A complete walking itinerary for one day in Sofia, Bulgaria (+ a map, the best restaurants and bars and the most popular one day tours).
Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria and its largest city. It’s a cheap destination with a lot of history, great nightlife and a delicious culinary scene. And the best part – it’s not so touristy as the other European capitals!
The history of the city could be traced to the Bronze Age, when it was a settlement of a Thracian tribe, Serdi. From here comes its initial name – Serdica. During the Roman Empire, Constantine the Great often referred to the city as “Serdica is my Rome”. The current name derives from Saint Sofia Church, one of the oldest churches in the city.
If you’re a mountain lover, Sofia won’t disappoint you, too. The capital of Bulgaria is situated at the northern foot of Vitosha Mountain. It is super easy to escape the busy city life and enjoy fresh air amongst nature even for a day.
One day in Sofia itinerary
This self-guided one day tour of Sofia will show you the best of the city. It covers all the must-see historical sights, the best places for lunch and dinner, and the best bars to finish your day! I also include some awesome day trips, if you have additional time to spend.
You can find a detailed map of this Sofia itinerary at the end of the article.
Already have a hotel booked? See whether your hotel is in a good area in my guide to where to stay in Sofia.
One day in Sofia (perfect local’s itinerary)
- Start the day with breakfast at Rainbow Factory
- Visit Sofia History Museum
- See the Statue of Sveta Sofia
- Church of St. George
- Presidential Palace – changing of the guards
- Admire the Ivan Vazov National Theatre
- See the former royal palace
- Admire the Russian Church
- St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
- Stroll along Vitosha Boulevard
- Have a cake at Villa Rosiche
- National Palace of Culture
More information you can find in the DK Eyewitness Bulgaria Travel Guide. I love their travel guides, as they have practical information, walking tours and a durable map!
Have breakfast at Rainbow Factory
09:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Start your one day in Sofia with breakfast at Rainbow Factory. Besides avocado toasts and eggs, they serve traditional Bulgarian breakfast such as banitsa and mekitsi with jam and cheese. It’s a great place to try some local food.
Visit Sofia History Museum
10:00 AM – 11:10 AM
The History Museum is housed in the former mineral baths. Featuring stunning red and yellow Neo-Byzantine architecture, it’s one of the most beautiful buildings in Sofia.
The museum shows the history of the city from 6000 BC up to 1940 through over 1000 exhibits. Some of the highlights include a golden carriage clock and a golden chariot from the palace of Versailles.
See the Statue of Sveta Sofia
11:10 AM – 11:20 AM
The Statue of Sveta Sofia is now standing on the place where once the statue of Lenin existed. It was erected in 2000 in honour of the patron of the city, Sveta Sofia.
Church of St. George
11:20 AM – 11:50 AM
The Church of St. George is not only the oldest church in the city but also the oldest building! The church was built by the Romans around the 4th century on the site of a pagan temple.
Inside, there are beautiful frescoes from the 12th-14th century. Around the church, you can find ancient Roman ruins.
Presidential Palace – changing of the guards
11:50 AM – 12:10 PM
The Presidential Palace is an impressive building from 1950. You can see the ceremony of the change of the guards every hour on the hour from 08:00 AM to 08:00 PM.
12:10 PM – 02:00 PM
For lunch choose between Tables or Q-ftetaria.
Offering hummus and salmon toasts with poached egg, Tables is the perfect place for brunch or lunch.
If you’re a meat lover, then Q-ftetaria is the place for you. Their menu is focused on meatballs (kufteta in Bulgarian). They come in a variety of flavours and styles, served with Bulgarian lutenica and French fries.
Admire the Ivan Vazov National Theatre
02:00 PM – 02:15 PM
Ivan Vazov National Theatre is one of the most beautiful buildings in Sofia. This gorgeous 20th-century Neoclassical building is decorated with gold-coloured ornaments, lions and statues of Apollo.
In front of the theatre, you’ll find a lovely park with a beautiful fountain.
