One of the best things about Sofia is the size of its historical center. You can easily cover most of the famous landmarks and you’ll still have time to relax and explore on your own. I know how important it is to maximize your time when visiting a new destination so that’s why I created this complete 1-day itinerary for Sofia.~
Arriving in Sofia (if you’re already in Sofia click here to skip this part)
There are a few ways to get to the capital city of Bulgaria:
- By bus – most interurban and international buses arrive at the Central Bus Station, which is situated about 2 km. away from the city center. To get to it you have 2 good options:
- Take the metro – The metro station “Central railway station” is located right next to the bus station. The ticket costs 1.6 BGN and it takes 5 minutes to get to “Serdika” (the central station). The metro only works until around midnight.
- Take a walk – If you want to start exploring right away you can take a walk along Maria Luiza blvd. that goes directly to the “heart” of Sofia. The walk will be around 20 minutes and you’ll see some of the oldest preserved building in the city especially after passing the Lion’s bridge.
*Walking is not recommended after sunset, because the area gets a bit shady.
Taxis are also an option, but not a good one in my opinion. Because of the short distance to the city center they’ll either refuse to give you a ride or they’ll most likely try to rip you off. A taxi is your only option after midnight and the price for the ride should be around 5 BGN.
- By train – the Central railway station is located right next to the Central Bus Station, so the same ways of transportation work in case you’re coming to Sofia with the train.
- By plane – Sofia Airport has a good page where you can see how to get to the city center:
https://www.sofia-airport.bg/en/passengers/and-airport/public-transport. With a taxi – be extremely careful when taking a taxi from the Airport (both terminals) because many of the scams take place there. Always look for the desk/office of the taxi company “O.K. SUPERTRANS” (О.К. СУПЕРТРАНС) and ask for a taxi from there. Never go with the shady guy standing at the terminal saying things like “Taxi? Cheap taxi?”. They are 100% fake. To get to the center the price varies between 15 and 20 BGN.
Where to exchange your money?
I can recommend these 3 places because I’ve used them many times.
- NDK Change – an office with a long history. It works 24/7 unlike the others. Located 2 minutes away from the National Palace of Culture. Map:
- Grafa Change – there’s always a line in front of it. They have almost all currencies and the service is very good. Map:
- Vitoshka Change – located on the main boulevard. It’s recommended to me by many locals. Map:
Depending on where you’re staying you might want to get up earlier, but if you’re in the center 8.30AM is a good time to start your day.
Things to pack:
- Empty bottle of water;
- Phone and a charger.
9AM – Breakfast – What many locals have for breakfast is “баница (banitsa)”. It’s a kind of pastry with different fillings, white cheese being the typical. The price for one piece is between 1 BGN and 2.50 BGN. With the banitsa we usually drink one of these two drinks: “airyan” made of Bulgarian yoghurt, water and salt or “boza” made of fermented wheat, water and sugar. Try both and pick a favorite.
9.45AM – Head to the Sofia History Museum , but before you enter make sure to fill your bottle with some hot mineral water from the water fountains on both sides of the main entrance. Give it a minute to let some of the steam to go out of the bottle before closing it. It will feel better in your mouth and on your stomach.
10AM – Visit the Sofia History Museum – this is the best way to start your visit. It will give you an overview of the history of the city and it will be a lot easier for you to understand and appreciate what you’ll be seeing for the rest of the day.
11AM – Start exploring the sights
In front of the museum is the only functioning mosque in Sofia. Built in the 16th century it’s the only remaining mosque after the municipality destroyed almost all of the other mosques (around 30) in Sofia in the first years after the Liberation of 1878. Next to it are the remains of the old Turkish baths “hamam”.
Next to the entrance of the metro are the remains of the ancient Roman city Serdica. The road that you’ll see is almost 2000 years old. See the remains of many administrative buildings from Roman times.
Visit the Tourist information office at Serdika metro station – get a map for free and a daily pass for the public transport for 4 BGN. Don’t forget that your daily pass is usable only until the end of the day. To use the daily pass in the metro you have to check it at the ticket desk every time before you enter.
See the medieval Church of St. Petka – Dating back to the 11th century this building is an example of Bulgarian medieval architecture. According to the urban legend underneath its altar the remains of Bulgaria’s national hero Vasil Levski were buried after his execution in 1873.
Enter St. Nedelya Cathedral – the second largest orthodox cathedral in Sofia witnessed the biggest terrorist attack in Bulgaria’s history when in 1925, during a funeral ceremony of Konstantin Georgiev, a famous military man from the democratic party, members of the illegal communist party detonated a bomb that they’ve hidden under the roof, which resulted in the destruction of the cathedral and the killing of more than 200 people, many of which innocent people, with no connection to the ruling democratic party.
Take Saborna str. and in 1 minute on your left you’ll see the Church of St. George – the oldest standing structure in Sofia. Its history goes back to the 4th century and you can visit it for free. Behind it there are more Roman ruins from buildings and roads.
Go through the barrier and you’ll find yourself in front of the Presidency. Be there at 11.55AM to see the changing of the guard. It’s a ceremony that takes place every hour. The uniforms of the guards resemble Bulgarian military uniforms from the 1880’s.
Next, visit the National Archaeological Museum which is in front of the Presidency. The museum was built as a mosque in the 15th century and it’s the oldest Ottoman building in Sofia. The collection is very rich and you can get close to some of the oldest pieces you’ll ever see.
Your visit will take around an hour after which you can go and get some lunch in the area. There are many good restaurants with lunch deals. I’d say that 10 BGN is ideal for a main dish and a drink (maybe some dessert as well). A restaurant is not the only option. In Sofia we have many places called “gostilnitsa (гостилница)” or „zakusvalnia (закусвалня)”. It’s a cafeteria-style place where you take your food and you sit on an empty table or next to someone you don’t know. It’s very popular among the locals who’re working in the central area because it’s fast, cheap and delicious.
After you have your lunch go to the National Theater “Ivan Vazov” to take some beautiful photos. This is the first professional theater in Sofia. Built in 1907 it’s still the most prestigious stage in the city. It’s named after one of the greatest Bulgarian artists – Ivan Vazov who was a regular guest in the theater.
Nearby is the former Royal Palace which is now the National Art Gallery and the Ethnographic Museum. If you visit both places you can see some of the luxury which our monarchs used to live in.
Follow the Yellow brick road and in a few minutes you’ll find yourself in front of the Russian church. Visit the crypt where you can write your wishes on a piece of paper and put in next to the grave of St. Seraphim.
Go in the direction of S.t Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. You’ll pass a brick church called St. Sofia. It’s the second oldest building in Sofia, dating back to the 6th century. You can visit it for free but it will be even better if you take a left when you enter and find the museum hidden underneath. It has more than 50 well preserved Roman tombs.
Once you exit the church turn right to see a hidden memorial to the Bulgarian Jewish people. Even though Bulgaria managed to rescue all of its Jewish people, many use this monument as a memorial to those who died during the Second World War.
Right next to it is the grave of Ivan Vazov. He was buried there in 1921 and is now one of the hidden spots that even locals don’t know about.
Head to St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and visit it for free. If you want to take pictures inside you should pay 10 BGN so I recommend not doing it. Instead, enjoy the interior of the cathedral completely and admire the work that’s been put into it.
After visiting the cathedral I recommend you go behind it and check out one of the best areas in town – the area behind the National Library. Take Oborishte str. and once you reach Asen Zlatarov str. turn right. Once you see Shipka str. take right again and walk along it until you reach Sofia University. This area in highly underrated because there are no big tourist attractions, but ask any local and they’ll tell you that this area is a must.
It’s 5.30PM and it’s time for you to relax, because you’ve covered most of the tourist sights, you’ve seen a local neighbourhood and you’ve had a traditional breakfast and a cheap lunch. Check out the Prince’s Garden. In the center of the park stands one of the tallest monuments in the city – the Monument of the Soviet army, build in 1954. It was vandalized many times as a sign of protest against the communist regime. It’s now a popular place to hang out and ride skateboards, blades or bike.
Take a nice walk along Tsar Osvoboditel blvd. a.k.a. “the Yellow brick road”. The boulevard starts with the building of the Parliament and the monument of the Russian tsar Alexander II, called Osvoboditel (“liberator”) by the Russian people. A good street to check out at this time is Georgi Rakovski str. Some people call it “the street of theaters” because of the amount of theaters on it. Most of the theatrical plays start at 7 PM so the street gets crowded by people excited about the upcoming play.
When it’s time for dinner stay in the area between Vitosha blvd. , Sofia University and Serdika metro station to find a good restaurant. Be prepared to pay around 20 BGN for a good dinner. At most places the tip is not included, so if you like the service and the food a 10% tip is good enough. I wouldn’t trust Trip Advisor for my restaurant choice, instead I would read travel blogs, www.spottedbylocals.com or GoGuide – a booklet for cool restaurants and bars.
When you finish your dinners what I recommend to do now is head to Shishman str. and find a nice bar to spend some time with the locals. Most bars are open until midnight or a bit later, but Sofia has a few very popular clubs that might stay open for longer. Make sure to check their Facebook pages to see their events calendar before you visit.
What we, the locals, love about the city is that you can find food and drinks 24/7. We have many shops, food stands and even restaurants or supermarkets right in the center that are open at 4 in the morning. There’s always a place to get an “early” breakfast or a “late” dinner. Something unique about Bulgaria is the “klek-shops” (squat-shops). They began opening up after the fall of Communism. They got their name because you have to squat down to order something from them. Many of them work non-stop and they sell alcohol, cigarettes and small snacks.
Thank you for the support! If you want to add anything just let me know in the comments.