Sofia, one of the oldest cities in Europe, is the capital and the largest city in Bulgaria. It is located in the western part of Bulgaria, in the very center of the Balkans, in a valley at the foot of Vitosha mountain. Bulgaria is considered one of Europe’s exotic countries, and also one of the most cheapest, so why would you visit Sofia? Sofia has a population of around 1.7 million, and the official language is Bulgarian, a southern Slavic language. The official currency is the Bulgarian Lev (~ €1.96), but Euro is usually accepted in shops. The climate in Bulgaria is mostly a humid continental, winters are cold and snowy, while summers are sunny and warm and the average temperature during summer is 26 °C. During summer, Sofia generally remains slightly cooler than the rest of Bulgaria due to its higher altitude. Below you can find more useful information for you holiday in Sofia!
Table of Contents
Getting to Sofia
Since Sofia is one of the most popular destinations in Bulgaria and the country’s capital, it is well-connected with other cities in the region, the rest of the Balkans and Europe. Here you can find information on the main airports, bus and train stations from where you can start your vacation in Sofia.
- Sofia Airport (SOF) is the main international airport in Bulgaria, and it is located approximately 10 km from the city centre. The airport is the main hub of the Bulgarian air carrier Bulgaria Air, a few other smaller Bulgarian airlines, but also carriers like WizzAir and Ryanair.
- Central Bus Station Sofia (CBS) is the main bus station in Sofia, located in Bulevard Knyaginya Maria Luiza 100, about 2.5 km from the city centre. Bus tickets can be paid for with cash, debit and credit cards. At the bus station you can find ATMs, exchange offices, a restaurant, coffee shop, casino, a store and a bookstore.
Sofia has good railway connections with major cities in nearby countries, some of the direct lines are to Plovdiv, Istanbul, Thessaloniki, Belgrade and Bucharest, with the latter two operating only in the summertime. There are also indirect lines to Skopje, Zagreb, Athens and Venice all year round.
- Sofia Central Railway Station is the main passenger railway station in Sofia and the largest railway station in Bulgaria. It is located around 2 km north of the city centre, near Lavov most, in the near proximity of the Central Bus Station.
Sofia is located on 3 of the 10 Pan-European Corridors, those being IV, VIII and X. The motorway A1 connects Sofia with Burgas on the Black Sea, while A4 connects Sofia with Turkey. Bulgaria is a Member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement, but the latter has not yet been fully implemented. For the citizens of the European Union and European Free Trade Association a valid ID or a passport is sufficient for entry.
For those that wish to avoid vignettes, it is best to rent a car either at the airport, or in Sofia. There are plenty of car rental companies in Sofia, such as Sixt, Universal Car, Avis, Autojet, Hertz and many others. It would be advisable to compare their rental prices and save your time by booking your car online.
Getting around Sofia
Sofia is still growing, but it has good infrastructure and public transport system, so getting around the city should not be an issue.
- Public transportation in Sofia is well-developed, it consists of buses, trolleys, trams and metro and it is operated by Sofia Urban Mobility Centre. Maps and timetables of routes are available online. One ticket for any type of transportation (except shuttles) costs around 1.6 BGN (~0.82€) and all tickets can be bought at street kiosks, vending machines or directly from the driver. Check the prices here.
- Taxi: You can find several taxi companies around Sofia, and taxis in Bulgaria are relatively cheap when compared to Western Europe. It is advisable to order a taxi by phone or online. Some of the official taxi companies are OK Taxi Sofia (OK Supertrans) and Panda Taxi Sofia.
NOTE: Always check the fares that are displayed on the front and side windows, also always check if the driver turned the taxi meter on.
- Car: Driving in Sofia should not represent any problems, since the roads are mostly in good condition and most of the traffic signs are written in cyrilic and latin. Bear in mind that the speed limit in cities is 50km/h, outside cities 90km/h and on the motorways 140km/h, unless otherwise specified.
Parking in Sofia
When it comes to parking zones, keep in mind that in Sofia there are green and blue parking zones and the hourly rate is paid by sending an SMS to a number specified for each zone. In blue zones the maximum parking time is 2 hours and price for one hour is around 2 BGN (~1€), while in green zones the maximum parking time is 4 hours and the price for one hour is around 1 BGN (~0.51€).
NOTE: Driving with your headlights ON is mandatory even during daytime and all passengers, except pregnant women, must have seat belts.
- Bicycle: Sofia is one of the greenest capitals in Europe and it is bike friendly, as there is plenty of parks suitable for cycling, but also bike paths in downtown.
