Bulgaria, Europe, Sofia

Seeing Sights in Sofia: Sofia Bulgaria Tourism

Last Updated on January 31, 2020 by Bryony Clapperton

As always a bargain return flight to Sofia from the UK sealed the deal and I booked a weekend in Bulgaria’s capital city. Bulgaria and my city break to Sofia would become country 26, with a packed budget agenda to accompany it.

Here are all the things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria. Including Sofia flights, hotels, attractions and even nightlife. Like most of my guides, you can expect the majority of information to be budget friendly for your city break to Sofia.

So, with so much to do and flights to Sofia costing as little as £25 for a return, I can’t think of many reasons not to indulge in a Sofia city break. Here’s my guide to Sofia Bulgaria tourism.

Seeing Sofia: Sofia Bulgaria Tourism

The Grand City of Sofia

Like with all trips, I had pictured Sofia before arriving. I had imagined small quaint market town style streets like those of Bratislava.

I pictured a lively historic centre like Krakow or Gdnask, surrounded by soviet block buildings in every shade of grey.

I had imagined a sprawling concrete city with a busy cultural heart, but soon after arriving, almost everything I had envisioned of Sofia was wrong.

I began to realise very quickly that Sofia was a grand historic city, unlike the Eastern European destinations in Poland and Slovakia I had compared it to in my mind.

Ivan Vazov National Theatre
Ivan Vazov National Theatre

Where is Sofia

The city of Sofia is the largest in Bulgaria, located in the west of the country.

Being a central and thriving city in the Balkans, Sofia is completely different culturally and ascetically to cities in Northern Europe or the Baltics and how I’d pictured it.

Surrounded by Black Sea, Aegean Sea and Adriatic Sea, the history and geographical importance of Bulgaria is everywhere in the grand city of Sofia.

Map of Bulgaira

Map of Bulgaria
Source: Google Maps

Culture & Religion in Sofia

Sofia is a thriving cosmopolitan city with an intense ancient history that has filtered through to its customs and cultures.

Described as the triangle of religious tolerance, with stunning churches, synagogs and temples everywhere it seems only fair that the city has this name.

I would describe Sofia as a grand city and I honestly can’t think of a word that better describes somewhere so historically vibrant.

If you enjoy grand architecture with high domes, opulent golden tiles and Cyrillic scripture then Sofia is a city you want to add to your bucket list.

Whether you spend your hours in the cafe filled pedestrian Vitosha Boulevard or in one of the many open park spaces Sofia will not disappoint.

City of Sofia

Flights to Sofia

Flights to Sofia can be cheap, especially from the UK. You can fly direct from Liverpool, Manchester, London and some other major transport hubs.

The Autumn and Winter months are usually the best time to find budget friendly flights to Sofia, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you found a bargain in the summer. During the summer months most Bulgaria tourism is top Varna on the coast.

Where to stay in Sofia?

The best area to stay in Sofia is the city centre, the actual main city is huge so it’s quite easy to find somewhere just outside the city centre.

As the city is so big, you’ll want to spend as little time as possible travelling back and forth to your hotel especially in the colder months.

easy hotel
Easy

Sofia Hotels

The day before our flight to Bulgaria hotel Hello Sofia unfortunately had to cancel on us last minute. They kindly offered to refund us the Hostel World booking fee/admin charge due to the inconvenience caused.

We quickly booked one of the last remaining budget options on Booking.com and found ourselves staying in an easyHotel.

easyHotel in Sofia was clean, hassle-free, no frills with friendly staff. A clear consistency across the brand. If you want a budget option and don’t plan on spending any time in the actual hotel, I’d recommend this option.

If you are looking for something more fun then there are a range of hostels around Sofia to check out.

Sofia Bulgaria Tourism

How to get around Sofia

Regardless of where you end up staying in Sofia, you might need to take a taxi once in a while. As mentioned the city is massive.

We had been warned about taxi drivers charging tourists arriving at night a much higher tariff, there was even talk of this on our plane.

