Journeys, Travel Guides

How to spend a Great Weekend in Sofia, Bulgaria

Youthful, relaxed and eclectic, Sofia is unexpectedly welcoming, and it has such a great atmosphere that it makes you love it right away.

Visiting Sofia felt like being in another Bulgaria. That’s because it has a different vibe from all the other cities and resorts I’ve seen in this country, somehow closer to the Western European ambiance (this was my 13th trip in Bulgaria).

People are friendly and helpful, pubs are beautifully designed and serve great food, and the city has enough attractions to keep you exploring for days.


Sofia Weekend Guide

St.-Alexander-Nevsky-Cathedral-Sofia,-Bulgaria


Top Things to See & Do in Sofia + Weekend Itinerary

Sofia is for everyone!

Cultural travelers will be happy to discover numerous churches, museums, and art galleries, hikers will be tempted to go on a day trip to Vitosha mountain, and lifestyle travelers will rejoice in experiencing coffee shops and pubs with great food and gorgeous vintage design.

If you’re looking to spend a weekend in Sofia, and you’re wondering what you can visit in two days, then you should know that the laid-back vibe of the city will catch on. So maybe it’s better to prepare yourself for a weekend of slow wanderings.

If you book your accommodation in Sofia’s city center, then you won’t need public transportation to get to main city’s attractions or to all those cool pubs. That will also get you into the mood of the city faster and slow you down even more.


Day 1 – How to spend your first day in Sofia

  • Visit Old City Center Sofia and enjoy a drink with the locals
  • Stop by the Elephant Bookstore, the most beautiful bookshop in Sofia
  • Visit Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church
  • See St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral during Blue Hour
  • Capture the Statue of Sveta Sofia at dusk
  • See the Former Party House at the Largo in Sofia during Blue Hour
  • Eat at Made in Blue – beautiful place & great food
  • Stop by the Monument to the Tsar Liberator
  • Go Street Art Hunting in Sofia

Read more about top things to do in Sofia during your first day >


Sveti Sedmochislenitsi, a beautiful church in the heart of Sofia

Our first stop was Sveti Sedmochislenitsi, one of the many onion-domed churches scattered around Sofia.

Going inside feels like stepping into another place as the interior is almost completely covered in blue and embellished with religious iconography in warm tones. Its corners look surreal, and I’m sure this must be one of Sofia’s most stunning churches.

Sveti-Sedmochislenitsi-Church---Sofia,-Bulgaria


Elephant Bookstore & a Warm Welcome to Sofia

Our second stop, Elephant Bookstore Sofia, is a darling English-only bookshop hidden in that never-ending maze of cobbled streets around the old city center.

The bookshop’s keeper gave us the warmest welcome to Sofia we could possibly have hoped for. Sometimes, it’s all you need to feel good about a destination, and this guy surely made an impression on us.

We talked about the bookstore, a cool place he had visited in Bucharest a couple of weeks before, he offered me a lovely postcard, and he also posed for me – such a cool and rare opportunity, right? I loved his demeanor and awesome outfit, also matching Elephant Bookstore’s concept and somehow turning him into a charming character.


Made in Blue, one of the most amazing pubs in Sofia

After driving for 7 hours and wandering the old city for an hour or so, it was time to eat something. Our first food stop was Made in Blue, one of Sofia’s most beautiful pubs. Another warm welcome from the waitress here convinced us that Sofia’s most attractive quality has to be its amazing people.

Made in Blue is about great food and interiors that can melt the heart of any design lover. After ordering mussels in wine and one of the most creative goat cheese salads ever tasted, I went inside to explore its vintage-styled rooms.

I found the interiors touched by the golden hour light, rooms empty because of their inviting summer terrace, and began exploring each interior at a slow pace, trying to capture its every detail.

The old blue house harbors many vintage treasures, blending in century-old couches and armchairs with antique objects or industrial designed chairs and tables, small collections of tools adorning the walls, and a heart-warming mural of a blue child in every sense of the word.

Don’t know about you, but there are few things that seem more enchanting to me than exploring old houses, interiors with a soul, harboring so many stories within their walls. And walking alone inside Made in Blue felt like this kind of treasure hunt.

When returning to the table, my mussels in wine and goat cheese salad were already in front of me, and Vlad’s Turkish-styled meatballs with pine nuts, hummus and pita were still in the kitchen. To me, that meant they cook everything on the spot, so 20 minutes waiting time is ok, especially when you get such an unexpectedly flavored meal.

Bulgarian cuisine varies a lot from one region to another, but the dishes tasted in Sofia do bear the most Turkish influences.

