Ever heard of the city of Sofia before? I hadn’t until I found a cheap flight there and just had to book! I went with no expectations, and discovered some lovely sites! Have a read if you want to find some things to do in this lovely little city!
Sofia is the capital and biggest city in Bulgaria, but people tend to skip Sofia on the way to the classic beach or ski resorts around the rest of the country. Maybe it gets missed out due to its lack of tourist attractions, but I can certainly give you a few good reasons to visit this city. The main landmarks unfold Sofia’s many years of history, from the Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Soviet occupations.
We really enjoyed our short stay in this little city, spending a whole day hiking, then eating great food in the evening. The second day exploring the many churches dotted around the city, along with the great museums and historical buildings that Sofia has well preserved. Being one of the most affordable European capital cities, everything is priced rather cheaply, so a short stay won’t break the bank! So here’s a list of some of the best things this great city has to offer!
Things to do in Sofia
1. Hike Vitosha Mountain
Vitosha Mountain sits just on the outskirts of Sofia city, the closest trail being about 10km from the city centre, it’s highest peak (Black Peak) sits at 2290m. There’s various trails to hike, the most common trail takes you up to the Boyana waterfall, then to the view point over Sofia where you can catch some nice panoramas, and then to Boyana lake on the way back down or vice versa.
You can join the free Boyana hiking tour run by Sofia Green Tour. Running everyday, meeting at the Ivan Vazov National Theater at 11am during the spring/ summer seasons. Then taking shared taxi’s between the group to Boyana church (about 30 minute drive) where you have time to see the church, then starting the hike from there. The taxi’s are very cheap and that drive was around 10 lv per taxi (about £4-5). There is 1 local guide taking care of everyone, making sure the pace is okay, usually letting the better hikers go ahead and staying behind with the rest of the group. When we went there was around 20 people in the group.
Otherwise take your own cab to Boyana church and hike up to the waterfall and lake by yourself. The path seemed easy enough to follow, this will allow you more time and you can set your own pace. You could even chose another path such as the one that goes up to Golden Bridges, which you can even drive up to, but i’m sure hiking is much better!
2. Boyana Church & Gardens
Situated just under the foot of Vitosha Mountain is the medieval Orthodox Boyana church, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage list. The first part of the church was constructed in 10th – 11th century, then some in the 13th century and a bit more added in the 19th century, you can clearly see these time periods through the merging of different brickwork. This tiny church holds only 10 people for about 10 minutes per visit. situated in beautiful gardens, just next to the forests of Vitosha. It’s well worth a visit if you come to Sofia. We visited with our tour guide from Sofia Green Tour, he told us a lot about the well preserved frescoes and history of the church. You can get here by taxi which is reasonably cheap or by taking the bus.
3. Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski
Check out Sofia’s most famous landmark, the Neo-Byzantine style Cathedral of Saint Alexandar Nevski. The cathedral was built to honour the Russian solders who fought in the Russo- Turkish war as result of Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman rule. It is truly stunning and I can see why its an icon of Sofia.
The cathedral is free to enter and wonder around, but if caught taking photos inside you will be asked to pay, so be sneaky, or simply just enjoy the pretty mosaics and frescoes.
4. Crash a Bulgarian Wedding at St Nedelya Church.
If you hang around in the stunning St Nedelya Church for long enough chances are you’re going to catch a wedding or a christening. Very different to any intimate and exclusive weddings they hold in UK. In this church anyone can enter and witness couples tying the knot before god and their close family members.
The church also has an amazing choir, which sounded absolutely beautiful especially with the acoustics in the church, definitely a sound you do not want to miss!
5. Stroll down Vitosha Boulevard in Sofia city centre
Hit the many shops, bars, restaurants, cafes and clubs along Sofia’s central boulevard, with the famous Vitosha Mountain overlooking the street. I was surprised to see stag/ hen dos, lads on tour groups in Sofia I wasn’t expecting it to be that kind of destination, but if the beer’s cheap and the clubs are good, I can see why they come.
Make friends with the dogs (not on everyone’s list of things to do, but always on mine). There are many stray dogs on the Boulevard, some are friendly and down for a pat but be careful.. I accidentally nearly not bitten as I thought I saw a dog friend I made in the day chilling at night and the dog went to bite me.. turns out not the same pup.
6. Eat some (kind of) Bulgarian Food
What even is Bulgarian food? I still don’t know, but I do know it tastes amazing. There’s many great places to eat in Sofia and at a good price for your wallet. You can eat alfresco on Vitosha boulevard, having some delicious food. Really feeling like you’re on holiday (if you live in a cold country that is). I tell you the courgette, baked quinoa and cheese sauce dish I ate at Restaurant Shtastliveca Vitoshka. It was one of the nicest things i’ve eaten, I even tried to recreate it at home but definitely wasn’t the same! We also ate at a restaurant called Made in Home. Which was really cute and rustic with good food and desserts! What can I say they really know how to cook in Sofia!
7. Amphitheatre of Serdica
The remains of the ancient Roman city Amphitheatre were discovered accidentally in 2004, when they began the construction of the Arena di Serdica Hotel. The remains date back to 3rd-4th century AD. They spread across and under the modern part of the city. You can see that Sofia have worked hard to incorporate these remains into the existing modern infrastructure in the city. Which is a pretty big task. There’s pieces appearing everywhere in the area, in the subway, under glass domes near road sides. 1/6th of the Amphiteatre has been incorporated into the hotels ground floor itself, which is free to enter (pretty cool USP for a hotel).
8. The Rotunda of St George (Sveti Georgi)
We accidentally stumbled upon this tiny church in the middle of a more modern courtyard. It’s supposedly the oldest building in Sofia, built in the 4th century by the Romans. It sits between the Sheraton Hotel and the Presidency. It’s really nice how its been incorporated into the surrounding buildings. Becoming the centre piece of the courtyard, not the classic setting to find a historical building like this one. Inside are fragments of frescoes, three layers were discovered, the first dating back to the 10th century. It’s free to enter but not recommended to go inside during mass which is still held everyday.
9. Sofia History Museum
Hang out by the stunning Sofia History museum, relax by the fountains and gardens, watching the world go by. We didn’t go inside as we were enjoying the sun. Which lasted for about 2 minutes that day in Sofia before the rain started again. It costs 10 lv for adults, but only 2 lv for students (which was less than £1 for us).
10. National Archaeological Museum
The museum occupies the former Ottoman Mosque which was the largest in the city, built in 1496. The building is a beautiful setting to house the archaeological treasures of Bulgaria’s history. When we were trying to find the museum we walked around the building twice to find the door. As we thought that door didn’t look much like a museum entrance from the outside. But actually we had been sitting outside it by the fountain for a while before. Inside you will find loads of well reserved remains, and interesting artifacts. It’s not overcrowded and is rather peaceful inside. We visited to escape the rain for a while and ended up spending an hour or so wandering around. Entrance is again 10 lv for adults and 2 lv concessions.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post! Hopefully it gives you some ideas for things to do in this little city!
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