Sofia - a city that forgives shallow pockets without compromising on fun. That’s not it's official tagline, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that a trip to Bulgaria’s capital makes sound economic sense for anyone on a budget. USA Today even crunched the numbers to back us up.
With a population of 1.2 million, the city is large enough to feel prestigious and small enough to navigate for a weekend trip or as part of a wider country tour. So without further ado, let’s introduce you to the best attractions Sofia has to offer.
Admire the architecture on a self-guided walking tour
Being built at the foot of the commanding Vitosha mountain gives Sofia an epic natural backdrop to admire from viewpoints surrounding the city. However, if you’re more into churches than cliff faces then there’s plenty of sightseeing to be done in the centre of town. Begin by taking in the magnificent Alexander Nevski Cathedral, a trademark of the capital and of Bulgaria more generally. Neo-Byzantine and mighty fine, make sure to snap a photo of the 45 metre high gold plated central dome from up close.
A five minute walk down the cobbled ul. Oborishte will take you past the grand National Art Gallery where admission is a meagre £2.50 and exhibitions are exhaustive. Next stretch out and relax in the elegant City Garden to catch your breath or head straight for the National Mineral Baths. This grand spa turned museum looks out across a smartly landscaped park with the 16th century Banya Bashi Mosque tucked in the corner to add a twist to this zany yet appealing architectural cocktail.
Munch on budget bites
Beautiful Bulgarian Lev makes everything good value if you’re transferring from Sterling or Euro, meaning you can have your pick of Sofia’s top venues for a casual bite without sweating over the bill.
33 Gastronauts is a local favourite just a stone’s throw from the University’s main campus. A warm casual atmosphere with outdoor seating in a viney garden makes for a tasteful, unpretentious affair (recommended for couples). Motto Club’s green outdoor layout is in the same vein, but expect party vibes after 9pm as the DJ ups the volume and the cocktails multiply…
Looking for a quicker turnaround? Counter the winter chill with some hearty broths at Soup Me! just off Vitosha Boulevard in the centre of town. Simple but effective recipes will fuel your afternoon’s sightseeing when temperatures drop.
Dive into Balkan nightlife
Hedonistic nights are often what beckon backpackers to the Bulgarian capital, with a healthy mix of alternative and commercial clubs and bars to keep the hipsters and fashionistas happy. If you’re looking for Ibiza-scale partying then head to the huge Sin City for a taste of commercial Balkan nightlife.
Culture Beat melds quirky art collages with a cosy setting and the requisite amount of disco to guarantee a successful evening. There’s even a terrace with a view for summer parties. Expect kitsch and cool rolled into one.
If you’ve had enough of house beats and Moscow Mules, head for Backstage for a host of live music events spanning genres from jazz to rock and blues.
Find peace in the park
Sofia may seem like a barren concrete jungle in places, but it’s got swathes of luscious green space to escape into for an afternoon’s relaxation. Borisova Gradina is Sofia’s best known park and is stacked with sculptures, swimming baths and even an observatory. Stroll along neat treelined avenues before taking a boat out onto Ariana Lake to make the most of a sunny afternoon in Sofia.
Alternatively, the University Botanical Gardens are just minutes from the main city centre attractions and cost under £1 to visit. With over 1500 plants from around the world within its hothouses, the place is packed with vivid colours and exotic scents.
Climb Vitosha for epic scenery
Anyone who’s been inspired by the majestic landscapes of recent survival flick the Revenant will want to head to Vitosha Mountain, the snow-capped giant that towers over Sofia. Entrances to the major hiking trails are a mere 15 minute taxi ride from the city which should set you back no more than £10, but the ultra-frugal can always take a bus too.
A sunset trip will appeal to photographers as stunning views across the city below are drenched in golden light. Another highlight is the aptly named Stone River on the western side of the peak with a mass of boulders stretching hundreds of metres to inspire wonder.
We’ve covered cathedrals, cafés and clubbing so now all that’s left is for you to get a roof over your head. For the best value comfort in a great location book a room at easyHotel Sofia and stay a minute’s walk away from the city centre.
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