Not sure what to do in Sofia, Bulgaria?
Welcome to the club.
When I booked my trip to Sofia, I literally had NO idea what to expect.
I didn’t even know if Sofia sightseeing was a thing!
I was legitimately worried that I would have to spend my entire vacation sitting around, staring at the uneven death traps… I mean sidewalks (Yeah, there are a lot. The infrastructure isn’t super awesome).
I couldn’t have been MORE wrong! Plus, Bulgaria is actually one of the cheapest countries to live in Europe. So yeah, you definitely won’t go broke during your visit to Sofia.
Because as the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia is known for its plethora of ancient, Greek Orthodox churches, centuries-old Roman ruins, exquisite Ottoman mosques, and Soviet-era, Red Army monuments, all of which weirdly coalesce to create a fun and funky vibe that visitors will love.
It’s one of the cheapest cities in all of Europe! Which is totally amazing since I mean really, who doesn’t love saving money?
Unless you’re a trust fund baby in which case, can I be you?
Oh, and no need to worry about hordes of selfie-stick wielding tourists since Bulgaria is often overlooked in favor of slightly flashier, nearby Greece.
Their loss since you’ll basically have the city to yourself and be delighted by all of the amazing things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria, a city full of natural beauty, warm hospitality, and rich culture.
Grab a snuggie, a pint of ice cream, and kick your heels up, or slightly less impressive ballet flats, as we discuss what to do in Sofia in this ultimate, Sofia sightseeing guide.
Since I am incapable of making it rain money, there’s a high chance that this post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
1. Free Walking Tour of Sofia
Start by getting your walking shoes on cool kids!
Because the absolute best way to get to know Sofia is with a Free Sofia Walking Tour.
I always try and do walking tours of new cities since they usually teach me so much about places that I otherwise, probably wouldn’t see.
To participate in this fun and engaging tour:
Meet your tour guide outside of the Palace of Justice (AKA Sudebna Palata) at either 10 AM, 11 AM, 2 PM, and 6 PM, between April and October, and at either 11 AM, 2 PM, and 6 PM between November and March.
This engaging, two-hour, English tour is conducted 365 days a year and takes you through the center of the city.
Along the way:
You’ll receive a fantastic introduction to the culture, history, and top attractions of Sofia while getting oriented to the general layout of the city; something that is incredibly useful to someone like me who is perpetually lost.
Now that I think about it, this is probably one of the best free walking tours in Europe.
It’s THAT interesting!
Plus, this tour is run through a local charity, so you can really feel the tremendous love that all of these volunteer tour guides have for their city.
They genuinely love what they do, love their city, and want you to love it too!
When the tour concludes at St. Alexander Nevski Church, please tip your guide!
Payment isn’t required, but it’s a nice gesture since these tour guides work really hard and do all of this for FREE!
So yeah, be a kind human and tip well!
2. Sofia Free Street Art Tour
Did you know that Sofia is home to a ton of amazing graffiti?
You wouldn’t think so but this city has so much street art that you can now take a free street art tour through Sofia’s quiet, back streets and explore the amazing, urban art scene of this lovely metropolis.
Just meet your guide at the Statue of Sofia every Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday at 3 PM, between October 1st and April 30th, and at 6 PM, between May 1st and September 31st.
You’ll be taken on a two and a half hour tour where you’ll learn about some of the city’s most famous street artists, the development of Sofia’s street art movement, and the importance of this form of artistic expression to Bulgaria’s capital city.
Locals are incredibly proud of their street art.
A tour like this will only add even more life, and flavor, to all of the historic sights that you’ll see along the way.
Definitely the perfect tour for anyone who isn’t into tours and who doesn’t really like history.
Even though this tour is free, your tour guides still work for tips.
Be the wonderful human that I know you are and tip well since all the guides work hard and do a fab job.
3. Take a Free Food Tour
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The only thing this chick likes more than food is FREE food!
Am I right?
And Sofia really TAKES THE CAKE (sorry, I was going into cheesy pun withdrawal) when it comes to free food since it’s basically the only city that I’ve been able to take a free food tour in.
A free food tour is unheard of no matter where you travel in this great wide world of ours!
And while I never met a food tour I didn’t like, they can get a bit pricey at times.
But not so with Balkan Bites!
This fun and free foodie tour meets every day (minus national holidays) in Crystal Park at 2 PM, right in front of the Stefan Stambolov, big head statue.
