- Capital and largest city of Bulgaria, with 1.3 million people spread across 70 sq. miles.
- Located in south-eastern Europe, Sofia has a rich history spanning over 2,500 years.
- Racially homogenous – over 95% of the population is made up of Bulgarians.
- The cultural, business, educational and economic center of the country.
- Nicknames: Serdica, Sredetz (older names).
- Currency: Bulgarian Leva (BGN).
- Spoken languages: Bulgarian.
- Best time to visit: from March to October.
- Arriving via airport: Sofia International Airport is connected to the city by Brussels Boulevard. From the airport, you can take a bus (#84 and #384) – tickets can be purchased directly at counters in the airport. Taxis are also available.
WHERE TO STAY
Compared to Western European cities, accommodation in Sofia is relatively cheap. Most good hotels are located in the city center: between the Evtimiy Boulevard, Vasil Levski Boulevard, Slivnitsa Boulevard and Hristo Botev Boulevard.
- Sofia’s public transportation consists of metro, trams and buses. While not as reliable and efficient as systems in the West, it should be sufficient to get you around the major attractions. As most landmarks are located in the center, you may not even have to use the system much.
- There are currently 16 metro stations in Sofia, with more under construction.
- The bus system is also a good option, but beware of possible confusion as some stations only have names in Cyrillic. There are also trams and trolleybuses, for which tickets are sold at kiosks at major bus stops or at newspaper stands. A single ride on the metro, tram or bus will be around $0.80.
- Taxis are affordable in Sofia – call ahead or flag one down. Just be careful of getting overcharged, which happens all too often to tourists.
- Drinking age is 18, no official last call (the party in Sofia often keeps going all night).
- Hip/local scene: Vitosha Boulevard.
- College scene: around Sofia University, where many students like to hang out.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Sofia’s ancient and medieval ruins are a must-see. The East Gate of Serdica Ruins are located in the underpass between the Council of Ministers and the Presidency, giving you a chance to walk on an original Roman street covered in stone plates.
- One of the oldest landmarks from ancient times is the St. George Rotonda, located in the courtyard of the Presidency. Also worth a visit: the Roman Wall of Sofia (an Ottoman construction).
- Take some time to explore the city’s religious monuments, some of which are over a thousand years old. Perhaps the most charming of all is the church of St. Nicholas the Miracle Maker. Built in the 20th century, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is among the biggest orthodox cathedrals in the world. Other religious landmarks include: Boyana Church, Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church, Church of St. Sophia, Banya Bashi Mosque, St. Joseph Cathedral and the Church of St. Petka of the Saddlers.
- Sofia’s museums will satisfy any history buff. The National History Museum has over 650,000 exhibits. Other museums worth visiting, depending on your interests: the National Art Gallery, National Gallery of Foreign Art, Institute of Archaeology, National Museum of Military History, Earth and Man National Museum, National Museum of Natural History, the and National Ethnographic Museum.
- Some notable historical monuments include: the Central Bath, National Assembly of Bulgaria, National Palace of Culture, Lions Bridge, Eagles Bridge, The Bells Monument, and Saint Sofia Statue.
- Spend a few hours relaxing in one of Sofia’s many parks. The most interesting green spaces are: the City Garden, Borisova Garden, Sofia University Botanic Garden, and Doctors Garden.
- Take a walk in the city centre of Sofia, admiring and visiting the most important landmarks. Starting from the Eagles Bridge, continue on Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard until you reach the Church of St. Petka of the Saddlers. Make a right turn on the Maria Luiza Boulevard, and continue on until the Lions Bridge.
- Take a walk through the southern part of the city. Starting from the National History Museum, continue on past Boyana Church and finish at the Boyana Waterfall.
- Roam through the most beautiful parks and gardens of Sofia: starting from Knyazheska Garden, stroll through Borisova Garden and finish in Yuzhen Park.
- Note: be very careful when exchanging money. Look up the daily official rates beforehand, and only use currency exchange offices in the city’s centre (e.g. at major banks).
- Where to find good cheap eats: just about anywhere in the city! Check out the small restaurants and fast food joints on Sofia’s side streets. Try to experience a traditional Bulgarian restaurant, where there is often live music and dancing!
- Dangerous areas: avoid the suburbs and (poorly lit) back-streets at night. Also, avoid the area around the main train station at night.
The Best Sofia Guide Books:
Recommended trip duration: 2-3 days