Is Sofia Worth Visiting? 16 Reasons Why You Must

Sofia isn’t the first name you hear when discussing European cities. When I arrived, I wasn’t sure what to make of the place. 

What struck me was the dichotomy of the city–dilapidated Soviet-era buildings next to grand architectural designs. Well-groomed parks and colorful cafes scattered down unassuming streets. 

Panoramic View of the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, Bulgaria

I spent a few months working and exploring Sofia as a digital nomad. Unlike other locations, it wasn’t love-at-first-sight, and I didn’t go through the honeymoon phase of seeing everything with rose-colored glasses.

However, I settled in quickly and ultimately enjoyed my time in Sofia. At the end of the day, I would return for another stint! There are many things to love about this diverse city and some aspects that make it challenging.

To answer the question, “Is Sofia worth visiting?” let’s unpack the pros and cons of the city. Then you can decide if it’s a place for you!

Why some travelers avoid Sofia

There can be a language barrier

English isn’t as commonly spoken in Bulgaria as in other Balkan countries. Communicating with Bulgarians was more of a struggle than I’d hoped and they didn’t seem as eager to practice a foreign language. Learning some local phrases will help you get by, but only on a functional level.

Bulgaria is also one of the few places I’ve been that exclusively uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Most menus and street signs in central, touristy areas will have Latin alphabet translations. Still, you miss a lot when you’re illiterate in the local language.

I learned Cyrillic on the seven-hour journey to Sofia—and the effort paid off. It’s not an overly complicated alphabet and, luckily, phonetic. While it won’t help you communicate verbally, reading actually does come in handy!

The streets of Sofia, Bulgaria

Some areas are rundown

Bulgaria doesn’t have the strongest economy when compared to other European countries. Many state-owned companies are in debt, and the population is declining.

You can feel this economic depression in some areas outside the center. The quality of healthcare is lower than its EU counterparts, and major roads within the country aren’t always paved or well marked.

In the city, some patchy sidewalks and crumbling buildings have remained as such for a long time. This is something locals simply accept but also adds to its aesthetic charm, in my opinion.

While it can feel ominous walking into what looks like a condemned building to get to your Airbnb, many residences have been completely remodeled inside. You really can’t judge a book by its cover in Sofia!

Scams and begging do exist

Sofia felt safe to me overall. However, you will find children begging in front of touristy restaurants. Many are Roma children exploited by relatives. It leaves you with uncertainty about what to do. None were aggressive with me, but it has been known to happen.

Foreigners are also common targets for scammers. As far as many destinations go, Sofia isn’t that bad! However, I’d still be careful walking around with open bags.

One issue that stands out to me is the taxi drivers. Pre-ordered taxis are cheap and secure, but there were times when it was pouring rain, and all the taxi apps were subsequently flooded. I was forced to hail a cab off the street. 

I always carry cash, so paying wasn’t an issue. However, I would never recommend getting a taxi this way. Communication aside, the meter seemed to be moving at an exponential rate. And while I knew I would get ripped off, I didn’t expect to be quite so ripped off. Lesson learned.

Why is Sofia worth visiting?

1. For its affordability

Bulgarian money closeup as background

Relatively speaking, Sofia is cheaper than most European cities. The cost of accommodation, dining, and transport won’t break the bank. 

Yet, the quality of many options is still top-notch. You get a good bang for your buck here. So if you’re a budget traveler or simply looking for a comfortable yet affordable experience, Sofia makes a great choice.

2. Because it’s not as touristy as other cities

Sofia, Bulgaria The church "Sveta Nedelya" cathedral of the Sofia bishopric. Traffic Boulevard Knyaginya Mariya Luiza, in the background the Vitosha Mountain.

Sofia is the tourist capital of Bulgaria, and for a good reason. It’s a city worth visiting. However, it’s not nearly as busy as western European cities or other regions in the Balkans like Croatia.

Sofia isn’t overrun with tourists. Streets, restaurants, and bars aren’t super crowded. You’ll encounter a nice blend of locals and foreigners—and you won’t be paying the “tourist” price everywhere either.