One thing you must try in Bulgaria is their cheese. And if you stop by Made in Blue, show them the picture below of that creative goat cheese salad. I mean, combining grilled chèvre with blueberries, crispy pita, caramelized nuts, peppers, and quinoa is a surprising and delicious combo.

Lazy cats enjoying the summer terrace at Made in Blue, some begging around our table, made me want to linger more in this colorful yard covered in vine. But with only a weekend to spend in Sofia, I had to pull myself out of that comfy chair and begin exploring the city.

Made-in-Blue-Sofia

Made-in-Blue-Sofia---Interior-styling


St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia – One of the Largest Orthodox Cathedrals in Europe

Passing by the city’s main attraction, St. Alexander Nevsky, I felt compelled to stop and admire this splendid Orthodox Cathedral, one of the largest of its kind in Europe.

We spent a good quarter of an hour taking pictures and going around this impressive religious landmark with its stunning onion domes colored in gold and green.

We didn’t go inside until the next day, but capturing this beautiful cathedral during Blue Hour has been really rewarding, especially with few people around.

The next day, we went inside St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and while the interior is indeed beautiful, I found it somehow similar to few corners of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

To be honest, Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church has a much more impressive interior, or maybe I found it more attractive because of its vividly painted walls.

St.-Alexander-Nevsky-Cathedral-in-Sofia-during-Blue-Hour


Sveta Sofia Statue and Former Party House at the Largo in Sofia

Taking advantage of that pretty light, we stopped by the Former Party House at the Largo – the impressive architectural trio of Socialist Classicism buildings – and caught a glimpse of Sveta Sofia statue nearby.

Our first day in Sofia ended in our cozy Airbnb apartment, close to city center.Former-Party-House-at-the-Largo-in-Sofia,-Bulgaria


Day 2 – How to spend your second day in Sofia

  • Visit Banya Bashi Mosque
  • Explore Central Mineral Baths / Sofia History Museum
  • See St. Nedelya Church
  • Stop by Sofia Synagogue
  • See Saint Sofia Church
  • Taste Banitsa at Central Sofia Market Hall
  • Admire the Russian Church in Sofia
  • Visit St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the top attraction in Sofia
  • Stop by Ivan Vazov National Theatre
  • Eat at The Little Things – lovely place & good food
  • Have drinks at The Cocktail Bar

Read more about how to spend your second day in Sofia >


The Quarter of Religious Tolerance Sofia

Sunday morning seemed like the perfect time to visit the Quarter of Religious Tolerance in Sofia.

To clarify a bit, the Quarter of Religious Tolerance in Sofia means that there are four different religious establishments within a walking distance from each other, forming a square when seen from above.

We only saw three of them: St. Nedelya Church, Banya Bashi Mosque, and Sofia Synagogue. The fourth one is St. Joseph Cathedral, but we somehow missed it when wandering Sofia. Also, we couldn’t get in Sofia Synagogue because there was a pop concert going on, and the synagogue was closed to visitors.

Banya-Bashi-Mosque-in-Sofia,-Bulgaria


Central Sofia Market Hall

And that’s how we ended up at the Central Sofia Market Hall. We tasted Banitsa, a traditional Bulgarian pastry filled with sweet or salty cheese, and accompanied by yogurt.

The Market Hall in Sofia is an imposing building that catches your eye right away, and it’s across from Banya Bashi Mosque, so impossible to miss. Its interior doesn’t resemble the other markets I’ve visited before, and that’s because there are more shops and fewer farmers with local produce than in an average market.

The market looks very clean and photogenic, so I was happy to spend some time there enjoying banitsa and capturing its lovely corners.

Central-Sofia-Market-Hall


Central Mineral Baths – Sofia History Museum

Sofia History Museum, also called Central Mineral Baths because of its past use as a public bathhouse, is one of the most beautiful buildings in Sofia.

It was designed in the Vienna Secession style, but it integrates typically Bulgarian, Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox ornamental elements. (*source)

I’ve circled the building a few times just to admire its beautiful façade and then went in to visit the museum. The interiors were gorgeous, and the folklore elements inside were beautiful, but there’s one thing I didn’t like about the place – the people.

One annoying trait of museum people in Eastern Europe is their unprofessional attitude. And being from Eastern Europe, I really face this issue a lot.

First, they don’t tell you there’s a photo fee, even if you’re holding a camera in your hand. So you must go back, purchase another ticket in order to take pictures inside. Then they follow you around each corner like you’re about to steal something, making you feel uncomfortable.

And third but not last, people at the Central Mineral Baths in Sofia asked me for that proof of photo tax payment in each room, even touching me while I was taking photos. That’s the only rude experience I had in Sofia, but it was enough to make me skip going to other museums.

