claim is valid because the larger St Sava Church and another orthodox cathedral in Bucharest have yet to be fully completed.
Nevertheless, this grand cathedral is truly a stunning form of architecture and is the one monument you absolutely cannot miss when visiting Sofia. It is also free to enter if you choose not to take photos — which does cost an extra fee.
You can visit and learn about all of these monuments and more on a free walking tour run by Free Sofia Tour. While you won’t be able to enter any of the sites, the 2-3 hour walking tour will give you some excellent historic and cultural insight into Sofia and is a great starting point for enjoying the city.
The tour meets at 10AM, 11AM, 2PM, and 6PM between the months of April-October and at 11AM, 2PM, and 6PM November-March in front of the National Palace of Justice. There is no need to book in advance and, though the tour itself is free, it is good practice to tip your guide what you thought the tour was worth at the end. If you can, it is very much worth going on this tour as it will give you far more insight than visiting all of the places on your own.
2 Days in Sofia Itinerary
Day two of this Sofia itinerary sees you digging a bit deeper into the sites and history of Bulgaria’s capital. It also will introduce you to the thriving culinary scene in Bulgaria that will have you casting away any preconceived notions of heavy Eastern European food.
Make your first stop of your second day in Sofia be the beautiful Sofia Synagogue. Sofia, and Bulgaria as a whole, has an incredibly interesting Jewish history that is different to many other European countries, especially countries allied with the former Axis Powers.
During WWII, Bulgaria was allied with the Axis Powers and received significant pressure from the Nazi government to deport its Jewish population to concentration camps. However, Bulgaria never did such a thing and is the only country that was allied with Nazi Germany to have saved its entire Jewish population — some 50,000 people.
Though the majority of the Jews in Bulgaria did eventually emigrate, there is still a presence in the capital, namely in the grand Sofia Synagogue. As the third-largest synagogue in Europe (the first is the Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest), the building was first constructed in 1909 and is truly a beautiful work of architecture.
If you are interested in learning more about Sofia’s Jewish culture, then it can be worth taking the free Sofia Jewish Tour. Run by the same people behind the Free Sofia Tour, this walking tour meets every Thursday and Sunday at 11AM in front of the Palace of Justice.
Banya Bashi Mosque
Though more than 80% of Bulgarians are of the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith (though most of Bulgarians today are largely secular), there is a sizeable Muslim minority consisting mostly of those Bulgarians of ethnic Turkish descent. One of the best monuments to Bulgaria’s Islamic history and Ottoman past is the Banya Bashi Mosque.
This beautiful mosque is located only a couple hundred metres away from the Sofia Synagogue, it was originally constructed in the 16th century when Bulgaria was under Ottoman rule.
It is possible to visit the mosque free of charge outside of prayer hours, just remember that you must remove your shoes before entering and women must cover their hair.
The presence of the synagogue, mosque, and Sveta Nedelya Church all within a few hundred metres of each other is a testament to the religious tolerance that has shaped Bulgarian culture for centuries.
Sofia Central Market Hall
Across the street from the Banya Bashi Mosque lies Sofia’s central covered market. Though at one point, this was the central marketplace where locals would do their shopping, today it operates as more of a shopping centre with a few food stalls and a number of cafes and restaurants.
Regardless of whether you were expecting the hall to be a bustling bazaar or not, this is still a great place popular with locals to grab a quick bite to eat, do a bit of shopping, or to pick up some local specialities and it is very much worth stopping by.
About 200 metres behind the synagogue and central market lies the open-air Ladies Market. The name of this marketplace is deceiving, as people of all genders are welcome and present.
The Ladies Market operates daily and has a massive selection of just about everything you could possibly need, however, it is mostly full of local fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
If you are looking to get some fresh fruit when you’re in Sofia, then you are sure to find a much better selection and quality available at the Ladies market that you will in any supermarket. Buying here also helps you to support local farmers and vendors, rather than a multinational supermarket chain!
Free Food Tour
After you’ve spent your morning exploring some more of the history of Sofia, it is time to spend your afternoon learning about it’s thriving culinary scene!
Though Sofia is not a place that jumps to mind when most think of a “foodie destination,” the people at Balkan Bites are trying to change that! This innovative free food walking tour is one of the coolest things to happen to Sofia and it really would be a shame to visit the city without going on it.
The tour meets every day at 2PM in the Crystal Park in front of the head sculpture of Stefan Stambolov. The tour will last a couple of hours and will take you by a number of fantastic Sofia eateries, giving you a few samples to try, while also teaching you about both traditional Bulgarian cuisine and the new culinary movements in Sofia.
Though it is a food tour, don’t expect to get a lot of food on the walk as it is free. So it is definitely helpful to eat a decent lunch beforehand! Also, the guides work only for tips so it is definitely good practice to tip your guide when the tour is through.
