by Detelina Palova
things to do in sofia bulgaria

Posted: Monday, July 20, 2020

The Balkans offer some incredible views, nature, experiences and rich culture. Today, I’ll tell you a bit more about one of the oldest countries in Europe - Bulgaria. Established in 681, this ancient state has had its ups and downs, periods of wealth and peace, as well as war and unrest. These turns however, have made it so incredibly rich with culture and historical insight, that it’s one of the places you can never get bored with. We’re taking a trip to the capital of this beautiful land - the city of Sofia. Its history, being Bulgaria's capital and largest city, spans thousands of years, during which the city has been a cultural and economic center in its region and the Balkans. It has had human settlement all the way back to the Thracians - around 500 BC. Up to this point in time, this has remained a very lively city, with lots to do, see and experience. For this blog post, I am going to give you 10 recommendations on what to do in Sofia, Bulgaria. Keep in mind that these suggestions are not sorted in any way. Each recommendation has its own qualities that make it worth visiting in our opinion – and hopefully there’s something in here for everyone!

1) The National Palace of Culture

The National Palace of Culture (abbreviated as NDK), located in Sofia, is the largest, multifunctional conference and exhibition center in south-Eastern Europe. It was opened in 1981 in celebration of Bulgaria's 1300th anniversary. It is not only a place where the young and old gather for cultural events, but also a place with cafés, a theater and much more. The surrounding park is one of Sofia’s biggest highlights, not only because of how beautiful it is, but also because there you can find much of Sofia’s social life happening right before you. It is a famous place for gathering, with a community of skaters going there every day to practice, as well as people from all ages sitting down for some time with friends. Overall this is one of the places where the culture of the city is most strongly felt, and it makes for a lovely afternoon walk, so I definitely recommend you don’t miss out.

2) Klek Shops

In the vicinity of the National Palace of Culture park, you can find the famous Bulgarian “Klek shops” (squat shops), which you can read more about here. These peculiar stores came into existence after the fall of communism in Bulgaria, when the people had the possibility to run their own businesses for the first time. This led to them turning the first floors of their buildings into small shops where you can buy cigarettes, alcohol and snacks. They can be found only in Bulgaria and carry a peculiar feeling of history with them.

3) Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral in the center of the city. Built in Neo-Byzantine style, it is believed to be one of the top 50 largest Christian church buildings in the world. It is one of the symbols of Sofia's symbols. It is huge - occupying an area of 3,170 square meters (ca. 34,122 sq ft) and with a capacity of 5,000 people. The most remarkable external feature of the temple are its gilded domes, which can be seen from far away glistening in the sunshine. Inside, you can find a museum, where some of the most beautiful Bulgarian frescoes from the 12th - 19th century are exhibited. The first stone was laid in 1882, construction started in 1904 and finished in 1912. This building is a national treasure, and it’s definitely worth visiting, as it has beautiful architecture and invaluable historical significance.

4) Kambanite Park

This park is also a very interesting experience. It has 100 Bells, which is where it gets its name from, because Камбана (Kambana) means “Bell” in Bulgarian. Each one of them is huge and comes from a separate country. The history of this park is connected to the Children’s Assembly “Flag of Peace”, which was hosted in Bulgaria in 1979 for the first time. The park was built for this initiative and still stands today. This event was organized on the initiative of Lyudmila Zhivkova, the former communist leader of Bulgaria’s daughter. The bells and park space are linked with the idea of ​​the assembly and the desire to turn the world into a more beautiful place to live. The motto that unites all participants in the forum is: "Unity, creativity, beauty" and is written in Bulgarian and English on the main monument in the park. You can visit this site and ring the bells, as well as spend some time in the surrounding nature.

5) The National History Museum

The National Museum of History is the largest museum in Bulgaria. It has the most impressive collection of national treasures in the country. It hosts more than 650,000 artifacts, including Thracian gold and silver, pottery, icons, art & jewelry, mosaics. While visiting, you can learn more about the story of the European civilization from the dawn of times, up to the present day. It offers the possibility to view 1300 years’ worth of history of the Bulgarian state. If you enjoy visiting these types of establishments, this is definitely a must-see and will leave you feeling even more curious.

