Comprehensive Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria

Comprehensive Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria

Are you planning on visiting Bulgaria soon? Not sure what to add to your itinerary when visiting the capital city, Sofia? Make sure you read this comprehensive guide to Sofia, Bulgaria.


Location

With its rich history, diverse traditions and stunning nature, Bulgaria is one of the best of Europe’s hidden gems. Bulgaria is located in Southeastern Europe, surrounded by the beautiful Black Sea to the East and the deep Danube River waters to the North. Bulgaria’s territory is only around 110,000 square kilometers (42,800 sq.mi), which makes it the sixteenth-largest country in Europe. Even still, the country’s breathtaking mountain ranges and the untouched nature make it a great choice for a European getaway.

Sofia, Bulgaria Map
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The largest city and capital of Bulgaria is Sofia – a diverse, colorful town situated at the heart of the Balkan Peninsula. Nestled between the mountains, Sofia is the second highest European capital after Madrid. Interestingly enough, compared to other European capitals, Sofia was not constructed around a major river; however, the city is known for the large number of mineral springs. The capital city is an incredible fusion of ancient and contemporary. The city center of Sofia is vibrant and lively, but with a closer look, you will find layers of history and long-lived tales. Keep reading to learn more about Bulgaria and enjoy a comprehensive guide for exploring Sofia.


Bulgarian Population

The population of Bulgaria is approximately 7 million people, with more than a million of whom living in the capital city. Sofia has been recognized as an excellent location for international companies to invest in. As a result, the younger Bulgarians tend to move to the capital city searching for better job opportunities. This makes the capital extremely vibrant and colorful and full of young people enjoying life.


Flag and Symbol of Bulgaria

The tri-colored Bulgarian flag consists of equal sized horizontal stripes, starting with white at the top, followed by green and red at the bottom. Officially recognized after the Russo-Turkish War in 1878, the national flag and its colors represent the country and its traditions. The white color symbolizes peace and freedom, whereas red stands for the military courage and struggles before the independence of Bulgaria. The green, on the other hand, emphasizes the country’s agricultural wealth.

Flag and Symbol of Bulgaria
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

One of the major symbols of Bulgaria is the lion which is illustrated on the national coat of arms. As a symbol of supreme power, courage, and justice, Bulgarian warriors are often described as lions in Bulgarian literature when portraying their invincibility when fighting for the country’s independence. Even though lions are not typical for the region’s fauna, they can be seen all over the capital city. As you stroll down the streets of Sofia, you will stumble across a statue of a lion at almost every corner. Quite a funny fact: many Bulgarians argue that the territory of the country is also shaped like a lion.


Weather

Similar to the other countries located in Central Europe, the Bulgarian climate can be characterized as temperate-continental. With dry, hot summers and long, cold winters, visitors can enjoy extremely distinct seasons when visiting Sofia. Due to its higher altitude, the capital city enjoys relatively snowy but also quite cold winter days. At the same time, Sofia’s summer temperatures remain slightly cooler compared to other parts of Bulgaria.


Best Time to Visit Sofia

Due to Sofia’s proximity to Vitosha Mountains and its higher altitude, visiting the capital at the end of spring and beginning of summer is best. The months of May and June are extremely warm and pleasant for exploring both the streets and the parks of Sofia. Keep in mind that this time of the year can also get a bit more humid with higher chances of rain and thunderstorms. Rain, however, lasts just half an hour or so, and you can use this time to grab a coffee or tea in one of the numerous cozy cafes.


Time Zone

As the biggest country on the Balkan Peninsula, Bulgaria borders Turkey and Asia to the south. As such, the country belongs to the UTC +2 time zone. During the summertime, Bulgaria moves to daylight savings time and adopts the UTC +3 time zone. Together with multiple other countries as part of the European Union, Bulgaria is now considering removing the change of time.


Currency of Bulgaria

Even though Bulgaria is part of the European Union, the country has not adopted the official currency – the Euro. As previously mentioned, the lion is one of the major Bulgarian symbols. Another example of this is the official currency, which is Bulgarian Lev, meaning “lion” in archaic Bulgarian. The lev is pegged to the Euro at 1 Euro = 1.96 Bulgarian Lev. When visiting Bulgaria, keep in mind that you cannot pay with Euros, and a lot of smaller shops do not accept cash payments.