The city still maintains that local charm you get from lesser-known travel destinations. However, it’s becoming more of a hot spot for digital nomads and budget travelers—so experience the authenticity of Sofia while it’s still off-the-radar!

3. Because of nearby mountain getaways

Aerial Winter view of Vitosha Mountain, Sofia City Region, Bulgaria

Sofia is in a valley surrounded by three mountain peaks: Pirin, Rila, and Vitosha. These mountains make for fantastic getaways, and outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy trekking, climbing, and snow sports. 

The snowy ski town of Bansko is a big digital nomad hub and hosts many foreigners year-round. Just a two-hour bus ride from the city, it makes a great, affordable ski destination in the winter and a sunny mountain escape in summer.

4. For an abundance of green spaces

People sitting on the grass, camping life in sofia
Editorial credit: Mira Rahneva / Shutterstock.com

This capital is unique as far as Europe goes. What it lacks in the classic district-dividing river, it makes up for in parks and gardens. These are the real gathering spots and reference points for locals. 

Bulgarians aren’t afraid of cold weather, and there are things to do year-round. However, the vibe really comes alive in spring and summer. 

Outdoor theatres, cafes, and markets open in the public spaces. Enjoy a stroll through the park while listening to live music, having a picnic, or checking out local artisan booths. 

5. To take a free tour

Bicycle tour group in front of the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria in Sofia.
Editorial credit: Takashi Images / Shutterstock.com

Sofia is a fairly flat city, making it a great location to explore on foot or by bicycle. And what better way to do that than with a free city tour! 

The city has several options for free tours that appeal to travelers of all kinds. Take their free Walking Tour to get a feel for the general area. Explore hidden corners of the city and learn the meaning behind its art in the Graffiti Tour.

More niche tours include Balkan Bites food tourism and several bar crawls. While many of these are free, it’s customary to pay the guide a tip for their time and knowledge. 

6. Because of the religious tolerance

Sofia Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Southeastern Europe - Bulgaria

The Square of Religious Tolerance is a powerful display of Sofia’s religious inclusivity. Eastern Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Muslims, and Jews can attend services a mere block or two apart. 

Their four different places of worship stand within sight of each other. Not only are they functional, but they also add to the stunning architectural backdrop of the city. It’s a true sign of how diversity creates beauty—and Sofia is a prime example of this.  

7. To chill in a cute cafe

Coffee machine

Bulgarians love their coffee or kafe, and Sofia has no shortage of cute coffee shops. From craft brew shops to Insta-worthy spots, there’s a cafe for everyone’s taste. 

Try Dabov Specialty Coffee or Drekka if you’re a real coffee connoisseur. Head to Baker Brothers if you like a pastry or bread alongside your morning coffee. Last but not least is Rainbow Factory which is so hip that they opened up a second location.

8. For a unique bar experience

Frappe in a bar in Sofia

The bar scene in this city feels neverending. On a night out with no real plan, I stumbled upon hole-in-the-wall karaoke bars, Latin dance clubs, and upscale wine bars. There’s no shortage of outdoor patios for those hot summer nights either. 

The Apartment is an atmospheric establishment that feels like you’re walking into a friend’s home. You can cleverly find the drinks in the kitchen and then head to the living room to watch a soccer match or play a board game. 

Several bars, reminiscent of Soviet times, can be found underground. They may require face control to enter. Knock on the door and wait outside as someone peeks through to decide if you deserve entry. But don’t worry—they almost always let you in! 

9. To feast on flavorful food

Traditionasl Bulgarian Christmas vegetarian food on holiday table

Sofia is an unexpected foodie’s paradise. The restaurant scene has diversity in both cuisine and atmosphere. 

Bulgarian food is known for its pastries, dairy products, and vegetables. Vegetarians and vegans can find many options to satisfy their taste buds, such as moussaka, fresh yogurt, and hearty soups. But meat-eaters won’t be disappointed either with the meat-heavy dishes and mixed grill platters. 

