What Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, lacks in terms of iconic monuments when compared to other European cities, it more than makes up for in quaint and quiet charm.
In my opinion, it’s a must-see destination for travellers voyaging in this amazing part of Europe, bringing to life, as it does, much of Bulgaria’s fascinating history and culture.
For this reason, Sofia makes a great starting point for anyone travelling in Bulgaria – as well as being a great city, it’s a convenient first stop, with many flights, trains and buses arriving from around Europe.
Perhaps unsurprising then, Sofia was the first place I visited in Bulgaria… and what a wonderful introduction to this gorgeous country it was!
From great food and coffee to quirky sights and plenty of parks, the relaxed, open and safe atmosphere of Sofia set me up perfectly for my Bulgarian adventures and here’s my list of the 10 best things to do in this city…
- Plovdiv, Bulgaria: Why You Need to Visit
- Ultimate Bulgaria Travel Itinerary
- 10 Amazing Things to Do in Bulgaria
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My stay in Sofia was sponsored by Hostel Mostel but, as always, all views are my own.
#1 Wander the Ruins
An ancient city that’s changed name, religion and identity several times, Sofia is chock full of ancient ruins that can largely be wandered around for FREE in this city.
Perhaps most impressive are the Roman ruins – from the time when this metropolis was known as Serdika – which scatter the city.
A lot of these historical remnants weren’t actually discovered until the building of the recent metro line in 2012, but now they can be viewed easily at many outdoor locations around the city.
Checking them out is definitely one of the best things to do in Sofia, as they really do add a fascinating layer to the incredible historical story of this city.
#2 Visit the Churches
There are so many churches in Sofia it’s kind of ridiculous! Visiting at least a few of them therefore is definitely one of the best things to do in Sofia!
Top of the list is Sveta Sofia Church – the one the city is named after.
Sveti George Rotunda – one of the oldest churches in Europe – is another key highlight with its amazing frescos, as is Aleksander Nevski Cathedral – the biggest church in the city, which is bathed in golden light each evening just before sunset.
Finally, the Sveta Petka Samardzhiiska, built during the Ottoman reign and set just outside the main metro station, is amazing for its murals.
#3 Check out the Markets
Both the women’s market and the covered market are worth a mention as one of the best things to do in Sofia.
Foodies heading to Bulgaria will be delighted to find the wealth of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses and other natural produce on offer here.
Free to stroll around – aside from the snacks you buy! – this is a great place to stock up on some picnic goods to be enjoyed in one of Sofia’s many green spaces, or on a hiking day trip, later.
#4 Day Trip to the Mountains and Monasteries
Mount Vitosha forms a beautiful backdrop to the city of Sofia and also functions as its weekend playground, as many locals head to relax and escape the city heat in the summer.
If you have a few days in the city, hiking tours to this mountain make for a great Sofia day trip and can be cheaply arranged through Hostel Mostel – an awesome backpackers in the capital that is my recommended accommodation choice for budget travellers.
Other great day trips to areas around Sofia, including Rila Monastery and the Seven Rila Lakes. Most day trips include a free pick up and drop off at your accommodation in Sofia, along with all transport, entrance fees and a guide.
I heard many great things about all these destinations from other travellers and only wish I’d had more time in my itinerary to try them!
Next Sofia, I will!
#5 Relax in the Parks
Sofia is a delightfully green city and relaxing in one of the city’s parks is definitely one of the best things to do in the Bulgarian capital.
From admiring the pretty fountains to perusing the flea markets and, my favourite, watching local men fight each other over highly competitive games of chess, spending some time in Sofia’s parks is a must!
The city’s green spaces are also a favourite of the capital’s young people and particularly in the summer, heading to any of them, with a few beers in hand and a gaggle of mates is essentially a rite of passage among Sofia’s youth.
See if you can find the tiny, glasshouse library situated in one of the parks – it’s a really gorgeous discovery!
#6 Drink the Thermal Waters
A thermal city, full of health-rejuvenating springs, it’s no wonder that the Romans and multiple other civilisations have made this city their home.
Nowadays there’s sadly no public baths you can enjoy in the capital (you’ll have to visit Budapest for that), but thermal spring drinking fountains still dot the city and finding them to slurp the health-giving waters is still one of the best things to do in Sofia.
Bring your metal water bottle and go wild!
#7 Watch the Changing of the Guards
Situated outside the Prime Minister’s office, the National Guard are a strange sight in Sofia, but their distinctive uniform and stoic appearance is a great insight into this country.
The best time to spot this iconic crew is during the changing of the guards each hour, on the hour, and snapping some photos of these sombre-faced national legends as they do it!