Getting to Sofia

Bulgaria and Sofia have been receiving slightly more attention in the last few years as numerous budget airlines, such as WizzAir and RyanAir, have announced Sofia as one of their travel destinations. The largest airport in Bulgaria is located in the capital city, followed by another one in the second biggest town in the country – Plovdiv. During the summer months, Burgas and Varna airports also get relatively busy with people traveling from all over Europe to vacation at the Black Sea. As a fairly small country, traveling from one city to another in Bulgaria is not so difficult. There are various options, including trains and buses. However, the fastest and easiest way would be renting a car.


Getting around Sofia

The entire Sofia Province has a territory of approximately 7,060 square km, while the city itself spans only 1,344 sq. km. The major tourist attractions are in close proximity to the city center, which makes it extremely easy to walk around. Just make sure you have good, comfortable shoes so you can get lost in the streets of Sofia, in order to feel its vibe.

tram-in-sofia
If you need to use any type of public transport – the metro is the best choice. The metro system in Sofia is extremely convenient, cheap, and fast. A single ticket costs 1.60 Bulgarian Lev (0.80 euro) and is valid for 30 minutes only, so make sure you do not buy metro tickets in advance. For multiple uses of the public transport per day, you should get the day pass for 4.00 Bulgarian Lev (2.00 Euro), which can be used not just in the metro but also for trams and buses.

If you are only planning on exploring Sofia, I do not suggest renting a car – parking in the center is difficult and expensive. Also, try to avoid taxis (especially from the airport to your accommodation – use the metro instead), as there are fake taxi companies that will try to rip you off. Most taxis in Bulgaria are painted yellow, so it will be easy to recognize them.


Best area to stay in Sofia

The best area to stay in Sofia is, of course, the city center. There are numerous options from luxurious hotels at the heart of the city to budget AirBnB options slightly off the main center. I strongly suggest checking out the area around Opalchenska Metro Station. The area has multiple benefits, such as the easy access to the metro, close proximity to the city center (within walking distance), and many budget accommodation options.


20 Things to Do in Sofia

Now that you have learned the basics about Sofia and Bulgaria, it is time to decide what to include in your guide for visiting Sofia. Keep reading to learn about the main points of interest and major attractions, which you should certainly visit.

1. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Your tour through the capital should certainly start at the symbol of Sofia – Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This 100-year-old Orthodox Cathedral is one of the most famous landmarks in the city.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria

The Neo-Byzantine architectural style and the glittering golden domes are truly stunning. Make sure to step in and gaze at the beautiful ceilings of the cathedral as well.

2. Saint Sophia Church

As the oldest church in Sofia, Saint Sophia Church should certainly be on your list of places to visit. Dating back to the 4th century, the building is an excellent example of Early Christian architecture and one of the most valuable basilicas across Southeastern Europe. The capital city of Bulgaria was named after Saint Sophia Church during the 14th century. The building stands atop a hill and was the highest building at the time, so it was the first thing you would see as you approached the city.

3. Church of Saint Petka of the Saddlers

The Church of Saint Petka of the Saddlers is a small church nestled between the ancient Roman ruins and the modern Serdica Metro Station.

Church of Saint Petka of the Saddlers
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The medieval Bulgarian Orthodox Church is partially dug into the ground, with one-meter-thick walls made of stone and brick. Paintings of Biblical scenes from the 14th to 18th century have been found inside the church.

4. Saint George Rotunda

While exploring Sofia, make sure you visit the oldest preserved building in the capital – Saint George Rotunda. The small, round church was built by the Romans during the 4th century. Nowadays, finding the beautiful rotunda is not so easy. Saint George Church is literally hidden behind the Bulgarian Presidency. Make sure you visit the rotunda, though, as the courtyard is a fascinating fusion of architectural styles – the ancient ruins surrounding the beautiful rotunda contrast with the communist design of the large buildings around it.

