Top things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria

The Anonymous Traveler
7 min readAug 19, 2023


  • Date visited: August 2023
  • Time needed: 2 days, 2–3 nights

General Information

Bulgaria is a country in the Balkans founded by a combination of Slavs, Bulgars, Thracian, Romans and eventually Ottomans. As a result, it has a long line of ancient history. More recently, during World War II, it joined Germany as part of the Axis Powers and lost. Post-war, it became an independent communist nation, not part of the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia. This lasted until the early 1990’s when a multi-party system was created. Bulgaria later joined Nato in 2004 and the EU in 2007.

Sofia, pronounced “so-fee-ahh”, is the capital of the country and home to one fifth of the population. It’s an interesting melting pot of cultures, ancient ruins, brutalist architecture, and modern infrastructure. Although unfrequented by tourists, it is an exciting place to spend several days and worth going out of your way to explore.

Regional History Museum


Bulgarian, a southern Slovak tongue, is the main language. Its sister languages are Macedonian and Serbian so those that speak it can also understand these other two. Although not everyone speaks English fluently, most younger Bulgarians know enough to communicate with visitors.

For non native speakers, it’s very difficult to learn even the most basic terms. As a result, the language has been culturally adapted over time to make it easier to say certain everyday phrases. For example, instead of saying the more complex “blagodarya ti” to express “thank you”, people often say the more recognized “merci.”

Today, residents write and speak the Bulgarian language using both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. Each version has its own distinct pronunciation. As a result, street signage across the country outlines both versions, one on top of the other. In terms of general communication, everyone has their own preference. Our tour guide, for example, takes notes in school using Cyrillic but prefers to text in Latin. His friend, however, responds to his Latin-written texts consistently in Cyrillic. They are interchangeable.

One fun thing to note is that Bulgarians communicate “yes” and “no” oppositely than most other cultures do. “Yes” is acted out by shaking one’s head left to right, while “no” is done by nodding the head up and down. Keep an eye out for this to see for yourself.


The city is incredibly hot and humid in the summer and snowy in the winter. The best time to visit is between April through June and September through October.


Sofia is a safe city, where even petty crime rarely exists. Be smart and you’ll be fine.

Traveling around

Sofia is also a walkable city. For farther distances, the metro is very accessible and culturally intriguing. While building the transit system, the city found scores of ancient Roman infrastructure underneath the earth. They are now on display in many metro stations.

Ancient Roman architecture on display in the metro

This metro system is best used when traveling to and from the airport. A typical ride on the M4 line takes around thirty minutes and can be paid for by tapping a credit card at the kiosk upon entry. Just note that the airport has two terminals — 1 and 2 — connected by a ten minute bus ride. The metro stops at Terminal 1 so those continuing to Terminal 2 must account additional time for using this service. Although free, the bus is small and only runs every thirty minutes. You’d think something so frequently used would run more often and at a larger capacity. Budget in time for this inconvenience.


Fast wifi is available in most establishments.


The main currency is the Bulgarian Lev. Cash is widely preferred, so credit cards are accepted less than half the time. Visit an ATM immediately upon arrival to play it safe. Euros are not accepted.

Most of this outline highlights costs in USD. Know that this is a conversion to make it easier for some readers. Costs vary and everything is charged in the local currency when in person.

Drinking Water

Tap water is safe to drink in the entire country. In Sofia, the water system is connected to over fifty springs. Complimentary fountains can be found throughout the area, making it easy to access fresh water in most parts of the city.

Unique drinking fountain


Tipping is not expected at restaurants and bars but consider tipping 10% if the service is beyond exceptional. Tour guides should be tipped at least 10%.

Accommodations / Areas to Stay

The trendy Sredets neighborhood is the best area of town to stay in. For a splurge, book a room at the Grand Hotel Sofia. For cheaper accommodations, consider Hostel Mostel or Airbnb.

Top things to do in Sofia (in no particular order)

Note: All key sights in Sofia are closeby, so providing a full “itinerary” is unnecessary. Select the places you want to visit when it makes the most sense to you and know that they are almost all within walking distance from each other.

Free Walking Tour

The best way to see and understand a city is by taking a free walking tour. This is particularly so with Sofia as the city has so much rich and intense history.

Free Sofia Tour offers daily two hour tours at 10am, 2pm, and 6pm, capturing the fervor and essence of the city in a unique perspective. Start at the Palace of Justice, pass by the former Central Mineral Bath House (now the Regional History Museum), then head to the Square of Religious Tolerance. This triangle of buildings is where Christian Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim places of worship coexist within spitting distance from each other. For context, Bulgaria’s dominant religion makes up 86% of the population, though most people don’t actually practice it. Muslim is around 9%, with the rest Jewish.

Stroll past the Presidential building, which has uniform-clad soldiers guarding it year round. Learn that the president is symbolic and that the real leader is the Prime Minister who works next door in the Council of Ministry.

Eventually end at St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, an Orthodox Christian cathedral and one of the world’s largest Christian church buildings by volume.

St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Balkan Bites Tour

Balkan Bites is a yummy and free food tour. Held at 2pm daily, the two hour tour brings guests to family-owned, traditional and modern restaurants across the Sredets neighborhood while discussing food culture and history. Guests even have the opportunity to sample numerous bites of food along the way. Because this tour is so popular and only allows for thirty people each day, make a reservation ahead of time to secure your spot. We saw numerous folks getting turned away because of capacity — so don’t make this mistake!

Red Flat

Interested in hopping in a time capsule and going back to communist Bulgaria in 1989? Look no further. The Red Flat is an exhibit frozen in time. Located in the former home of a Bulgarian family from the 80’s, it depicts life for an average family during the Cold War. For $10 USD, enter the museum with an audio guide and learn about aspects of everyday life including vacation, school, fashion, literature, and leisure activities. Sit on the family’s former couch, comb through their closets, use their bathroom, and pan through their kitchen. It’s an interactive display that allows guests to truly understand what it was like to live in Bulgaria during this time.

Upon purchasing tickets, guests receive a pamphlet with the audio guide that depicts the topics to be covered in the recordings. Though very interesting, the audio tends to drag on, so skip to the favored topics and spend an hour or so diving into communist Bulgaria.

Living room in the Red Flat

Elephant Book Store

Elephant Book Store is a unique little shop displaying quirky book memorabilia, vintage titles, and fun trinkets. It has Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings sections — so fantasy enthusiasts would especially enjoy it. In fact, celebrities like Emma Watson and Elijah Wood have visited, their autographs now on display. Stopping by can take anywhere from five minutes to thirty depending on how captivated you become. Worth a peep.

Borisova Garden Park

Borisova Garden Park is the oldest park in the city. Named after the last Bulgarian tsar, Boris III, it is huge and separated into different sections. Some areas are overgrown and lackluster while others are filled with beautiful fountains, flowers, and benches. It’s not necessarily a park I’d go and lay out in, but it’s worth walking through.

Borisova Garden Park


Take time to dive into Bulgarian cuisine and food culture. Note that many cafes are closed on Sundays and public drinking is allowed throughout the city — so “to go” bottles of wine are normal.

Some recommended spots are as follows -


Heading to other Balkan countries? View my guides HERE!

Food samples at Hadjidraganov’s Cellars on the Balkan Bites tour