Bulgaria appeared on our travel plans at the last minute. We thought about visiting the country many times before, but it wasn’t on the top of our bucket list. Shame on us!! I’m glad that we changed our travel plan. By the end of May, we decided to travel to Bulgaria, first to discover the top things to do in Sofia, then head to the mountains for a house & pet sitting job.
As I learned with a good friend “Life is better when you live spontaneously”, and that what we did. While traveling in Europe we got selected for our fourth house & pet-sitting job, this time in the Bulgarian mountains. A new challenge and we decided to embrace it. Six weeks in the middle of nature would be a great opportunity to work and explore a new country. When I say new country I mean: new language, new food, new culture… And that was what excited us the most.
We knew that Bulgaria is an important country in the Balkans, full of history and tourist attractions, but I didn’t have a clue there will be so many things to do in Sofia. To maximize our experience we took a really important decision: book an organized tour! We looked at the Viator website and found an interesting 3 hours tour called “Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour”. Sounded like a perfect option for us, we could try local food, see the top tourist attractions in Sofia and learn about the culture.
So we booked it, and it was a great decision. We managed to pin all the top things to do in Sofia and learned a lot about the city in just one afternoon. Totally recommend it, even if you plan to stay more time in Sofia, do it on the first day of your trip, it’s worth it. It will make the whole experience in the city richer and easier.
Where to stay in Sofia? Hotel or hostel?
That´s an easy question, you should stay at Hostel Mostel. No, they are not paying us to say this, the truth is that we booked three nights there and love it! Ohh, but you don’t like to share dorms? No problem, get a private room and be happy! Hostel Mostel is a nice huge house close to all the tourist attractions in Sofia, but the interesting part is that the house is hidden behind an ugly building. So don’t be scared of the old facade, open the tiny gate and you gonna be surprised.
The character, the vibe, and the staff were what we liked the most in this hostel. Another delicious advantage is the free breakfast [great buffet with fruits, eggs, bread, salad, waffles and drinks] and a free vegetarian dinner. So bottom line, for the price of your room you get two meals included. Better than that only if they served Shopska salad every night. [here is a suggestion guys ]
Of course, there are other options of hotels in Sofia. You can find budget hotels, boutique hotels, and 5 stars hotels in Sofia.
Here it goes 2 options of middle range hotels in Sofia:
- Bon Bon Hotel – Book now with Booking.com or Agoda
- Light hotel – Book now with Booking.com or Agoda
And here are 2 options of upscale hotels in Sofia:
- Hilon Sofia – Book now with Booking.com or Agoda
- Les Fleurs Boutique Hotel – Book now with Booking.com or Agoda
If you rather prefer to stay in a fancier hotel, there are plenty of good options in Sofia. From top brands hotels to family-run B&B. To choose the best options we recommend two trustworthy websites: Booking.com and Agoda.
Now let’s talk about what makes Sofia so interesting.
What are the tops things to do in Sofia?
There are many reasons why you should travel to Sofia. However, for me, the most important one is history! I’m not talking about boring history, I´m talking about living history. Everywhere you look there is an old mosque from the Ottoman Empire, or even an older Roman Catholic church, or a modern and tasteless building from the Soviet Union period. That is fascinating!!
In two days, we managed to explore the city and here are the top things to do in Sofia. Follow the 5 steps and get the most of this incredible city!
1 » Travel and learn with the churches of Sofia
No one tells more about the history of Sofia than the churches. We can start at St. Sofia Basilica, built during the 6th century. Then go to St. George Rotunda constructed by Emperor Constantine, the oldest church in Europe that is still on service. In Sofia is prohibited to take photos inside churches, which is really a pity because St. George Rotunda is incredible and has so many layers of history on the walls and ceiling.
It might be hard to find the St. George Rotunda Church, it´s hidden between a government building and Sheraton Hotel, in the middle of a courtyard. Surrounded by the ruins of the Constantino palace, the church is proof that Sofia was already an important city during the 4th Century.