- On foot: Sofia is mostly pedestrian friendly, most of the main attractions are located in the city centre and can easily be reached on foot, there are also many green areas and parks suitable for long strolls.
As mentioned above, Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe. For everyone interested in history, Sofia is the right place to visit. It was founded some 2500 years ago, and for some time it was even the capital of the Roman Empire. Explore the remains from the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Soviet eras that can be found throughout the city center. But, there is much more to see in this fast growing city, and below you can find the most important sights.
Most of the attractions and sights are located in Sofia city centre, so you can easily visit them all on foot.
One of the main symbols of Sofia, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, is an Orthodox church built in Neo-Byzantine style, located in the city centre. Right below the cathedral is the Alexander Nevsky Crypt Museum, an Orthodox icon museum. The museum is open every day (except on Mondays) from 10:00 to 18:00.
Hagia Sophia Church was built in the 6th century, making it the second oldest church in Sofia. It is located near the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. During the Ottoman rule it was converted into a mosque and in the 20th century it was restored and turned into church again.
Sveti Georgi Rotunda, dating from the 4th century is considered to be the oldest building in Sofia. This little red brick church is located among the remains of ancient town Serdica. Church is also famous for its frescoes that date from the 12th, 13th and 14th century.
Sveti Nikolai Russian Church is a Russian Orthodox church built in 1914. The church is famous for its interesting design and five golden domes. It is located some 350 meters from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
The Sveta Nedelya Church is an Eastern Orthodox church located in the city centre, around 1km west of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The church lies above the former crossroads of the antic town of Serdica. The relics of Serbian king Stefan Milutin are kept here.
The statue of Sveta Sofia is also located at St. Nedelya Square. The statue was erected in 2000 at the former location of Lenin’s statue. The statue is around 22 meters tall and it represents a combination of Athens and Saint Sofia.
The Boyana Church is a small church built in three different stages, located in the outskirts of Sofia. The church is famous for its 13th century frescoes that are considered one of the most important collections of east European medieval art. In 1979. Boyana Church was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Sofia Synagogue is the third largest synagogue in Europe. It attracts many visitors with its richly decorated interior, Venetian mosaics and wood carvings. There is an entrance fee of around 4 BGN. It also houses the Jewish Museum of History along with a souvenir shop.
The Banya Bashi Mosque, meaning many baths, is the only functioning mosque in Sofia. It is built over natural thermal spas, hence the name. The interior is decorated with coloured tiles and tiles with calligraphy.
The Central Mineral Baths are located in the centre of Sofia, near the former Turkish baths. They served as a public bathhouse from 1911 to 1986, and today the building serves as a museum.
The Ancient Serdica complex is located in the very centre of the city. It was first discovered in 2004. The excavated remains include eight streets, a basilica, and roman houses, all dating from the 4th to 6th century. The complex is partially covered with glass.
Vitosha Boulevard is the main commercial and pedestrian street in Sofia, connecting St. Nedelya Square with the Southern Park. It is filled with high-end stores, restaurants and bars. Go window shopping through Versace, Boss Lacoste, D&G or Emporio Armani, go for a walk or just enjoy the atmosphere in one of the cafes.
Sofia Zoo, located around 2 km south of the city centre, is the oldest and the largest zoo in southeastern Europe. At the moment the Zoo houses over 300 animal species. Working hours are from 09:30 to 19:00 and it is open all year round.
Museums and galleries
The Regional History Museum is located in the former Turkish baths building, just behind the Banya Bashi Mosque. The exhibitions are thematically divided into eight rooms. The working hours are from 10:00 to 18:00, the price of an adult ticket for both permanent and temporary exhibition is around 8 BGN (~4€), and if you wish to take photos you will have to pay an additional fee of around 15 BGN (~7.70€). Check all ticket prices here.
The National Museum of History is the largest museum in Bulgaria. It is located in the former residence of Bulgarian Socialist leaders. This imposing museum holds over 650 000 archeological, historical, ethnographic items tied to the history of Bulgaria, but also exhibitions on Thracian, Hellenic and early Byzantine culture. Check all prices and discounts here.
The Earth and Man National Museum is a mineralogical museum in Sofia, and one of the biggest mineralogical museums in the world. The museums collection covers over 40% of all known occuring minerals. Besides the permanent mineral exhibitions, the museum also hosts various other exhibitions, events, conferences, but also concerts of chamber music. Check their webpage for opening hours and ticket prices.
