5 Unmissable Things to See & Do in Sofia To Kickstart Your Bulgaria Vacation

Welcome to Sofia, Bulgaria: One of Eastern Europe’s most surprising travel destinations. While there might not be as many things to do in Sofia as in other Eastern European cities, visiting this fun-loving city could be one of the biggest surprises of your travel career.

From ducking into laid-back restaurants, cafes, and bars to relaxing at beautiful parks, there’s plenty to fill your days in Bulgaria’s capital city. Discover some of the city’s coolest places to visit with this quick & easy guide to the top tourist attractions in Sofia, Bulgaria!

What to see & do in Sofia

Ogle at St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral

No image of Bulgaria’s capital is more forceful than the setting sun reflected off the domes of St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral in central Sofia. Constructed in the early 20th century between 1904 and 1912, this massive Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral stretches out over an area of 2,600 square meters, taking up what seems like at least half a city block.

St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The church’s handsome Neo-Byzantine exterior continues to its inside. You’ll be greeted by beautiful stained glass windows and stunning murals painted by some of Bulgaria’s most famous artists as you walk among its ostentatious marble, onyx, and alabaster floors and columns.

While visiting St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral, also be sure to check out its crypt. It’s home to an interesting collection of Bulgarian Christian art, including icons and more eye-popping murals.

Getting to St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral: The closest metro station to the church is Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. The cathedral is a short 5-minute walk through Sv. Kliment Ohridski Park from here.

Stroll along Vitosha Boulevard

The heart of modern Sofia beats around the city’s high street, Vitosha Boulevard. Concentrating Sofia’s finest collection of upscale boutiques and hip restaurants and cafés, this pedestrian-only street is perfect for a relaxing stroll to get your bearings in Sofia.

Vitosha Boulevard

Even if you’re not into dropping your lev on the latest fashions, enjoy a coffee or a snack along Vitosha Boulevard to dramatic views of its namesake mountain looming to the south of the city centre.

Enjoy a break at Street Bar & CO, a cool café with a distinguished Italian vibe. It’s a great choice for enjoying an espresso, cappuccino, or gelato while watching Sofians saunter along the avenue.

Getting to Vitosha Boulevard: The main pedestrian section of Vitosha Boulevard stretches between the Cathedral Church Sveta Nedelya and the National Palace of Culture. To approach from the south, take the metro to NDK Station; otherwise, Serdika Station is one block away from the north end of Vitosha Boulevard.

Dig into Bulgaria’s past at Boyana Church

Often playing second fiddle to the more famous (but farther-flung) Rila Monastery, Boyana Church has an almost millennium-long history to draw upon. Its foundations were laid down in the 10th or 11th century. This UNESCO World Heritage Site dwells in the shadows of Vitosha Mountain among lovely forest scenery, offering a serene escape from Sofia’s bustling centre.

Boyana Church

As stunning as its exterior is, the church’s main claim to fame is the 13th-century frescoes inside. These impressive religious paintings portray hundreds of important biblical figures with a staggering degree of realism uncommon for the time period.

Among the most famous frescoes at Boyana Church are the Christ Pantocrator in the dome and these 18 scenes outlining the life of St. Nicholas in the church’s narthex.

Getting to Boyana Church: Located just outside of Sofia’s city centre, Boyana Church is relatively easy to reach via public transportation. The simplest way is with bus 107 from Kv. Pavlovo or bus 64 from the corner of bul. Bulgaria and bul. Akad. Ivan Evstatiev Geshov.

Get some fresh air at Vitosha Mountain

If you manage to carve out some time while visiting Boyana Church, don’t miss out on spending some time exploring Vitosha Mountain. Finding a European capital with such pristine nature at its doorstep is rare. It’s one of the major reasons why Sofia is a far better travel destination (and place to hang your hat) than first appearances would let on.

Vitosha Mountain

What you’ll want to do at Vitosha Mountain will depend on which season you’re visiting Sofia. In winter, Vitosha features a ski resort. Although less popular and less developed than other Bulgarian ski resorts like Bansko or Borovets, its prime location, just 15 kilometres from the city centre, keeps it busy with winter sports enthusiasts.

Perhaps even better than skiing are Vitosha Mountain’s hiking trails, accessible during spring, summer, and fall. One of the best hikes in Sofia (and one of the top free attractions in Sofia) is the 2.5-hour route up to Cherni Vruh (Black Peak) at the top of Vitosha Mountain. The route from Boyana Church, wandering past Boyana Waterfall to Zlatnite Mostove, is also super popular with locals and tourists alike.

Getting to Vitosha Mountain: There are several ways to access the mountain’s hiking trails. One of the most popular entry points is the ski resort Aleko. From the city centre, take bus 122 near Vitosha Metro Station to the Simeonovo lift, where you’ll be able to ride up to the resort and find the trailhead.

Marvel at the Rila Monastery

Carve out more than one day in Sofia so that you’ll have no excuse to miss out on Rila Monastery. Nestled in the Rila Mountains around 120 kilometres south of Sofia, Rila Monastery isn’t just one of the most popular day trips from Sofia; it’s one of the top things to do in Bulgaria!

Rila Monastery

The story of Rila Monastery begins with a 10th-century Bulgarian monk, St. Ivan of Rila, who first settled in the area in a bid to renounce his material possessions and live as a hermit. Over the years, his eremitic lifestyle attracted students from far and wide who began to build the monastery as their study and living quarters.

Although the oldest buildings of Rila Monastery, including the Tower of Hrelja, date back to the 14th century, the most famous building in the complex is its 19th-century church. Featuring five domes, medieval icons, and Ottoman-inspired porticos, this church, set against a misty mountain backdrop, will undoubtedly leave you in awe.

Getting to Rila Monastery: For such a famous attraction, there’s a surprising lack of public transportation options to Rila Monastery. One bus per day leaves for the monastery at 10:20 Ovcha Kupel Bus Station near Slavia Park. Far easier, quicker, and more convenient is to rent a car in Sofia and drive yourself or hop on a Rila Monastery Day Tour.

Where to stay

Despite being one of the largest capital cities in Eastern Europe, choosing where to stay in Sofia is relatively easy. Many of the top points in interest in Sofia hover in & around the city centre, making it the best area for travellers. Start your search with these top-rated hotels…

  • Central Point Boutique Hotel: One of the most budget-friendly options in Centrum, this popular hotel offers spacious rooms with a unique and funky design. Surprising for its price point, guests here get free access to an on-site spa with a hot tub & sauna.
  • VIKO Boutique Apart Hotel: This elegant boutique hotel doles out modern apartment-style accommodations in the heart of city, less than a kilometre from NDK Station.
  • Grand Hotel Sofia: Perched above the City Garden, this 5-star hotel is a lesson in Eastern European hospitality and elegance from its massive rooms to its regal furnishings. There’s a whole barrage of luxurious amenities to wallow in here, including a café, restaurant, fitness centre, and summer terrace.
Ryan O'Rourke

Ryan O'Rourke is a Canadian traveller, food & drink aficionado, and the founder & editor of Treksplorer. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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