Why visit Sofia, Bulgaria?
There could be a million reasons why you happened to arrive in Sofia, Bulgaria. Maybe you’re avid for Eastern European experiences traveler, maybe you’re here for a meeting or conference or exhibition, or maybe your friends are getting married in Sofia and you want to enjoy the city apart from the wedding reception.
It could be your second, third, 1058th time in Sofia. You may actually be a local here, an expat or someone who doesn’t remember yet why and when you got to the capital. I was born in Sofia and constantly receive questions like “What is special about your place?”, “How many days do I need to cover the highlights of the city?”, and “What day trips from Sofia can I do to take my experience of Bulgaria to the fullest?”.
You can find tons of information and first-hand experiences from Sofia and afield online, but I will try to explain why Sofia is so special with a photo. I took it this spring while I was walking from A to B in downtown Sofia. I was in such a hurry that I almost missed it.
The Vitosha mountain is a short drive from the center. There are so many green areas and parks inside the city. Some of the best architects were creating in Sofia. A 100-meter walk can take you from the traffic madness to a peaceful place where you can be all alone with yourself. That is so special about Sofia.
Getting around in Sofia
First, you’ll need some cash. 💱
The official Bulgarian currency is “leva” (BGN), whereas the coins are called “stotinki”.
1 euro = 1.96 leva
In Sofia, like in every other large city or capital, you can expect a lot of people in the public transport as well as in the central areas. Most of the people are very friendly and helpful but have in mind that there are pickpockets, so keep your belongings close to you and don’t leave them unattended. Nothing more to worry about.
Public transport 🚋
Tickets for the public transportation need to be bought beforehand and perforated inside the bus or tram. If you don’t know how to do that, you can always observe what other people are doing or ask them for help. (Most of the younger people in Bulgaria speak English.) If you have the exact change, you can head to the driver and ask nicely for a “biletche” (ticket). The exception is the subway where you can buy your ticket immediately at the entrance of the subway station and then pass the ticket through the available at place bar scanning machines …. and voila.
💡Keep the tickets until the end of your trip.
Never ever buy a subway ticket for anything more than the forthcoming journey. Experience shows that tickets for the metro are valid from the station where they’re bought. So you return journey can wait a while till you get to the corresponding station. Weird? Idiotic? YES! But it’s also part of the charm.
Taxis are yellow in color and the usual price varies. The taxi meter is a law so make sure to check it is on. Like anywhere else, do not expect that all taxi drivers speak or understand English. Better have you address written somewhere. A small tip is expected (not more than 1 lev) and in Sofia, they even tend to intentionally return a bit less change by rounding up the sum. Please make sure to control the prices before you get in the taxi and before you pay. Most of them would love to take your money if you give it to them (as a foreigner, you are their best customer 😉 ).
From the airport to the center it should cost no more than 15 – 20 BGN. We would recommend you to ask them to stop if the price gets too much (make sure you can get another taxi though). As long as it concerns a taxi from the airport, better find the counter of the official taxi provider inside the airport and order your taxi from there. They will give you the numbers of the car, which will be waiting for you in front of the arrivals hall.
If you want to go eco, you might enjoy the new possibility in town – the Green Taxi. They are a bit more expensive, but more honest and offer a free wifi in the car, and of course better environmental care through their hybrid Toyotas.
Another favorite of ours is the Yellow Taxi – they offer an app for ordering and we have never had a bad experience with them so far.
Altogether good luck with Bulgarian taxi drivers (especially in the capital)! Don’t worry, they don’t bite, they just want your money. 😉
Mini Bulgarian Dictionary
As this guide was inspired by two friends’ wedding in Sofia, here we provide the essential dictionary. Most of this vocabulary is not only the most common for weddings, but also for any situations related to food and drinks. And trust me, you’ll get into a lot of that kind of situations in Bulgaria.
