Sofia is Bulgaria's capital city, so it's not surprising that most digital nomads in Bulgaria are choosing to live in this city. It's also the biggest city in the country and has gained attention in the digital nomad world in the last few years thanks to its rich history, natural beauty, and low cost of living.
But the best part about living as a digital nomad in Sofia is you'll have plenty of things to see and do during your downtime. As the second oldest city in Europe, Sofia is home to many fascinating historical sites that are a joy to explore. Surprisingly, Sofia is not very touristy, so you won't be sharing these attractions with a crowd of tourists, allowing you to enjoy sightseeing to the fullest. Below, check out my Sofia travel guide of the top 15 things to see and do.
1. Join a Free Walking Tour of the City
The best way to get acquainted with Sofia is to join a free walking tour. You will find many opportunities to go around the city with a local guide without paying anything. Of course, it's worth giving a small tip or donation at the end of the tour. Run by non-profit organizations, the guides of these tours offer their services for free. However, they would appreciate any amount of donation you give them.
You will find information about the numerous free walking tours of Sofia online. There's no registration required. All you will do is show up at the meeting point. Most are in English, but there are also tours in Spanish and French. It will take you to Sofia's most famous landmarks, such as the National Theatre, St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral, St. George Rotunda, and many more.
2. Visit St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
If you don't feel like joining a guided tour and would prefer to explore Sofia on your own, one of the sights you should visit is the St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral. The cathedral was one of the world's largest Eastern Orthodox churches, featuring magnificent Neo-Byzantine architecture. As one of the most famous landmarks in the city, it's hard to miss this magnificent cathedral.
Built in honor of St. Alexander Nevsky, the prince famous for Bulgaria's victories over Germany and Sweden, the cathedral is steeped in history and a significant symbol of Bulgaria's past. It is now the official Church of the Neophyte of Bulgaria. You can spend hours wandering around the majestic interiors of the cathedral and learn about the prolific ancestry that makes this cathedral so symbolic.
3. Wander Around Vitosha Boulevard
Vitosha Boulevard is one of the fanciest streets in Sofia, where you'll find fancy shops and boutiques. If you want to treat yourself to a spot of shopping while taking a break from work, this is the place to be.
Even if you don't intend to shop, Vitosha Boulevard is still a lovely place to stroll around. Admire the gorgeous buildings featuring sophisticated art nouveau style of architecture, reminiscent of the time during the Bulgarian Revival. After walking around, grab a seat in one of the outdoor cafes for a cup of coffee.
4. Hike Up Vitosha Mountain
If you want to get active on your visit to Sofia, hike up Vitosha Mountain, a monumental peak on the outskirts of Sofia. You can see the majestic mountain from almost every point in the city. It's an ideal place to escape the bustling city and reconnect with nature.
Depending on which part of the mountain you want to climb, there are several ways to get to Vitosha Mountain. You can use the metro, then take the bus to the hike's starting point. The most popular option is to take a bus to the Simeonovski Gondola Lift, where you can take the lift to Aleko Hut, where you can start your climb.
5. Admire the Fresco-filled Boyana Church
When sightseeing in Sofia, another historical site worth seeing is the Boyana Church, a medieval Bulgarian Orthodox church located on the outskirts of Sofia. Lying at the foot of Mount Vitosha, it is one of the few perfectly preserved medieval monuments in Europe.
Boyana Church is the perfect example of a church featuring a Greek cross ground-plan with a dome, richly decorated with frescoes and ceramic elements. As one of Bulgaria's most remarkable medieval monuments, the Boyana Church is a must-see.
6. Feast on Traditional Bulgarian Food
The best way to experience the local culture is to try traditional foods. Thus, one of the best things to do in Sofia is to feast on delectable Bulgarian foods. Bulgaria's cuisine is inspired by the traditional foods from its neighboring countries of Turkey and Greece. Most are centered around tomatoes since the country is especially famous for this produce.
You'll find many great restaurants in Sofia to sample traditional Bulgarian foods. Order the Shopska, which is somewhat similar to a Greek salad except that it has Bulgarian cheese instead of feta. The Tarator Soup is another dish worth a try. It's a yogurt-based soup and a great dish to eat in winter. For breakfast, try the fried bread with feta and jam.
7. Discover Ruins from the Roman Period
Sofia was conquered by the Romans around 29 BC. In fact, back in the day, Constantine the Great was debating whether to set up the Roman empire in Constantinople (Istanbul) or Sofia. He eventually chose Constantinople due to its strategic location.
Nowadays, you can still see the remnants of the Roman Empire all over Sofia. Thus, one of the top things to do in Sofia is to discover the city's fascinating Roman ruins, such as the Serdica Archaeological Complex and the Western Gate of Serdica.