3 Days in Sofia Itinerary
If you have more than 2 days in Sofia, then spend your third day in Bulgaria’s capital learning more about the communist regime that Bulgaria lived under from the years of 1944-1989.
Though Bulgaria today is a proud member of the EU and NATO with a market economy and a democratically elected government, there are still noticeable remnants of its socialist past. Spend day three of this Sofia itinerary to learn more about what life was like only 30 years ago.
Museum of Socialist Art
One of the best places to see communist remnants in Sofia is at the Museum of Socialist Art. This museum, located a little bit outside of the city centre, has a large collection of former communist monuments, statues, and posters that is very worth browsing through.
The most interesting thing about the museum its courtyard filled with communist statues that used to decorate the city streets of Sofia. Most notably, you can see the massive statue of Lenin that stood where the St Sofia Monument stands today and the Red Star that adorned the top of the Communist Party Headquarters — a Bulgarian flag flies in its place today.
The museum is located within easy walking distance from Georgi Dimitrov metro station and is easily reached by public transport. It costs 6 BGN (€3) for adult entry. Don’t come here expecting to learn about the socialist regime in Bulgaria, this is solely an art museum with little to no historical context provided.
Former Communist Party Headquarters
Back in the city centre lies the former headquarters of the communist party in Bulgaria. This imposing building, close to Serdika Station, is a striking example of socialist architecture. It was here that the Red Star seen at the Museum of Socialist Art stood atop the spire.
As one of Sofia’s top landmarks, the building was completed in 1955 and serves at headquarters for the Party in Bulgaria until the collapse of the communist regime. Today, it is used by the National Assembly of Sofia and there are talks of moving the parliament permanently back to the building. Of course, that decision meets its fair share of controversy in Bulgaria today.
Monument to the Soviet Army
Another of Sofia’s most famous, and controversial, landmarks is the Monument to the Soviet Army. Constructed as a testament to the Red Army that “liberated” Sofia in 1944, this is one of the most blatantly communist monuments still standing in Sofia today.
The monument is, however, perhaps best known for the street art is has attracted. The most famous is when the soldiers at the base were painted, overnight, to adorn the clothing of American superheroes.
There have also been times when they were painted in the colours of the Ukrainian flag to stand on Ukraine’s side after the 2014’s conflict in Crimea (much to Russia’s chagrin) and was painted bright pink to commemorate the Prague Spring.
National Palace of Culture
Another shining example of communist architecture is the National Palace of Culture, located close to the city centre. This building, opened in 1981, was constructed to commemorate Bulgaria’s 1,300th anniversary and was seen, though it is in socialist-style, as an example of nationalism that was discouraged under such regimes.
The Palace today is surrounded by a lovely park that is fantastic to spend a few chilled out hours in. There is also a monument to the victims of the communist regime and even a bit of the Berlin Wall on display.
If you want to learn more about the communism in Bulgaria, then we strongly recommend going on the Sofia Communist Tour, run by the same people behind the Free Sofia Tour. Though this tour is paid (22 BGN p/p with a 10% discount for those who have been on the Free Sofia Tour), it is an absolutely excellent way to learn about this era of Bulgarian history and is presented with great educated nuance.
The tour meets every day at 4PM in the months of April-October and on Thursday-Monday at 4PM November-March in front of the National Palace of Justice.
Have More Time?
If you plan to spend more than 3 days in Sofia, then this gives you an excellent option to embark on a few day trips from the city.
One of the most popular day trips is to the Rila Monastery. Though it can be difficult to reach the monastery by public transport, you can arrange an affordable organised day tour from the city. This guided tour is a great option and takes you to both the monastery and Boyana Church.
Another popular place to visit is Vitosha Mountain, which is easily reached by public transport from Sofia city centre. The mountain offers ample hiking opportunities in the warmer months and a place for some great, affordable skiing in the winter.
If you have four or more days in Sofia and would rather spend more time in the city itself, it can be worth checking out the city’s alternative scene. There is, for instance, a fantastic street art culture in Sofia, however, it isn’t necessarily concentrated in one distinct area. A great way to learn more about the street art scene and of notable Bulgarian artists is to go on a free street art tour.
The Sofia Grafitti Tour is run by the same people who do Balkan Bites and meets every Friday-Monday at 3PM from the months of October-April and at 6PM from May-September in front of the St Sofia Monument. There is no need to book in advance and it is free of charge, but like all free tours, make sure to tip your guide what you thought the tour was worth as that is how they make their living.
Where to Eat & Drink in Sofia
Though there are great restaurants throughout the city, some of the best eateries in Sofia are concentrated on or near Shishman Street. This area can be something of a hipster mecca as it not only has some fantastic hip restaurants, but it also filled with a number of trendy shops and cool, chilled-out bars. If you want to spend your evenings exploring Sofia away from the major monuments, then this is the area to visit.
Sofia isn’t the first place to jump to mind when you think of foodie destinations, however, the city has a great up-and-coming restaurant scene and it is a far cry from the heavy Eastern European food that you may have expected to eat.
And if you’re looking for the best places for lunch, dinner, or a drink, then have a browse through these suggestions:
Casual Restaurants in Sofia
Sun & Moon — This vegetarian restaurant and bakery is a favourite in the city. They have four locations across Sofia and serve a range of vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes at affordable prices. They are open for both lunch and dinner and also have daily specials along with a regular menu.
Made in Home — This cosy restaurant is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a hip and trendy place to eat in Sofia. They have an extensive menu with enough options to please both carnivores and vegetarians alike and use only seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. They also have seasonal daily specials.
Aubergine — If you’re looking for one of the best trendy eateries in Sofia, then look no further than Aubergine. This restaurant serves a range of “modern Bulgarian” cuisine that is incredibly healthy and seasonal. They also have an extensive craft beer menu and include a beer suggestion with every dish.
The Little Things — This hip restaurant located in a converted house on Shishman Street is one of the best restaurants in Sofia. They have a great, fresh menu and a number of daily specials that are all homemade and prepared to order. Keep in mind that this restaurant does get very popular, so it is advisable to book a table in advance.
Made in Blue — This is another of Sofia’s ultra trendy eateries that is a very popular place to grab lunch or dinner. Located in a renovated house, Made in Blue offers modern versions of traditional Bulgarian food in a very cosy setting. They also have a number of vegetarian options available and serve some local craft beers.
Salted Cafe — If you want to find a good place to eat that is close to some of Sofia’s best monuments in the city centre, the Salted Cafe is a great choice. This vegetarian cafe has a range of great salads and sandwiches available and also have a couple of daily specials and some delicious looking cakes.
Fast Food in Sofia
Supa Star — Soup bars are incredibly popular in Bulgaria and if you want to try some of the best soup in Sofia, then head to Supa Star. This restaurant serves a range of soups that rotate on a daily basis, though they are always delicious!
Street Chefs — If you like burgers, then you can’t miss Street Chefs in Sofia. This trendy food truck serves a range of burgers, including a delicious vegetarian version, at affordable prices. They also have seating available with outdoor heaters to take the edge off even the most chilly of days.
Fine Dining in Sofia
Secret by Chef Petrov — If you’re celebrating a special occasion in Sofia or are just interested in Michelin-style dining, the make sure to head to Secret by Chef Petrov. This high-end restaurant serves an incredible 17-course tasting menu that puts an innovative twist on Bulgarian classics and the results are truly fantastic. It is a chef’s table style restaurant and truly an unforgettable dining experience in Sofia.
Bars in Sofia
Crafter — This is an excellent place to go if you want to have a craft beer or a glass of Bulgarian wine. This trendy bar has a range of both local and international beers available and a number of great Bulgarian wines. They also have a helpful staff who are there to assist you in making the difficult choice of what to drink.
The Apartment — This is one of the most interesting bars in Sofia, as it is located in an apartment building and it feels as if you are just visiting a friend’s home, hence its name. It is famous for its raspberry wine, however, there are a number of drinks and some snacks available.
Where to Stay in Sofia
Sofia is more and more becoming a popular destination to visit and, therefore, there are a number of accommodation options to choose from. If you’re wondering where to stay when visiting Sofia, take a look at these suggestions:
Hostel Mostel — If you’re travelling solo or on a budget, then you really can’t go wrong with Hostel Mostel. This is one of the best hostels in Sofia and is a great place to meet other travellers. They have a range of both dorm beds and private rooms available, and a massive breakfast and light dinner (with a beer!) is included in the nightly rate. Click here to see their latest prices
Art ‘Otel — This hotel is a great option if you are after a little bit more luxury on your trip to Sofia. They have a number of clean and comfortable rooms available and breakfast is included in the rooms rate. It is also conveniently located within walking distance or an easy metro ride to all of Sofia’s main attractions. Click here to see their latest prices
Airbnb — If a hotel or hostel isn’t your cup of tea, then take a look at Airbnb. There are a myriad of properties available on the platform that will suit any kind of personality and budget, whether you’re looking for a private room in a local’s home or an entire apartment all to yourself such as this funky and modern place. Click here to browse Airbnbs in Sofia!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Sofia hotels!
Though not especially beautiful on the surface, Sofia has an undeniable charm and energy and it is sure to enchant visitors no matter how long your Sofia itinerary has you there.
When travelling in Sofia, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you planning on spending 1, 2, or 3 days in Sofia? Have you been to Bulgaria’s capital? Let us know in the comments!