We didn’t experience this thanks to the handy taxi booking system at the airport. From what I’ve heard it can be an issue for tourists arriving in Sofia, especially those arrive at night time.

Don’t expect to pay more than 20 Levs at the absolute maximum. From the airport, take your time to locate the taxi desk and book your cab through the agency desk. Look for O.K Taxis that’s who we used.

There is a public tram service in Sofia. You can buy tickets at the kiosk and easy get around town on the tram network.

Trams in Sofia Bulgaria
Sofia at night
Sofia at night

A city break to Sofia

Best time to visit Sofia

We experienced the best Autumn weather we could have. Clear blue skies, winter sun and crisp chilled air.

The colours of Autumn filled Sofia and the many parks across the city came to life with people and families wrapped-up warm and enjoying the clear skies.

I would have to say that Autumn for me was the best time fo visit Sofia, with flights to Sofia being cheaper (at £25 return) and the number of tourists reduced.

Autumn trees
Autumn in Sofia
Autumn in Sofia
Autumn in Sofia
Sofia, Bulgaria

Things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria

When you arrive you’ll more than likely be overwhelmed by the things to do in Sofia. With culture, history and architecture everywhere you turn plus the nightlife you will struggle to be bored.

City Garden Park

For chilling try out City Garden Park home to the stunning Ivan Vasov National Theatre sit back on a bench enjoy the architecture, balloon sellers and depending on the season check out the fountains.

Apparently the summer months are the best time to check out this area, during our visit the fountains were off in time for winter. However, the autumn bronzed backdrop still made the afternoon enjoyable.

There are many outdoor spaces and parks in Sofia and despite the time of year we visited I would still regard exploring some of the cities parks as one of the more relaxing things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Seeing Sights in Sofia
Seven Saints Church Sofia
Seven Saints Church

Churches & More

I’m pathetic when it comes to churches, if there’s a spire or a dome you can guarantee I’ll have my phone out taking photos.

If you have time, I’d recommend taking a full tour of the city of Sofia. You’ll get to learn more about the ‘triangle of religious tolerance’ and all the amazing religious spaces around the city.

If you aren’t interested in taking a tour, but love a good church or synagog then don’t worry. There are places of worship all around the city and can’t be missed.

Some of the must see churches in Sofia include;

  • Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski Church
  • Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – My fave!
  • Seven Saints Church
  • Church of St Paraskeva
  • Saint George Rotunda
  • St Nedelya Church
Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski Church
Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski Church
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Saint George Rotunda

Whilst you’re visiting churches be sure to check out the sunken and almost hidden Saint George Rotunda a 4th century church.

Think about how incredibly ancient it is and try not to get disheartened at how it looks now!

Saint George Rotunda
Saint George Rotunda

Places to see in Sofia

Along with all the incredible churches, you’ll find so many other stunning and notable buildings in Sofia. From the Theatre to the National Art Gallery and the grand government buildings.

If you don’t do a tour, you can easily pick up a map of Sofia from your hotel or tourist information and mark down all the places to see in Sofia.

The National Palace of Culture is meant to be a must visit, but we didn’t get the chance to stop by!

Sofia National Gallery
National Art Gallery

Vitosha Boulevard

Among the churches and all the other amazing things to do in Sofia. The majority of our time spent in Sofia was spent on and around the Vitosha Boulevard, a pedestrianised street in the central heartland of Sofia.

Vitosha Boulevard is a tree lined lamp-lit spectacle filled with outdoor seating. There are honestly so many cool bars and restaurants that fill Sofia’s central zone that it’s difficult to choose where to grab a drink.

With the St Nedelya Church at one end and a large Southern Park overlooked by mountains at the other Vitosha Boulevard is definitely the place to be in Sofia.

You can drink and eat here, but the prices for food are a little more expensive than on the smaller side streets. There is always a fun and warm atmosphere and always a packed bar awaiting your arrival.

Things to do in Sofia
Exploring and drinking
Vitosha Boulevard
Vitosha

Drinking & Nightlife in Sofia

When it comes to things to do in Sofia and on a city break in general, you won’t be shocked to find out I spent some of the coldest hours of my time in Sofia under the protection of a heat lamp with a drink.