5. Boyana Church

Boyana Church could be considered slightly off the beaten path. As the church is located in the outskirts of Sofia, it does not receive as much attention from the tourists as it deserves. Dating back to the 10th century, the medieval Orthodox church has been declared one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Boyana Church - Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria
Credits: Ann Wuyts, Flickr CC BY 2.0

The frescoes inside the church are absolutely exceptional. Situated at the base of Vitosha Mountain and surrounded by large trees, a trip to Boyana Church is an excellent idea if you want to escape the busy city life for a few hours.

6. Roman Ruins – Serdika

Even taking the metro in Sofia is exciting and filled with history. During the construction of the Sofia metro system, remains of the ancient Roman city Serdika were found. Located on top of the Serdika Metro Station, you will see ruins dating back to the 4th century. Major and wide streets, basilica and ancient residential houses are all part of the Serdika complex. Serdika II Metro Station has been converted into a small museum with glass displays representing the archaeology of Sofia. The blend of ancient and modern in this area of Sofia is absolutely stunning!

7. Central Mineral Baths

The capital city of Bulgaria was developed on top of mineral hot springs. One of the must-see places in your guide for visiting Sofia should be the Central Mineral Baths built in 1913. Once used as public baths, the intriguing, colorful building in Neo-Byzantine style is now home to the Museum of Sofia.

Central Mineral Baths - Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria

Even though the building is no longer used as thermal baths, across the street from the Central Mineral Baths you will find hot spring water fountains. You will quickly notice the locals filling water bottles with mineral water straight from the fountain. Go ahead and join them – the water is said to have numerous health benefits.

8. The Largo

A walk through the streets of Sofia would not be complete without stopping and admiring the Largo Square. Surrounded by three Soviet Classical buildings, the Largo is one of the major landmarks in the capital. The architectural ensemble consists of the former Communist Party Headquarters (now used as the administrative center of the National Assembly of Bulgaria), the TZUM Department Store, the Ministry of Education, Sofia Hotel Balkan, and the President’s Office. Under the square you will also find the ancient Roman Ruins of Serdika.

9. National Archaeological Museum

The National Archaeological Museum in Sofia should certainly be part of your trip. You will easily spot the building as it contrasts the revival buildings surrounding it. The museum is housed in what was once the largest Ottoman mosque in Sofia, also known as Koca Mahmut Paşa Camii.

National Archaeological Museum - Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

While the building dates back to the 14th century, the National Archaeological Museum was opened in 1905. Visitors can explore various artifact collections. The prehistory exhibit is quite impressive with simple pottery, drawings, and ritual items dating from 1,600,000 BC to 1,600 BC. Two of the most popular and rich Bulgarian treasures are also located in the National Archaeological Museum.

10. The Change of Guards in front of the Presidency

As previously mentioned, the Presidency is part of the Largo complex built in the middle of the 1950s. The majestic President Office building in Soviet Classical Architectural design is located in a small square together with the National Archaeological Museum. You will easily recognize the building with the two guards standing by the main entrance. The guards change every hour with a routine march. The change of guard is quite interesting to see as you are resting by the fountain in the middle of the square. Every first Wednesday of the month at 12 o’clock, the guards have an entire ceremony with music and weapon brandishing.

11. National Art Gallery

There are various art galleries in Sofia, but the National Art Gallery is certainly the one that deserves your attention. Housed in the former royal palace, the gallery has a rich collection of over 50,000 artworks.

National Art Gallery - Guide for Sofia, BulgariaCredits: Wikimedia Commons

The National Art Gallery is focused on displaying paintings from Bulgarian artists. Stunning pieces of art dating from the 4th century all the way up to modern 21st century can be found in the museum.

12. National Palace of Culture

The National Palace of Culture is one of the main symbols of Sofia. As the biggest multifunctional events and exhibits center in Southeastern Europe, it holds various conventions and concert performances year-round. The building itself has quite an interesting design as part of the communist-era architecture. Just in front of the National Palace of Culture, you can relax in a green park with numerous fountains.

13. National Historical Museum

As Bulgarian’s largest museum, National Historical Museum is a must-visit when in Sofia. Housed in the massive residence of the last communist leader of Bulgaria, the museum is home to more than 650,000 objects.

