These tips for visiting Sofia in every season will show you how to get the most out of your time in the Bulgarian capital, no matter what time of the year you chose for your trip.
Sofia is an underrated destination. Many travellers are visiting Sofia with the main reason to save money because Bulgaria is one of the most affordable countries in Europe. And when they finally arrive in Sofia they are inevitably surprised by the vivid life and multicultural face of the city.
When, Why and What to Do in Sofia, Bulgaria
Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria. Since the country is a member of the EU, the city becomes more vibrant and interesting each year. Most of the people expect a city frozen in the Communist era but find a modern and yet simple place that is easy to discover. The most important reason why Sofia is a great city to live in is its cosmopolitan atmosphere (especially the city centre) and its slow pace of life. Bulgaria is a small country (7 million citizens) and its capital is home of 1.2 million people.
Sofia is a Walkable City
Wandering around the city is simple – most of the tourist sites are at walking distances and the public transport affordable. But Sofia offers not only a European lifestyle mixed with Oriental flavour but also a lot of history. Unfortunately, many ruins are unrevealed and not possible to see but those that are possible to visit are some of the oldest on the continent.
Why Visiting Sofia in Spring is the Best?
In my opinion, the spring months – April and May – are the best time to visit Sofia. The beautiful Bulgarian nature is awakening and the weather is still not too hot as it is in the summer months. You can easily walk for long hours in the capital as well as in the Vitosha Mountain in its vicinity.
Best Holiday Celebrations Are in Spring Time
Another reason is that in April and May are some of the biggest holidays in Bulgaria – Easter, St. George’s Day (6th of May), and the Day of the Saints Cyril and Methodius, the creators of Cyrillic alphabet (24th of May). This will allow you to witness traditional customs and celebrations; will make you feel closer to the locals.
Why Go to Sofia in the Summer?
In summer, especially in August, the city is practically “empty”. Most of the Bulgarians take their summer vacations in this period and go either to the Black Sea or to the mountains. It is much less crowded but it is also a bit hot.
If you like beach parties, in summer you can also enjoy spending time at numerous public swimming pools in Sofia (there are more than 30!) where open-air bars and music are provided.
Why Visit Sofia in Autumn?
Autumn is a beautiful season in Bulgaria. The colours of the season make the nature stunning and as Sofia is a green city, its look at this season is especially attractive.
Best Month in Autumn is September
In the period of September – October the summer heat is gone but the days are still very sunny and warm. The city starts to be busy again after the summer holidays; the kids go back to school and the parents resume their working schedule.
If you like to observe the local people in their usual daily life when you travel, this season is perhaps the best for you to come to Sofia.
Why Not Travel to Sofia in Winter?!
Winter?! Why visit Sofia in winter if it is grey and humid? There are three reasons. The first one is about the budget. The tourist off-season is November – February and despite that this is the period when the most business trips to Sofia are made, the hotel rates may be lower.
Proximity to a mountain
The second reason is that as Sofia is practically settled at the foot of the Vitosha Mountain, you can practice winter sports by staying in the capital. No need to go to the ski resorts. You can have it both – urban feel and mountain adventures in one and the same day. This is the big advantage of the Bulgarian capital.
Bubbling Social Life
The third reason is that in the winter period Sofia is bubbling, boiling, twisting and changing; celebrating and working; being the scene for many concerts of international music stars and organizing film and other types of festivals. In one word – Sofia is living to its fullest. Sofia is even more beautiful at night.
What to See in Sofia?
No matter in what season you visit Sofia, you have a choice of many activities.
Start by visiting the museums. Some that are of great interest are the National History Museum, Archaeological Museum and the Rotunda Saint George. If you start your stay in Sofia with a visit of some of the museums, you will have a glimpse into the national history and culture. This will make you understand better the locals and maybe reduce the culture shock.
Another important part of the sightseeing in Sofia is visiting the churches. Visit the two most impressive Orthodox churches – the Bulgarian Patriarchate Cathedral Alexander Nevsky and the beautiful Russian Church. They are centrally located and on Sundays, many locals visit them. If you want to feel like a local, light a candle for the good health and prosperity of your friends and family, and one for the people that sadly left your life (those candles are usually placed in the sandboxes).
Shop Unique Gifts
If you like shopping for unique local gifts, you should walk along the Shishman Street. There you will find many small shops that sell handmade items from local artists, especially jewellery.
