Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, has often been called the hidden gem of Eastern Europe. Well, not so hidden anymore, in recent years it has become the favorite destination of Eastern European adventurers.
If you’re looking for a fun, inexpensive swirl of colorful characters and culture with a few twists and turns in the plot, you’ve come to the right place! You’re about to be ushered behind the curtains and discover the five things you should do in Sofia to have an unforgettable, insider-worthy trip.
Although I grew up in Sofia, it’s been 10 years since I last lived there. I must tell you, I needed some help to choose what’s still the local’s top choice for things to do in the city, but it turns out some things never change! For example, Sofia is still best to visit in spring and early fall. April, May and June are perfect times to visit because you’d be able to enjoy long walks exploring the city, spend evenings in huge parks and a spectacular night life that still hasn’t moved to the seaside.
You can get by on foot in the city center, and discover tiny streets with tinier magical shops, so make sure you book a comfy hostel or Airbnb near the parliament, the National Palace of Culture or “Popa”. I usually get around by metro or taxi in Sofia. Taxis are pretty reliable and inexpensive. For example, airport – city center should not be more than 10-15 LV or USD$7-$9. When hailing a taxi make sure you see the sticker on the window with the fare per minute and km properly displayed. It should be less than one LV per km. You can also call +359 2 963 2121 or +359 2 911 99 99 for the best fares and a quick pick up from any location in and around Sofia.
And now that you’ve arrived, here are the five things I’d personally show you if you were my guest to the city!
1. Spend an Evening in Front of the National Theatre
If you’re visiting in the lovely spring or summer months, never miss the opportunity to get a real feel of the social hub of Sofia at the National Theatre. While the shows are worth a visit, what is truly amazing is the crowd of young people that flood the square and park in front of the theatre every night, especially on weekends. Music playing, people laughing, sometimes performing and games continue long into the night makes for a remarkable experience, indeed. In recent years, a few festivals of art and culture have taken place in that exact same area so you might even catch an unforgettable open-air performance! All you need to do to enjoy this spot is to grab a few beers or wine, find an empty bench and put on best your smile!
2. Stay at Art Hostel
Facebook/Art-hostel Sofia Bulgaria
The Art Hostel is one of the most interesting places in Sofia. It is a unique hostel, bar, social hub and meeting place of culture, alternative music and people from all over the world. It’s one of the best places to meet new people. A five-minute walk from the nearest metro station, this quirky hostel is a 10-minute walk from the National Art Gallery and one kilometer from the 19th-century Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The Art Hostel, located in the center of Sofia, offers insight into Bulgarian culture and experiences, as well as providing comfortable accommodation.
3. Explore the Beauty of Nature in the City
One of my favorite things about Sofia is that you can experience metropolitan life one minute and enjoy a peaceful minute in the middle of nature the very next! If you want to go for a walk, I recommend the magnificent Tsar Boris’ Garden in the city center. The gardens are comprised of numerous walking alleys, forest, playing grounds, football stadium, sport and gym buildings and a few pleasant snack bars that offer everything from wine to ice cream.
You’ll be astonished to see how such a large area of nature has been perfectly preserved in the middle of a city, enjoying hours of beautiful scenery, lakes and hidden tree houses. But, if you really need to get out of town, you don’t need to go far. The magnificent Vitosha mountain is just around the corner – a city bus takes you to Zlatnite Mostove, a breath-taking natural formation of stone bridges over a river.
4. Grab a Drink at Raketa Rakia Bar
One of Sofia’s signature bars, Raketa Rakia Bar is well worth the visit just because of the unusual art and atmosphere that will surely takeyou back to a world where Soviet culture was dominant and booming. The food, décor, endless choice of high quality Rakia (Bulgaria’s national alcoholic beverage), personnel joining you for Rakia shots, Soviet-era art and vintage finds – everything will make you feel like you’re having the experience of a lifetime. Luckily for us, Raketa Bar’s neighbor is Sputnik, a cocktail bar with similar concept and smoking cocktails you might just be hesitant to taste because it’s so good!
5. Visit the Crypt of St. Sofia
After all the fun and socializing, you might want to dive deep into the cultural heritage of Sofia and visit one of the many archeological sites scattered across the city. After all, Sofia has seen thousands of years of establishments, tribes and civilizations and everyone have left a little something. One of my favorite places to visit is the Crypt of St. Sofia. This is the second oldest church in Sofia and the city is named after it. Some say the church and the city were named after Saint Sofia. This church is a very nice place to visit, not because of church itself but because of tombs located underneath it, which features impressive late antiquity monuments.
6. Take a Free Walking Tour With Free Sofia Tour
The guys from Free Sofia Tour are some of the most positive, fun and helpful people I’ve met. They offer free tours to people visiting Sofia with the added bonus of great company and zero prejudice. The great thing about Free Sofia Tour is that it’s never the same, so even if you go on tour every day, you’ll learn something new and see something surprising.
Well, after exploring Sofia, you might decide that you want to spend a little more time in Bulgaria. No worries, I totally get it! I know my home country is awesome and there is so much to do! Where should you go next? The other day trips I’d recommend would be to the city of Plovdiv and Rila Monastery. Both outstanding in terms of photo-ops, and it offers a look back in time, featuring folklore and music festivals, art and natural sceneries that will surely take your breath away.