See the former royal palace
02:15 PM – 02:30 PM
The former royal palace was built after Bulgaria’s proclamation of independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. The construction started in 1880 during the reign of Prince Alexander of Battenberg, the first monarch of Bulgaria.
Ballrooms, a throne hall, a dining room and a winter conservatory were situated on the second floor of the palace. The chambers of officers on duty and administrative cabinets were on the first floor.
Today, the palace houses the National Art Gallery. The gallery features a great collection of contemporary Bulgarian art from the period 1878-1990. The collection contains more than 30 000 masterpieces of paintings, sculptures and prints.
If you’re not into art, I’d recommend you see the building only from outside. Nowadays, almost nothing is left from the furniture of the royal palace.
Admire the Russian Church
02:30 PM – 02:50 PM
Russian Church is the most picturesque church in Sofia. With its golden domes, not typical for the Bulgarian churches, it looks like it came from a fairy tale.
Russian Church was built in 1914 to serve as an official church of the Russian Embassy.
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
03:00 PM – 03:30 PM
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a must-see site and it is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world.
The cathedral is devoted to all Russian soldiers that lost their lives during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. It is named after Saint Alexander Nevsky, a Russian prince who lived in the 13th century.
In the crypt you’ll find a small museum dedicated to Christian art, featuring a collection of unique icons. You can book your skip the line ticket here.
Stroll along Vitosha Boulevard
This is the most famous boulevard in the city. It’s filled with nice cafes, restaurants and shopping stores. This is the place to go if you want to sit with a cup of coffee or cocktail and watch the world go by.
Have a cake at Villa Rosiche
If you have a sweet tooth, there is one place to go – Villa Rosiche. Their homemade cakes are simply amazing. The cafe is set in an old house with a lovely little garden, just a few minutes walk from Vitosha Boulevard.
National Palace of Culture
The last landmark from this Sofia itinerary is the National Palace of Culture. It’s one of the most emblematic buildings of Soviet architecture in Sofia.
National Palace of Culture serves as an exhibition centre, the largest one in Bulgaria.
Finish this one day tour of Sofia with a dinner at Shtastliveca. The restaurant features an amazing atmosphere combined with delicious Bulgarian food.
To try the most popular alcoholic drink in Bulgaria, rakia, visit Raketa Rakia Bar. They offer an extensive rakia menu and traditional Bulgarian dishes served in a modern way.
For some cocktails, go to Memento Cafe, Sputnik Bar or One More Bar.
Located on Vitosha Boulevard, Memento Cafe is a great spot for some Aperol Spritz while watching the world go by. One More Bar features a garden, so don’t miss it if you’re visiting during the summer. And in Sputnik Bar, you’ll find creative cocktails with an artistic twist.
Saint Sofia Church
Saint Sofia Church is the church that gave the city its name in the 14th century. Until then the city was known as Sredets.
Dating back to the 6th century AD, Saint Sofia is the second oldest church in Sofia. It’s one of the best examples of Early Christian architecture in Eastern Europe.
Church of St. Petka of the Saddlers
Church of St. Petka of the Saddlers is a small 16th-century church. Its name comes from the saddlers who performed their rituals in the church in the Middle Ages. The church is dedicated to a Bulgarian saint from the 11th century.
Inside, you’ll find mural paintings from the 14th-17th century.
Banya Bashi Mosque
Banya Bashi Mosque is the only functioning mosque in Sofia, a reminder of the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria.
The mosque was built over natural thermal spas in the 16th century. From here comes its name Banya Bashi, which means many baths.
St. Nedelya Church
Right in the heart of the city, you’ll find the medieval St. Nedelya Church. Although the current structure dates from the 19th century, the original church was built around the 10th century.
Among its treasures are the remains of the Serbian king Stefan Milutin who is buried inside the church.
Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church
Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church is an Orthodox church from 1903. The church was built from the remains of an abandoned mosque, that once was standing in that place. The mosque was known as the Black Mosque because its minaret was made of dark granite.
Kvadrat 500 is the city’s newest art museum. Over 2,000 artworks from all over the world are represented in the museum. You can see paintings from Delacroix, Renoir, Picasso and of course the most famous Bulgarian artist Vladimir Dimitrov – Maistora.
National Museum of Military History
The National Museum of Military History shows the history of the Bulgarian military from the First Bulgarian Empire to nowadays. It represents almost 30,000 military artefacts, exhibited in indoor and outdoor areas. This is only a small part of the fund of the museum, which contains almost 1,000,000 military items.
The outdoor exhibition area displays more than 230 models of field artillery, aircraft, naval armaments and many more.
National Archaeological Museum
The museum occupies one of the oldest and largest preserved buildings from the age of the Ottoman Dominion – Büyük Mosque. The mosque is built in the 15th century under the rule of Mehmed II. During the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) the abandoned mosque was turned into a hospital and later into a library.
The mosque houses the National Archaeological Museum since its establishment in 1892. Some of the highlights are a magnificent replica of the Madara Rider and Valchitran and Lukovit treasures. The last Sunday of the month is a free admission day.
National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of Natural History is the oldest museum in Bulgaria. It was founded in 1889 by Prince Ferdinand to house his collection of butterflies, birds and mammals. Today the exhibition occupies 15 halls on 4 floors.
Museum of Socialist Art
Museum of Socialist Art represents the history of the communist regime in Bulgaria from 1944 to 1989. The indoor and outdoor exhibitions feature paintings and sculptures from the communist period. Among them is a giant statue of Lenin, that once stood right in the city centre.
National History Museum
Located at the foot of Vitosha mountain, the National History Museum is a bit out of the city centre. Yet, it definitely deserves the trip, especially if you are a history buff.
The museum is housed in a former government residence. It is the place where the last communist leader was removed from power in 1989. As you see the building itself is a part of Bulgarian history.
The National History Museum is one of the largest on the Balkans. It contains more than 650,000 exhibits that represent the history of the country from 8,000 years ago to present days. Only 10% of these valuable items are exhibited in the museum. Among its highlights are treasures from Thracian times, especially the one from Panagyurishte.
The name of the park means “The Bells”. It is a monument located on the outskirts of the city. It was commissioned by Lyudmila Zhivkova, the daughter of the former communist head of state. The occasion was the Year of the Child in 1979.
More than 90 countries donated bells for the cause. You can see bells from countries that don’t exist anymore like USSR and the German Democratic Republic.
To reach the monument take metro line M1 (direction Business Park) and get off at the last stop. From there it’s about a 1km walk to the site. The area is not very lively, so avoid visiting after dark.
Vrana Palace is a former royal palace on the outskirts of the city. Tsar Ferdinand I commissioned the construction at the end of the 19th century.
A huge park surrounds the palace. There is even a dog cemetery! You can visit the park during the weekends from 10:00 AM to 05:00 PM. However, the palace is closed for visitors.
To get to the park you have to take bus 505 (once per hour) from station Orlov most.
If you are in Sofia in December, don’t miss the Christmas Market (Deutscher Weihnachtsmarkt). The market is situated in the City garden, next to Alexander Battenberg Square.
It is open daily from 11:00 AM to 09:00 PM till 22 December. The market is really small, but don’t miss it, especially if you are a fan of Christmas cookies, mulled wine and sausages.
Getting around in Sofia
You can find a detailed map of the itinerary here.
The city has cheap public transport. However, if you stay in the city centre, you probably won’t use any, except for taking the metro to Sofia Airport.
The metro is the most convenient way to get around in Sofia (find here a metro map). It runs every day from 05:00 AM until midnight. You can buy tickets from every station from booths or ticket machines. The ticket is valid up to 30min after purchase, so don’t buy in advance.
Keep in mind that the tickets for the metro and the buses (or trams) are different.
If you plan to use public transport a lot, consider buying Sofia Pass. It gives you free public transport for 3 days and numerous discounts at more than 60 sites.
How to get to Sofia
The Central bus station is located in the city centre. This is where you arrive if you’re coming by bus from Plovdiv, Burgas and many other cities.
It’s a 15-20min walk to the main tourist attractions. You can also take metro line M2 from Central Railway metro station to Serdica station.
If you’re arriving by car, it’s best to choose accommodation with available parking. The city centre is divided into blue and green zones with no free parking available (see here a map of the zones).
Sofia-Vrazhdebna Airport (Летище София-Враждебна) is located about 10km from the city centre. You can reach it by using public transport. There are two terminals, which are not within a walking distance from each other.
Low-cost companies like WizzAir and Easyjet use Terminal 1, while all others use Terminal 2. There is a free shuttle transfer between the two terminals every 30 minutes.
To get to Terminal 2 from the city centre, take metro line M4 in direction of Sofia Airport from Serdica station.
Day trips from Sofia
Rila Monastery is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. It was founded by the hermit Saint Ivan of Rila around the 10th century.
The monastery features a history museum with a historical collection of 35,000 objects, including icons, wood-carvings, and ethnographical items. The most famous object is the Cross of Rafail. It’s made of one whole piece of wood, decorated with 104 religious scenes and 650 figures.
How to get to Rila Monastery
- the easiest way is to take this Rila Monastery Tour from Sofia. On the tour, you’ll be able to see also the famous Boyana Church and its stunning frescoes.
- to get to the monastery on your own, take the Rila shuttle that departs every day at 10 AM from St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (more info here).
Plovdiv is the most ancient city not only in Bulgaria but in Europe as well. Its charming Old Town is a unique mixture of Roman ruins and old houses in Bulgarian National Revival style. For more information take a look at my complete guide to what to do in Plovdiv.
There is a lot to see, so if possible I’d recommend you to stay overnight. For accommodation, check out my guide to the best hotels in Plovdiv Old Town.
How to get to Plovdiv
- if you want to see the city in only a day, I’d recommend you taking this Full-Day Tour to Plovdiv and Asen’s Fortress. You’ll see the best of Plovdiv with an expert guide, plus the medieval Asen’s Fortress.
- to get to Plovdiv on your own, take a bus from the Central bus station (2h30min journey). There are regular buses daily (almost every hour). You’ll arrive at Plovdiv South Bus station and from there it’s about a 20min walk to the Old Town.
Due to its convenient location, Vitosha Mountain is an easy escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. Vitosha’s highest summit is Cherni Vrah (2290m) and it’s a very popular hike. The mountain is also known for its stone rivers, called the Golden Bridges.
You can reach Vitosha Mountain by public transport. Find out more in my guide How to get to Vitosha Mountain (including the most popular hiking trails).
How many days in Sofia
Is one day in Sofia enough?
One day in Sofia is enough to tour the most famous historical sights, as they are conveniently packed right in the city centre. If you follow my Sofia itinerary, you’ll be able to see everything in only a day.
If you’re visiting the city for a long weekend, take a look at my recommendations at the end of the guide for the best day trips from Sofia.
Best time to visit Sofia
Sofia is not a tourist city, so you’ll never find it packed with crowds. Yet, if you’re looking for nice weather, the months of April, May, June, September and October is the best option.
The summer months of July and August are often hot, while the winters are usually very cold. If you’re visiting in December, there is a little Christmas market next to Alexander Battenberg Square.
Practical information about Sofia
Although Bulgaria is a part of the European Union, the official currency is Bulgarian Lev. Credit cards (mostly Visa and Mastercard) are widely accepted, including restaurants and shops. Keep in mind that American Express is not popular and it’s not accepted everywhere.
Yet, be sure to have some cash at hand for small purchases.
Bulgarian is the country’s only official language. Yet, in most cases, you’ll get by speaking English. If you need help, ask younger people. Most of the older people don’t speak English (sometimes even the workers in the public transportation system). The staff working in restaurants around the city centre speak English and usually, there are English menus.
Bulgaria operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz. The associated plug types are C and F.
If you’re from the US, this is the only travel adaptor that you’ll need.
If you’re from the UK, this is the best-rated travel adaptor.
|I'm a travel blogger based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Travelling has always been my passion and I love to discover new places and cultures. I want to show you how easy it is to organize your vacation all by yourself.|