#8 Sample the Craft Beers and Coffee
Sofia has a flourishing hipster scene and, as such, it’s no surprise that craft beer joints and excellent cafes are springing up across the metropolis like hot cakes.
Visiting a few of them is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Sofia and my top recommendations include 2 Giraffes Espresso Bar, Salted Café, Fabrika Daga, Confetti and Rakia Raketa.
And while we’re talking of fun, independent businesses, the gorgeous Elephant Bookstore is well worth a mention, and a visit, too!
#9 Take a Walking Tour
Running daily (and several times daily in the peak summer months), the free walking tours that operate in Sofia are an incredible introduction to this city, indeed this country, packed full of interesting info and local knowledge.
Run by the wonderful 365 company, you can easily join informed and engaging local young people as they guide you around their home city, filling your ears with more quirky facts and figures than you can shake a stick at!
I enjoyed a few of this company’s free tours across Bulgaria and absolutely loved them. The stories they tell about their country are amazing and provide a great local insight, you otherwise wouldn’t get as a traveller.
#10 Explore the Hidden Poems
With 28 poems from 28 different countries scattered across the capital, trying to locate each of these pieces of artistic creation (which are generally painted on the side of buildings) is a great thing to do in Sofia and an interesting way to stumble upon some hidden corners of the city.
Part of a creative project, this Wall-to-Wall project is a celebration of European unity in diversity and a wonderful EU-funded endeavour to promote tolerance and creativity.
This is a great one for families in particular and, of course, it’s free!
Sofia Mini Travel Guide
When to Visit Sofia?
No question in my mind that you should definitely visit Sofia during the summer season.
This will allow you to get the most from the city’s lovely setting because, let’s face it, Europe is exponentially more beautiful when the sun shines!
The other option for visiting Sofia is during the winter months – a good idea if you want to enjoy some skiing and snow action in the nearby mountains.
Just beware that the seasons are quite extreme here, so summer days in August can reach well into the high thirties and winters can often be below freezing – pack accordingly!
How to Get to Sofia?
Getting across from most parts of central or eastern Europe to Sofia is easy via bus or train.
I actually travelled there overnight from Budapest and found the journey easy and safe.
As always, I book all my train and coach travel across Europe using Trainline – I like the way they compare multiple journeys and use split-fare technology to get you the best prices.
Alternatively, you can also fly into Bulgaria’s capital Sofia care of the international airport.
Check Skyscanner for the best prices.
How to Get Around Sofia?
While Sofia has an excellent public transport system that is easy and cheap to use, those arriving after a long international journey, or travelling late at night, may prefer to catch a taxi.
If so, then my tip for budget travellers is to avoid rank taxis and use the TaxiMe App instead.
Operating in a similar way to Uber, it’s a great resource if your Bulgarian isn’t up to scratch and you want to avoid getting ripped off!
Where to Stay in Sofia?
For budget travellers I highly recommend Hostel Mostel – a superb backpackers located very near the centre of Sofia with great staff and a super friendly atmosphere.
Prices include free breakfast, free dinner, free beer, free wifi and free unlimited tea / coffee – now you can’t say fairer than that!
I also loved how spacious the dorms were here and how each bed included its own privacy curtain as well as lockable charging box – ideal for valuable electronics!
For something a little more comfortable and spacious, check out the Valentina BG Apartments, which sleeps up to 4 guests, is beautifully decorated and brilliantly situated for exploring Sofia.
4 Essential Packing Items for Sofia
#1 Good Camera – You will be pretty much snapping non-stop during your Sofia itinerary and will need a good camera to do this gorgeous destination justice. I highly recommend the Sony A6000, which I use for all my travels and love, not least because it’s light, compact and robust!
#2 Good Walking Shoes – There will be a lot of walking in Sofia, it’s as simple as that! Make sure your feet are comfortable therefore with a pair of New Balance Trainers. Perfect for stylish city strollling, I love mine!
#3 Good Water Bottle – All the city sightseeing is thirsty work, so make sure you have a metal water bottle that you can refill as you go, because Sofia tap water is drinkable… and free!
#4 Good Backpack – And to carry your water bottle, camera and guidebook, you’re going to need a decent backpack that will help you balance the weight as you walk the city streets. In my opinion, you can’t go past the Bobby Anti Theft Backpack, which is also perfect for helping you avoid pickpockets too.
Travel Insurance for Bulgaria
World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.
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So, what do you think of my list of the 10 best things to do in Sofia?
I really enjoyed my time in the Bulgarian capital and strongly suggest it’s worth at least a day or 2 of your Bulgarian itinerary.
Have you visited Sofia already?
What was your favourite thing to do there?