Bulgaria is a country with many great places to visit, from beaches on the Black Sea to ski resorts in the mountains. But in terms of history and culture, the nation’s capital city of Sofia is hard to beat. While it does have some of the grit and chaos you often find in big Balkan cities, there’s no denying just how much there is to see and do in this dynamic destination.
Whether as a city break or part of a longer trip around Bulgaria, two days is enough time to see many of Sofia’s greatest sights. But to really cover lots of ground, it helps if you use this Sofia itinerary to show you around. That way, you’ll know exactly what to do in Sofia in 2 days and not feel like you’ve missed out on anything major.
Best Time to Visit Sofia
When planning your weekend in Sofia, the first thing you need to think about is the timing of your visit. Sofia is a city that experiences four distinct seasons and no one wants bad weather to derail their trip.
High season in Sofia is during the summer months of June through August when the weather is warm, meaning attractions are more likely to be crowded and accommodation prices are higher. That said, Sofia isn’t nearly as popular as other European capitals, so it doesn’t usually get too busy.
However, the best time to visit Sofia is actually at the very tail end of summer in September, when the weather is good and things have started to quiet down. After September, temperatures drastically drop off and Sofia is quickly in the chilly grips of winter. As an alternative, spring can also be a good time to visit, although it’s also the rainiest time of year.
How to Get Around Sofia
To make the most of your time visiting Sofia, you’ll want to know the best ways to get around the city. Sofia is a reasonably large city after all and some of its most interesting attractions are quite a distance from the city center.
While you should have no problem walking around the downtown area, you also have Sofia’s public transport network at your disposal. Metro, trams, and buses link up the different parts of Sofia and are particularly useful if you need to get from the city’s train and bus stations into the city. There are two ticket systems in Sofia, one for buses and trams, the other for the metro. The cost of a single journey ticket for either is 1.60 lev and is bought on board buses and trams, and at machines in metro stations.
If you’re flying into Sofia, it’s quite easy to reach the city center from the airport. You can take the city’s metro from the airport right into the center in less than 20 minutes. Note though that the metro doesn’t run after midnight. Alternatively, you can take one of three different buses that go into the city center, each of which take around 30-45 minutes.
Where to Stay in Sofia
No matter the trip, one of the biggest stresses of planning a getaway is working out where to stay. Deciding where to stay in Sofia is no different since you have to balance location with facilities and price to decide on a place that’s right for you. Generally though, the best places to stay in Sofia are the ones situated in the city center so you have easy access to the city’s sights and best restaurants and bars.
If you’re after one of Sofia’s most luxurious options, the Sofia Hotel Balkan is the way to go. This central 5-star hotel boasts elegant rooms with great views and features multiple dining options, an on-site casino, and a health club.
If you’re looking for both comfort and affordability, Hotel Niky is a great option for your visit. A short walk to Vitosha Boulevard, this hotel offers rooms, apartments, and suites, all with a complimentary breakfast.
Sofia has a lot of great options for budget travelers, with one of the best being Hostel №1 in Sofia. It enjoys a great location in the city center close to all the sights, plus kitchen and laundry facilities, as well as great staff.
For more accommodation options in Sofia check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 2-Day Sofia Itinerary
Even though Sofia is the capital city of Bulgaria, it’s not a destination that necessarily demands a lot of time to see. With two days there, you should have no problem experiencing the best of Sofia. Of course, you can spend longer getting to know the city, but if you’re mainly interested in the best things to do in Sofia, two days should be enough. During that time, you’ll explore the city center and then venture south to Vitosha and the attractions on its slopes.
However, before we get to our Sofia itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
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Now that important subject has been covered, let’s dive into this Sofia travel itinerary which will take you through how to see Sofia in 2 days and get the most out of your visit.
Sofia Itinerary: Day 1
Upon arriving, there’s no better way to start than with the best places to visit in Sofia in the heart of the city. This will take you to many of the most famous historical monuments in the city.
Recommendation: Find out what it was like on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain in Sofia by joining a Communist tour. Discover a 45-year-long period compressed into an informative 3-hour walk as you learn about the factors that led to communism and its aftermath. You can book a Communist walking tour here.
A great way to start when exploring Sofia for the first time is with a walk down Vitosha Boulevard. This lively pedestrian street runs right through the center of the city and is its main shopping thoroughfare. Along the boulevard are all kinds of bars, cafes, and restaurants, not to mention plenty of high-end fashion stores. Walking here will give you a sense of city life and quickly bring you to St. Nedelya Square, on which stands the impressive sight of the St. Kyriaki Cathedral Church.
Church St. George Rotunda
To see the oldest building in Sofia, head behind the St. Kyriaki Cathedral Church up Saborna street and you should spot a brick church in a gap in the buildings. It is the ancient Church of Saint George, a church converted from Roman baths dating from the early 4th century during a time when Sofia was known as Serdica. Today it’s enclosed in a courtyard surrounded by towering buildings, hiding this impossibly old and well-preserved cultural landmark. Inside it’s possible to see fragments of medieval frescoes on its walls.
