The best, budget-friendly activities in Bulgaria’s capital.
Sofia may not be at the top of many travelers’ bucket lists, but it should be. As the second oldest capital city in Europe, Sofia has a rich history and a thriving sense of culture. As a relatively poor nation near the Balkans, Bulgaria is also incredibly cheap. So Sofia is the perfect place for budget travelers who want to learn more about the beauty of Eastern Europe.
For those wishing to visit Sofia, Hostel Mostel is a great place to stay because of its cheap prices, central location, and welcoming atmosphere. Once you arrive in this beautiful and lively city, here are 15 fun things to do to.
1. Go On The Free Walking Tour. Every day at 11am and 6pm, meet in front of the Palace of Justice for a free walking tour. The charismatic and knowledgable tour guides take you around all the most significant landmarks while highlighting key historical moments. You can see old Roman ruins, learn about common personality traits of Bulgarians, and discover how an old monarch saved all of Bulgaria’s Jews during WWII.
2. Admire The Religious Temples. Sofia is known for religious tolerance, which reflects in the close proximity of the Banya Bashi Mosque, Sofia Synagogue, and numerous Catholic Churches. Different places of worship and religious monuments pop up all over the city, with the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral being the most iconic, and the Russian Orthodox Church “Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski” being one of the most visually pleasing.
3. Relax In A Tea House. For a peaceful escape from the bustling city, hibernate in a tea house. Veda House and Tea House are two popular places in central Sofia to cozy up with a cup of tea and enjoy a heartwarming atmosphere. Both places offer an extensive selection of interesting tea flavors and a full menu of healthy food as well.
4. Hike Vitosha Mountain. Take the 5 tram line from Makedonia Plaza until the last stop, then just start walking. You will enter a peaceful woodland path with a steady incline, which eventually turns into a steeper, rocky climb. Numerous routes criss cross all over the mountain, so you may need to ask people for directions on how to reach the top. But after about two hours of difficult but manageable climbing, the view of the city and the surrounding mountains is the perfect reward.
5. Browse a Bookstore. A wonderfully refreshing aspect of Sofia is the large amount of bookstores. The Elephant Bookstore is a quirky shop selling books in English as well as maps, posters, and other random gifts, and the Open-Air Bookmarket in Slaveikov Square is great for browsing through traditional Bulgarian works.
6. Chill in A Park. The abundance of green spaces makes Sofia feel more spacious and welcoming. When the weather is nice, locals and tourists alike flock to the parks to walk dogs, run, nap, have a picnic, and enjoy the company of friends. Some lovely, centrally-located parks include the National Palace of Culture Park, Park Tsentralna Banya, and the many little clusters of gardens in front of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
7. Tour The Museums. Because Bulgaria’s vast history spans over multiple different ruling empires, Sofia is loaded with museums highlighting different aspects of Bulgaria’s culture, lifestyle, and past. Popular museums are the National Art Gallery and the Museum of National History, and the cheap entrance fees often have student discounts available.
8. Eat At A Vegetarian Restaurant. Though Balkan cuisine tends to include a lot of meat, Sofia has some amazing vegetarian restaurants. The Salted Cafe has wonderful smoothies and raw vegan desserts, the Sun and Moon Cafe has freshly baked breads and the most delicious vegan version of the Bulgarian soup called shkembe chorba. Dream House has an extensive menu and a Sunday vegetarian buffet for 10 lev, and Made In Blue puts an artisan, healthy twist on lots of Bulgarian classic meals.
9. Look For Street Art. Sofia’s alleyways are crawling with street art, so wander through the city and you are sure to stumble across colorful murals and impressive artwork. For a more in-depth guide to the historical and cultural motives behind the street art, join the free Graffiti tour at 3pm every day.
10. Join The Balkan Bites Food Tour. To taste traditional Bulgarian dishes, join this free walking tour that starts at 2pm every day. With a knowledgable tour guide, you walk to four different restaurants to sample local snacks, desserts, and wine. Dairy makes a frequent appearance, as yogurt and white cheese are specialties of Bulgarian cuisine.
11. Go On A Pub Crawl. Embark on a local pub crawl to witness Sofia’s thriving nightlife. The New Sofia Pub Crawl begins every night at 9pm, and they take you to lots of unique bars and clubs around the city. If you are on a budget, most hostels offer free pub crawls where you can meet lots of other fellow travelers while partying together.
12. Take A Day Trip To Rila Monastery. Located a couple hours away from Sofia in the Rila Mountains, this famous Eastern Orthodox Monastery is an incredibly unique sight. The architecture and religious illustrations of the massive complex are stunning, and informational plaques cling to the stone walls narrating the life of the Hermit, St. Ivan of Rila, who founded the monastery. Talk to the staff at your hostel, or any tourism agency for details about this popular day trip.
13. Walk Along Vitosha Boulevard. This wide pedestrian street near the city center is lined with trendy shops and nice restaurants, so you can spend some time shopping for cheap souvenirs or just window shopping here. You will find everything from dried fruit and nut stores, to classic tacky gift shops, to stores selling rose and yogurt infused body lotions, soaps, and oils.
14. Buy Street Pizza. After a few hours of walking around Sofia, you will notice little take away pizza shops reside on every block. Street pizza is delicious, cheap, and it is everywhere. A giant slice can cost as little as 1.80 lev, which is less than one euro, so it is the perfect affordable snack.
15. Drink Mineral Water at the Bathhouse. The Central Bath now serves as a museum rather than a public bath house, but you can still drink the warm, mineral-rich water from the fountains outside. The water is said to heal all sorts of ailments, and it is a great place to fill up a water bottle for free.