Sofia isn’t a city that typically ends up on your European bucket list.
She does not have the same touristic pull like Paris or Rome, but don’t let that dissuade! Being one of Europe’s most underrated capital cities, Sofia is filled with gorgeous Viennese-styled architecture, lush greenery parks, and delicious traditional Balkans food. To top it all, Sofia is also a budget travellers’ paradise.
Getting Around Sofia
The public transportation system in Sofia works pretty well despite the buses, trams and trolleys can be quite vintage-looking. You can buy a single-journey ticket at the kiosk at bus station or multiple-days passes from the ticket office at any metro station. Alternatively, Karta (coupons of 10 tickets) is also valid on trams, buses, metro and trolley buses.
Taxi has a bad reputation in Sofia, known to charge tourists close to double what locals will pay. Two reputable taxi companies include Yellow! taxi or O.K. taxi. Yellow has an app you can use to order a taxi from your phone. If you are hailing a taxi from street, make sure it should be yellow and always check if the meter is on.
Walking is definitely the best way to explore the city, especially if you stay around the city centre.
Satisfy Your Tummy With Free Food Tour
This is the one and only city I visited so far with free food tour! The tour lasts for approximately 2-hours, visiting several locations by foot. In each eatery, you will be able to try samples of different local food in small portion. Don’t fret if you are a vegetarian as you can still join the food tour with vegetarian options. The best part is, you also get to try 2-3 glasses of Bulgarian’s wine during the tour! Even though it costs nothing to try these samplings, you are welcomed to leave a donation at the end for your food guide.
Where & When: Park Crystal, in front of the big head statue of Stefan Stambolov, daily at 2pm.
Learn Sofia’s History & Culture Through Free Walking Tour
An excellent way to orientate the city is by taking one of the free 2-hours walking tours offered by Free Sofia Tour or GuruWalk. Most tours do not require any sign-up, just turn up at designated meeting point at specific time will do. Besides the standard sightseeing tour, they also started offering tours on the history of the Jewish people in Sofia, life as an ex-communist country and discovering the urban street arts of Sofia.
Travel Back To The Old Roman City
Serdika was the name of the old Roman city that used to sit exactly where Sofia stands today. The best place to start exploring the ruins is at Serdika Station. Right outside the metro station, where all the souvenir shops are, you can find a “secret” entry to the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Serdika. These ruins were uncovered very recently in 2010, during the construction of the metro station. It is now preserved as an open-air museum across town and free access to all.
Fill Up Your Water Bottle At Sofia’s Former Bathhouse
Within the same vicinity of Serdika Station, continue walking to one of the most picturesque buildings in Sofia: the Central Mineral Baths. Unfortunately, the place no longer operates as a bathhouse since 1986. Today, this historic building houses a comprehensive range exhibitions dating back centuries of Sofia’s long history. If you want to appreciate the history of the city, do pop in. A combined ticket for both permanent and temporary exhibits costs just 10 lv (€5).
Right behind the building you will find the mineral fountains where you can see some locals filling up their water bottles at the mineral fountains, which are entirely free! The water is known to be beneficial when it comes to gastrointestinal diseases, kidney stones, liver and gallbladder disorders.
Admire The Magnificent St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Probably the most important historical building every Sofia’s guide would mention is the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This is the second largest Orthodox church in the Balkans and easily the biggest landmark of the city. Head inside for a dark and intimate experience, with stunning ceilings and incredible sculptures. You can buy a photo pass for 10lv (€5), or just walk around and enjoy the interior for free. The design and construction of the building came from all over: the marble from Munich, the metals from Berlin, and mosaics from Venice. P.S: The domes are plated with actual gold!
Read More: 7 Photo-Worthy Day Trips From Sofia
Be Awed By The “Square of Tolerance”
The so-called “Square of Tolerance” spans the sites of the Sveta Nedelya Orthodox Cathedral, the Sofia Synagogue, St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral and the Banya Bashi Mosque in the very center of Sofia. Not being a religious person myself, it is still pretty touching to witness four different temples representing four religions in close proximity. I cannot think of anywhere else in the world where this exists!
Take A Stroll Along Vitosha Boulevard
Just across the street from Serdika Station, you will see the main commercial street of Sofia called Vitosha Boulevard. The place is always quite busy with bustling cafes, street musicians and occasional dance shows performing along the pathway. Also, it is one of the main spots where young locals like to meet up. Of course, don’t forget to look far ahead for a view of the gorgeous Vitosha Mountains.
Check Out The Free Events
If You are visiting Sofia in Summer, there are lots of outdoor events happening in the parks, which are mostly free! One of the popular gigs is The Summer Stage in Borisova Gradina Park, where classical concerts, festivals, and outdoor film screenings take place all night long. Another event I attended was Sofia Pride, which I did not expect it to be such a big event in a conservative country like Bulgaria.
Chill At One Of Many Public Parks
Sofia has so many public parks it’s hard not to stumble into one while in the city. You can go for a picnic, listen to live music, or simply hang out near some of the city’s famous monuments.
Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!