Banya Bashi and Sofia Synagogue
Returning to the St. Kyriaki Cathedral Church and continuing north, you’ll soon come across two buildings that speak to Sofia’s multicultural past. The first you’ll spot is the Banya Bashi Mosque, an elegant 16th-century landmark from the days of the Ottoman Empire. This is the only mosque left in Sofia from that time and it’s possible to visit inside when prayer services aren’t taking place.
One block to the west and you’ll uncover the Sofia Synagogue, the largest synagogue in the Balkans. Sofia was once home to a large Jewish population and this synagogue was built in 1909 for that community. After admiring its Moorish design, you may head inside to see its museum about Bulgaria’s Jewish communities.
Sofia’s Central Market Hall
Across the street from the Sofia Synagogue stands the Central Sofia Market Hall. This covered market dates back to 1911 and features a stylish Art Nouveau exterior which looks a little too grand just to be a market hall. Regardless, step inside and you’ll find rows of stalls across three floors selling everything from local produce and food, to clothing and trinkets. If you’re at all curious about trying typical Bulgarian sweets and snacks, this is a great place to pick up a few.
Central Mineral Baths
Walking through the park behind the Banya Bashi Mosque you’ll arrive at one of Sofia’s prettiest buildings, the Central Mineral Baths. This building and its sophisticated Neo-Byzantine architecture was once the city’s public baths which opened in 1913. That said, Sofia has been known for its mineral springs and baths since the 16th century. You won’t have any need for a towel if you visit today though – the Baths are now home to the Sofia Regional History Museum. In front of the building you’ll find a fountain that’s still fed by hot natural mineral water, which you can drink if you like.
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Easily the most iconic attraction in the city of Sofia is the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This impressive cathedral is actually one of the most beautiful churches in the world, thanks to its glimmering golden domes and Neo-Byzantine style. The cathedral was finished in 1912 and stands as one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world. While it makes an impression from the outside, its interior is just as memorable thanks to its use of mosaics and murals. Visitors can also descend into the cathedral’s crypt, where it’s possible to see a large collection of icons.
“Ivan Vazov” National Theater
Time for one last striking Sofia attraction, the vibrant Ivan Vazov National Theatre. Built at the start of the 20th century, this gorgeous Neo-Classical building is a national icon and is named after the prominent writer Ivan Vazov. Since its inception, this has been the most important theater in the country. The City Garden sits directly outside the theater, with fountains there helping to add to its beauty.
Sofia Itinerary: Day 2
There’s plenty more for you to see around the city with the rest of your 48 hours in Sofia, including the many attractions around Mount Vitosha. Alternatively, there are a great deal of day trips from Sofia you can add to your Sofia itinerary instead.
Local Street Art
Sofia may not be one of the most famous cities for street art in Europe, but there’s actually quite a lot to see. Venture around the downtown area and you’ll find quite a variety of pieces on the sides of buildings. That said, the city’s street art does seem more common further out in neighborhoods like Hadzhi Dimitar on the sides of apartment buildings.
The Red Flat
If you’re curious about what life was like in Bulgaria during the country’s communist period, be sure to make a stop at the Red Flat. Essentially a family home that has been unchanged from the 1980s, you’ll get to see an honest and unfiltered view of what ordinary life was like for people at that time through this small museum. An audio guide helps provide context to items throughout the flat.
National Palace Of Culture
Heading back to Vitosha Boulevard and following it to the southern end will bring you to the gardens surrounding the National Palace of Culture. This large communist-era venue was built to help celebrate Bulgaria’s 1300th birthday and acts as a conference center and event venue. The gardens and fountains around the venue are nice enough, but the real reason to visit is the striking architecture of the National Palace of Culture and other Brutalist monuments around the park.
National Museum of History
Leaving the city center entirely, the National Museum of History rests at the foot of Mount Vitosha. Housed inside the former residence of the communist leader Todor Zhivkov in the Boyana district, the museum is the largest in the country. With a visit to the museum, you’ll be taken right through the history of Bulgaria from the prehistoric period right up to the country’s recent Communist period. There are over 65,000 items on display there, allowing for a depth and diversity of exhibits that’s downright impressive.
Boyana Church Museum
Heading even closer to Vitosha, we come to one of Bulgaria’s proud UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Boyana Church. Despite its distance from the city center, Boyana Church is one of the most popular attractions in Sofia. Given that this medieval Bulgarian Orthodox church dates from around the 11th century and bears great cultural heritage, it’s easy to see why. Inside the church are incredibly detailed frescoes done in a Renaissance style that was before its time.
Finally you come to the looming presence of Vitosha Mountain which has been visible most of the time during your exploration of the city. There are three options for climbing up Vitosha; you can either take to its hiking trails, go up by bus or hitch a ride on the Simeonovo chair lift.
However you go up, prepare for plenty of natural scenery and some stunning panoramic views of Sofia along the way. Other attractions around Vitosha worth seeing if you have the time include Boyana Waterfall, uphill from the church, and the ancient Dragalevtsi Monastery.
You now have everything you could need to make the most of 2 days in Sofia taking in the city’s sights. Hopefully, this has given you a better idea of how to plan your visit to Bulgaria’s capital city.