20 Amazing Things to Do in Sofia, Bulgaria!
The many amazing things to do in Sofia make this city a true highlight in Bulgaria. A visit is worthwhile because this up-and-coming Balkan pearl is still a real insider tip. Particularly fascinating is the mix of old and new, where thousand-year-old history mixes with buildings from the communist era and modern lifestyle. The captivating charm of the old town is unique and the many attractions as well as museums are absolutely worth seeing. Among the highlights is the imposing Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which is considered to be the landmark of Sofia. Apart from that, there are many other places to visit in Sofia, so sightseeing in the Bulgarian capital is an unforgettable experience.
In this travel guide, we have summarized the most beautiful attractions and the things to do in Sofia that you should not miss at a glance. In addition, there are many travel tips to help you plan your trip!
The Best Things to Do in Sofia
On a city trip to Sofia, you can look forward to a whole range of attractions worth seeing. Most of them are located directly in the old town and can be explored on your own during a city tour. So that you don’t lose the overview, we have summarized the best things to do in Sofia at a glance:
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is definitely the most famous attraction in Sofia. Its history dates back to 1882, when the foundation stone for its construction was laid. Completed in 1912, today it is the second-largest church in the Balkans and up to 10,000 people can be seated in this impressive place of worship. What is truly impressive is above all the exceptionally beautiful architecture, which with its numerous turrets and domes conjures up a backdrop like something out of a storybook. The interior of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is also worth seeing, where one is amazed by the rich gold ornaments, the mosaics, the marble and the elaborate carvings.
Tip: Highly recommend is also a visit to the crypt under the cathedral, where there is an extremely interesting museum of icons with Christian art.
Central Mineral Baths
One of the most stunning buildings in Sofia is the Central Mineral Bath. This charming sight is one of the most photographed attractions in the heart of the Old Town. The architecture in neo-Byzantine style, with the bright yellow colors, the mighty dome and the large fountain at the so-called Bath Square, which is still fed by warm spring water, is especially unique. Already in the 16th century, a Turkish steam bath was built on this square, and later, from 1913 to 1988, the city’s thermal bath was located here. Today, the Central Mineral Baths is an interesting museum, the so-called Regional History Museum Sofia, where you can learn many interesting facts about the history of the Bulgarian capital.
Ancient Serdica Archaeological Complex
A visit to the Ancient Serdica Archaeological Complex is one of the best things to do in Sofia. This excavation site is located right next to the Serdica metro station, just near the small Sveta Petka church. During a tour, you will be amazed by the remains of the Roman city of Serdica, which dates back to the 2nd century. Most beautiful is the spectacular ensemble of Roman excavation site, modern architecture and the classical town houses, as well as the famous Banja-Baschi mosque in the background. Part of the ruins is located under a modern glass structure, while another part is completely exposed between the Sveta Petka church and the metro station. Both areas can be visited for free!
Banya Bashi Mosque
Probably one of the most impressive attractions in Sofia is the Banya Bashi Mosque. It is the largest mosque in the Bulgarian capital Sofia and moreover one of the most important buildings of the Ottoman rule. This imposing place of worship with its high minaret was built between 1566 and 1567. It is said that once there were over a hundred mosques in Sofia, but today the Banya Bashi Mosque is the only mosque that is still active and has been preserved in its former form. Absolutely worth seeing from the outside, this historical attraction can also be visited from the inside free of charge outside of prayer times.
National Palace of Culture
The National Palace of Culture, often referred to as the NDK, is certainly one of the most impressive things to see in Sofia. This massive building complex from 1981 is currently the congress and concert center of the Bulgarian capital, where regular events take place. The spectacular architecture of the building is particularly impressive, which together with the beautiful park and the magnificent fountains conjures up a grandiose backdrop. In the publicly accessible park, right next to the Palace of Culture, meet mainly locals, but also tourists for having a walk or just to enjoy the unique atmosphere.