During two glorious hours of food filled fun:
You’ll enjoy gastronomic creations from some of the best restaurants in Sofia, like Supa Star (soup bar), Sun and Moon (bakery and vegetarian restaurant), Hadjidraganov’s Cellars (traditional Bulgarian restaurant), Bagri (healthy food with seasonal, fresh ingredients), Lavanda (seasonal ingredients and international cuisine), Mekitsa and Coffee (cafe with coffee and freshly fried Mekitsa), Skaptoburger (burgers and beer), Cake Box (bakery), and Garafa Wine Shop.
And while you may not leave full. who cares? It’s free!
So, rock out in your finest elastic waist pants and prepare to live the Bulgarian dream!
***To guarantee yourself a spot on the tour, try and make a reservation at least twenty-four hours in advance. It’s not required but definitely recommended!***
***Not sure where to eat in Sofia and need more food recs? Then check out The Happy Pig (Focuses on fresh, local ingredients. Try the Bulgarian fried chicken), Rainbow Fabric (a fun cafe with delicious coffee and cakes), and Hadjidraganov’s Houses Restaurant (Hadjidraganov’s Cellars has delicious, traditional Bulgarian food and traditional folk dancing in the evening). ***
4. St. Aleksander Nevski Church
You’ll hear St. Aleksander Nevski Church LONG before you see it since the ringing bells of this architectural masterpiece can be heard from over ten miles away!
Which makes sense when you realize that this building is one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the entire world.
Located in the heart of the city:
This mesmerizingly beautiful church was built between 1882 and 1912, in a neo-Byzantine, architectural style, to commemorate the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgaria’s independence during the Russo-Turkish War.
Adorned with exquisite mosaics and stunning golden domes:
This building is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Sofia for the first time.
Visitors are welcome for daily services and can marvel at the dimly lit, cavernous, interior, with its assortment of faded, naturalistic murals, chandeliers, and elaborate thrones.
Before you leave though:
Don’t forget to visit the museum in the basement crypt (The church itself is free but you must pay to enter the museum. You must also check your bag before you enter).
Loads of people miss out on this wonderful collection of Orthodox icons and paintings since they’re hidden in a section of the church that was originally built as the final resting place for the kings of Bulgaria.
This almost untouched area doubles as a museum where you can stop and see how Bulgarians once honored their dead monarchs.
Pictures are not allowed inside the church.
Please try to dress conservatively since most of the churches in Sofia are pretty strict and will not admit people who have bare legs or shoulders.
You don’t want to miss out on all this historic beauty just because you wanted to show a little skin.
5. St. George Rotunda
This gorgeous, red brick rotunda is one of the oldest buildings in all of Sofia.
It was originally built by the Romans, during the 4th century, and sits atop some of the oldest ruins in the entire city.
If you decide to walk inside:
You’ll be treated to not one, not two, but five layers of frescoes that date all the way back to the 6th century (fantastic, now I feel a bit less old).
From the outside, you wouldn’t even know this church was here since it’s surrounded, on all sides, by enormous, slightly plain, industrial looking, Communist-style buildings.
But why all the church secrecy, you may rightly wonder?
Sadly, there’s no Da Vinci Code level conspiracy (womp, womp, womp).
Religious worship was frowned upon and actively discouraged by members of the Communist-era government in Bulgaria.
These buildings were constructed and ingeniously used to conceal this historic house of worship, without actually destroying it.
Clever girl (Jurassic Park anyone?).
Definitely adds another layer of cool (literally) to the architecture of this wonderful city.
While you’re here
You can also watch the changing of the guard, which is done on the hour, every hour.
It’s the typical, robotic display of weaponry, music, and military might that you’ll encounter at most castles and palaces across the globe, but, hey, it’s free and the soldiers have cool feathers in their hats so they’ve got that going for them.
6. Stroll along Vitosha Boulevard
If you love cute cafes and quaint little restaurants, then Vitosha Boulevard is perfect for you!
There are so many open-air cafes and vivacious bars along this pedestrianized street that you won’t know where to start.
Well, not to worry because that’s what I’m here for!
The absolute best place to start is by grabbing a gelato from Alfredo’s!
You’re gonna need your strength if you want to peruse through all of the posh boutiques and charming shops that are nestled along this street.
And while it isn’t the only pedestrianized shopping street in Sofia, it definitely is the most popular.
Which means that:
Vitosha Boulevard isn’t exactly the cheapest place to eat in the city. It can also be quite touristy, so keep that in mind before you plan your visit.
7. St. Sophia Basilica
Yet another church made it to this guide on what to do in Sofia, Bulgaria.
That news is shocking to precisely no one.
That’s why, I hope you love visiting churches because there are a ridiculous number of them in Sofia.
And St Sophia Basilica?
