Free museums, dance lessons and … FOOD!? Who doesn’t like free stuff, right? That’s why I’ve selected some of the best free things to do in Sofia in this article.
- Visit some of the best museums in Sofia for free on a specific day of the month:
- Museum of Sofia history – from Antiquity to the end of WWII – In the building of the former Central mineral bath, since 2015 is located the Regional history museum – Sofia, with a collection of pieces dating back to the 6th millennium BC, when Sofia was just a settlement in modern-day Slatina district, all the way to the end of the years of the monarchy. You can visit the museum for free every 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month. Often the entrance is free on National holidays, such as the 3rd of March (Liberation day), the 22nd of September (Independence day), but also on the Day of Sofia (17th of September).
- Archaeological level under St. Sofia basilica – the Roman “necropolis” – The church of St. Sofia is the second oldest building in Sofia, dating back to the 6th century. Most of it was rebuilt around a hundred years ago. It’s located outside of the city walls of Serdica (Sofia) because it was built as a cemetery church, meaning that the area around it was the Roman “city of the dead”. If you’re wandering where’s the cemetery now just turn left once you enter the church and a staircase will lead you to an unique museum with more than 50 Roman tombs! The entrance is free every 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month.
- National Archaeological Museum – the oldest building from the Ottoman times – just in front of the Presidency there’s a building from the 15th century, that was used as a mosque until 1878, a hospital during the Liberation war, a library for a few years, and a museum until this day. The collection of the museum is the largest of its kind on the Balkans. You can visit it for free only once a month – the last Sunday of every month.
- National History Museum and Boyana church – History at its best – The National history museum used to be situated in the building of the Palace of Justice until the year 2000, when it was moved to the skirts of Vitosha mountain. The chosen building is where Todor Zhivkov, the last Bulgarian communist leader, resigned under the pressure of his comrades which put an end to the communist regime in Bulgaria. The museum is not close to the city center, but it’s worth it, especially every last Monday of the month, when you can visit it for free. Nearby there’s another historical building – Boyana church, a medieval church with amazing frescoes, part of the UNESCO World heritage list. It can be visited for free every Monday after 3PM. More about the sights in our blog here.
- National polytechnical museum – for the science and tech geeks – Another museum located outside of the center of the city, but the collection can impress everyone. You can see many vintage cars, a “Balkan” bicycle from communist times, a three-wheeler, the first Bulgarian microcomputer from 1979, the electronic calculator “ELKA” – the 4th oldest and the first in the world to have a nth root function. You can visit this amazing museum for free every first Monday of the month.
Fun fact: right next to it there’s a house where the first Bulgarian communist leader Georgi Dimitrov and the most famous spiritual leader and founder of the “White Brotherhood” Petar Danov lived as roommates.
2. Museums with free entrance every day – some of the best hidden gems in Sofia are small museums that can be visited almost every day by everyone who’s curious for an alternative experience. Sometimes you can be their only visitor for the day or for the week, but it makes the visit even more memorable.
- The museums of Sofia University – the secrets of the oldest university in Bulgaria – Inside the uni there are 3 museums – The Museum of paleontology, with the preserved skeleton of a Deinotherium (a prehistoric relative of modern-day elephants), the Museum of mineralogy and my favorite – the Museum of Sofia University. I stumbled across this hidden museum when I was looking for nice surprises inside the huge building of my university. I was welcomed in the museum by an amazing man called d-r. Simeon Hinkov, who shares my passion about history. He was happy to show me his favorite pieces like the first photo of Sofia University alumni students, on which there is an empty circle, because the student was late for the shooting of the photo. The museum is open from Tuesday to Friday between 12PM and 4PM, but if you’re lucky you can find Mr. Hinkov outside of the working hours.
- Museum of national reconciliation – a tragic past – Behind Hilton hotel there’s a building that has seen the worst of mankind. During the 2nd World War there used to be a shooting range where many people, who were sentenced to death as enemies of the state, were executed. One of them was the famous Bulgarian poet Nikola Vaptsarov. The building was turned into a museum years ago and now it combines the authentic ambiance of a shooting range together with an exposition dedicated to the national reconciliation. The idea for this place is to become a memorial to all the victims of political violence in Bulgaria’s turbulent past. You can visit it from Monday to Friday between 10AM and 5PM.