National Historical Museum - Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Tour through the wide-open halls to find displays of fine arts, ethnographic items, archaeological finds, and much more. The National Historical Museum is located at the outskirts of Sofia in the Boyana neighborhood. You can combine a visit to the museum with a stop at the Boyana Church to make the most of your time.

14. Sofia Free Tour

One of the best ways to explore and learn more about the history of the capital is by joining the Sofia Free Walking Tour. It is run by young locals, who will not only walk you through the main tourist sights, but will also tell you secret tales, make you laugh, and offer you traditional Bulgarian treats. The two-hour walking tour is an absolute must when visiting Sofia!

15. Vitosha Boulevard

No visit to Sofia would be complete without a stroll down Vitosha Boulevard. Located at the heart of the city, this is the largest pedestrian-only street in Sofia.

Vitosha Boulevard- Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

This is certainly the busiest spot in the capital with many cafes and restaurants. There are a few souvenir shops if you need to do last-minute shopping before heading home. Vitosha Boulevard is the best spot to see and experience how the locals live, so make sure you add it to your guide for visiting Sofia.

16. The Yellow Brick Road

Believe it or not, Sofia has its own yellow brick road! Almost like a gold-colored carpet, the yellow bricks have covered the streets of Sofia for more than a century. As you follow the yellow brick road, you will pass various major tourist attractions.

17. Graf Ignatiev Street

Make sure you take a stroll down the Graf Ignatiev Street – the second largest pedestrian street in Sofia. If you want to go on a shopping spree, you should certainly head to Graf Ignatiev Street, as you will be able to find many different clothing and footwear shops.

Graf Ignatiev Street- Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

This street is also popular for the continuously passing trams. A nice park and another Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Seven Saints Church, are also located next to Graf Ignatiev Street.

18. Ivan Vazov Theater and Park

Ivan Vazov National Theater in its Viennese architectural style is one of the buildings you should certainly add to your guide for visiting Sofia. The colorful facade of the theater with marble columns and various ornaments is a piece of art in itself. The park surrounding the theater is one of the local’s favorite spots for hanging out and drinking coffee. The park is always filled with colors and music and is certainly worth the visit!

19. Borisova Garden

As you explore Sofia, you will notice that the capital has many green spaces and parks. The most popular and beautiful park is Borisova Garden.

Borisova Garden- Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

It is not only the biggest park in the capital but also the oldest. There is nothing better than taking a walk through nature while still being at the heart of the city. Make sure you also visit the lily’s lake, especially in springtime when the lake is covered with white blooming lilies.

20. Vitosha Mountain – Golden Bridges

Last but not least in your guide for visiting Sofia is Vitosha Mountain. Many tourists, when traveling to Sofia, think only about the city and the tourist attractions there. Sofia, however, has so much to offer outside the center as well. The capital of Bulgaria is located on the foothill of Vitosha Mountain, so you can easily escape the busy city life by going hiking in the mountains. If you are visiting in winter, you can go skiing or snowboarding at Aleko Ski Centre. If you are visiting in the summer, you can hike up to the beautiful Boyana Waterfall. For year-round mountain adventures, you should visit the Golden Bridges. Dating back to the Ice Age, Golden Bridges is a natural phenomenon known as stone river. At first glance, it looks like the massive stones colored in grey and yellow are rolling down. Make sure to bring comfortable hiking shoes to take a walk around the Golden Bridges and enjoy the fresh mountain air.


5 Hidden Gems in Sofia

For an even more authentic experience of Sofia, go ahead and check out below for the 5 hidden gems in the capital. These spots are not as touristy but will give you a better understanding of how the locals live.

1.Shishman Street

One of the best hidden, tucked in between the buildings, streets is Shishman.

Shishman Street- Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

This is not a famous spot, and it is highly unlikely you will see many tourists around here. The small restaurants, art shops, and unique cafes, though, are well known among the locals, who like to enjoy late night drinks.

2. Sredets Neighborhood

Sredets Neighborhood, also referred to as “the small five corners” by the locals, is one of the best areas in Sofia. Small art stores and galleries are spread around the narrow cobblestone streets. Make sure to try some of the baked goods offered by the local cafes. While the area consists of numerous alleys, the best are Angel Kanchev, Neofit Rilski, and Tsar Ivan Shishman Streets. The area is well known among the locals with its bohemian style and cozy spaces.

