Before I get to the itinerary which contains a list of things to do in Sofia, I have to admit Bulgaria has never been in my bucket list, and will never be: it is just not my country, and all my trips there were close to disaster. In Moldova Bulgaria is famous for its Black Sea resorts, and naturally my first trip was to a small town Sozopol at the seaside. As there were no flights to the destination, we took the bus, and from this specific moment my absolute hate for buses starts. It took us 26(!) hours to get to Sozopol, and when we finally arrived, tired, hungry and dirty, we were told that there was a booking mistake and our room was rented out to someone else! We had to wait about an hour for our hosts to solve the issue: they moved us to another hotel, and after two days we had to move back. And finally, our bus back to Moldova was late, and there was no one to ask about it!
My first trip to Sofia was a necessity and wasn’t that bad except the fact that I caught cold and water supply was cut off in the hotel. After that I swore to myself that I would never step on the Bulgarian soil again, but business needs led me there anyway. I had one free day in Sofia before flying back home so I decided to give the city another try and went to the center. So, here it is, my 1 day itinerary with things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria.
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Where to stay in Sofia, Bulgaria
Frankly, Sofia is one of the cheapest cities I have ever visited, and it is cheap in every aspect. You have find really pretty apartments right in the city center for about 30-40 EUR a night. I paid the same amount for a bed in a 7-bed room in a Prague hostel.
I made a selection of hostels, apartments and hotels with raving reviews. All of them are located right in the center of Sofia. And here they are:
– For as little as 10 EUR you can book yourself a bed in Hostel №1 in Sofia that is about 500 meters away from the Archaeological Museum. Solo travellers like it, and their Wi-Fi is really good 🙂
– Peter Pan Hostel, located 250 meters away from the famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, offers rooms with shared and private bathrooms for 21-45 EUR per night.
– Top center APT – ground floor, where the color of the furniture is my favorite purple 🙂 is located less than a kilometer away from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The apartment is big – 45 sq.m. and has many-many facilities available, and costs 30-45 EUR per night.
– Another apartment in the same price range is Mountain View Apartment in Top City Center. Yes, you guessed it, you can see mountains from here 🙂 And it is very central.
– For 65 EUR a night you can live in Dondukov-Korsakov Suite, a luxurious apartment located within walking distance of the main tourist attractions of Sofia. It looks like guests like everything about this place.
– Just Perfect Apartment is another luxurious apartment in the heart of Sofia. It is huge – 85 sq.m. – and has 2 bedrooms. For 80 EUR a night you can have it for yourself 🙂
– If you prefer hotels to apartments, I’ve got one for you. The 5-star Grand Hotel Sofia is located within walking distance of the main tourist attractions. In addition to its fantastic rooms equipped with everything a guest could think of, there are about 400 original oil paintings on its walls. And, depending on the room, there is free entrance to the gym. You can even get a yoga set 🙂
Things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria: where to start?
I did not research the places to see in advance, so I simply googled the touristic spots, marked them on my map, and headed to the center of Sofia. I decided to begin the journey at the gardens around the Eagles’ bridge. They are just next to the subway station of Sofia University, so it is a very convenient place to start. One of the gardens is dedicated to sports if I may say so, the other one is interesting for the monument to the Soviet Army. As the name suggests, it was erected to commemorate the soldiers who fought for Bulgaria’s liberation from the Fascists of Germany, but considering the graffiti on the monument some Bulgarians would disagree with this statement.
Just opposite to the gardens you will see the University of Sofia, quite an impressive building.
Follow the bulevard till you get to the monument to the Tsar Liberator. The statue commemorates Russian Emperor Alexander II who liberated Bulgaria from the Ottoman rule. From here you will see the main church of the city: the Cathedral of the Saint Alexander Nevsky. Alexander Nevsky was a prince of Novgorod and Kiev, one of the most respected rulers in the Russian history, and lived in the 13th century. I expected the cathedral to be at least 500 years old, but its construction actually began in 1882 and was finished in 1912. It was built to honour the Russian soldiers who died in the war between Russia and Turkey in 1877-1878, the war that liberated Bulgaria from the Ottomans. Pictures are not allowed inside.
If you are interested in arts, then you can visit the National Arts Gallery which is just behind the cathedral.
Things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria: let’s go on
Just in front of the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral you will see another Christian church Sveta Sofia or how it is otherwise called the Basilica of Hagia Sophia. Its construction started in the 4th century, and it was built on site of some older churches. As with the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, it is not allowed to take pictures inside the basilica, but rules exist to be broken: and don’t forget these are fully functioning churches so it is very rude to wander around and photograph.
Next to the church there is the monument to the Unknown Soldier commemorating Bulgarian soldiers who died protecting their country.
After visiting the basilica cross the Oborishte street and head to the small square. When I was in Sofia there was a small market where locals sold souvenirs. I still hope that the commemorative coins they sold me are authentic 🙂 Then go back to the street of Tsar Liberator and head to the Russian Church. The church was built simultaneously with the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on site of a mosque, and had to become the official church of the Russian Embassy.
Continuing with things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria
It’s museum time again! Here you may choose between the National Ethnology Museum and the National Museum of Natural History, or visit both of them. I can only suppose they must be really interesting, but as I am not a fan of museums, I did not go inside.
And now it is time to experience that ancient Sofia or Serdica as it was known then. It was a surprise for me to find out that Serdica was a very popular place in the Ancient times: Constantine the Great called it ‘my Rome’, two Roman emperors Galerius and Aurelian were from Serdica, and it was the first city to officially recognize the Christianity. I guess lots of historical artifacts can be found in the National Archaeological Museum, and I still regret that I didn’t visit it.
Just opposite the Archaeological museum there is a building with an inner courtyard. Go in that courtyard and you won’t regret it! This is the place to see the oldest building of Sofia – the Church of St. George. It was built in the times when Constantine the Great was considering Serdica to become his permanent residence. In the end, Byzantia hosted his capital, but this fact just shows how important Serdica was at that time. The church itself is a part of a larger Roman archaeological site and hosts frescoes that date back to the 12th century.
When you find out your way back to the main street you will see probably the most famous monument in Sofia: Saint Sofia Monument. Just in front of it there is another old church – Sveta Petka church, dedicated to the 11th century saint St. Petka.
If you take the road on your right when you face the Sofia Monument, you will see the Central Mosque of the city. If you go to the left, you will walk around the Sveta Nedelya Cathedral, presumably built in the 10th century.
That’s it! From here you can take the subway to the place you want: the station is – surprise-surprise! – Serdica 🙂
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