- Mausoleum of Prince Alexander Battenberg – the tomb of the first Bulgarian monarch – Prince Alexander I has a difficult life – he became a monarch at a very young age, he was loved by many and hated by others. His political career ended early as he was forced to resign. He later married an actress and had two children – both of which were given Bulgarian names: Krum-Asen and Vera-Tsvetana. Alexander died young and he was buried in Sofia, which was his final wish. The working schedule varies depending on the season.
- Museum of the Bulgarian National Bank – the history of the Bulgarian money – Surprisingly for many, the national bank has a museum collection. It’s very easy to miss it, because it’s open only on Tuesdays between 1 PM and 3.30 PM or if you call in advance for a private visit. Even if you’re not interested in the history of money you can still take the opportunity to walk around one of the most impressive buildings in Sofia.
3. Visit one of the oldest buildings in Europe – a 17 centuries old church – Behind the Presidency is hidden the rotunda of St. George. It’s the oldest structure in Sofia dating back to the 4th century, which makes it one of the oldest buildings on the continent. The best thing about it is that you can visit it for free. We should all appreciate the fact that in the heart of Sofia there’s a building that is a symbol of Christianity.
Fun fact: it used to keep the body of Prince Alexander Battenberg before the construction of his mausoleum was completed.
4. The changing of the President’s guard – a ceremony not to be missed – While we’re in the area let’s witness the changing of the guard in front of the official entrance of the Presidency. Important tip: if you don’t want to miss it, be there five minutes to the hour, because for some strange reason, this is always the time when the changing take place. If you arrive there, for example, at 2PM and the only thing you’ll see is people putting their cameras back in their bags.
Fun fact: every first Wednesday of the month, with the exception of December, January and February, at 12PM a special ceremony takes place – the Official changing of the guard. Other occasions when you can see it are national holidays.
5. The grave of St. Seraphim – make a wish – Next to the main entrance of the Russian church there’s a wooden door that leads to a mysterious place – the crypt. In it a real saint was buried in 1950. His name was Seraphim and he was an archbishop in the church. Before he died he gathered his followers and told them that his life’s coming to an end. Worried, they asked what they should do when he’s gone to which he replied that even when he’s dead he’ll still be with them. The only thing they had to do when they needed some advice was to write prayers on pieces of paper and put them next to his grave. This tradition became popular not only among the religious people, but in recent times among ordinary people (such as students who’re worried about an exam).
6. Dancing for everyone – So you think you can dance? – Challenge yourself with a traditional Bulgarian dance called “horo”. Every Sunday at 6 PM in front of the National Theater a group of enthusiasts called “Hora za horata” (Horo dances for the people) is organizing a free event open for everyone. If you’re a beginner my advice it to look closely at the steps for a few minutes and then take someone’s hand and remember – the tempo is the key. If you’re not into traditional dances then “Swing and Beer” is for you! A group of young people organizes free swing events on the same place (the National Theater) or in Borisova gradina. They don’t have a strict schedule so follow their Facebook page for more information.
7. Gallery +359 – contemporary art in an unique ambiance – Gallery +359 is located in the building of the preserved water tower in Sofia in Lozenets district. It was designed in 1903 and the construction ended on November 20, 1929. This amazing venue will be closed until 22 of March, but once it opens it will be free for a visit.
8. FREE FOOD – WHAT? – I decided to leave the best for last. After all the Bulgarians say “A hungry bear doesn’t dance (horo)”. You can get free food, but not every day. Only on the best day of the year – your birthday! The guys at Skapto give away a free burger on that special date. The only thing you should do is register in advance so that they can be ready with your “gift” for your arrival. Fast, easy and delicious! Mostly delicious!
Well, that’s all, folks. If you want to know more about the city visit one of our FREE TOURS. You can find more about them in the menu. If you want to add things to the list – leave your recommendations in the comments. Thank you!
Images source: Personal archive, Facebook, Wiki Commons.