Then you can be hypnotized by the sumptuous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was built with money donated by the Sofia citizens. A symbol of faith and pride with huge domes coated with gold that shines across the sky. Another incredible witness of the history is the tiny Sveta Petka Sardjiyska, a little church constructed during the Ottoman empire that looks like a normal house but hides a magnificent interior, full of paints and sacred art.
A must thing to do in Sofia is to visit the Sveta Nedelya Square, the place where the city was founded. There you can see side by side an Orthodox Church, an Islamic Mosque, a Jewish Synagogue and a Catholic Church. All then sharing the same big square, in one of the busiest intersections of the city. That’s not the only history, that´s a true lesson for the present and future. Live in peace in respect, doesn’t matter your faith or where you come from, we are all the same. And that’s how I felt in Sofia.
2 » Follow the yellow-bricked streets
While walking around Sofia, try to look down to find the streets made with yellow bricks. That´s a signal that you are in the wealthiest area of the city and also that you are about to see the most beautiful buildings in town.
They are not just nice and well-constructed buildings, they are the legacy of the great moment Bulgaria lived during the 19th century. They are also a fine example of Neo-Baroque and Viennese style. The National Theatre is the jewel of Sofia, an outstanding building surrounded by a beautiful garden.
The trip through architecture doesn’t stop here, following the yellow bricks you can reach the Parliament, the National Gallery [former Royal Palace of Sofia], the Party House and many other private buildings that still hold the ornamental facades.
3 » Rest in the parks and meet some locals
Bulgarian people are friendly, we had no problem communicating with them even don’t speaking a word in the Cyrillic alphabet. But we do have a great smile and that helps a lot. There is no better place to meet people than the parks around town. If you visit all the top attractions in Sofia you will find out that most of them are surrounded by a nice green square, and there you can find a bunch of young people drinking beer or an older crowd talking about politicians and the Bulgarian economy.
Visiting the parks, you will cross many interesting places in Sofia, one of them is the hot spring water that runs in the heart of the city. You can fill up a bottle and take it to your hotel, they say the water is good for the muscles and immune system… It´s worth trying, and it is free.
This area is full of emblematic constructions, just beside the hot spring a yellow impressive building that catches everybody’s attention is the Central Bath House built before World War I. And in front of the bath is located the Banya Bashi Mosque, the only Islamic mosque in Sofia that is still working, and it is also a museum.
On the other side of the street, an interesting building caught our attention, not only because of the design, but because of the flavors you can find inside. Now we go to our 4th reason to visit Sofia: Eat!
4 » Taste local Food
During the walking tour, our guide took us to the Halite, also called Market Hall [open daily from 7 am to midnight]. Inside this huge building many stalls selling fresh veggies and fruits, homemade pastries, olives, the famous yogurt and cheese. There is no way you wouldn’t love it. Apart from the food, the construction itself is beautiful and everything is so clean and organized. We love it!
In Bulgaria, the history, the architecture and the food have influences from other countries. From the neighbors on the Balkans, from Turkey, Greece and Russia. As a result, a great mix of flavors and recipes makes me hungry! Meat lovers will be happy in Sofia, in every corner, there is a BBQ restaurant serving pork chops, hamburgers, chicken legs and mixed skewers.
Still talking about food, one of the top things to do in Sofia is to visit a traditional Bulgarian restaurant and try the “mezze”. We went to a place called Pectopaht, near the Lions Bridge and tasted a bunch of dried meat delicacies that were followed by Bulgarian wine. Cheers to great sausages, hams and salami!
For those who are not big fans of meat, there is heaven in the Bulgarian food menu and it´s called Shopska Salad. We went to a nice and well-designed restaurant named Art Club Museum to try Shopska, and it was delicious. Tomatoes, crispy cucumbers, red and green peppers topped with grated white cheese… I just added olive oil and the dish was ready to eat.
This time the local drink was Ayran, a beverage made of yogurt, water and salt, a weird mixture that turned out to be refreshingly good. So far, that was definitely my favorite meal in Sofia.
5 » Sofia Nightlife
I know, I know… You might not be a party person like us, but if travel to Sofia you must go out. The nightlife in Sofia is vibrant, you can find bars, pubs, restaurants and clubs for all tastes, playing all types of music, with a local or a foreign crowd. You can choose, and that’s the best part.
When I talk about nightlife, I also want to highlight the cultural life in Sofia. Theatres, international concerts, museums… The city never stops, it´s always something going on. Walking around you will find many posters of things to do in Sofia, plays and movies. Choose one and experience something really local.
Now that I have shown you the top things to do in Sofia and five really good reasons to travel there, it’s time to talk about practical stuff. Here are some precious tips on how to arrive in Bulgaria, how to get around Sofia and nice hotels to stay.
How travel to Sofia, Bulgaria?
Bulgaria is in the east part of Europe and Sofia can be reached by train, bus and flights. We are big fans of train trips and the good news is that you can use your Eurail Pass to travel to Sofia and around Bulgaria. Only one ticket and you can explore the Balkans countries with a flexible schedule.
If you have spare time buses can be another option, but keep in mind that the timetable of the local buses is not so reliable. As we were on a tight schedule, we chose to fly from Italy to Bulgaria. We found a good flight deal searching on Skyscanner. We use the website to compare fares and pick the best date/price for us.
Just be aware that Sofia airport has two different terminals and only Terminal 2 [the new one] has a connection with the Metro. So if you are flying with a budget airline the chances that you will arrive at the Terminal 1 are big.
Before panicking I will give you a precious instruction: get your bags, leave the arrival area by the right side and walk to the next building, there you will find a shuttle bus that will take you to the new terminal [the bus runs every 20 minutes]. You don’t need to pay for the ride, either you don’t have to trust the unofficial taxi driver that will insist on taking you to town for a “friendly” price. Another option is bus 84 which leaves from outside Terminal 1 and takes you right to the city center.
Also, be careful with the signs, the Cyrillic alphabet can be very confusing!
How to get around Sofia?
That is the easiest part of the trip! Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria, but it´s still a medium-sized city. The public transport system has trams, metro and buses, but I would say that you rarely need to use them. Most of the top things to do in Sofia can be reached by a short walk and you will need the metro or the tram only to go to the airport, bus and train stations.
Even if you don’t need to use the metro, a visit to Serdica station at Sveta Nedelya Square is a must thing to do in Sofia. It´s not only a station, it´s a museum. While doing the excavations for the new line they found many ancient ruins and kept some of them inside of the metro. Super Cool!
Now that you already know how to get to Bulgaria, the best options for accommodation in Sofia, how to move around the town and the top things to do there. I think the only thing missing is the dates of your travel!! Learn with us: Live Spontaneously! Reach to this amazing city for a weekend getaway or for a long holiday. There are so many great things to do in Sofia and around town that you will be surprised.
Have we inspired you to travel to Bulgaria?
Would you travel to Sofia in summer or winter? If you like freezing temperatures and snow fun here is everything you need to know about ski holidays in Bulgaria. Choose your favorite season and have fun!
Love these things to do in Sofia Guide?! Pin it for later!
We want to say a big thanks to Viator for sponsored our Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour in Sofia. Despite who paid the bill you got our true opinion and feeling.
56 thoughts on “Top things to do in Sofia » A weekend at Bulgaria’s Capital”
We will be in Sofia, Bulgaria for the first week of November. I saved this! But how cold will it be then?
Glad to know that you coming to Bulgaria!
Be prepared for some cold days, Sofia is a surrounded by mountains and it’s quite high from the sea level, the weather forecast says that can be around 2ºC to 14ºC…
Sofia has never been on my list, but I’m liking its historical eclecticism! You guys look like you did loads in 2 days. Definitely fancy following in your footsteps!
