Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria and the largest city in the country. Often overlooked by visitors traveling to the seaside or charming places like Plovdiv, Sofia doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Recently I spent 24 hours in Sofia and I found out there’s much more to this city than I thought. Whether you’d like to relax in one of the parks, find peace and quiet inside the thick walls of a church or get your moves on in the club, Sofia has it all! And even when you’re tired of urban life, escaping is easy. Just get yourself on top of Vitosha mountain – a popular place for hiking and skiing.
My journey in Bulgaria started and ended in Sofia, which didn’t give me much time to explore. In two short evenings and one full day I still tried to soak up as much of this place as possible. Despite the shortage of time (and because Sofia is easy to navigate), I still managed to see a lot of the highlights.
In all honesty, you can’t do all the things listed below in 24 hours, but I’d like you to have something to choose from.
Curious to see what you can do in Sofia in 24 hours?
Alexander Nevski Cathedral
When you’re into visiting religious sites, Bulgaria is the country for you! In Sofia, you can choose between a wide variety of churches and other religious buildings, the most famous one being the Alexander Nevski Cathedral.
The St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral is a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral located in the center of Sofia. It is the second largest cathedral located on the Balkan peninsula and it’s probably the most visited, too. When you have little time, like I did, it’s still worth putting on the list.
Tip: check out the yellow bricks on the road. When Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria married Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma in 1893, he got this rather helpful wedding present to pave the road between his royal residence and the National Assembly.
Have a little more time to spend? These other religious buildings are worth visiting:
- Bojana Church
- Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker (Or Russian Church)
- St. Nedelya Church
- Cathedral of St. Joseph
- Church of St. Paraskeva
- Sofia Synagogue
- Banya Bashi Mosque
When in Sofia, you can’t escape Vitosha boulevard. Whether you’d like to shop or people watch from a nearby café during the daytime, or when you’re seeking nighttime fun, Vitosha is the place to see and be seen! The street gets its grandeur from Vitosha mountain towering over the city, which is visible through the Soviet facades of the boulevard. Grab a bite at Shtastliveca Vitoshka (Bul. Vitosha 27), one of Sofia’s best restaurants.
Tsar Ivan Shishman Street
Tsar Ivan Shishman Street is the place to be for street art, shopping and food. When you pass through to get to the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, be sure to stop at Skapto Burger for a delicious lunch or dinner. There’s also plenty of street art to be spotted in this area, so keep your eyes open and your camera ready!
Parks are well-visited in Bulgaria. Locals and tourists spend their days playing board games, soaking up the scenery and hanging around with friends. Sofia has amazing parks filled with flowers, fountains and cool architecture. Sit down on one of the many benches of the City Garden and watch life before your eyes or admire the Soviet leftovers at Knyazheska Garden.
You can’t miss these parks either:
- Borisova Gradina
- South park
- National theater garden
Take a free tour
Sofia is already great for traveling on budget – just like the rest of Bulgaria – the free tours you can take in Sofia are the icing on the cake. Take part in the free walking tour or stuff your face with all the amazing food recommendations at the free Sofia Food Tour. As always, you decide how much to tip your guide at the end.
Free tours you can take in Sofia:
- Free Sofia Tour
- Free bike tour
- Free food tour
- Vitosha Mountain (free hiking tour)
Raketa (Rakia bar)
The Raketa Riakia Bar – although pretty touristy – is a great place to discover this region’s liquor: Rakia. Unsurprisingly this bar carries a huge selection of rakia, which you can pair with savory Bulgarian snacks. (Reservations are advised)
Address: 17 Yanko Sakazov Street
Sofia is home to a few interesting museums. Visitors interested in the cultural heritage of the country can choose between some interesting places. The National Gallery showcases almost 2000 artworks by Bulgarian and foreign artists, spread over 28 halls. As an institution, the National Gallery unites the former National Museum of Bulgarian Fine Arts and the National Gallery of Foreign Art.
My favorite museum, the Museum of Socialistic Art, is a large outdoor sculpture park, showcasing art from the Socialistic period (1944 – 1989). Here you’ll find everything, from giant Lenin statues to Soviet propaganda!
Why not fill your day museum hopping? Here are some more museums and interesting places in Sofia you might like:
- Sofia Art gallery
- National museum of history
- National Archaeological Museum
- National Polytechnic Museum
- Museum of Socialist Art
- National Palace of Culture
- Monument to the Soviet Army
Gorgeous Sofia Architecture
Open air markets
Sofia is a great place for shopping at street markets. Central Market (or Centralni Hali) is where you shop for souvenirs and groceries while Slaveykov Square is the place to be for book lovers. Zenski Pazar is also a great place to shop for food and other handy stuff. Follow the locals to discover the best stalls.
Sofia, like many other European cities, is slathered in art. Take the Sofia Graffiti Tour, where you’ll learn about the many pieces from Bulgarian and international artists, or discover it yourself by roaming Sofia’s neighborhoods.
Hazdhi Dimitar, a rather grey-looking neighborhood in Sofia, is home to a few amazing pieces. The huge murals were created during the Urban Creature Festival in 2011 and make Hazdhi Dimitar one of the top places to visit in Sofia!
How to get to Sofia
Sofia can be reached from many corners of the world. Lowcost airlines fly to Sofia Airport from Europe and other continents of the world. When you’re staying in one of the surrounding countries, you can also visit this cool city by train or bus. Want to visit Sofia from within Bulgaria? No problem, many trains and bus routes go through the huge station of Sofia as well.
Where to sleep in Sofia
€€ Santa Sofia
€€€€ Grand Hotel Sofia
Unfortunately, you can’t do all the things listed in 24 hours. It’s just a way of showing you Sofia is worth visiting, even if it is for a short period of time. I crammed as much of the highlights into my 24 hours and I kind of wish I had stayed longer. I’m pretty sure our paths will cross again in the future!
Planning to visit Bulgaria? Read more about this awesome country here:
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