6) Boyana Church

The next point on our list is also historically significant. It hosts the most complete and perfectly preserved monuments of east European medieval art.The Boyana Church is a medieval Bulgarian Orthodox religious building. It was built in three stages: in the late 10th to early 11th, the mid-13th, and the mid-19th centuries. You can find this monument situated on the outskirts of Sofia, in the Boyana quarter. This site is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. A total of 89 scenes with 240 human images are depicted on the walls. It is definitely a thrilling experience to be able to connect with artist from centuries ago and to be able to experience the historical significance of religion to the country’s national identity.

7) Serdika

Serdika Fortress is an archeological site located in the center of the city. An interesting historical fact is that Sofia used to carry the name of the fortress - Serdika. This site is one of the city’s busiest points, with a metro station coinciding with the archaeological findings. You can take a walk along the ancient walls and what remains of the fortress. From what we currently know, these findings date back thousands of years. Not only this, but it is a hotspot for exploring the city and what it has to offer, as it is very near to many of the sites we mentioned previously.

8) Free Hiking Tour

This beautiful city sits in immediate vicinity to the lovely Vitosha Mountain. This will allow you to go to the Boyana Church by foot, while being able to connect with the locals, as well as visit the Boyana Waterfalls, which are 1350 m above the city. It’s an amazing experience, since the nature in these areas is breathtaking, and it’s a really nice break from the business of the city. Vitosha offers some incredible sights, and you’ll be able to work on your fitness as well. It is also a free experience, but you can tip your guide if you’d like. Your only expenses will be the taxi transfer from the city center (since there is a specific meeting point for everyone who wants to participate) and the entrance fee to the Boyana Church. Make sure you bring some lunch and lots of water, since the whole hike can take up to 6 hours.

9) National Art Gallery

This spot hosts not only incredible pieces of Bulgarian art, but is also the former royal palace. Not only can you look at the beautiful artwork, but spend some time marveling at the impeccable interior of this building. It’s truly breathtaking and an amazing piece of modern architecture. It also has very nice gardens to sit and relax in, so if you get bored from walking along the long halls, you can sit down and relax.

10) Vitosha Boulevard

This Boulevard is right after the NDK Park. It is a long street with shops, restaurants and city life. If you’re feeling hungry, some of the best restaurants in town can be found either on this Boulevard or on the smaller streets perpendicular to it. It is a very iconic spot, and it’s very famous with the locals. At the end of this Boulevard, you will arrive at Serdika, so this is an easy way to connect the two sites by a nice stroll.

11) Central Mineral Baths

This building, that used to be a public bath, is now a museum. It was built in the early 20th century and was a public bathing space until 1986. Inside, you can find more information and relics of the history of Sofia. It is also very beautiful architecturally, and has a lovely park right in the front. It is colorful and vibrant, so it’s a great place to spend some time. You can also find mineral fountains in the vicinity, but the water is very warm, so it’s not that great for drinking, even though it’s said to have health benefits. It is very near Serdika as well, so don’t miss out!

Closing Thoughts

If you find yourself arriving pre-check-in or post-check-out, you can store your luggage in Sofia with Bounce. Bounce is an app every traveler should have on their phone. They have thousands of luggage storage locations in most major cities worldwide where you can instantly leave your bags for a low daily rate.

Sofia is a very large city, so there is definitely much more to do and experience. I encourage you to venture out on your own and see what other lovely sights you can find. The locals are also very friendly and you can find vibrant nightlife, so however you want to spend your time - you can find what you like. It combines nature and city life perfectly, so whenever you feel like you want a rest from the crowds, you can go hiking and find some peace in the nearby mountain.

If you have the time, there are many amazing things you can do in and around Sofia. Here are a few options below:

Want to see more?

  • Plovdiv, Bulgaria

    This city has been around for 8,000 years, Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Check out these 10 things to do in this amazing city!

  • Best of Bulgaria

    A country filled with so much culture, tradition, landscapes, and amazing things to do: Bulgaria. Check out the 10 best things to do in Bulgaria!


    One of the most beautiful cities in Spain, Granada is located in Andalucia (the south of Spain). We share with you 10 things to do in Granada.