There were two super busy days, but totally worthy!
Sofia is really interesting, it has an edge, something different from the other European capitals.
All the best Claire!
I love taking food and walking tours around a new city. There’s no better way to get in touch with the local culture. The Shopska salad looks incredible. Thanks for the introduction to Sofia!
You are welcome Laura!!!
And I agree with you, there is no better way to learn the culture than tasting a good food!
Thank you for the accommodation tips, it’s a long long time since we’ve been to Bulgaria, but would love to go back with our kids.
The hostel it´s a really nice place, and I think the kids would like the atmosphere there too!
What a beautiful place, it looks exactly like the kind of place I would love to visit and now, after reading this, I really want to visit it! Bulgaria is such a gorgeous country! Thank you for sharing a taste of the beauty of this little town! ^_^
I´m so happy that you liked Sofia, hope you can make your way to Bulgaria soon. It´s a lovely country, the food and the people are amazing too!
Ohhh we were tossing up wether or not to visit, but it does look lovely. We might have to add it to our itinerary
I would definitely add Sofia to your itinerary… Also the countryside of Bulgaria, the mountains are beautiful!
Great post and suggestions. I have to admit that Bulgaria had never been on my ‘must see’ list, but after starting to follow travel bloggers while living in Europe, my list is much longer and now includes Sofia! Your photos are wonderful! I prefer traveling in the spring and fall to places inland, saving the summer for beaches and islands! Heavyweight clothing in the winter always makes me reluctant to do too much traveling far away during that season!
I agree with you Michelle, I would also keep the summer months to travel around beaches, but as we got invited for the house & pet sitting job we decided to experience the summer in the mountains. And I have to tell you the truth, I surprisingly happy here. It´s not so hot up here and the nature is gorgeous, so many flowers and lush green mountains…
But regardless to the season, Sofia is definitely a city to visit!
All the best,
Sofia looks like a lovely place to visit. I would also enjoy the food and culture tour. Looks like there’s quite a bit to taste and see.
For sure there are lots of things to do, see and taste in Sofia. We manage to explore the city in a weekend, but totally recommend you to stay a little bit more!
All the best,
I was just there and I stayed at the same place!!! I loved Sofia, I found it so charming and laid back and walkable. I’m so glad you told the story of the yellow bricks!
That´s so nice Vanessa!!
I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed Sofia too!
All the best,
Glad to know that we inspired you to visit Sofia!
Bulgaria is an interesting and beautiful country!
All the best, 😀
What a fab post! Must admit that Bulgaria has never been too high up on my to-visit list but after reading this, I think that has changed! It looks beautiful and any place with a good food market gets a MASSIVE tick from me right away. The tour looks great also – bookmarked it :). Gabby
So glad that you liked the post and got curious about Sofia!! Put Bulgaria on your travel radar, I´m sure you will enjoy it!
Super thanks for stopping by, all the best
I was taken to Bulgaria as a baby and don’t remember it at all, but this has ignited my curiosity!
Thanks for stopping by Dannielle!
I’m sure Bulgaria has changed a lot and it is worth a new visit!
Very cool, I have been interested in Bulgaria since I had to do a presentation on the country a year ago 😀 It’s interesting to see how ‘normal’ Sofia seems even after some protest years in the past. Very nice and informative post, thank you!
Sofia has passed by a lot of political turbulence, but it keeps its charm, it’s a beautiful city and full of personality!
All the best,
I have been to Bulgaria before, but not to Sofia. I have a friend that lives there who I would love to visit. Thank you for giving me more reasons to go!
If you go to Sofia, don´t forget to try the food! Amazing!
I’m always so amazed at how you guys always have the energy to party!
I agree that through churches (or mosques, or synagogues depending where you are), you can get a real feel for the history of a place, but the food and the people are usually the highlight!
Can’t wait to get there soon!
I think party is on our blood Chris…hahaha
The food here in Bulgaria is really good, now that we are in the countryside we are getting the real feeling of the country, meeting local people and eating food straight from the farm 😉
Enjoy South America,
I´m happy you already visited Sofia, most of the travellers don´t give value to Bulgaria and it´s such a beautiful country!
What a lovely place! The yellow brick road is such a cool tip. I know the kids would especially love that. Thanks for the inspirational post…I am now daydreaming of a visit!
Natalie, The Educational Tourist
The yellow brick road is a must visit place in Sofia, and most of the people just don’t realize how nice it is and how meaningful those roads are.
I’m glad you liked the article.
Awesome post! Love reading about new cultures and learning about new cities. Thank you for sharing! I would love to house and pet sit! Interesting what you post about hostels! Not one of my favorite places to stay, but I would almost try them, after what you said.
I´m glad you are considering to stay in hostel. I know it´s not the most comfortable and luxurious place, but has a lot of character and you can meet awesome people while travelling.
If you are interested in house & pet sitting, we wrote a nice article about how to do it and the amazing benefits of be a house sitter.
House & Pet Sitting – 10 Lessons for free accommodation » https://loveandroad.com/house-sitting-pet-sitting-free-accommodation/
All the best,
I’ve not yet been to Eastern Europe, but you’ve made Bulgaria look quite enticing! And you’re right in following spontaneous opportunities. Some of my best trips have been as a result of a spontaneous decision.
I glad to hear that you travel spontaneously too… Some people told us we were crazy for embracing an opportunity in Bulgaria in such short notice…
But I really happy that we did it!
All the best,
Thanks for sharing these awesome tips about Sofia. I’m currently living there and blogging about Bulgaria and I always feel very proud when someone experience Bulgaria for the first time and loves it! There is so much to see! Have you been to the 7 Rila Lakes or the RIla Monastery? Just a few hours away from Sofia but worth so much to see! Check it out 🙂
There are also so many other wonderful places, the Black Sea coast, for instance, is also a must see – Nessebar, Sozopol..
We are so glad if your comment! Especially because you are a expert about Sofia and Bulgaria!
We had a great time in Sofia and till now we didn’t have time to explore further because of our house sitting responsibilities.
But definitely we´ll take a weekend off so we can enjoy the Rila Monastery!
Thanks for stopping by, all the best!
Wow, lovely pictures! I loved your entry. Last time I only drove through Bulgaria but seeing this I definitely need to make a stop and go to Sofia soon.
You should come to Sofia and enjoy the city!!
Especially with you can by car, there are so many things to see and do in the city and around Sofia!
All the best,
Sofia looks to be a beautiful city. I could do with some of the Shopska Salad right about now.
I´m missing Shopska salad!! And the Bulgarian yogurt too!
Thanks for stopping by.
Thanks for introducing ANOTHER destination for our ever-growing bucket list! Sofia looks amazing and I’d love to get there one day!
So happy that you liked Sofia and put it on your travel radar!!
It´s is a very interesting and beautiful city, worth the visit!!
All the best,
Sofia is my ‘last minute’ itinerary too for a longish weekend in April. My daughter and I will be there for 4 days. Thanks for this comprehensive post!
So happy you liked the post! Enjoy Sofia, I believe April is a beautiful season to visit the city.
Sofia, and Bulgaria in general, are indeed a great destination for anyone, interested in history and culture. It was a pleasure to read your article.
As you said, Sofia is a great travel destination and sometimes underrated by many travelers.
All the best,
Loved this post! We are heading there in a few days, but we only have one day before we head to Bansko! What do you suggest we do?
You can pack all attractions we suggest in the post in one day 😉
Thanks for a great guide. Been to Sofia once, quite a long time ago, and planning to go back in summer so this guide is very handy 🙂
Glad you enjoyed!
Thanks for your info. I’ll be there at the end of this year. What about NYE there?
We visited Sofia during summertime, no idea what happens there during New Year, sorry. Be sure that it will be cold 😉