Sofia is Bulgaria’s capital and largest city. Situated in the very heart of the Balkan peninsula, it is one of Europe’s oldest cities. While still undiscovered by many, more and more people are now falling in love with the city’s unique east meets west vibe.
For the past 6000 years this city has seen it all. Once called Serdica – an important trade center in the Roman empire. Then conquered by the Bulgarians in the 9th century, then conquered by the Byzantine Empire, then re-claimed by the Bulgarians and then a stronghold of the Ottoman empire. After Bulgaria gained its independence in the late 19th century, Sofia was chosen as the country’s new capital. It’s now been capital for 140 years.
The city’s appereance today has been widely shaped by the twists and turmoils of the 20th century. Up until WW2 Bulgaria was a parliamentary monarchy and Sofia’s architecture was influenced by the examples of Austrian, French and German architecture. The second half of the 20th century saw Bulgaria firmly locked behind the Iron Curtain. Therefore, architecture and urban planning was reconceptialized to fit with the new communist ideas. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 Bulgaria started its transition to democracy and is now a member of NATO and the European Union. All of this creates the unique blend that is Sofia today.
Sofia’s city center is very compact and most of the city’s main landmarks are situated withing walking distance. Our best suggestion for any first-time visitor is one of the city’s daily free walking tours. The tours run 365 days a year and include all of Sofia’s most famous buildings and places to visit. The city tours are both fun and educational.
Having done that, explore further with our Top 10 Things to do in Sofia list.
You already know that Sofia has a long and turbulent history. That’s the perfect recipe for all museum lovers. There is a wide-range of museums and galleries in Sofia. Here are some of our favorites:
Wondering where to eat in Sofia? That is indeed a tricky question as Sofia is home to plenty of great restaurants that offer great value for money.
Bulgarian food is not to be missed when visiting Sofia. Going to a traditional restaurant is a must for any visit to Bulgaria. Here are some of our favorites:
Of course, there are countless other options if you’ve already had enough of the Bulgarian cuisine:
Learn more about traditional bulgarian food and must-try dishes in our Guide to Bulgarian Cuisine
A great way to check what events are happening in Sofia during your visit is this website. They’ll keep you up to date with the most interesting performances in town.
There’s nothing to worry about! Despite Bulgaria’s reputation as the craddle of organized crime, corruption, etc, the streets of Sofia are very safe and violent crimes are a rarity. Poorly-paved streets and pavements are going to be your main worry after a glass or two. Watch your step!
There are countless ways to travel around Sofia. However, there is one option that is not available and that’s Uber. Uber and all uber-like services are currently banned in Bulgaria. Therefore, you’ll have to stick to the traditional means of transportation.
Coming from the airport? – Here’s how to get from the Airport to the city center.
Most of the city’s cultural life is situated in the center of the city. Therefore, walking is the best option to navigate the city. However, if you need to use the public transport, we are here for you! Sofia has it all – trams, buses, trolleybuses, marshrutka (a local type of mini-bus). Public transport in the city is very affordable at a fixed rate of 1.60BGN (around 0.80EUR) per journey. A day card for unlimited use of all public transport will cost you 4BGN (around 2.00EUR).
Check out our full guide to Sofia’s public transport.
Sofia’s metro network is relatively new and it’s locals’ favorite way to get around. There are 2 functioning metro lines. A 3rd one is currently being built. The city’s key points (such as the Sofia Airport, Sofia Central Railway and Bus Stations and historical center) are all well connected with the metro.
If your are planning on using the metro, make sure to read our Guide to Sofia metro
Taxis are very affordable in Bulgaria. A ride from the Sofia airport to the center should be around 15 BGN (8 EUR). Anywhere withing the city – around 10BGN (5 EUR). However, you should be careful as there are a lot of scammers.
Renting a car is a good option if you are planning on exploring what Bulgaria has to offer outside of the capital. However, if you are just visiting for a few short days and are not planning any day-trips, Sofia’s compact city center and public transport network are more than enough for you to explore what the city has to offer.
Unlike many European capitals, cycling is not a popular option in Sofia. That is largely due to the city’s limited cycling infrastructure and countless underpasses. However, if you feel adventures enough…
Check out more about cycling in Sofia, bike rentals and infrastructure here.
Parking in Sofia is might be tricky, especially if you are considering finding a spot in the center of the city. We recommend you check out our extensive Sofia Parking Guide before you start your journey.
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Sofia offers a really good value for money when it comes to accommodation options. There’s something for every taste and budget. In fact, even 5-star hotels are quite affordable. Especially if you compare them to 5-star hotels in most of Europe.
AirBnB options in the city are extremely affordable, varied and offer great quality. If AirBnB is your choice, we reccomend that you stick to the city center as that would give you the opportunity to explore it by just walking. And trust us, Sofia is best explored on foot.
If you prefer staying in hostel/hotel there are plently of options such as Hostel Mostel, 123 Hostel, R34, Grand Hotel Sofia, Intercontinental Sofia and many many more.
Bulgaria has so much to offer and only those who dare to explore further are lucky to see it. Bulgaria’s capital is a great base for countless day-trip options.
The closest and most accessible option for an escape from the big city is Sofia’s Vitosha mountain. Sofia’s biggest natural landmark and a favorite of all locals.
Bulgaria’s second largest city and 2019’s European Capital of Culture is just 2 hours away from Sofia and a must. If you’re going there, here’s a great list of things to do in Plovdiv.
The Rila Monastary is probably the most visited landmark in Bulgaria. A UNESCO world-heritage site, there’s nothing like it in the world.
Spendinig more time in Bulgaria? Here’s our extensive list of day trips from Sofia.