Горчиво (Gorchivo) – shouted out loud or chanted by all of the guests, it will make the bride and the groom kiss 💋(otherwise It means “bitter”)
Да (Da) – Yes
Не (Ne) – No
Мерси (Merci) – is also widely used in Bulgaria as thanks
Благодаря (Blagodarya) – the proper way to say “thank you” in Bulgarian
Булка (Bulka) – Bride
Младоженец (Mladozhenets) – Groom
Младоженци (Mladozhentsi) – Newlyweds
Хоро (Horo) – Bulgarian folk dance usually performed by many people holding one another hand in hand
Наздраве (Nazdrave) – Cheers
Вино (Vino) – wine
Ракия (Rakiya) – Bulgarian strong alcoholic drink; please consume with care 🙂
Бира (Bira) – Beer
Водка, Уиски – Vodka, whiskey
Вода (Voda) – water 🌊
Махмурлук (Mahmurluk) – Hangover
Главоболие (Glavobolie) – Headache
Mini Tour Guide for Sofia
Sofia is best explored on foot. Adventurers tend to get on random means of transportation and figure how it goes. You can always rent a car or a private transport if you’re into that kind of transportation and exploration.
Sofia center is extremely walkable and offers things for different types of travelers and tourists. Our recommendation is to allow yourself time to explore the city on your own and find out what it has been hiding for you.
Sofia is best explored with a local. If you don’t have one or two available, you can move on to the list below and pick something that suits your interests.
A free tour of Sofia downtown in English! Available twice per day every day! I (Bistra) have been on this tour a few times – every time they have managed to surprise me with a cool story or a new perspective on my city! Payment is donation-oriented. Recommend!
A free hiking tour around Sofia It takes you to Boyana waterfall and Boyana Church. As you’re already in the foothills of Vitosha you might want to go uphill for a hike to Zlatnite Mostove or to ski and snowboard in winter.
Further afield – day trips and more
Day trips to other places of interest
The Rila monastery is usually one of the must-see advice. It is comfortably resting in a valley within the mountains, hidden from everybody’s eyes. Distance from Sofia is 117 km. If you plan a day trip though, I will advise you to start early enough. You will need at least 1.5 hours per direction by car.
For hikers, the best tip is the Seven Rila lakes. The place is simply amazing! Nowadays there is a lift and jeeps being offered which bring you almost up to the lowest lake. From there on however you still need about an hour and a half hike up the hill to reach the most beautiful lakes on the top. If you are lucky to get a clear day, you can see all the lakes from the top. Keep in mind though that in end of May it might still be cold, not sure about snow. The distance from Sofia to the lift location is about 100 km.
Plovdiv is a beautiful Bulgarian city located about 150 km east of Sofia and can be reached through a highway (which is not true for most of the cities in Bulgaria). The town has an old well-preserved part where you can enjoy some remains from Roman times as well as the old traditional style of Bulgarian architecture. 30 km away from Plovdiv is the Bachkovo monastery.
More off the beaten path
Koprivshtitsa is another historic place (111 km east of Sofia) where you can enjoy the beauty of old Bulgarian architecture and traditions. It is a very small town huddled between the mountains. It takes not more than a day to walk around.
Veliko Tarnovo is a historical capital of Bulgaria and a very beautiful town. It is situated a bit further to the northeast (more than 200 km) but if you have the time, you won’t be sorry. It will hypnotize you with its nature, its long historical fortress located as well as the beautiful meanders of the river Yantra. If you decide to take that trip you can also pass by Arbanasi (but I guess it is too much for a day trip only).
Melnik is the smallest town (of only 200 inhabitants) in Bulgaria. If you’re into history, breathtaking views and mouthwatering wines – this is the place to go.
If you have more than a day
Another interesting adventure could be caves – there are many really beautiful easy for everybody to explore caves all around the country. You can get a taste of Devetashka cave.
For swimming, we can recommend you a SPA tourism. There is plenty of towns and villages with great SPA hotels as Bulgaria is very rich in natural hot mineral springs.
You can also go on adventures, extreme outdoors and fun. Here’s an article about our favorite active outdoor experiences.
As Sofia’s motto is “Ever growing, Never aging”, so is this guide article. This is the place where we mention that everything is subject to change, and our wish is to grow the Sofia guide while keeping it clear and precise, and not too long. After all, there are at least 101 things to do in Sofia!
All the opinions and experiences are either our own or expressed by local friends. Special thanks to Maria Petrova-El Sayed for inspiring this guide and providing a decent part of it.
We hope to maximize your time in Sofia, to show you it’s a lovely destination, also so photogenic (see why here), and to make you want to come back!
Have you ever been to Sofia? Would you go? Let us know in the comments! Or get to know more about the city by taking a look at Sofia ladies’ bags?