St. George Rotunda Church
The St. George Rotunda Church is a real gem and a visit is one of the best things to do during any city trip to Sofia. A special feature of this early Christian church made of red brick is its unique location in a courtyard between the Sofia Hotel Balkan and the seat of the President of Bulgaria. The Roman structure dates back as early as the 4th century, and is believed to have been built on the remains of a pagan temple. Today, the Church of St. George Rotunda is not only a popular and much-photographed landmark in Sofia, it is also one of the oldest structures in all of Bulgaria.
Sveta Nedelya Church
One of the most impressive attractions of Sofia’s city center is the Sveta Nedelya Church. This cathedral is centrally located, near the so-called Archaeological-Architectural Complex and is also not far from the famous Vitosha Boulevard. Its history dates back to the Middle Ages, and it is believed that the cathedral had its origins as early as the 10th century. A real eye-catcher from the outside, this Orthodox church is also absolutely worth seeing from the inside. During a free tour, you will be amazed by the imposing huge nave, the rich decorations, the gilded carved wooden wall and the numerous icon paintings.
Sofia’s Central Market Hall
Sofia’s Central Market Hall is one of the most charming traditional markets in the Old Town. The market building was built in the neo-Renaissance style as early as 1909 to 1911, and is still in use today. Impressive is also the bell tower with the three clocks, which, however, were installed only in 1915. Strolling through the large steel and glass market hall, you will find a good selection of local delicacies, fresh fruits & vegetables, spices and meat. There are also a few stores selling souvenirs, handicrafts and gems. Walking around, you can observe the hustle and bustle and also try some typical Bulgarian dishes.
The Vitosha Boulevard is the largest and probably the most popular shopping street in Sofia. This wonderful promenade bears the name of the capital’s local mountain, the so-called Vitosha Mountain, which rises majestically in the background. This car-free, absolutely charming pedestrian zone leads from the Sveta Nedelja Cathedral about 600 meters south. Along the way, you’ll enjoy a variety of shopping options with national and international brands, souvenir stores for gifts, and numerous fabulous restaurants and cafés to linger in. A fantastic place to stroll, wander and dine, even if you don’t necessarily want to shop.
Earth and People National Museum
The Earth and People National Museum is a real insider’s tip in the city of Sofia, especially if you have some interest in geology and minerals. It is one of the largest mineralogical museums in the world and the comprehensive exhibition of various rocks, gemstones, as well as gigantic crystals, is absolutely spectacular. Over 27,000 rocks and minerals are exhibited in the Earth and People National Museum on 2 huge floors, including very rare examples from all over the world and even from outer space! A real highlight is the exhibition of giant crystals, which come from Brazil.
Church of St. Petka
Sveta Petka Church is a small jewel in the old town of Sofia. Its location is unusual, as it is situated in the underpass between the Sheraton Hotel and the Serdika metro station. This medieval church dates back to the 15th century and was built during the Ottoman occupation. It is actually just a small single-nave building partially dug into the ground, where inside there is only a room of about 70 square meters. It is interesting to note that at that time churches were not allowed to be higher than a soldier on horseback. Therefore, many of these small churches were also built into the ground.
Ivan Vazov National Theater
One of the most beautiful things to see in Sofia is definitely the National Theater Ivan Vazov, named after an important Bulgarian writer. The building dates back to 1906, it has been damaged several times over the years and renovated numerous times. Absolutely stunning is the classicist architecture after the Viennese architects Hermann Helmer and Ferdinand Fellner the Younger. As a result, the gold decorated building together with the Sofia City Park became a real jewel of the city. In the square in front of it there is also a pretty fountain and numerous benches and a café invite you to linger.
National Archaeological Museum
One of the best museums in Sofia is the National Archaeological Museum. This fascinating museum was founded back in 1892, with the aim of documenting Bulgaria’s rich history. Today, visitors are amazed by the extensive collection of objects from the Stone and Bronze Ages, there are stunning ancient mosaics, pottery and sculptures, as well as valuable gold and silver treasures. Truly unique is also the location of this museum, which is housed in the former Great Mosque, the Büyük Mosque from the 14th century.