It’s easy to spend an afternoon or evening on Vitosha Boulevard sampling some of the local drinks and checking out a Europe Lonely Planet.

Along with the bars on Vitosha, some of the smaller side streets are home to little quaint local bars with only a couple of tables but a lot of atmosphere. We found a tiny bar with a mosaic bar and for the life of me I can’t remember it’s name.

For the most part drinking is cheap in Sofia. Opt for Bulgarian beers or wine or hunt out the happy hour promotions. Don’t expect to receive small change in your bill, things are generally rounded up.

We found ourselves unsurprisingly watching English Football in an Irish Bar – try JJ Murphys for a few in cool setting. Locals and tourists alike enjoy this bar which is always a good sign.

We also managed a night out in a rowdy Bulgarian club, I can’t remember its name but the mojitos were cheap and the tunes were loud.

I preferred Vitosha for drinking rather than eating, however you will find a lot of pizza slice, bakeries and ice cream shops on Vitosha Boulevard.

Bulgarian beer
Selection of bevs

Where to eat in Sofia

Away from Vitosha Boulevard (I’m talking a couple of streets) you can find a whole range of reasonably priced quirky restaurants that cater to all needs. As mentioned above, Vitosha was better for drinking than eating.

Head to Skaptoburger, rated number one on Trip Advisor and a fave among locals. We read about this tiny spot before arriving that offers not two but three veggie options – a rarity for a burger place.

Looking for something a little healthier? Maybe vegan or organic head to Made in Home – the perfect spot for anyone who loves the sound of the word Quinoa. Lots of great Bulgarian dishes along with homemade European faves from Italy and further East.

If you’re looking for something a little snazzier with more of relaxed but classier atmosphere head to Spaghetti Bar & Kitchen situated just before Vitosha Boulevard in front of St Nedelya Church.

Great food from the grill, obviously great pasta and a large selection of Bulgarian wine if you fancy giving it a go. Well priced, 2 mains, a dessert, 2 drinks and a bottle of vino costing us around £30 GBP that’s 70 Lev.

With tonnes os local and fusion foods, eating is definitely one of the best things to do in Sofia during a city break.

Bulgarian food
Bryony vs. Bulgarian traditional
Jamie Nichols

A summary of Sofia Bulgaria Tourism

Overall our time in Sofia was so so enjoyable. With no real plans and no desire to do anything out of the ordinary we were able to pack our days with staples of any city break. Architecture, culture drinks and exploring.

We found ourselves wandering but not lost, passing streets occupied by book stalls and fruit markets. We indulged in great food, handsome churches and all the Bulgarian beer you can drink in three days.

For us Sofia became an idyllic destination for a European city break and for a £25 return flight why wouldn’t we want a little Sofia Bulgaria tourism in our lives?

Large colourful egg
Not sure what this is but I liked it
Sofia market and books
Exploring

Frequently asked questions

How much are flights to Sofia?

Flights to Sofia, Bulgaria range anywhere between £25 – £200 from the UK. We were lucky enough to get a £25 return flight. Liverpool and Manchester have regular direct flights to Sofia for around £60.

Is Sofia a good city break?

Yes, absolutely. As mentioned there are endless things to do in Sofia, from drinking, eating to architecture and exploring. Spend your days on Vitosha Boulevard having a local wine or in one of the amazing city parks.

Is Sofia safe?

From everything I experienced yes. Of course there’s probably the odd taxi hustle and don’t expect your small change back after buying a round. But as a tourist in the city of Sofia I felt perfectly safe and at ease.

What can you do in Sofia for one day?

If I was only in Sofia for one day I’d book a walking tour to ensure I could see as much as the amazing architecture and as many of the churches as possible.

Is Sofia budget friendly?

Yes, it is. Sofia is really budget friendly. Ensure you have your hotel booked in advance as the cheaper options fill up fast, but otherwise drink and eat local food and explore using the tram network and you’ll find Sofia to be a very budget friendly destination.

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