8. See the Second Largest Synagogue of Europe
Before World War II, Bulgaria was home to over 50,000 Jews, and 80% lived in Sofia. Thus, you'll find Europe's second-largest synagogue in the city, the Sofia Synagogue. It's a great place to visit if you want to learn more about the Jewish history of Bulgaria.
The Sofia Synagogue is located right next to the Central Market Hall. Following Bulgarian Sephardic synagogue tradition, you will enter the synagogue through a large courtyard. One of the synagogue's highlights is the famous brass chandelier that weighs over 2,200 kilos!
9. Relax at Sofia's Public Parks
If you want a place to relax away from the busy streets, head to one of Sofia's many beautiful public parks. You will find several lovely parks in the city center, and it's hard to go far without stumbling into one of these parks. These are the best places to enjoy a picnic, stroll, jog, read a book, or even work on your laptop!
The Sofia City Garden is the city's oldest and most central public garden. It's a lovely place to visit, with its cafés, beautiful flowerbeds, and gorgeous fountain. The other stunning parks in Sofia are the Sofia University Botanic Garden, South Park Sofia, and Military Academy Park.
10. Go On a Day Trip to Plovdiv
If you want to escape Sofia and visit other beautiful cities, consider going for a day trip to Plovdiv, an ancient city built around seven hills and is about an hour and a half away from Sofia. Riding the public bus is the cheapest and most reliable way to get to Plovdiv from Sofia. You can travel in the morning and come back later in the afternoon.
As one of Europe's oldest cities, Plovdiv has many fascinating historical sights. You'll find many of these in the Old Town. Stroll through its cobblestone streets lined with 18th-century houses and museums and check out the Ancient Theater, Roman Stadium, and Balabanov's House.
11. Check out Sofia Central Mineral Baths
One of the most interesting things about Sofia is that it has plenty of spring activity, attracting visitors since medieval times. The Ottomans built hammam-style baths from the site, which eventually got destroyed during the Bulgarian Revival. A new city bathing complex was built from the site, called the Central Mineral Baths.
Built in 1913, the Central Mineral Baths were used until the mid-eighties. Nowadays, it's one of Sofia's most picturesque buildings, featuring Neo-Byzantine architecture, with a large dome behind an impressive vestibule. It's a lovely place to visit, especially the gardens with a fountain at the center fed by the hot natural mineral water.
12. Experience the Local Craft Beer Scene
If you love beer, you'll love Sofia even more. The city has a thriving craft beer scene and is home to several great breweries producing some of the world's most excellent craft beers. Joining beer tastings and tours is the best way to discover the city's local craft beer scene, taking you to the top breweries, beer shops, and bars.
If you want to try local beers produced by Bulgarian breweries, hit the supermarket and look for brands like Ailyak, Jagerhof, Divo Pivo, and White Stork. While it's rare to find craft beers on the menu of most restaurants, you'll find numerous specialized bars and shops in Sofia where you can taste delectable local brews.
13. Get Your Culture Fix at the National Palace of Culture
The National Palace of Culture was established in 1981 during Bulgaria's 1300th birthday celebrations. Located at the heart of Sofia, it features a sprawling glass hexagonal building with a striking facade that's hard to ignore. The building and the surrounding gardens at the National Palace of Culture serve as a fascinating example of ancient socialist architecture, with its sleek and minimalistic aesthetic and imposing size contributing to its historical significance.
The National Palace of Culture hosts some of Europe's most significant events, including musical concerts and art exhibits. With thousands of exhibitions and shows taking place in the National Palace of Culture each year, you could witness something interesting during your visit.
14. Learn History at the National Historical Museum
To learn more about the history of Bulgaria, visit the National Historical Museum, housed in the former residence of Todor Zhivkov, the former dictator. The museum itself features Stalinist architecture with a massive open yard at the front.
If you love history, you will enjoy going around the museum as you marvel at its gigantic collection of more than 65,000 items. You will be amazed at the variety of items on display, from interesting treasures belonging to the Odrysians to 20th-century space research equipment.
15. Explore the Banya Bashi Mosque
The Banya Bashi Mosque is the only mosque in Sofia, designed by Turkish architect Mimar Sinan, who was behind the various spectacular buildings built during the Ottoman period. Constructed in 1576 on the site of the ancient baths, it has a cube-like shape crowned by a large dome and has a tall minaret standing beside it.
The mosque has a fascinating interior decorated with colorful ornaments and passages from the Quran. It can accommodate up to 700 worshippers, and as a working mosque, non-Muslims are not allowed to enter during prayer times.