Made In Home and Made In Blue are two stylish, quirky restaurants that serve upscale food with a homemade vibe. Be sure to check them out among many others on your visit!

10. Because of the interesting architecture

Saint George Church.
Editorial credit: RENATOK / Shutterstock.com

Sofia is a mix of architectural styles. You’ve got gray, socialist-looking blocks next to more modern buildings. Several decadent cathedrals are spread around the city, with St. Alexander Nevski being the most prominent. Museums and palaces are also a sight to see from the outside.

If ancient ruins are your thing, walk around Serdica metro station to see the preserved ruins below. They are said to have been an amphitheater constructed in the second century AD.

11. To see colorful street art everywhere

 Sunset view of Graf Ignatiev street in Sofia, Bulgaria
Editorial credit: stoyanh / Shutterstock.com

On a backdrop of gray, concrete buildings… you’ll find a splash of unexpected, colorful art. Sofia is known for having street art dotted around the city—on trams, buildings, electricity boxes, and even the random rock. 

If you’re a fan of graffiti art or murals, this city will keep your eyes entertained. Take a Graffiti Tour to make sure you hit the top sights. 

Through Sofia’s street art, you’ll get a window into their history, culture, and current political climate. Not to mention some lovely photos as well. 

12. To learn about Bulgaria’s rich history

 Panoramic photo of Regional History Museum of Sofia, Bulgaria
Editorial credit: Julian Popov / Shutterstock.com

Stepping foot in Sofia is like stepping back in time. You will literally be walking over ancient ruins in some parts of the city. The government works hard to preserve any ruins they find during construction and make them visible to the public.   

The many museums and galleries showcase the country’s history and culture. The Archaeology Museum and History Museum are good places to start. 

13. For the affordable, delicious wine

Decorated wineglass and bottle of red wine with black label with wax cap on a wooden swing in a park in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria has a long history of wine-making. Excellent wine can be enjoyed for a fraction of the price throughout the city. 

Many grape varietals are native and unique to the region. Visit a local vineyard to get the full experience.  

Whether you’re a wine lover or just tasting on a budget, Sofia has options!

14. Because it’s easily accessible within Europe

New modern city bus in Sofia, Bulgaria
Editorial credit: Ju1978 / Shutterstock.com

Planes, trains, and automobiles can all be found in this well-connected city. It hosts the primary airport in the country. Low-cost flights can be found from many European cities. 

The centrally located train and bus stations can connect you to the mountains, other cities, and neighboring countries. 

Renting cars can be inexpensive, but the infrastructure isn’t always the best. It might be on the more adventurous side of road trips.    

The city’s public transportation includes buses, trams, and a metro. While it is reliable, it does get hot in the summer months.

15. To wander the pedestrian-friendly streets

Street view of Vitosha Boulevard in Sofia, Bulgaria
Editorial credit: Takashi Images / Shutterstock.com

The center of the city is very walkable. You can find anything from grocery stores to entertainment in this area. 

A few pedestrian-only streets, such as Vitosha, make it easy to go for a leisurely stroll without worrying about traffic.

If you love walking like me, it’s the best way to explore this kind of city. You’re sure to stumble on some artsy boutiques, eateries, and the like. 

16. Because it’s a photographer’s playground

Woman tourist photographing with professional photo camera the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria

The city truly is a photographer’s playground. It has a variety of architecture, art, and parks—all with a backdrop of the picturesque mountains. 

It has the character, color, and energy that helps photographs come alive. While the shots will jazz up your Instagram, it’s also worth busting out that old-school camera that’s collecting dust.

Sofia Bulgaria Beautiful sunset over Temple St. St. Cyril and Methodius against the backdrop of Vitosha Mountain

Sofia is the type of place you must experience to understand. While I wasn’t in love, I appreciated what it had to offer. Ultimately, I found my niche—going back, I would know exactly how to get the most out of my time there.

Discussing the city often evokes either a love or hate reaction for most people I’ve spoken with. But I believe in taking opinions with a grain of salt. Listen to your gut instinct…if you feel an inexplicable pull, visit Sofia and decide for yourself!

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