If you are wondering what to do in Sofia Bulgaria, then I have great news for you. It is a fantastic destination for independent travellers as Sofia has many things to do and is a safe city for solo female travellers.
The capital city of Bulgaria is known ancient Roman ruins, mineral springs and the biggest Orthodox Church in the Balkans. The city has over 7,000 years of history. It goes all the way back to the Roman Empire when the city was once called Serdica. Moreover, Bulgaria was once a socialist republic from 1944 to 1989.
With a long and interesting history, there is so many things to see in Sofia especially if you are a first time visitor.
In this post I’ll show you exactly how you can travel to Sofia on your own and explore some of the best things to do in Sofia Bulgaria as a solo traveller.
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What you need to know before travelling solo to Sofia Bulgaria
Before you start your solo trip to Sofia, take a look at some of these useful travel tips first:
- Sofia is a safe city for solo female travellers.
- Bulgarian lev (plural: leva) is the currency of Bulgarian. BGN is the three-letter code.
- 1 euro = 1.96 lev (fixed rate). In 2024, Bulgaria will change to the euro, which means 2023 will be the final year for the Bulgarian lev.
- There is one ATM at the arrival terminal and another next to the metro ticket machine inside Sofia Airport Metro Station.
- Currency exchange is available at Sofia Airport. It is next to the Relay convenience store.
- The Bulgarian Cyrillic alphabet is used to write the Bulgarian language. But most touristy places have English signs and menus.
- Unique Bulgarian gestures: shaking your head means yes and nodding means no.
- The best prepaid SIM card is A1. A 15GB SIM card for 30 days costs 15 lev. It is available at the Relay convenience store at Sofia airport or any A1 retail store in the city.
How to get to Sofia Bulgaria
Solo visitors flying into Sofia will arrive at Sofia Airport (SOF), 10km east of the city centre.
The cheapest and fastest way to travel from Sofia Airport to the city is by taking the Sofia Metro. Follow the signs for Sofia Airport Metro Station at the terminal. Purchase a single journey ticket (1.6 lev) from the machine and take the metro line M4 (yellow line) to the city centre. The journey takes about 40 minutes.
How to get around Sofia
The best way to see Sofia is by walking. You can get to most attractions on foot.
However, the most efficient way to see tourist spots outside the city centre is by metro, bus or tram. As mentioned already, a single journey ticket costs 1.6 lev. You can use this for either metro or bus. Keep the ticket until the end of the trip just in case someone checks it.
Alternatively, get a day pass for 4 lev for all public transportation. When you use the metro, scan the barcode (and activate) the pass at the metro cash desk. As for the bus, you don’t need to perforate the ticket. A day pass can be purchased from the point of sale of the Urban Mobility Center or metro cash desk.
20 best things to do in Sofia Bulgaria on your own
If it is your first time in Bulgaria, you must wonder what to do in Sofia as a solo traveller. The city is compact, and almost all attractions are within walking distance.
I think spending two to three days in Sofia is best so you can see all the city’s highlights.
So in no particular order, here are my 20 best things to do alone in Sofia for independent travellers.
1. Visit the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Balkans: Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The foundation of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was laid in 1882, but most of the church was built from 1904 to 1912. It was built to honour the Russian soldiers who lost their lives during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878).
Built in a Neo-Byzantine architectural style, the Orthodox cathedral is a cross-domed basilica that occupies 3,170 sqm. The gold-plated dome is 45m high, and the bell tower reaches 53m. The temple has 12 bells, and the inside is decorated with various types of Italian marble.
Words cannot describe what I think of this Bulgarian cathedral. The sheer size of the church and voluminous domed space is something else. You’ll have to see it for yourself!
The church is free to enter, but it costs 10 lev to take photos. And don’t miss the underground crypt which has a collection of Bulgarian icons.
2. Join a free walking tour in Sofia
One of the best activities for solo travellers is joining a walking tour. And there are two free walking tours in the city of Sofia!