The National Art Gallery in Sofia is actually a collection of several art galleries. It houses over 41 000 paintings, sculptures, graphics and other artworks.The gallery combines Kvadrat 500, the Palace, the Museum of Christian Art located in the crypt of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Museum of Socialist Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art and three more house museums. Here you can expect art by not only various Bulgarian artists, but also artists from all over the world. Sofia Arsenal, or the Museum of Contemporary Art is located in the Crni Vrah Boulevard and the interesting thing about this museum is that every Wednesday you can meet the artists and curators of the current exhibitions.
Sofia City Art Gallery is located in the City Park, near the Sveti Georgi Rotunda. The museum has several departments: painting, sculpture, graphic works, contemporary art and photography. It houses more than 8000 different works of Bulgarian artists, some dating even to the 19th century.
Festivals and Events
The Sofia Breathes is an urban culture festival that is held every Sunday in August. Festival’s programme combines both visual and performing arts, but also includes literal, ecological, sports and educational events. This festival celebrates Bulgarian culture, but also aims to positively influence visitors from all over the world.
Sofia Coffee Festival celebrates all things latte. Here visitors get the opportunity to meet the biggest coffee makers, baristas from all over the world, try our various coffee blends and flavors, but also learn something new about their favourite drink. The festival usually takes place in June.
Sofia Dance Fest is the first and the biggest dance festival in Bulgaria. The first edition of the festival was held in 2002, and it has been held every March ever since. Whether you are a dancer, choreographer or just wish to watch some dance competitions, this is the event for you!
Sofia International Film Festival is a worldwide popular Bulgarian festival that takes place every year in March. Since its debut in 1997, it slowly grew to become one of the most important film festivals in Europe. The goal of the festival is to introduce the best of contemporary Bulgarian, Balkan and international cinema to international audiences.
GuitArt Festival is held every year in Sofia and Plovdiv. This festival connects people from different backgrounds and different interests that all share love for one thing – guitar. Visitors can enjoy various guitar concerts, but also take part in free guitar lessons and activities.
Sofia Independent Film Festival is the first independent American film festival situated in Southeast Europe. The aim of the festival is to present and introduce films that the Bulgarian and Balkan audiences are unfamiliar with. Besides film screenings there are also various workshops, seminars and parties for everyone to enjoy!
Sofia is famous for its many parks and green areas, so there are plenty of places that you can visit if the city’s hustle and bustle ever becomes too much for you. Here are some of the most popular parks and outdoor activities that you can enjoy.
City Garden is located in the historical centre of the city, just across the street of the National Art Gallery. It is the oldest public garden in Sofia, and one of the most popular places among the locals. Whether you just wish to stroll, sit down and soak up the sun or play chess – this is the place for you.
Borisova Gradina is one of the oldest parks in Sofia. It is located southeast of the city centre and it stretches all the way from Orlov most and almost to Paradise Center. In the park area there are two stadiums, several playgrounds, cafes and restaurants but also places reserved for various recreational activities and Ariana Pond.
South Park is located south of the Sofia city centre and west of Borisova Gradina. The park has good infrastructure convenient for various outdoor activities, but there are also playgrounds, benches and gazebos.
Sofia University Botanic Garden is the best place to visit if you need some peace and quiet. It is hidden behind a flower shop in the city center, near the National Gallery. The botanic garden includes an open garden, a rose garden and a glasshouse where more exotic flora is kept. At the moment the gardens keep a collection that includes more than 1500 different plant species.
Wizz Air Sofia Marathon takes place in Sofia every year and it actually consists of several runs of various lengths and routes. If you are feeling competitive or just wish to test your limits, sign up for the next year’s marathon in Sofia!
Vitosha Mountain National Park, one of the most famous national parks in Bulgaria and the oldest national park in the Balkans is located south of Sofia. This gorgeous national park is a popular recreational place among locals and tourists. During the summer it is a popular hiking area and during the winter it is a great place to go snowboarding or skiing.
Bulgarian cuisine is considered a representative of Eastern European cuisine, and it is known for its quality vegetables and dairy products. Generally, food in Bulgaria is a combination of East and West culinary traditions, so it has a lot in common with Greek, Turkish, Hungarian, Persian and Balkan cuisine. Unlike the rest of the Balkans, Bulgaria offers many different vegetarian and vegan options. Here are some suggestions on what and where to eat if you ever find yourself in Sofia.
What to eat
Shopska salata, also known worldwide as Bulgarian salad, is a cold salad popular throughout the Balkans and Central Europe. It consists of fresh tomato, cucumber, capsicum, onions and white cheese.
Tarator is a cold soup or dip made from cucumber, yoghurt, garlic, dill, and water. This popular soup is super refreshing, so it is usually eaten in summer, either as an appetizer or as a side dish served with Shopska salata.