Central-Mineral-Baths-Sofia---History-Museum


Russian Church Sofia

This Russian Church is a beautiful outside and inside. The exterior has the typical Russian domes, vividly painted and covered in decorations, while the interior is filled with blue religious iconography.

They also have a crypt below the church, but it was so crowded during Sunday that we didn’t visit it. They don’t allow photos inside.


Ivan Vazov National Theatre

Ivan Vazov National Theatre in Sofia is one of the city’s landmarks. My interest to see it has everything to do with its gorgeous façade, beautifully decorated, and build in a Neoclassical style.

The theatre faces the City Garden Sofia and a blue fountain, providing an additional photo opportunity. It’s also a good place to stop for a minute and let your feet rest after a day of walking the cobbled streets of Sofia.

Ivan-Vazov-National-Theatre-in-Sofia,-Bulgaria


The Little Things, a beautiful pub in Sofia

Our trip to Sofia ended at another pretty pub called The Little Things.

We had Turkish-style eggs and Kyufte (meatballs) along with French fries – a once a year type of indulgence.

The only reason we did go for fries was the amazing scent filling the air – everybody was having them, and they came with dill, garlic, and cheese – a favorite combo of mine. Irresistible fries – that’s one thing to remember about The Little Things in Sofia.

After dinner, I went upstairs to explore this charming old house. I found it filled with so many decorations that it made me a bit jealous of their lifestyle props. Beautifully designed room, eclectic styling, but somehow achieving that subtle equilibrium each interior stylist strives for.

The-Little-Things,-Sofia,-Bulgaria


Where to Eat & Drink in Sofia

  • Made in Blue – Try Mussels in Wine, Grilled Goat Cheese Salad, Turkish-style meatballs with Pine Nuts, Hummus and Pita
  • The Little Things – Try Turkish-style eggs, Fries with garlic, dill and cheese, and Kyufte (meatballs)
  • Central Sofia Market Hall – Taste Banitsa, a traditional Bulgarian pastry with sweet or salty cheese
  • The Cocktail Bar – Have drinks

Lovely Accommodation in Sofia

I rarely use Airbnb for accommodation, but when I do, the apartments are pretty awesome. 🙂

My previously booked Airbnb apartments were about a design curiosity and saving money because my destinations were Amsterdam and Stockholm, but this one was just a better option than available hotels at the time of my visit.

This Airbnb apartment in Sofia is great if you don’t mind the cardio you need to do twice a day when going up the 5th floor using the stairs (no elevator).

The travel-themed bedroom and the beautifully designed living room made me love it right away, so I only checked its location on the map before booking.

Therefore, the 5th-floor (stairs-only) position in the building did catch me by surprise. Not saying I’m lazy, but after walking for more than 10 or 15 km per day, taking so many stairs didn’t feel too good.Airbnb Accommodation in Sofia, Bulgaria


How to Get Around Sofia

Sofia is about slow wanderings, and since our accommodation was pretty close to city center, we walked.

That’s because most of Sofia’s attractions are within a walking distance from the old city center – a maze of cobbled streets that will make you feel more tired at the end of the day, even though you won’t realize it at first.

It may be the best way to explore Sofia and get into the mood of the city.


Travel Tips for Visiting Sofia, Bulgaria

Book your accommodation near Sofia’s City Center to get everywhere on foot

Be Careful Where You Step & Don’t Wear Heels

Sofia has lots of paddled pavements that aren’t fixed, so some will make you step sideways. There are many of them, at least around the old city center, so be careful not to twist your ankles.

Also, women should avoid wearing heels, platform shoes or wedges – the chances of twisting your ankles increases exponentially.

Car Parking in Sofia

Available parking spaces in Sofia are pretty difficult to find, so if you’re road tripping through Europe and stop in the city, then you must be careful with this one. Also, it’s better to park only in designated spaces – wheels blocking is a frequent thing.

Free parking spots are always full, but there are lots of paid parking options in the city center and few blocks away.

If you’re spending the weekend in Sofia, then you must know that paid parking spots are free on Sundays. During all other days, you must pay a parking fee beginning 8.30 and until 18.00(on Saturday).


Best Time To Visit Sofia / Weather in Sofia

We found that late spring – early summer was the best time to properly enjoy Sofia. The weather was great, 24-260C, the sun was shining, and the few clouds gathered at times only helped with taking more dramatic photos of Sofia.


Road Trip in Bulgaria: Sofia & Rila | May 2018All Photos ©Ana Matei > Instagram: @MateiAna 


That’s it! Hope you enjoyed my Weekend Travel Guide to Sofia.


Read Next:

Road Trip in Bulgaria, on the Black Sea Coast >

How to spend a weekend in Veliko Tarnovo >

Ana
Last updated: July 6, 2018
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