Yeah, it’s kind of sort of a big deal since it’s the second oldest church in the city (dating back to the 4th century) and one of the most valuable pieces of early Christian architecture in all of Southeastern Europe.
Also shaped like a cross, with three beautiful altars inside, this church is perfect if you really love the macabre.
Saint Sofia Church actually sits atop an ancient necropolis; a place that is now the excavation site for many of the tombs that have been found both in and around the church.
Walk inside and you’ll also find a floor covered in gorgeous, early Christian flora and fauna-themed mosaics.
They’re truly stunning, so remember to keep an eye on that floor (probably the only time that you’ill ever hear that as part of a slightly normal conversation).
Also along the church’s interior:
You’ll see an assortment of historic icons that depict Saint Sophia as a young, Christ-like figure seated on a rainbow, as well as some icons from important, regional saints like St. George and St. Vladimir.
Feel free to be duly impressed because I have zero idea who any of these saints are.
8. Take a Day Trip to Boyana Church and Rila Monastery
Ready for a day trip?
Of course, you are! And there’s no better way to escape the chaos of the city than by exploring two of the most visited, UNESCO World Heritage Sites in all of Bulgaria, Boyana Church and Rila Monastery.
To make your life a bit easier:
I would try and book a day tour to both Boyana Church and Rila Monastery.
You won’t have to worry about finding public transportation to Rila Monastery, a task that can be quite tricky since this site is almost two hours away from Sofia, by car (One public bus leaves for Rila Monastery daily at 10:20 AM, from the West bus station (Ovcha Kupel)).
If you do want to visit Boyana Church independently, you can take bus 63 and get off at Boyana, a journey that will take you about 30 minutes.
Once you arrive:
You’ll find this enchanting, two-story church nestled along the base of Mt. Vitosha.
Purchase your ticket and enjoy this masterpiece of medieval, Bulgarian architecture, which was first constructed during the late 10th and 11th centuries, then again in the mid-13th century, and finally completed in the mid-19th century.
And while this church is quite small, with a limited number of visitors being admitted for just ten minutes at a time, the three layers of exquisite frescoes that adorn the church’s interior make this building well worth a visit.
Of all the paintings in the church, the most notable are the frescoes from 1259, which contain more than 240 figures that display an astonishing level of individuality, vitality, and emotional expression, forms of realism that were not commonly used in religiouso paintings from this time period.
If you have time:
There’s also a quirky little restaurant nearby called The School, which serves traditional, Bulgarian-style food (with some vegetarian options available) amidst the gorgeous, on-site gardens.
Once you, or your group, have finished exploring Boyana Church:
You’ll travel to Rila Monastery, a thousand-year-old center of spirituality that has become the most famous monastery in all of Bulgaria.
Walk inside this enormous, stone complex and you’ll be mesmerized by a colorful assortment of religious art and architecture.
Everywhere you look you’ll find elegant colonnades, bright yellow domes, vibrant religious frescoes, and archways swathed in black, red and white stripes.
You’ll literally have no idea what to photograph first.
But it gets better!
All of this artistic beauty? Yeah, it’s set against the awe-inspiring, natural splendor of the misty, Rila Mountains.
Talk about postcard perfect.
And, If you’re feeling super energetic, you can even head down to the attached cemetery and explore it’s unque, overgrown beauty.
If you get hungry during your visit, you can visit one of the two on-site, restaurants, as well as a small bakery where you can buy fresh, local baked goods. You can aslo spend the night here if you don;t feel like going all the way back to Sofia.
9. Vitosha Mountain
Getting an epic, panoramic view of Sofia has never been easier!
Just take the metro to the final stop, Vitosha, and catch bus 122 to the Simeonove lift.
The lift will take you all the way to Aleko ski resort, which sits right on the mountain.
You can experience the pure beauty of Sofia from over 7.000 feet in the air!
Get outside of the city, and into nature, as you explore the many fantastic hiking trails that take you to the summit of this majestic mountain.
10. National Institute of Archeology
Housed in a former mosque that was built in 1496:
This museum is a great place to see some magnificent Ancient Greek artifacts and historic, medieval texts.
Officially opened to the public in 1905:
This museum is known for an assortment of Thracian and Roman artifacts that include a mosaic floor from the Church of Sveta Sofia, a 4th-century BC Thracian gold burial mask, and a magnificent bronze head of a Thracian king.
Also on display here are two huge hoards of Thracian gold that date back to 400 BC and that were taken during Alexander the Great’s invasion of Thrace.
Indiana Jones, eat your heart out!
11. National Historical Museum
Housed in the former communist presidential palace:
This fascinating museum is home to an assortment of world-famous exhibits that display artifacts from as far back as 5000 BC.