The Free Sofia Tour is a 2-hour walking tour organized by the 365 Association. The English sightseeing tours meet at the Palace of Justice at 11 am, 2 pm and 6 pm. No need to reserve this tour around the ancient city. All you have to do is show up at the specific start time.
The other free walking tour is the Balkan Bites Free Food tour. You’ll have to bring an empty stomach for this tour because you’ll be trying traditional Bulgarian food including tarator, mekitza, and rakia. The group meets at 2 pm at Crystal Garden. Make sure you book a spot in advance.
Even though the tours are free, tips are very much appreciated so the tour companies can continue running these free tours for tourists.
3. Stroll along Vitosha Boulevard, the main pedestrian street in Sofia
Vitosha Boulevard is the main commercial street in the city of Sofia. The street is named after Vitosha Mountain, which you can see from the famous road while looking south.
The actual road is 2.7km long. But the most popular part is the pedestrian-friendly zone between the Palace of Justice and the National Palace of Culture Park. This is where you can find many retail stores, cafes, restaurants and bars.
The area is a bit touristy, but you can find other less touristy shops and things to do when you wander around the small streets perpendicular to Vitosha Boulevard.
4. Learn about Sofia’s communist past
After the USSR declared war on Bulgaria in 1944, a new political system was set up, and many civil liberties were terminated. And the Bulgarian Communist Party ruled the country for 45 years.
Today, you can still see the remnants of communism in the city of Sofia. Visit one (or all) of these Sofia attractions to learn more about the recent communist past.
- Sofia Communist Walking Tour (Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 4 pm; 25 lev) – see the main landmarks of communism during a 3-hour walking tour.
- The Red Flat (10:30 am to 6:00 pm; 18 lev) – travel back in time to the Communist Bulgaria of the 1980s by visiting the home of an average Bulgarian family. The entrance fee includes an audio guide.
- Socialist Art Museum (10 am to 6 pm; closed Mondays; 6 lev) – see a collection of 70+ socialist art sculptures from 1944 to 1989.
- Bells Park – see the Kambanite Monument, which has four 37m vertical pylons and two horizontal semi-circles where 133 bells are hung representing a different country.
5. Visit some of the notable buildings around Sofia
There is no shortage of wonderful architecture in Sofia, Bulgaria. Everywhere you turn is another spectacular building. These are some of my favourites:
- Ivan Vazov National Theatre – the oldest theatre was completed in 1906 and named after the prominent writer
- Parliament of Bulgaria – the former party house of the Bulgarian Communist Party and the best example of Socialist Classicism architecture in Sofia
- National Palace of Culture (NDK) – the biggest multifunctional convention centre in Southeastern Europe
- Central Sofia Market Hall – a 3,200sqm Neo-Renaissance market hall. Take note of the coat of arms of Sofia above the main entrance.
6. Visit different places of worship around Sofia
Sofis is the only city in Europe where many religions can coexist with one another. Many places of worship are in close proximity and within a few minute’s walk in the city centre.
While you are sightseeing in Sofia, don’t miss these notable religious buildings:
- Sveta Nedelya Church – a preserved Eastern Orthodox Church at the north end of Vitosha Boulevard
- Church of Sveti Sedmochislenitsi – was built as an Ottoman mosque and then converted to a Bulgarian Orthodox Church
- Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker – also known as the Russian Church
- Banya Bashi Mosque – the only functioning mosque in Sofia and it is built over natural thermal spas
- St. Sophia Church – there is an underground museum in the oldest church in Sofia
- St. George Rotunda Church – see frescos inside the 4th-century red brick rotunda. This is the oldest preserved building in Sofia
- Sofia Synagogue – largest synagogue in Southeastern Europe
7. See ancient ruins around the city centre of Sofia
Around the first century, the Roman Empire occupied an area of Eastern Europe, which is modern-day Bulgaria. They formed a central city, Serdica, which is modern-day Sofia.
And because Sofia was built on Roman ruins, you can still see many archeological finds throughout the city. Here are some highlights:
- Ancient Serdika Complex – see archaeological remains in the covered and open-air area in a 6,000 m2 area near Serdika Metro Station.
- Amphitheatre of Serdica – the ancient amphitheatre was discovered in 2004. You can still see part of the ancient ruins in the lobby of the Arena di Serdica Hotel.
- Ruins at St. George Rotunda Church – see ancient Roman streets and the foundation of a large basilica outside Sofia’s oldest preserved building.
8. Find Klek shops around the city centre
One of the most unusual things you will find in Sofia is the street shops with low windows called Klek Shops.
These basement shops are unique to the city of Sofia. Typically, the windows are below knee level, so you must bend down to buy something. That’s why they are known as “klek shops” because klek means knee.
After the fall of communism in Bulgaria, many Sofians were able to start their own businesses. Many of these klek shops popped up all over the city, and store owners sold all types of merchandise and offered different services.
Today, only a handful of these klek shops are around the city centre. I found at least five klek shops and even bought bubble tea from one.
9. See different monuments around Sofia
When you walk around Sofia, you will notice that there are many statues and monuments all over the city. Take note of these:
- The Statue of Sofia – the 24 feet copper and bronze statue is the symbol of the capital city
- Monument to the Tsar Liberator – an equestrian memorial built to honour Russian Emperor Alexander II
- Eagles’ Bridge – the bridge symbolizes the eastern entry to the ancient city
- Lions’ Bridge – four bronze lion sculptures were built to commemorate the heroic death of four booksellers
- The Doctors’ Memorial – was built to remember the 531 Russian medics fallen in the Russo-Turkish War that liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman Empire
- Monument to Stefan Stambolov – a modern bust statue to honour Stefan Nikolov Stambolov, one of Bulgaria’s greatest statesmen
- Roman Wall – an old wall that is part of a 17th-century Islamic religious building
10. Roam through one of several public parks in Sofia
Sofia has fantastic green spaces scattered around the city. They are very popular with locals, especially on the weekends.
When you are not checking out all the typical Sofia tourist attractions, slow down and visit one of these city parks:
- City Garden – a popular green space surrounded by notable buildings like the Bulgarian Archeological Museum, Sofia City Art Gallery, Ivan Vazov National Theater, and the former Royal Palace.
- Doctor’s Garden – a small neighbourhood park with a central monument and fragments of sculptures and buildings.
- Borisova Gradina Park – meander through miles of walking paths in Sofia’s oldest park.
11. See street art around Sofia
From small urban art on transformer boxes to large-scale art murals that span several stories tall, you can find many types of street art all over Sofia.
Some of my favourite ones are within the city centre. Near Serdika Station, there is a large mural of Chup Chups which Salvador Dali designed. Next to it is the Serdika Tulip Mural. And The Hug is only a 5-minute walk away.
There is also a collection of street art which is part of the Urban Creatures 2019 Project. The murals are designed and drawn by Bozko, a famous Bulgarian street artist. He created The Creator and His Battles, Saint George and many graffiti in the northeast end of the city.
I included the locations for these street arts so you can create your own urban art tour. Alternatively, a 2-hour Graffiti walking tour with a tour guide is available if you want to learn more about Sofia’s graffiti culture.
12. Visit Sofia’s best museums
There are almost 30 museums in Sofia! That means you’ll need many days or weeks to see them all. But that’s probably not possible, so I picked five museums that I find interesting and worth checking out:
- Sofia History Museum (10 am to 6 pm; closed Mondays; 8 lev) – the exhibits are housed in the former Central Mineral Bathhouse.
- National Art Gallery – (10 am to 6 pm; closed Mondays; 6 lev) several buildings comprise the entire National Art Gallery. I really like the Palace which showcases contemporary art in the former Royal Palace building.
- National Ethnography Museum (10 am to 6 pm; closed Mondays; 3 lev) – also located in the former Royal Palace, learn about Bulgarian culture by seeing more than 50,000 cultural items.
- Bulgarian Archeological Museum (10 am to 6 pm; 10 lev; free last Sunday of the month) – see exhibits from different historical periods in the former Ottoman mosque. The outdoor stone monument exhibition is free of charge.