Banitsa is a traditional Bulgarian baked pastry dish similar to burek. It is made of layered pastry dough filled with a mixture of whisked eggs, yoghurt and feta cheese. It is traditionally eaten for breakfast and there are different kinds of bantisa, as it can be filled with spinach, pumpkin or milk.
Shkembe or tripe chorba is a soup or a stew made with tripe (cattle stomach lining), red paprika, milk and oil. In Bulgaria it is considered a great hangover cure, so if you drank one too many rakias last night, treat yourself to some shkembe chorba.
If you are a meat lover you have to try meshana skara. It is a mixed grill plate that includes kebapche (meaning little kebab), kyufte (meatballs made of veal, pork or beef), shishche (Bulgarian version of meat skewer) and karnache (spiced sausage).
Gyuvech are variations of casserole or stew dishes that got the name from güveç, Turkish clay pots used in cooking. There are a few variations to the recipe but it is usually made from beef, mushrooms, peppers and onions. It is cooked and baked with delicious eggs and cheese on top.
Sarmi are made from cabbage or vine leaves, stuffed with a combination of minced meat, rice and spices. It is a popular dish usually eaten in winter.
Musaka (Moussaka) is a traditional layered meal made with slices of potatoes (instead of eggplant slices), minced pork or beef and milk or yogurt mixed with raw eggs.
Rakiya is a type of brandy popular in the Balkans made by distillation of fermented fruits. The classical rakija is transparent and has a strong smell. There are many variations, but the most popular ones are slivovitsa (made from plums) and gyulova rakiya (rose Rakiya).
Where to eat
Shtastlivetsa is the place you should visit for the true Bulgarian experience. The restaurant is located in the city centre and its warm and friendly atmosphere attracts many visitors. Here you can expect good traditional Bulgarian dishes and a variety of Vegan and Vegetarian friendly options.
Raketa Rakia Bar is located near the city centre, close to the Zaimov Park. This place was named after its extensive selection of rakias. The interesting thing is that the interior is inspired by the communist era. This is a great place for Vegans and Vegetarians due to its various selection of salads. Make sure to book in advance.
Pod Lipite (meaning Under the Linden Trees) is located southeast of Borisova Gradina Park. This restaurant has been open for almost a century now, and over the years it has established itself as one of the most popular places in Sofia. They take pride in using only organic ingredients for their traditional Bulgarian dishes.
If Bulgarian food is not really for you, then visit Daro in the city centre. They are well known for their European dishes, but also Vegetarian, Vegan and gluten-free options.
Head to Olio D’oliva if you are in the mood for some Italian food. The restaurant is located in the city centre and they serve Italian and Mediterranean food, with a special emphasis on pizzas. Here you can enrich your experience even more by watching your pizza being made right in front of you.
If you wish to try something different visit Tenebris, located about 1 km south of the city centre. Your meals will be served in a pitch black room so you can experience the food with all other senses. Expect a fusion of international and European dishes with a Bulgarian aftertaste, all while enjoying live music.
NOTE: Reservation is mandatory.
Restaurant Niko’las is a fusion between traditional Bulgarian and modern international cuisine. It is conveniently located in the city centre, some 500 meters from Sveti Georgi Rotunda. Enjoy the cozy and friendly atmosphere and dishes from their diverse menu.
The Little Things is located around 1 km southeast from the city centre. This cozy little place is known for its delicious modern European food and here you can expect a blend of Italian, Bulgarian and other European cuisines. Visit the Little Things if you need some cozy homely atmosphere and delicious meals.
You simply have to check out the liveliest places in Sofia, the Farmer’s Markets. You can expect plenty of colorful fresh vegetables, dairy products, but also interesting people. There are plenty of Farmer’s Markets all around the city, below you can find some of the most popular ones.
Zenski pazar is located in the city centre, some 500 meters from the Banya Bashi Mosque. Zenski pazar literary means Ladies Market, and in front of the market is a sign telling the history of the market. Here you can find fresh food and vegetables, but also cheap clothes and souvenirs.
The Central Market Hall, or Tsentralni sofiyski hali, opened in 1911 and it is the oldest covered market in Sofia. It is located in the city centre, just across the street from the Sofia Synagogue. This place is not popular just because of its fresh produce and little food stalls, but also because of its architecture. The market is built in Neo-Renaissance style with Neo-Byzantine elements, with a coat of arms of Sofia above the entrance.
Ivan Vazov Farmer’s Market is located in the Ivan Vazov district in Sofia, some 2 km south of the city centre. Treat yourself to some fresh fruits and vegetables, famous Bulgarian dairy and rose product or delicious honey and nuts.
