Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, is one of the places I like returning to. Even if at first it might seem that there are not too many things to do in Sofia, the city actually offers plenty of attractions and is one of the best places to visit in Bulgaria.
A fellow blogger, Nina from Lemons and Luggage wrote this post about the best things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria and I agree with each and every one of the places she has mentioned. If you are planning a trip to Sofia, this Sofia guide might be useful for you!
Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria, and although more people are beginning to take notice of the city it’s still a bit underrated. With all the amazing things to do in Sofia, you will definitely enjoy your time in the city and won’t get bored even for a second.
No matter your interests there are a ton of attractions in Sofia for every type of traveler. Whether you’re spending a weekend in Sofia or have more time there really are enough things to do in the city.
Table of contents
- 1 Things to Do in Sofia
- 1.1 Visit Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
- 1.2 Visit the Church of St. George
- 1.3 See Vitosha Boulevard
- 1.4 Learn More About Bulgaria at the National History Museum
- 1.5 Visit the Ivan Vazov National Theater
- 1.6 Have a Stroll Through the Serdika Excavations
- 1.7 Enjoy the Beauty of the Central Mineral Baths/Regional History Museum
- 1.8 Escape the Tourist Crowds at the Sofia Synagogue
- 1.9 Marvel at Banya Bashi Mosque
- 1.10 Walk Around to Catch the Cool Street Art
- 1.11 Stop by at St. Nicholas Church (Russian Church)
- 1.12 Drop by the National Palace of Culture
- 1.13 Attend One of the Free Walking Tours
- 1.14 Try Some of the Local Food
- 1.15 Visit a Teahouse
- 1.16 Be Amazed by the History of Saint Nedelya Church
- 1.17 Discover More About Bulgaria at the National Ethnographic Museum
- 1.18 Admire the Changing of the Guards in Front of the President’s Office
- 1.19 Wander Along the Yellow Pavement
- 2 Where to Stay in Sofia
- 3 Further reading
- 4 Travel Resources
Things to Do in Sofia
So let’s get into all the great things to do in Sofia, in no particular order.
Visit Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
You won’t find a post on Sofia tourist attractions that doesn’t mention the city’s most popular building, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Built between 1882 and 1912 to honor the Russian participation in Bulgaria’s independence, this fascinating cathedral is one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world!
The interior may not be as impressive as the exterior with its golden domes, but there’s no doubt that Alexander Nevsky Cathedral tops anyone’s list of things to see in Sofia. It certainly is one of the most instagrammable places in the whole city.
Underneath the cathedral itself, you will find the crypt which has been turned into a museum for Orthodox icons. If you’re interested in the history of Orthodox Christianity this might be worth a visit.
If you wander around the area you will see even more interesting places, such as Saint Sofia Church. This church is located right across Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and gave the city its current name. You can also find the Monument to the Unknown Soldier here.
Visit the Church of St. George
St. George Rotunda is another one of the Sofia must-see as it is the oldest building in the city. It was built in the 4th or 5th century AD and turned into a church in the 6th century, but the surrounding Roman ruins are even older than that.
The magnificent frescoes you can see on the walls inside were only uncovered in the 20th century as they had been painted over by the Ottomans who converted the building to a mosque.
See Vitosha Boulevard
Even if you’re not into shopping you have to make a stop at Vitosha Boulevard during your Sofia sightseeing. As a pedestrianized street, it provides relief from the busy traffic of Bulgaria’s capital.
Restaurants and cafés invite you to spend some time observing the comings and goings of the boulevard. And if you are into shopping you will appreciate the numerous shops, especially with souvenirs.
If you’re still looking for a gift from Bulgaria consider the world-renowned Bulgarian rose water.
Learn More About Bulgaria at the National History Museum
The largest museum in the whole country will take up some time in your Sofia itinerary. This is not surprising given that the thousands of items on display date back several centuries.
It’s the perfect place to learn about Bulgarian history from prehistoric to modern times. The reason the rooms are so enormous is that the National History Museum is located in Bulgarian dictator Todor Zhivkov’s former residence, adding an eeriness to your visit.
One of the most impressive things to see here is the Panagyurishte Treasure, one of the most famous Thracian treasures still around.
Visit the Ivan Vazov National Theater
One of Sofia’s most stunning pieces of architecture is the National Theater named for Bulgarian poet Ivan Vazov. Along with Hristo Botev, he is considered one of the fathers of Bulgarian revolutionary poetry making the honor of having the National Theater named after him well-deserved.