- The National Museum of History (9:30 am to 6 pm; 12 lev) – the biggest museum in Bulgaria has over 700,000 items from prehistoric times to the present day. It is located south of the city centre in the Boyana District.
13. Try the free mineral spring water from the fountains
Many water fountains are all over Sofia, especially within the city centre. But the most popular ones are the ones next to Sofia History Museum in Serdica.
There are 42 mineral springs with water flowing at 500 litres per second. Many locals visit these fountains and fill their water bottles with clean mineral water. It is completely free!
So, you don’t need to buy water from the supermarket or convenience stores. Just bring your own empty bottle and fill it up. It is a bit warm, but it tastes rather nice (after it’s been chilled).
14. Visit some of the best outdoor markets in Sofia
A handful of interesting outdoor markets in Sofia are worth visiting. Check the hours of operation as many are only open once a week.
- Zhenski Pazar (Ladies’ Market) (every day from 8 am to 7 pm) – established more than 140 years ago, is the oldest market in Sofia. Vendors sell fresh fruits, vegetables, traditional souvenirs, clothing, and cooked food.
- Bitaka Flea Market (Saturdays and Sundays 6 am to 3 pm) – Sofia’s largest flea market. Also known as Malashevtsi Flea Market.
- Roman Wall Farmer’s Market by Hrankoop (Saturday 9 am to 2 pm) – vendors sell fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Market Poduene (Saturday 7:30 am to 12 pm) – locals visit this market for cheap produce
15. Try Bulgarian food in Sofia
Eating is a big part of travelling. I love eating local food wherever I go. While travelling solo in Sofia, I made it my mission to try as many authentic Bulgarian foods as possible.
These are some of my favourite Bulgarian dishes in Sofia that I can’t get enough of:
- Mekitza – fried bread with jam and cream cheese. Excellent for breakfast
- Banitza – Bulgaria’s national pastry is made with a pastry dough stuffed with cheese or spinach. It goes well with Boza (malt drink made with fermented grains)
- Shopska Salad – a salad made with the colours of the Bulgarian flag (tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and sirene cheese)
- Tarator – cold cucumber soup
- Kebapche – grilled caseless minced meat kebab
16. Eat at a mehana, traditional tavern in Sofia
One of the best places to eat traditional Bulgarian food is in a mehana. It means tavern in Bulgarian and is typically decorated in folklore decor. And there are a handful of mehanas in Sofia that you might want to try:
- The Hadjidragana Tavern – try authentic Bulgarian food in the cellar with traditional decor and furniture from the 18th century. There’s live folklore music from Thursday to Sunday starting at 8 pm.
- Manastirska Magernitsa Restaurant – a traditional Bulgarian restaurant with a lovely outdoor dining area.
- Moma Bulgarian Food and Wine – the restaurant has traditional decor but with a modern twist.
- Izbata Tavern – a quaint little Bulgarian restaurant in the basement level with an extensive menu.
- Mehana Mamin Kolyo – dine in the outdoor area in the back of the restaurant for the most authentic experience.
17. Buy traditional Bulgarian souvenirs
Before you leave Sofia, pick up some typical Bulgarian souvenirs for your friends and family back home. Look for:
- Troyan pottery – Bulgarian red clay ceramics with colourful patterns
- Rose oil products – anything made with rose oil as Bulgaria is the world’s biggest producer
- Lavender products – besides rose oil, Bulgaria also produces lavender
- Religious icons – reproduction of religious icon painting with a typical Byzantine colour palette
- Wool and woven products – like placemats, blankets, carpets, and rugs
Top things to do in Sofia: outside of the city centre
18. Take a day trip to Rila Monastery and Boyana Church
One of the best things to do in Sofia is to take a day trip to Rila Monastery, one of Bulgaria’s nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
As Bulgaria’s largest Eastern Orthodox monastery, Rila Monastery has some of the best colourful frescoes, iconic architectural monuments, and natural scenery that attract visitors worldwide. Make sure to dress appropriately (i.e. shoulders and knees should be covered).