3. Vrana Palace

Castles and palaces are not typical for Bulgaria, but you will be surprised to hear that you can go for a walk in one of the former Bulgarian Royal Family’s residencies, located just outside of Sofia.

Vrana Palace- Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Once the royal family’s summer villa, the residency is surrounded by a massive, stunning garden with interesting plant species from all over the world. Keep in mind that the park is open to visitors only on weekends.

4. Lake Pancharevo

Another fantastic spot to escape the city is Lake Pancharevo, located only 12 km away from Sofia. This artificial lake is 3km long and 700m wide. Locals absolutely love visiting Lake Pancharevo on the weekends as it offers a few hiking trails with stunning views of the lake and the mountains. The lake is also home to a few sports centers and the National Rowing Base.

5. Dragalevtsi Monastery

Located in the outskirts of Sofia, Dragalevtsi Monastery is one of the hidden gems of the capital city. Established during the 14th century, this Bulgarian Orthodox Monastery has significant meaning to the Bulgarian nation.

Dragalevtsi Monastery- Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

It is considered one of the hiding places of the Bulgarian hero Vasil Levski, who used it during his revolutionary activities to liberate Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire. Dragalevtsi Monastery is nestled among evergreen trees and peaceful mountain surroundings.


5 Romantic Places to Visit

If you are visiting Sofia with your significant other and are looking for some romantic places, read this list of perfect couple spots around the capital.

1. Lovers Bridge

Located just behind the National Palace of Culture, this pedestrian bridge is a must-visit especially at sunset. The bridge has been constructed as a pass way over the busy boulevard underneath. In reality, the bridge has never been named, but it is popular among locals as the Lovers Bridge. With its beautiful view of Vitosha mountain in the distance, the bridge has been a favorite spot for couples to enjoy the late summer evenings and admire the beautiful sunsets from. Recently it has also become a popular location for outdoor exhibits.

2. Sense Rooftop Bar and Views

There is nothing better than witnessing romantic sunsets with your significant other. Head to Sense Rooftop Bar for beautiful views of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Located on the top of one of the most luxurious hotels in Sofia, Sense Rooftop Bar is the best spot to sip tasty cocktails while enjoying the panoramic views of the capital.

3. Lion’s Bridge

Do you remember when we said that you can find statues of lions all over Sofia? At Lion’s Bridge, you will find four of them! The stone bridge was built in 1891 and connects the city center with the Central Railway and Bus Stations.

Lions-Bridge-.
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

This hectic intersection, however, has been transformed into a very romantic, old-fashioned place with vintage streetlamps and tramlines.

4. Sofia University Botanical Garden

Every capital around the world has a well-known, often times crowded Botanical Garden. The Sofia University Botanical Garden is an exception. The small garden is located at the heart of the city, yet it is a secluded green nature paradise. The Botanical Garden is home to 1500 plant species and a real hidden gem during the spring. Enjoy views of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral while walking between colorful flower beds.

5. The Apartment

Not sure what to do on a rainy day in Sofia? Make sure that you check out the Apartment. Two bourgeois apartments have been transformed into a cozy bar place located in the city center. You will certainly get the feeling of being home with the piano, the boardgames, and the books as well as the unique design of each room. As a self-service type of place, head to the kitchen in the apartment and get some of their homemade goods. The Himalayan tea combined with the carrot cake is a perfect afternoon treat while enjoying the cozy sofas with your significant other.


5 Places to Visit with Kids

Traveling as a family with kids is not always easy. If you are unsure how to make the visit to Sofia more entertaining and interesting for your kids, read this list of 5 places perfect for children.

1.Muzeiko

We say kids, but Muzeiko is such an interesting museum that it will be lots of fun for the entire family. As the biggest science center for children in Eastern Europe, Muzeiko offers more than 130 interactive games.

Muzeiko - Guide for Sofia, Bulgaria
Credits: Muzeiko

There is a wide range of various exhibits and ways for the little ones to be engaged and play for hours. Make sure you visit the museum if you are visiting Sofia with kids, as it is quite unique, and you cannot see many like it around Europe.

