Bulgaria is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in Europe. Sofia, its capital and largest city, is served by over 20 airlines from around the world. Sofia Airport (SOF) is only eight miles from the city center.
Bordered by the Black Sea to the east, Serbia and Macedonia in the west, Greece, and Turkey to the south and Romania to the north, visitors to Bulgaria can easily combine their Bulgarian tour with any of the neighboring countries. For example, a flight from Sofia to Bucharest, Romania is just under one hour. And Skopje, Macedonia’s capital is 147 miles away.
Wondering what to do in Sofia? Here are five things to do when in Sofia:
1. Join a walking tour
Sofia Free Tour, a non-profit organization, organizes free walking tours daily. There are three two-hour tours a day. The tours run at 10 am, 11 am, and 6 pm from April to October and 11 am, 2 pm and 6 pm from November to March. All tours start are at the Palace of Justice and end at St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
There are 20 stops, and you won’t have the time to see the interior of the churches, mosque, synagogue or museums. But you’ll get an overview of Sofia’s history and growth. See ruins from the Roman settlement of Serdica, Byzantine and Ottoman Sofia, Imperial Sofia and Modern Sofia.
Some of the top attractions you’ll see:
- St. Nedelya Church
- Statue of Sofia
- Largo Square Ruins
- Banya Bashi Mosque
- Sofia Synagogue
- Bath Museum of Sofia
- Mineral water area
- The Presidency Building
- Rotunda of St George
- St. Sophia Basilica
- St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
2. Enjoy authentic Bulgarian cuisine
Bulgarian cuisine is influenced by the Balkans, Slavic, and Turkish. Lunch and dinner are the most substantial meals in Bulgaria. Dinner is typically served after 8 pm.
For an authentic Bulgarian dining experience, we recommend Hadjidraganovite Kashti Restaurant on Kozloduy Street, about a 5-minute walk from the Lion’s Bridge. This restaurant serves hearty Bulgarian grilled meat, slow-cooked lamb dishes, Bulgarian cheeses and more. The traditionally decorated rooms in the restaurant are welcoming and cozy.
3. Shop for rose oil products
The Bulgarian Rosa Damascena Oil is the most sought-after rose oil in the world. And the best souvenirs to buy when visiting Sofia are products made from rose oil. Most souvenir shops sell rose soap, rose hand cream, rose-infused desert, and rose cosmetics. The Bulgarian rose oil is from Kazanlak, known as the Valley of the Roses in Bulgaria. You might want to add Kazanlak to your travel itinerary if you’re visiting in June. The town celebrates the Festival of the Roses every year in June.
4. Stroll along Vitosha Boulevard
Vitosha Boulevard is Sofia’s main shopping street. Most of the buildings are from the post-World War II era. The pedestrian-only part of the boulevard is called Pirotska. Pirotska is lined with cafes and restaurants – an ideal place in the city to grab a coffee and enjoy outdoor dining.
5. Take a day trip to Rila Monastery
It’s worth taking a day trip to Rila Monastery, Bulgaria’s largest Orthodox Monastery and the most visited attraction. This 10th-century monastery is a UNESCO heritage site and is about 60 miles from Sofia. Full day guided tours are available from Sofia. Most tours include Boyana Church, another UNESCO listed site.
The highlights of Rila Monastery are:
- Church of the Virgin Birth
- Tower of Hreylo
- East Wing Museum – see the Rafail Cross
- Preobrazhenie Chapel
Have you been to Sofia?