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Sofia: the capital city of Bulgaria. There’s so much to say about the city that it’s actually impossible to put it into just one guide, so check the Ultimate Guide to Exploring Sofia Part 1. Packed to the brim with incredible history, amazing architecture, and a little place some experts believed to be partially responsible for the European Renaissance movement, the city is nothing less than breathtaking.
Here’s our ultimate guide to exploring Sofia: part 2.
Walk: For these two days, walking probably isn’t the best choice due to the distance between places we’re going to check out. It’s better to opt for faster transport unless you’re staying in the same neighborhood.
Public Transport: Public transport is your best bet for these days if you’re traveling on a budget and want to get around quickly. You’ll be able to make it between the different destinations easily on either the city metro or by taking a public bus. Tickets on most services usually cost 1 – 2 Lv (US $0.60 – $1.20), meaning most day trips can be done for under 10 Lv.
Taxis: Taxis are also a good choice if you have a little more money, or are in a rush to get somewhere. The fare shouldn’t go over 10 lv (US $6) and all taxis in the city of Sofi are yellow.
Rent a Car: We wouldn’t recommend renting a car for the first day on this itinerary due to how busy and crowded the city can get. However, for the second day and heading out to Rila Monastery, renting a car is easily the best and easiest option available to you.
The oldest park in Sofia is more than just a park; it’s a lake too. The Ariana Lake, to be precise. The park was first built in 1884, by the Tsar Boris III. The idea was to create a garden for the capital of Bulgaria. A place where the people of the city could go to relax and spend their off time.
More and more varieties of tree and plant life have been added to the park over time; each manager making their own attempts at leaving their mark behind. Today, you’ll find sycamores, ash trees, forest oaks, Lindens, Chestnuts, and more.
Besides the trees, make sure to visit the People’s Fountain, which is also known as the Freestone Fountain. Also, try to reserve some time to visit the Japanese Corner. A little slice of Asia located in Europe.
Visit a Flea Market
Located a bit further from the other places on this list, the Flea Market is best visited during the morning. It’s at this time that you’ll be immersed in the most ‘genuine’ Bulgarian flea market experience.
Most avid flea marketers tend to go later in the day, in an effort to avoid people. Yet the flea market in Sofia is not usually very busy. In fact, aside from locals and some intrepid outsiders, the market is relatively sparse on consumers.
This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a lot to offer though. This sparseness is possibly because of its distance from the city center. Luckily, this makes the Sofia flea market an absolute hidden gem for culture, shopping, adventure, and more. If you’re careful enough about where to look and what you’re after, you should be able to pick up some bargains before the day (or morning) is over.
National Archaeological Museum
Housed inside the largest (and oldest) mosque in the city, which previously belonged to the Ottoman Empire, you’ll find exhibits dedicated to the history and cultural heritage of Bulgaria. The National Archaeological Museum is one of our top picks in our Ultimate Guide to Exploring Sofia, especially as today is largely dedicated to exploring Bulgarian culture.
Originally established in 1949, the building here was actually originally built in 1451 by Veli Mahmud Pasha and finished in 1474.
Tickets cost 10BGN per person, but it’s free on the last Sunday of the month. Otherwise, you can count on it being open 10 am – 8 pm.
Located just next to the National Archaeological Museum, Turquoise is the perfect place to eat some food before continuing on with this ultimate guide to exploring Sofia. With a nice, cozy, and inviting air about the place, the food here just makes it that extra bit special.
We recommend eating either the Shepherd’s Salad, with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, red cabbage, parsley, and sumac, or the Fattoush – a combination of lettuce, spring onion, peeled tomatoes, Arabic bread, pomegranate dressing, and olive oil. For dessert, try the Kunafa, or if you prefer something sweeter and with a fruity flavor, the Kazan dibi.
Spend an Afternoon on Art Street
There are several popular art galleries in Sofia, including Absinthe, Dolls House, and Art Gallery Paris. Spend the afternoon walking through them all to discover Bulgaria’s influence on modern hyperrealism. All of the galleries are located along Tsar Samuil Str.
If you manage to find the time and want to see even more Bulgaria art, the National Art Gallery is open Saturday – Thursday from 10 am – 6 pm (8 pm weekends) and is another great place to catch local and national art on display.
The Boyana Quarter and Church
Whilst we covered the Botana Church quickly in our other ultimate guide to exploring Sofia, here we’re going to go into it in a little more detail. That’s because the Boyana Quarter and Church are special places for art fanatics.
Inside the church, over 240 figures are on the show. Each of them demonstrates remarkable individuality and depth. In fact, some of the artwork here is considered to be a precursor to the European Renaissance movement. That makes the Boyana Quarter and Church hidden treasures and two places you definitely cannot miss when going through this Ultimate Guide to Exploring Sofia. Remember, taking pictures inside the churches in Sofia costs money (anywhere between 4 and 19 BGN (US $2 – 12), so don’t just pull your camera out and start snapping. Ask first.
Furthermore, not only is the area a UNESCO world heritage site, it has also become an increasingly exclusive residential district. With such each access to the nearby mountains, the quarter has become a great place to either start or finish a mountain trek from. Today we’re finishing the day here, hoping that you can perfectly time when you catch incredible views of the mountains with when the sun starts to set. Make sure to check when the sun sets and organize this itinerary appropriately.
Salted Cafe Sofia
Since the majority of this day will be taken up by a visit to the Rila Mountains, the morning is going to have to be dedicated to getting some good snacks and coffee. The first place on our list is the Salted Cafe Sofia.
The Vegan deserts at this particular place were nothing short of amazing. If you’re a vegan (or just want to try some incredibly tasty snacks), then this is the place for you. If you’re after a Bulgarian Specialty, make sure to try the Bulgarian Yoghurt Soup. It’s incredible.
All You Need Is Fun
This is your alternative. All You Need Is Fun is a great place for coffee. So, if that’s what gets you going in the morning – and you’re looking for the best cup you can get in the city – this is the place for you.
Day trip to Rila Monastery
The Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila is located a day trip away from the city of Sofia. Nestled in one of the forested valleys of the Rila Mountains, the structure has stood for over 1000 years as a central hub for religion and faith in the area. The monastery has now been designated as a UNESCO world heritage site and is visited by almost 100,000 tourists every year. Covering over 8800 square meters of incredible architecture, bright archways, and scenic backdrops, the site is one of the finest Bulgaria has to offer.
The monetary was originally built in around 940, during the reign of Tsar Peter I. It was the students of the hermit St. Ivan of Rila, who has actually built it. St. Ivan was a wise man, and one whom many wanted to learn from. However, he lived as a hermit in a cave (near to the modern-day structure) and many of the students needed a place to live. And so the Rila Monastery was built.
If you rent a car from Sofia, it should take you around an hour and a half to get here. It is 120 km to the south of the city. The monastery opens between 9 am and 8 pm and tickets are 22 BGN each. If you don’t (or can’t) rent a car, then you can always join a Rila Monastery tour group which will take you there instead.
Experience One of Bulgaria’s Best Cities Properly
In case you haven’t already, make sure to check out the Ultimate Guide to Exploring Sofia Part 1, where we give offer a plan for two more days of exploring this incredible Bulgarian city. We’ll also tell you how to get involved with the incredible Free Sofia Tour whilst you’re in the city.