2. Funtopia

A rainy day in Sofia and not sure what to do? Head to Paradise Center and its Funtopia adventure zone. Located on the top floor of the shopping center, this venue allows kids to be active while jumping and climbing. The area is extremely clean and safe with kind staff that keep an eye on all of the children.

3. South Park

One of the largest green parks in Sofia is South Park. During the springtime, this a fantastic location for children to enjoy the day out while being active on the playgrounds, rides, and attractions.

South Park,Sofia
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The park has both walking and biking trails as well as a few cafes and restaurants. It is one of the best places to spend the afternoon as a family.

4. The Bells Monument

One of the best off-the-beaten-paths in Sofia is the Bells Monument. Built in 1980s, the communist complex contains 95 bells, each one gifted from a different country. Each bell has a message as a reminder that every child deserves a good life. You can ring every bell, and each one makes a different sound. It is a great place if you are traveling with children, as they will enjoy running around trying to ring every bell.

5. Sofia Zoo

Dating back to 1888, Sofia Zoo is the largest and oldest zoological garden in Southeastern Europe. The Zoo is home to 4850 animals representing 840 different species.

Sofia Zoo
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The zoo covers a massive area of 36 hectares (89 acres) and is a great place for kids to learn more about different animals from all over the world.


Nightlife

Sofia is a capital of history, ancient ruins, and long romantic walks by day and amazing nightlife, parties until sunrise, open air concerts, and trendy bars by night.

1. One More Bar

One More Bar is a must regardless if you want to visit for lunch and afternoon coffee or late-night drinks. This is a trendy bar with a fantastic garden absolutely loved by the locals. The chill atmosphere combined with the tasty cocktails is a fantastic way to finish off a long day exploring the city of Sofia. Keep in mind that if you are visiting on a weekend, the bar does not accept reservations, so try to be there before 9:30 PM; otherwise, you will have to wait in line to get a table.

2. Raketa Rakia Bar

If you are visiting Bulgaria, you need to try rakia – it is absolutely compulsory as part of experiencing the Bulgarian life. Rakia is considered the national drink of Bulgaria and is a fruit-based liquor, but be ready. It can knock you down! Raketa Rakia Bar is popular for its wide range of rakia selection and it is quite a popular spot among tourists as well.

3. Rock’n’Rolla

If you like rock music, Rock’n’Rolla is the place for you in Sofia. Located at the heart of the city, this rock pub/bar guarantees a fantastic night with great music all night long.

Rock'n'Rolla
Credits: Rock’n’Rolla Bar

The bar has an interesting design with a few halls and different types of music in each, as well as a karaoke area and pool tables.

4. Bar Friday

Every day is Friday in Bar Friday! This is regarded as one of the best nightclubs in Sofia. It is a favorite spot for locals due to its variety of music from Reggae to Rock. If you visit the bar a few times you might notice the same people over and over again. The bar encourages forming a community that enjoys good music and good parties.

5. Pub Crawl

Pub Crawling is not really part of Bulgarian culture, but the New Sofia Pub Crawl is a fantastic way for you to experience 5 small, hidden bars and meet fellow travelers when visiting Sofia. You will certainly end up playing drinking games with locals that you meet along the way. Beware, Bulgarians are used to alcohol, so make sure you drink safely.


5 Places to Eat

Your trip to Sofia would not be complete if you did not try some traditional Bulgarian Food. Read this list of 5 ideas for places with some delicious food.

1. Pod Lipite (Under the Linden Trees)

The best place to immerse yourself in the Bulgarian mouth-watering cuisine is Pod Lipite – a century old restaurant. It has a unique traditional vibe and serves organic food produced on their own farm. On weekends, you can also enjoy the folklore music and dance show. This restaurant is extremely popular among both the locals and tourists, so if you decide to visit, make sure you make a reservation first.

2. Mekitsa and Coffee

Located in the heart of Sofia, Mekitsa and Coffee is the best spot to kick off your day. The small, cozy coffee place offers fresh Bulgarian Mekitsas (fried dough) with a variety of sweet and savory toppings. There are a few tables upstairs that offer views of Graf Ignatiev Street and the passing trams underneath. Alternatively, you can have your breakfast as takeaway and sit in the nearby park.

