Exploring Sofia, Bulgaria for Less than $25

About Sofia

Bulgaria is off the beaten path for most western travelers and that is a shame, as the country is beautiful and quite inexpensive. Black Sea beaches attract sunbathers in the summer months, and there is top notch skiing available at the mountain resorts of Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo.

Many travelers never make it to Sofia, the capital and largest city of the country. Sofia is located at the foot of Mt. Vitosha, which gives residents the possibility to ski just minutes away from home. For visitors, sightseeing opportunities abound in the city center and most of the touring can be done by foot.

Mt Vitosha
Mt Vitosha

 

Sofia is developing quickly, with modern offices and apartment buildings, and large shopping malls offering everything under the sun. Even so, horse-drawn wagons still make their way along cobblestone streets, Russian-made Lada cars are seen frequently, and there are numerous open air markets, giving a strong sense of Old World traditions. The city boasts huge expanses of green parks, the spaceship-like NDK cultural center, many museums and galleries, and striking architecture.

I had the amazing opportunity to live in Sofia for two years and highly recommend the city to visitors. A short visit to Sofia is extremely worthwhile, and affordable.

What to See

Sofia is the hub of Bulgaria’s government as well as home to most of the country’s cultural activities. The city’s history dates back to the 5th century BC, and ruins of the ancient settlement of Serdica can easily be seen in the pedestrian passageways under the street intersections in the very center of the city. Many of the golden Thracian treasures from the country’s past are on display at the National Historical Museum (outside the city center).

Almost all of the main tourist sites are located in Sofia’s center. Among the highlights is the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, constructed in the late 19th century to honor Russian soldiers who died while fighting for Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman role. The cathedral, with its gold domes, is probably the main symbol of the city.

St. Alexander Nevsky Cathederal (1)
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathederal

 

The 4th century Rotunda of St. George is considered the oldest building in Sofia, and is located right behind the Sheraton Hotel. Not far away is the Sofia Synagogue, the third largest synagogue in all of Europe. The gold-tiled streets of the Largo lead past symbols of Sofia’s socialist past – the National Assembly, the Central Department Store, and the President’s Office.

St. George Rotunda
St. George Rotunda

 

The cheapest way to see all of the Sofia sites is by taking a Free Sofia Tour. This English-language tour, starting at 11 am and 6 pm at the Palace of Justice and lasting around 2 hours, will take you to the most important city sites, including the Sveta Nedelya Church, the Banya Bashi Mosque, Sofia Synagogue, Ancient Serdica Open Museum, the Rotunda of Saint George, the National Art Gallery, the Ivan Vazov National Theater, the Russian Church, the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and the National Assembly. No reservations are necessary, just show up!

Banya Bashi Mosque
Banya Bashi Mosque

 

Where to Eat

I fell in love with Sofia’s restaurants, which feature both international cuisine and local Bulgarian favorites. Inexpensive street fare includes pizza by the slice, cups of corn kernels, and banitsa, a breakfast-time filo dough pastry.

A cheap chain of wholesome restaurants is the Happy Bar & Grill with two locations in the city center. Other inexpensive restaurants include Fly Bar and Diner, Mr. Pizza, and Pizza and Restaurant Ugo. Restaurants in Studentski Grad, the student campus area for most Sofia universities, are even cheaper.

chushki
Rolled or stuffed cabbage leaves and bell peppers, grilled meat, and pastries with cheese filling. Photo by Vesela Tabakova.

 

At sit-down meals you can expect to pay 4 – 5 BGN ($2.67 – $3.30) for a salad, 4 – 10 BGN ($2.60 – $6.70) for a full-size pizza and about the same price for the many chicken or pork dishes offered on the menu.

IMG_7647
A plate of Banitsa- the most popular breakfast foods (often consumed as a dessert or a snack when made with a fruit filling). It is made of homemade dough or with ready-made filo pastry with various fillings (cheese, spinach, pumpkin or rice). Photo by Vesela Tabakova.

 

Where to Drink

If you like to drink, there is no shortage of pubs and bars in Sofia to quench your thirst. Many English speakers gather at J.J. Murphy’s, a traditional Irish pub with live music, sports events, and special offers.

In the city’s pubs a half liter mug of beer should cost about 2.50 BGN ($1.67), while in the nightclubs drinks are more expensive.

Quite possibly the best way to discover Sofia’s nightlife is by taking the New Sofia Pub Crawl. You’ll be joining locals as they make their way to favorite pubs, bars, and clubs. The nightly crawl begins at 9 p.m. in front of the statue of Stefan Stambolov in the middle of Park Crystal. The price is 20 BGN ($13.30) and includes some free drinks and access to places you wouldn’t dare enter on your own.

Russian Church (1)
Russian Church

 

Where to Sleep

The Canapé Connection Hostel is located not far from the city center, and is pictured below. The hostel offers what are reportedly the widest hostel beds to be found anywhere, and they are available in private rooms (30 BGN / $20 per person) or in dormitory rooms (20 BGN / $13.30 per person). There’s a 10% discount for ISIC (International Student Identification Card) holders. The price includes homemade breakfast, unlimited Internet access, sheets and towels, and 24-hour hot showers.

4 Bed Room at Canape Connection
4 Bed Room at Canape Connection

 

Another centrally located hostel is the Sofia Guesthouse where dormitory accommodations are available (18 BGN / $12 per person). Lodgings include breakfast, clean and fresh sheets and towels, a free map of Sofia, and use of wireless Internet.