On the way back to Sofia, the organized tour stops at Boyana Church, a medieval Bulgarian Orthodox Church. During the guided tour, you can see the layers of original frescoes inside the UNESCO church.
The grounds for Rila Monastery are free to enter, but the defence tower costs 5 lev. Boyana Church requires a ticket which costs 10 lev and it includes a guided tour.
How to get to Rila Monastery and Boyana Church: the organized day tour to Boyana Church and Rila Monastery includes all the transfers to and from Sofia.
19. Spend the day hiking around the Seven Rila Lakes
If you like the outdoors, then consider spending the day hiking in Rila National Park and see the Seven Rila Lakes.
A self-guided day trip to Seven Rila Lakes starts in Sofia city centre. Once you arrive at Rila National Park, take a chairlift to the 7 Rila Lakes where you will have 5 hours to hike. These glacial lakes in northwestern Rila Mountain are located between 2,100 and 2,500 meters above sea level and are quite spectacular.
Then the tour continues with a 1.5-hour self-tour of Rila Monastery before returning to Sofia.
How to get to Seven Rila Lakes: the best way for solo travellers to see the glacial lakes is by joining the self-guided tour which includes all the transfer.
20. Take a day trip to Plovdiv
If you have an extra day in Sofia, consider taking a day trip to Plovdiv, the second-largest city in Bulgaria. The ancient city is 120km away from the capital and can be accessible by train and bus.
During a day trip to Plovdiv, roam around Plovdiv Old Town, see Roman ruins and amphitheatre, and visit the cool and hip neighbourhood of Kapana. And make sure you hike up one of the 7 hills and see panoramic views of Plovdiv.
How to get to Plovdiv: Take a train from Central Train Station or a bus (Karat-S, Vitosha Express or Arda Tur) from Central Bus Station to Plovdiv. The journey takes about 2 hours.
Where to stay in Sofia Bulgaria as a solo traveller
If you are travelling solo to Sofia for a few days, stay in a hotel or Airbnb in Centrum or anyway along Vitosha Boulevard. For a more local feel, I really like Obrishte and Yavorov, residential areas on the east side of the city centre.
Here are my favourite places to stay in Sofia:
- Moroccan-inspired Apartment ($) – spacious one-bedroom ground-floor apartment with a dreamy Moroccan bathroom in Yavorov
- Check prices & reviews: Airbnb
- Contemporary Boho Loft ($$) – well-designed one-bedroom loft unit in Sofia Centre
- Check prices & reviews: Airbnb
- Sense Hotel Sofia ($$$) – modern contemporary hotel with a nice rooftop bar with a view of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
- Check prices & reviews: Agoda
Are you ready to take a solo trip to Sofia Bulgaria?
I sure hope so! Bulgaria was a total surprise for me. I didn’t know anything about the country but decided to take a solo trip there anyway. Super glad that I went because there are so many things to do in Sofia that I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.
And I hope it will inspire you to take a trip to Sofia too because it is an amazing city for solo travellers and very budget friendly.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about solo travel to Sofia or anything else about this wonderful city.
HaileyJanuary 6, 2023 at 4:56 am
This was an extremely helpful post! I knew nothing about Bulgaria and just decided to book a trip there for the next few weeks and I feel like I already have a great idea of what I want to do while I’m exploring because of your article. Much appreciated!!
queenie makJanuary 6, 2023 at 12:35 pm
Hi Hailey, thank you so much! I was the same as you – a year ago I didn’t know anything either. But once I started to research, I knew I had to go! It would be nice to see Sofia during the cooler months. I went during summer and it was hot hot hot!! Enjoy your time in Bulgaria~!
GregMarch 26, 2023 at 9:31 pm
Thank you – this article is incredibly comprehensive!!!
queenie makMarch 26, 2023 at 10:34 pm
Hi Greg, thank you so much! I hope you have fun travelling in Sofia!