3. Ale House

If you fancy some beer, you should head to Ale House. The small pub welcomes you with its big, shiny fermentation tanks. Head downstairs and you will find yourself in an interesting hall with wood-paneled walls.

Ale House, Sofia
Credits: Ale House

You will certainly feel like you are going back in time. The live beer comes from taps next to each table and you can pour your own pint. Just ask for a mug and let the beer flow.

4. Hadjidraganov’s House

This is another fantastic, traditional Bulgarian restaurant. Hadjidraganov’s House has an even more unique atmosphere as its interior is a combination of artifacts from different parts of Bulgaria. The rustic charm together with the mouth-watering food make for an excellent combination with the live folk music.

5. Rainbow Factory

On a rainy afternoon, you should head to Rainbow Factory. This cozy cafe offers traditional Bulgarian food, such as Banitsa and Mekitsi. Their menu also consists of a wide variety of brunch options, such as sandwiches and salads. Make sure you also try the homemade desserts, as they are absolutely delicious. Rainbow Factory also offers a wide variety of interesting drinks.


Traditional Bulgarian Food and Drinks to Try

To sum up this full guide for visiting Sofia, we also need to include the best traditional Bulgarian food and drinks that you need to try.

1. Shopska Salad

Bulgarians like to sit down and have long dinners while chatting and socializing with their friends. The first meal is always the Shopska Salad. The ingredients are quite simple as the salad consists of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and the traditional Bulgarian white cheese. It is exactly the Bulgarian white cheese, “Sirene” in Bulgarian, that gives the salad the unique flavor and makes it extra delicious.

2. Meshana Skara

Bulgarians love meat, so when visiting Sofia, be prepared to eat a lot of it! The best way to try different variations of Bulgarian meat is to go for the Meshana Skara. This is a mixed grilled selection including kebapche, kyufte, etc. These dishes are made of mincemeat with some Bulgarian spices and herbs rolled into sausages or made as meatballs. Meshanak Skara is also served with fries, salad, and lyutenitsa on the side.

3. Banitsa

Banitsa
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Banitsa is the traditional Bulgarian pastry. Layers of filo pastry dough and a mix of Bulgarian white cheese and yogurt combine together to make this delicious cheesy and buttery food. Bulgarians like having Banitsa for breakfast. So while in Sofia, do like Bulgarians do – grab some warm Banitsa.

4. Bulgarian Yogurt

Bulgarian Yogurt is one of the symbols of the country, so do not be surprised that the locals are so proud of it. Also called “kiselo mlyako” in Bulgarian, Bulgarian yogurt has a sour taste. The richness, thickness, and unique flavor of Bulgarian yogurt comes from Lactobacillus Bulgaricus bacteria, which was found naturally in the territory of the country. Bulgarians love yogurt and like to add it to various meals or just simply have it for breakfast.

5. Bulgarian Rakia

If you have been to Bulgaria but not had the traditional rakia, it is like you never went. Rakia is the traditional Bulgarian alcohol. Rakia can be made of any type of fruit, but the most popular is grape. Do not be quick to judge rakia by its lack of color; it has a unique flavor and can be extremely strong at 40% ABV. Bulgarians like drinking rakia with their Shopska Salad, followed by red wine with Meshana Skara. If you get to meet any locals while visiting Sofia, most likely they will have homemade rakia. Bulgarians love making rakia at home and welcoming their guests with it. If you are given rakia, you should certainly drink it, as otherwise you would offend your host.


Expert tips for traveling to Sofia

Sofia is not the traditional European capital, so make sure you prepare beforehand. As mentioned, the Euro is not accepted in Bulgaria, so exchange money before you get to Sofia. If possible, try to learn a phrase or two in Bulgarian. While the vast majority of the population speaks English, you might end up in a situation in a store with an elderly lady who only speaks Bulgarian to you. Pack comfortable shoes and try to walk around the city; this is the best way to immerse yourself in the culture and experience how the locals live. Just go ahead and have fun. Allow yourself to get lost in the streets of Sofia. You might be surprised what you find!

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