Some of the antiquities on display here include Thracian gold treasures, Roman statuary, folk costumes, and Russian MiG fighters.
You’ll even find a variety of temporary exhibitions here, making it easy to experience something new at this fantastic museum.
And while the location is a bit inconvenient:
Thankfully, you can actually visit this museum on the way to Boyana Church since both attractions are found at the base of Mount Vitosha.
To get here:
Just take the metro to Mladost I station and then ride the 111 bus to the National History Museum stop.
If you want:
You can also request a guided tour in English. However, the request needs to be done via email and at least two weeks in advance.
**PSST…Most museums in Sofia are closed on Mondays. Therefore, try and plan your visit for basically any other day of the week since there’s nothing worse than rolling up to a totally closed museum.***
12. Ivan Vazov National Theatre
You know a building is extra special when it’s featured on the national currency!
And Ivan Vazov National Theatre certainly is since it’s one of the most exquisite buildings in all of Bulgaria!
You can try and catch a show while you’re here (Bulgarian and Russian adaptations of Shakespearean plays are common), but this building is primarily known for its enchanting, neoclassical architecture, which was created by Viennese designers Helmer & Fellner in 1909.
Just look at that towering portico and I dare you not to swoon!
This theater was actually named after one of the most important writers in all of Bulgarian history, Ivan Vazov (you can also visit his grave at nearby, St Sofia Church).
If you can:
Try to stop by on a Sunday evening, when locals gather just outside the theater and do some traditional, Bulgarian dancing.
Feel free to rock on with your bad self and cut the proverbial rug as you slay those Bulgarian dance moves.
You can watch because, for rhythmically challenged folks like me, that’s fun too!
13. Borisova Gradina
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Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet comradeship in Sofia’s largest park – Borisova Garden. For more of our socialist heritage follow our @sofia.communist.tour Photo by: Ch. Duchemin #sofia #sofiacity #park #borisovagradina #sofiabulgaria #bulgaria #easterneurope #balkans #monument #communistmonument #soviet #communism #communist #ironcurtain #coldwar #green
Sofia’s oldest, and most famous, park was first created in the 1880s, as a cultural response to the Bulgarian Revival.
After fifty years, and three different landscape designers, the result is nothing short of amazing.
You’ll find an enormous, cohesively designed green space that is filled with enchanting statues, innovative socialist iconography, charming fountains, and lovely flowerbeds.
Truly the perfect spot for a nice, leisurely, afternoon stroll.
And, if you’re around during the Summer, definitely stop by and enjoy one of the park’s many free, outdoor concerts.
14. Banya Bashi Mosque
Built in 1576:
Banya Bashi mosque was designed by Minar Sinan and majestically sits at the center of Sofia, with its eye-catching minaret towering over all of the surrounding buildings.
Visit outside of daily prayer times and you’ll be able to explore the vibrantly colored interior of Sofia’s only remaining mosque; an expansive space that can hold upwards of 700 worshippers.
Before you enter though:
Please abide by the mosque’s rules and take off your shoes, cover your legs/shoulders, and put on one of the head scarfs that are available outside.
And that’s it.
You can now explore one of the most enchanting buildings in all of Bulgaria; a place where you can truly enjoy the unique blend of religions and cultures that make Bulgaria so special.
15. Central Hot Springs
Located right in the city center:
These public hot springs have stood here since Medieval times and are a fantastic place to stop and enjoy fresh, delicious, warm water that comes straight from the ground below.
And while the gardens in the area are free to explore:
There are no public baths here for you to enjoy. since, sadly, they were closed in the 1980s.
Sofia’s former public baths have been transformed into the Regional History Museum, one of Sofia’s most photographed buildings with its neo-byzantine style architecture, large central dome, and impressive vestibule.
You can take photos, visit the museum, drink some water, and…that’s about it.
Sorry, but there will be no mineral bath frolicking for you at this moment in time.
16. Park Vrana
In its former life:
This park was actually the private home of Simeon II, the former Tsar of Bulgaria between 1943 and 1946.
This palace has been transformed into a public park, located on the outskirts of Sofia.
Open only on the weekends:
You can get here by taking the 505 bus from Orlov Most (entrance).
After paying 5 leva to enter:
You can wander throughout the park but won’t be able to enter any of the buildings.
The landscaped gardens are a true feast for the eyes, making this one of the most beautifully tranquil places in all of Sofia.
Multilingual guided tours of the park are available every hour and are a fun way to learn about the unique history of this amazing place.