Bulgaria is one of the cheapest countries in Europe, so why not go on a splurge while on your holiday in Sofia? Below you can find some of the most popular shopping malls and streets in Sofia.
Paradise Center, opened in 2013, is the biggest mall in Bulgaria. It is located near the South Park. The impressive mall building and its interior represents a synergy between people and the environment. Here you can find stores such as Zara, Bershka, Stradivarius, Pull&Bear, H&M, Sephora, Mac, Hugo Boss, but also many restaurants, cafes, cinemas, a trampoline park and a fitness complex.
Serdika Center Sofia is located some 3.5 km east of the city centre. The mall was opened in 2010 and it boasts with over 200 different stores, such as Adidas, Zara, Bershka, Douglas, H&M, Pandora and Replay, but also numerous restaurants and cafes.
The Mall of Sofia, opened in 2006, is located in the city centre of Sofia. Here you can find popular Bulgarian and international brands, such as Calzedonia, Bulgaria Gems, DM, CCC, H&M, Orsay and Swatch, but also various restaurants, a fast food court and the only IMAX cinema in Sofia.
TZUM is a large department store located in the centre of Sofia. It was opened in 1957 in an imposing building that is a part of the Largo complex, an ensemble of Socialist Classicism buildings in Sofia. The store is not as popular as it used to be, as many of the stores closed during the years, but there are working restaurants and cafes.
Graf Ignatiev Street is a popular shopping pedestrian street located in the city centre. Take a walk and go window shopping around various clothing, jewelry and book shops, but make sure to stop and admire monuments along the way.
Already mentioned Vitosha Boulevard is another popular shopping spot.
Wish to experience that wild Eastern European nightlife? Well if you ever find yourself in Sofia and have no idea where to go, below you can find some of the most popular night clubs, bars and pubs in the capital of Bulgaria.
SugarClub is located in the very centre of Sofia. It is a popular place, and easily one of the most attractive nightclubs in Sofia. Here you can dance the night away to some of the best hip-hop, R&B, funk and reggaeton hits. There are occasionally live performances by various artists and musicians, so head to SugarClub if you need a good night out in Sofia!
Yalta Club is located north of Borisova Gradina Park. This is the first club to play electronic music after the fall of communism in Bulgaria in 1989. Yalta also has an underground level designated to those that enjoy the purest form of clubbing. Here you can expect some of the hottest underground and techno hits.
Gotham Club is a Batman-themed club located in the city centre. This club plays electro dance music, R&B, reggaeton and Bulgarian hits all night long. On some nights you may even be surprised with live performances by Bulgarian artists.
Once Upon a Time Biblioteka, meaning Once Upon a Time in a Library, is a little charming outdoor cafe and bar that is located behind the SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library. Enjoy a cup of coffee in an intimate romantic atmosphere but make sure that you stay until the party starts and spend the night dancing to pop, disco, hip-hop, R&B and funk hits.
Bar Petak, meaning Bar Friday, is located in the city center. It is one of the most musically versatile places in Sofia. You can expect something else every night, from funk, swing, jazz, trap, reggae and soul. On some nights there are even theatrical events, movie nights and even exhibitions.
The cocktail lovers should head to The Cocktail Bar, hidden in a tiny garden in the city centre. This place welcomes its visitors with cute retro vibes, lovely atmosphere, nice outdoor area and most importantly – great cocktails!
RockIt is an old school rock bar/pub located in South Park. It is divided into seven differently styled halls with a VIP room that you can book for special events. Lovers of hard rock and metal music and curious tourists come here to enjoy good (and cheap!) food, great beer and even better concerts and live shows of both international and Bulgarian rock stars.
Good to know when travelling to Sofia
- Bulgaria country code: +359
- Bulgaria time zone: Eastern European Time (EEST) UTC +2
- Bulgaria is well known for its many fresh water springs, so tap water is safe for drinking
- As in the rest of the Balkans, smoking is allowed almost everywhere, so you can smoke in bars, restaurants and cafes
- Bulgaria is generally a safe country, and Bulgarians are well-known for their friendliness
- Cyrillic alphabet is used in Bulgaria, but most of the signs in cities are also written in latinic
- Bulgarians shake their head for Yes and nod for No
Police: +359 02 166
Fire department: +359 02 160
Ambulance: +359 02 150
Emergency, Pirogov Emergency Institute: +359 02 9154 411, Totleben Blvd. 21
Pharmacies working 24/7:
- University Hospital Tsaritsa Yoanna: +359 02 943 2170, Byalo More 8
- University Hospital St Anna (Okruzna bolnitsza): +359 02 975 9000, Dmitar Mollov 1