Even if you can’t actually watch a performance here due to your lack of Bulgarian language skills you will enjoy the gorgeous façade and the square in front of the theater which is bustling with life.
If you’re more curious about Ivan Vazov you can also find his grave next to Saint Sofia Church.
Have a Stroll Through the Serdika Excavations
Long before being named Sofia, the city was actually called Serdika in Roman times. There are impressive excavations to be found in and around the Serdika metro station. And the best part? There is no entrance fee!
Certainly one of the most amazing free things to do in Sofia whether you’re on a tight budget or not.
How amazing to think that if the metro system had not been expanded these impressive ruins would have never been excavated!
They are very beautifully preserved, and if you walk around for some 15-20 minutes you can really imagine yourself being transported back in time.
Even if you’re not a huge archaeology buff you will definitely be amazed by the excavations.
Enjoy the Beauty of the Central Mineral Baths/Regional History Museum
Sofia is not lacking in breathtakingly beautiful architecture. The Central Mineral Baths are another looker even though they don’t function as the public mineral bath any longer. They have been converted into the Regional History Museum where you can find out all about Sofia’s history until the 1940s.
For the best shots of the stunning building position yourself in the Bath Park right in front of the Central Mineral Baths.
As you know by now, Sofia used to be part of the Roman Empire at which time thermal baths were set up. This was only natural as there are various hot springs underneath the city. In the Ottoman Empire, the thermal baths were a Hamam or Turkish bath.
Escape the Tourist Crowds at the Sofia Synagogue
The Sofia Synagogue is actually one of the biggest synagogues in Europe, but unfortunately, the Jewish community in the city is constantly shrinking. In order to support the upkeep of the synagogue, you can pay a small entrance fee of 5lv and enter the beautiful world of this lovely place of worship.
It’s not popular with tourists at all yet so you can definitely take a break from everything here.
Marvel at Banya Bashi Mosque
Banya Bashi Mosque was designed by Ottoman architect Sinan, considered to be one of the best architects in history. The Ottoman-era mosque is sadly the only mosque still standing in Sofia today.
While its exterior may not be very impressive, the interior is absolutely gorgeous making the mosque well worth a visit. The tiles are an excellent example of Islamic art.
The 16th-century place of worship is free for visitors, and even if you’re not dressed appropriately coverings are provided at the entrance.
Walk Around to Catch the Cool Street Art
Whether you join the Sofia Graffiti Tour or explore the city’s urban galleries on your own, you will be amazed by the beautiful works of artists like Nasimo, MAD, Arsek & Erase, and others.
In a city that still bears the signs of a communist past, the colorful murals bring life to some of the gray walls. If you have a lot of time in Sofia you may even want to venture out of the city center for more street art.
Stop by at St. Nicholas Church (Russian Church)
Although Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Bulgaria’s landmark you may fall even more in love with the quaint St. Nicholas Church. The Russian church features five golden domes and is located in a small green paradise that invites you to spend a little more time.
Like Alexander Nevsky Cathedral it’s more impressive on the outside than the inside, but it’s still well worth taking a look inside.
The little garden that surrounds it also makes for a great resting place in between all that exploring.
Drop by the National Palace of Culture
You can’t visit a city like Sofia and not have a detailed look at some of the Communist architecture. You can find many examples of it throughout the city, but one particularly notorious building is the National Palace of Culture, NDK. It’s doubtful that you would like the aesthetics, but it’s still important to have a look. It is also the top spot for young people in Sofia to meet.
The building still functions as an exhibition and conference center and is actually the largest such building in the Balkans.
Attend One of the Free Walking Tours
There’s probably no easier and cheaper way to get an overview of a new city than a free walking tour. The best part about them is that they can help you figure out which places you want to go back to for more info and which sights to skip. Most walking tours last about two hours and cover the most important sights so you will have a glimpse of some of the items from this overview of things to do in Sofia.
Whether you want to join a food tour, a street art tour, a history tour, or just an introductory tour of the most important sights in Sofia, these are all available in the Bulgarian capital. If you do a few different ones they should give you a pretty good feel for the city.
Try Some of the Local Food
Bulgarian cuisine may not be world-famous but is actually well worth a try. You may know some of the most popular dishes from Greek or Turkish cuisine because there are similarities between the food in many Balkan countries and even other countries that were part of the Ottoman Empire.
Because Sofia is such a cheap city even upper-scale restaurants are quite affordable compared to their counterparts in Western cities.