I had no idea that this estate was once home to an exotic menagerie of animals, like Bulgaria’s first elephants; animals that were layer used to complete yard work within the grounds!
Super cool right?
Plus, Vrana actually means crow in Bulgarian, which became the name of this park since King Ferdinand somehow decided to name this place after the first bird he saw here.
Totally random but hey, you could use this little factoid to win Who Wants to be a Millionaire!
17. The Synagogue
Built in 1909:
This exquisite synagogue has survived multiple bombings and proudly stands today as the second largest synagogue in all of Europe.
As you can see from the picture above:
The building’s beautiful, expansive interior, can hold upwards of 1,000 people and is done in a Moorish Revival style that was inspired by the old Sephardic temple of Vienna.
Head towards the back of the building, hit the buzzer, wait to be buzzed in, go through security, and pay a small admission fee, which is totally worth it in my humble opinion (the building looks closed but I swear it’s not).
The on-site museum detailing the history of Bulgaria’s Jewish population is currently under construction, which is why you won’t be able to visit it any time soon.
A bummer for sure.
But, the beauty of the synagogue kind of makes up for the fact that the museum is closed.
18. Regional History Museum
With over a thousand exhibits spread throughout two separate floors:
This museum chronicles the history of the city of Sofia, from its humble beginnings in 6000 BC until today.
Displayed in the magnificent, former Turkish Mineral Baths building:
Museum artifacts are divided into eight separate chambers, by theme, and include discoveries from recent archeological digs, memorabilia from various Bulgarian royal families, and a horse carriage that was gifted to the Bulgaria by Marie Antoinette.
Oh la la!
We just got Marie Antoinette level fancy!
19. Day Trip to Plovdiv
Depending on how adventurous you are:
You can either book an organized day trip to Plovdiv (I went this route since I was short on time), or you can visit this enchanting city on your own.
If you do decide to travel to Plovdiv on your own:
Just take the bus from Central Sofia Station. The ticket will cost you seven euro and the trip will take about two hours and twenty minutes.
You can also take the train from Sofia North Station to Plovidv since the ticket will cost just three euro. But, the trip is longer and will take about three hours.
Regardless of how you get there, the trip is well worth it since Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria and the oldest inhabited city in Europe.
Pretty cool right?
Plus, Plovdiv has a super laid back vibe, a fantastic coffee culture, and a fascinating history since it’s an insane, 8000 years old.
Now, since you’re won’t be here long:
Definitely check out the Old Town, with its fantastic museums, quaint cobblestone streets, and charming, historic homes (Stop by the ancient Roman amphitheater and the Regional Ethnographic Museum which is found inside a charming, nineteenth-century merchant’s house).
But if you have time:
You can also visit the artsy, Kapana neighborhood with its ultra-cool cafes and quirky shops.
And if you get hungry along the way?
No problem! Just stop by Philippopolis, a lovely, Old Town eatery where you can enjoy delicious, traditional Bulgarian food while admiring fantastic, panoramic views of the city.
Where to stay in Sofia
With lots of chic places to stay:
It can be difficult choosing the perfect hotel for your trip to Sofia.
So, to help you narrow the search down a bit:
Here are my picks for the best hotels in Sofia, no matter what your budget.
Les Fleurs Boutique Hotel (Luxury hotel with rooms starting at $90 per night)
This stylish, fabulously modern hotel sits along the centrally located, pedestrianized shopping street of Vitosha Boulevard.
If you can:
Try and reserve a room on one of the hotel’s top floors so that you can enjoy a fantastic view of the city.
Your stay also includes an excellent breakfast and top-notch service from wonderfully friendly staff members; people whose only goal is to make you feel more at home.
Casa Ferrari B & B (Charming, mid-range bed and breakfast with rooms that start at $60 per night)
Staying here feels like stepping back in time since this cute bed and breakfast comes with charming, twentieth-century style decor.
The wonderfully central location makes it easy to experience everything that this city has to offer.
Choose between their spacious, well-appointed blue, pink, or yellow rooms and enjoy a comfortable stay amidst modern amenities that retain an air of historic charm.
Whichever room you choose:
You can expect fantastic service and helpful staff who are only too eager to share their knowledge and love of Bulgaria with you.
But, it gets better!
A stay here also includes a delicious, home-made, Bulgarian breakfast where you can sit, with a local, and learn about the fascinating history and culture of this dynamic country.
Antim Boutique Apartments Sofia (Mid-range apartments starting at $47 per night)
If you’re looking for that home away from home feeling, then you can’t go wrong with these chic apartments.
They come with a fully-equipped kitchen and are based in the center of Sofia, making it easy to explore all of Sofia’s top attractions.