Saint Sofia Church (Sveta Sofia)
The Saint Sofia Church, also known as the Church of Sweta Sofija, is one of the most important attractions in Sofia, as even the city was named after it. It is one of the oldest church buildings in the whole Europe and the second-oldest church in the Bulgarian capital. Its history dates back to the 4th century, to the Roman times. From outside, pretty to look at, but especially the interior of this church is worth a visit. The mosaics on the floor, which date back to the early Christian era, are interesting. The graves under the church, which are about 1,500 years old, and the accompanying museum are also worth seeing.
National Art Gallery
A visit to the National Art Gallery is one of the best things to do in Sofia, especially if you love art. This gallery was founded in 1934 and is located in the former Royal Palace of Sofia. This extensive museum has over 50,000 art objects, including paintings, prints and sculptures. Contemporary art, a royal art collection and the largest collection of medieval art in Bulgaria, with more than 4000 icons, are exhibited here. In addition to the permanent exhibitions, there are always temporary exhibitions. The small park next to the museum is also pretty.
Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker
The Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker is a Russian Orthodox church in the center of the city and a highlight that should not be missed on any sightseeing tour of Sofia. It is located on what is now Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard and is surrounded by a pretty little park. Absolutely stunning is the typical Russian architecture, inspired from the 17th century. The 5 domes are gilded with gold leaf, essentially characterize the appearance of this building. However, this church is also worth seeing from the inside, where magnificent wall paintings amaze visitors from all over the world.
National Museum of Military History
The National Museum of Military History is an insider’s tip in Sofia and definitely not a place that everyone already knows about. Especially history buffs, and those interested in military equipment, will enjoy this museum. Founded in 1982, you can visit a huge outdoor area with tanks, airplanes, helicopters and even missiles are part of the collection. However, the museum complex is also worth seeing, where by means of archive photos, documents, uniforms and small arms of the most different epochs, the life of the soldiers, as well as the war history of Bulgaria is documented.
The beautiful Boyana Church is one of the most important attractions in the area around Sofia. It is located about 10 kilometers outside the city center in the Boyana district of the same name, beneath the Witosha Mountain, and can be reached either by taxi or by bus. This medieval church has been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1979. Especially worth seeing is the interior of the church, where you can see the famous frescoes dating back to 1259, which are still excellently preserved and are a fabulous example of medieval Eastern European art.
National Historical Museum
The National History Museum is one of the most interesting attractions in Sofia, and moreover, it is one of the largest museums in all of Bulgaria. The exhibition is very extensive, and so it is worth to plan enough time for a visit. Here you will find a fabulous overview of the history of Bulgaria, you will be amazed by the rich cultural heritage from prehistory, through ancient Thrace, Bulgarian Middle Ages, antiquity to modern times. The museum currently houses about 650,000 exhibits, with only 10% on permanent display.
Sofia: City Tours, Tickets & More
If you don’t necessarily want to explore the city of Sofia on your own, you have the option of joining a guided tour. On the online portal GetYourGuide you can find exciting city tours, cheap entrance tickets, wine tastings and unforgettable excursions in the surroundings of Sofia!
The reviews are also really great, and you can compare them before booking.
Where to Stay in Sofia
In Sofia, you’ll find a great range of fantastic places to stay. From cheap backpacker hostels to modern apartments, bed and breakfasts and fantastic hotels, you’ll find it all. If you’re looking for a great place to stay in Sofia, we can give you these tips along the way… It’s worth a look!
- 5-Star Hotel: The Grand Hotel Sofia is the perfect choice for a very special vacation in Sofia. This time-honored hotel delights with charm and pure luxury.
- Backpacker Hostel: The 5 Vintage Guest House is an insider tip for all those who like to stay cheap and good. The location in the city center and the beautiful furnishings are great!
- Chic Apartment: The Courthouse Apartments Slavi is one of the coolest apartments in Sofia. The furnishings and the great location in the old town are fantastic.
- Nice City Hotel: The Art ‘Otel is a lovely city hotel in Sofia. Guests love the central location, delicious breakfast, and spacious rooms.
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