Vegetarians and vegans don’t have to worry. Although Bulgarian food tends to be very meat-centric, there are quite a few traditional dishes that are vegetarian or even vegan. There are several vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Sofia, and you will be able to find traditional dishes that have been veganized at some of them. A great choice for an upscale vegan dining experience is Soul Kitchen Restaurant, but you can also have a quick bite at Sun Moon, a vegetarian bakery.
After your trip, you can also try to cook some vegan Balkan dishes on your own to have you feeling as if you were right back in Sofia.
Visit a Teahouse
Not many foreign tourists know how popular teahouses are in the cities of Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Why not spend some time relaxing at the super cozy Veda House which also offers several vegetarian and vegan dishes?
Be Amazed by the History of Saint Nedelya Church
You would not know this by simply looking at this rather unassuming church from the 10th century, but it has been through some important events in Bulgarian history. For example, it was here that the Bulgarian Communist Party launched an attack in 1925 with 134 immediate deaths plus additional deaths later on.
Saint Nedelya Church had to be rebuilt several times as a result of the destruction it faced.
The name literally means Saint Sunday or Holy Sunday.
Discover More About Bulgaria at the National Ethnographic Museum
Not everyone gets to travel through the entire country of Bulgaria, but if you’re only visiting Sofia you can still find out more about Bulgarian folklore at the Ethnographic Museum. Not a lot of people visit this museum making it one of the best things to do in Sofia without too many tourists.
The museum is located in the beautiful Royal Palace, built in 1873 as an Ottoman administrative building. After Bulgaria’s independence, the building was enhanced to make it a representative palace.
In 1879, Prince Battenberg moved into the palace. The building also houses the National Art Gallery.
Admire the Changing of the Guards in Front of the President’s Office
The changing of the guards may not be as elaborate as in some other European capitals, but it’s worth a stop nonetheless. The procedure takes place every hour 5 minutes before the hour meaning that you can easily combine your Sofia sightseeing with a quick stop at the President’s Office.
The President’s Office is part of an ensemble of three buildings collectively known as the Largo.
Wander Along the Yellow Pavement
When checking out all the incredible things to do in Sofia you can’t help but notice the yellow bricks that make up the pavement of some of the city’s streets, namely the beautiful area surrounding the Royal Palace. This is where you can admire many gorgeous neoclassical buildings.
The story about the yellow pavement is quite interesting as the bricks were made in Hungary and were supposed to make Sofia look like a proper European capital. However, due to their high cost, the Bulgarian government took out a huge loan from Germany. But they didn’t want to tell the population about this and lied about who had paid for the yellow bricks. The official story was that the Austro-Hungarian Empire had given them to Ferdinand I of Bulgaria as a wedding gift.
You really can’t miss the yellow pavement on your trip to Bulgaria, but enjoy it while it’s there. For years, there have been debates about removing the yellow pavement so who knows for how long this will remain one of the top things to do in Sofia.
Where to Stay in Sofia
To make the most of your stay and have easy access to the best things to do in Sofia, look for accommodation in the center of the city. Due to the affordability, you can absolutely find a place in one of Vitosha Boulevard’s side streets meaning you’ll be right at the heart of the part of the city that will be of interest to you as a tourist.
Whether you’re more into private apartments, hostels, or hotels, the modern center of Sofia has accommodation options for all kinds of travelers and all budgets.
Here are the recommended places to stay in Sofia:
- Budget: Hostel Mostel Sofia / 5 Vintage Guest House / Smart Hostel Sofia
- Mid-range: Sofia Place Hotel by HMG / St. George Hotel / Hotel Niky
- Luxury: Les Fleurs Boutique Hotel / Grand Hotel Sofia / InterContinental Sofia
- and more!
About the author: Nina Ahmedow is a travel content creator who has traveled to more than 20 countries on three continents. Born and raised in Germany but currently living in Greece, she loves exploring the world through vegan food. She is the voice behind Lemons and Luggage, a travel blog dedicated to vegan and responsible travel. You can follow Nina on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.
If you are planning a trip to Bulgaria I wrote a few more articles that you might find useful or interesting:
- Bulgaria itinerary – what to see in Bulgaria in 2 weeks
- Day trip from Sofia to Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
- Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria – is this the prettiest town in the country?
- Why you should visit Shumen, Bulgaria
- Day in Veliko Tarnovo – my highlight of Bulgaria
- Best reasons to visit Bansko, Bulgaria
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