Go See a Ballet
If you are a culture-loving traveller, you might like to attend one of the ballet and opera show in Sofia. Read more about Sofia ballet experience.
Spend No Money
You can also enjoy some of the free tourist activities that Sofia offers. One of the best is to participate in the Free Sofia Tour. In Sofia during the good seasons is a pleasure to spend time outdoors because of its numerous parks and gardens. Some of the best parks are the Borisova Gradina (Boris’s garden) which is not far from the central part of the city, and the South Park a favourite place for the locals because of its beauty and large surface.
Choose from Many Day-trips
If you have more time you can plan to do some one-day trips from Sofia. The most interesting will be to UNESCO’s world heritage site Rila Monastery (absolutely stunning and unique architecture!). But it’s not the only one! There are other 10 remarkable Bulgarian monasteries around Sofia that you can visit. And if you need a rest from a busy and stressful life, Riu Pravets might be the perfect place for relaxing, in every season.
Plovdiv is a Must-see
Plovdiv (see these 17 Reasons to visit Plovdiv to understand why it is worth visiting) and Koprivshtitsa (but preferably in summer) which is town-museum and have some of the best architectural styles from the Bulgarian Renaissance.
Hike the Mountains
For mountain lovers, there are even more options. Vitosha Mountain is accessible from the city by public transport. Rila Mountain is not far away and you can enjoy some out of the beaten path hiking in Bulgaria on a day-trip from Sofia.
Best Accommodation Options in Sofia?
Sofia has plenty of accommodation options. There are several 5 stars hotels, a good choice of hostels options and an amazing range of apartment choices on AirBnb.
Where to eat in Sofia?
The first place I always recommend to people visiting Sofia is Shtastlivetsa (“The Happy Man”). My reasons to do this are three: central location, unique atmosphere and design (from the beginning of 20th century) and a vast menu with amazingly delicious food.
Traditional Bulgarian Cuisine
World Classics, Italian and Gourmet Food
Other cosy restaurants with great social vibes are Raffy and Corso (with amazing view to the Russian Church); for good Italian wine and food – La Botegga; Bodega – for delightful Spanish cuisine; and vegetarian – Sun & Moon. For real gourmet experience visit Restaurant Talents, the restaurant at the HRC culinary academy where students from all over the world are learning how to satisfy all our senses with the food served in the plate.
Where is the Best Coffee in Sofia?
For good coffee, you can go to Memento, a place with a club vibe located in the pedestrian Vitosha Boulevard. Chucky’s (29 Hristo Belchev Street) is a small but very friendly place where you will get excellent coffee made by enthusiastic baristas. My advice is – take a ‘take-away’ cappuccino and go to drink it in the nearby park in front of the National Theater Iva Vazov. For Turk or Arabic coffee, you can stop at the Greenwich Book Center where among thousands of books are served tasty snacks and good tea and coffee beverages.
Where to Go for the Best City View?
Great view of the city, especially at night, has the Rooftop bar in Hotel Sense. It is an iconic place that both foreigners and locals enjoy. Its terrace is overseeing the golden domes of the main landmark of Sofia – the Cathedral Alexander Nevsky.
Bulgarian Idioms and Slang
And for your trip to be fully remarkable, here are few Bulgarian idioms and slang sentences:
“Kak ia karash?” (literally translated: How do you drive her?), actually means: How do you do?
“Da vdigame gulubite.” (literally translated: Let’s lift the pigeons.), actually means: Let’s go.
“Rano pile rano pee.” (literally translated: Early awaken chicken early sings.), actually means ‘Weak up early in order to succeed’.
These phrases can look very difficult for pronunciation but if you succeed to use them you will make your new Bulgarian friends to “umrat ot smiah” (literally: die from laughter) i.e laugh to tears.
No Matter of the Season, Sofia is Always a Good Choice
As you see, Sofia is a great destination for a city break. Easily accessible from any European airport, budget-friendly and interesting all year round, Bulgaria’s capital has many interesting places to show you. If you come with an open mind and do not get irritated by the Cyrillic (many foreigners do as they can’t read it, but it is the same with the Greek alphabet in Greece, right?!), you will spend a great time in this small but cosmopolitan Eastern European capital.
What looks most attracting to you on this list? What will make you visit Sofia and why?
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