How to Get Around

Unfortunately, there is no direct bus line or metro connection to get you to and from Sofia’s International Airport, located about 5 kilometers from the city center. You can take a taxi to the center, but make sure you get into one of the licensed cabs located to the right of the terminal as you leave. The ride should cost about 15 BGN ($10), but make to clarify the fee beforehand as it is always much harder to argue the price once the journey has been completed.

Museum of Natural History

Sofia also has international bus and rail links to destinations in both eastern and western Europe.

Sofia is primarily a walking city, and most of the major sites can be seen on foot. There are many tram lines and two metro lines that take you into the suburbs. A single ride is 1 BGN ($0.67) or you can buy a 10-ride ticket for 8 BGN ($5.30).

Bulgaria should be featured as a travel destination for whoever wants to experience the best that Eastern Europe has to offer, at very affordable prices. Visit Sofia, your gateway to Bulgaria!

Have you ever visited Bulgaria? How did you like it? Share your experience in comments with us! 

 

About the Author

Ellis ShumanEllis Shuman and his wife, Jodie, lived in Sofia for two years 2009-2010. During that time they maintained a very active blog, Ellis and Jodie’s Bulgarian Adventures, detailing their travels. Ellis is the author of Valley of Thracians, a suspense novel set in Bulgaria. The book is available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions. Ellis writes frequently about Bulgaria, Israel, and other interesting things at his blog.

Get insured

"It will never happen to me" said every person before it happened to them. Accidents happen at home and abroad. The difference is that they are usually more costly when you're in a foreign country. That's why travelling without insurance is a bad idea. There's just no excuse to put yourself in such a risk.

>>voice from the crowd<< Travel insurance is too expensive!

>>voice of the common sense<< If you can't afford travel insurance then you can't afford to travel.

Don't take chances and get yourself insured now. Check out our budget travel insurance page.

Tags from the story
, , , ,
More from Agness Walewinder

Beating the Budget: 8 Tips for Travel when You’re a Financially Challenged Student

Tips on how to make the most of your student budget, at...
Read More

28 Comments

  • Sofia is high on our must see list. Why? Because it is in the top 4 of the most impressive yet affordable cities in Europe. Thanks for all the tips! I have a feeling we might be going sooner!

  • I love Happy Bar and Grill. It was my staple when I was in Sofia. They have a huge but affordable menu. Sofia remains as one of my favourite Balkan cities, which I returned to, twice! You’d love it, Agness! :)

    • Have you been to Sofia? That’s so cool. Great to hear you like the place recommended in this post. We hope to make it there soon ;-)

      • Yeah, I did! :) I went there, twice…no, three times! :) It is very cool!! There’s also an amazing cafe at the National Art Gallery. You should check it out if you go there this summer!

      • I will, definitely. Would love to have my latte there :)x, thanks for sharing!

  • What a wonderful guide! Although I have many Bulgarian acquaintances, I’ve never visited the country myself. I love those little dough wraps filled with cheese though, and am sure I would live off those during a visit!:-)

    • Good to know that, maybe you can make it to Bulgaria one day and enjoy those little dough wraps. They just look way too good to me! :)

  • Thanks for the post Agness. It looks like Bulgaria is still relatively inexpensive compared to the countries surrounding it that are now in the EU. I’m hoping to explore eastern Europe alot more in the coming years seeing as its actually quite inexpensive to jump on a flight from the UK. If we find ourselves in Poland I’ll make sure I send you an email and see if we can meet up!

    • Yeah, it’s a pretty cheap place to explore especially when you’re a budget traveler. I’m always happy to meet you either in Poland of in any European country! :)x

  • Sofia… such a nice city! I was there a few years ago and whereas I loved the sights, the weather was totally against me, so I had to cut my trip short. But it’s definitely worth a visit and, indeed, such an inexpensive destination!

    • The bad weather can spoil your journey sometimes, we know something about it, but good to know you enjoyed yourself anyways!

  • I remember finally arriving there and being spectacularly overjoyed at the prices, especially since it was towards the end of a trip and it was great to see prices drop. I especially like the group seating at certain restaurants; the tables are big, and random people will sit down with you. We couldn’t say anything to each other, but we still knew how to do a cheers.

    • Yeah, it’s always great to see prices drop towards the end of your journey, especially when you don’t have much money left. Thanks for sharing, we need to check the tables out in restaurants next time!

  • You information is not good…

    “How to Get Around
    Unfortunately, there is no direct bus line or metro connection to get you to and from Sofia’s International Airport, located about 5 kilometers from the city center.”
    From airport you can take the bus line 84 and 384 , to Sofia.

    INFO: http://bit.ly/16s0Dbw and http://bit.ly/18xWCSE

  • I am a Bulgarian, and I can say that I disagree only with the fact that Happy Bar & Grill is a great place to eat and that it is cheap. For a foreigner may be, but compared with the prices in Bulgaria, it is rather expensive! Besides there aren’t vegetarian meals on the menu. Waitresses are like brainless dolls. I can recommend Jimmy’s and Krivoto if you want to eat smth. delicious and cheap. :)

  • Great post! Sofia is my favorite city in Bulgaria. I just want to add that there is already a metro connection from the Sofia’s International Airport to the city center. Also other great places to eat are SkaraBar, Raketa Rakia Bar and The Thirsty Dragon. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *