The capital of Bulgaria is a perfect destination for travelers with a limited budget who want to avoid busy, touristic places. The city is relatively unknown and you are mainly among locals. Within a few days, you can discover Sofia and its Soviet past. Immerse yourself in Bulgaria’s history and culture, traditional Balkan food, and beautiful surroundings.
Soviet architecture and Roman history that blends with the modern city
Sofia is overloaded with religious structures. On almost every street corner you’ll come across a religious building and most of them have free entrance. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the most imposing building of the city and is one of the largest churches in the world. Sofia is known for its Square of Religious Tolerance where an Orthodox church (Saint Nedelya), a mosque (Banya Bashi), a Catholic cathedral (Saint Joseph), and a synagogue (Sofia Synagogue) are located almost next to each other. The Synagogue is the largest in the Balkon region and more than 1000 people can sit inside. The Banya Bashi Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in the world. The Boyana church is located in a grove of tall softwood trees in a quiet suburb of the city and is a UNESCO heritage site.
Each historical attraction gives you a new perspective on Sofia’s complicated past. A combination of the predominant Soviet architecture and Roman history that blends with the modern city. The Ivan Vazov National Theater is built in 1909 and is a grand neoclassical structure that remains the last word in Bulgarian culture to this day. Besides the historical buildings, there are also more modern Soviet influences. For example at the immense Largo where the government buildings are located. The National Palace of Culture is the largest multifunctional center in Bulgaria and is now used for exhibitions and other events. Outside the city, you can visit the Rila Monastery which overlooks the Rila Mountains. From the outside, this looks like a medieval fortress, but behind the gate, you will find a beautiful courtyard and colorful church.
A green city with its numerous parks and gardens
Sofia is a very green capital. Within the city center, you can walk through the Borisova Gradina park which is one of the biggest and most beautiful parks in Sofia. Also recommendable: the City garden, directly in front of the national theater and the South park, south of the national palace of culture and among the most modern neighborhoods in the city. Along the Konstantin Velichkov boulevard, you’ll find The Holy Trinity Park, a precious gem in the concrete jungle.
Less than 20 minutes’ drive from the center you will find the Vitosha mountain where you can take beautiful walks. You can also hike, climb and mountain bike. In winter you can even enjoy winter sports high in the mountains.
A unique crossroad between East and West
I like the combination of a typical European eastern city combined with a western touch. A mix of trendy bars, coffee shops, restaurants, and boutiques between historical, old, and gray buildings. The Bulgarians can be found on the street every day to take a walk, read a book or buy and sell stuff at the many market stalls. Around the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, you’ll find the antique market where you can buy jewelry, coins, and army attributes. Behind the synagogue, you will find the Ladies Bazaar, a busy, cozy market surrounded by nice shops and terraces.
A great way to discover the city is through one of the free tours, such as the free walking tour or free bike tour. Sofia is also known for its street art. In the suburb of Hadzi Dimitar in the northeast of the city, you’ll find the most beautiful and largest murals in the city. You can discover many more beautiful murals scattered in the center of Sofia. If you want to know more about the stories behind the graffiti, you can join the free Sofia Graffiti Tour.
Traditional Bulgarian food
There’s one word that can truly describe the Bulgarian food: tasty. Balkan food is rich in flavors, variations, colors, and forms. The cuisine is strongly influenced by the Middle East but has its own unique charisma. You can book a free Balkin Bites Food Tour that takes you to several cafes where you can learn more about the specialties of each region and of course, taste it. To get a glimpse and taste of Sofia I recommend you to go to The market hall and street market next to the Synagogue. Be sure to taste the traditional Shopska. It is a dish of salad and meat that is cooked in an open fire. It can also be served cold with chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers topped with a lot of cheese. If you are looking for a wide selection of Rakia then you should visit the Rakia Bar Rakete.
If you’re looking for a modern cuisine with local influences I can recommend K.E.B.A. Bulgary is also known for its homemade, fresh soups. At Supa Star, you can relax and enjoy some tasty and low priced soups. For local and unknown beer, visit one of the many Bulgarian beer gardens. A perfect way to spend an afternoon in Sofia.
How to explore Sofia
Almost everything in the city is within walking distance. You can also rent a bike to explore the area. If you want to travel a little further, you can use buses, trams, and metro. The characteristic orange trams partly determine the street scene in Sofia. For a small fee, you can be taken to the unknown parts of the city. Taxis are also very affordable and it is easy to order an Uber. Enjoy!