10 Dec Sofia, Bulgaria
Sofia (София) is the capital of Bulgaria. It is also the biggest city in the country with about 1.4 million citizens (including suburbs). Today, Sofia is a dynamic European capital, distinguished by its unique combination of European and Communist-style architecture as well as many beautiful Orthodox churches. Furthermore, it claims to be one of the few European capitals with beautiful scenery and a developed ski-resort so close to it - the Vitosha mountain.
Sofia was founded around 2,500 years ago. Over the centuries, it has been given several names — Serdika, Sredets and the remains of the old cities can still be viewed today.
Near Sofia lies Boyana church, which is one of the most valuable memorials of Bulgarian and European culture. The church has frescoes, acclaimed by specialists as the best examples of eastern medieval art from the 13th century AD.
The decline of Sofia during the Turkish Ottoman Empire was followed by the rejuvenation after the Russian liberation in 1878, when Sofia was chosen as the capital of Bulgaria at the First National Constituent Assembly, and followed by a brisk and straightforward period of construction.
- 42.69523.4083331 Sofia Airport (Летище София SOF IATA) (is 9 km east of the city center). It is the busiest airport in Bulgaria, with annual passenger traffic of approximately 4 million.
Along with traditional carriers, some low-cost companies traveling to Bulgaria are EasyJet (to/from London-Gatwick, Madrid, Manchester) and Wizz Air (to/from Paris-Beauvais, Barcelona, Brussels-Charleroi, Dortmund, Eindhoven, London-Luton, Milan-Bergamo, Rome-Fiumicino, Valencia) and RyanAir. Bulgaria Air, the national carrier operates service to/from Alicante, Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Beirut, Berlin - Tegel, Brussels, Bucharest - Otopeni, Frankfurt, Istanbul - Atatürk, Kiev - Boryspil, Larnaca, London - Gatwick, London - Heathrow, Madrid, Málaga, Manchester, Moscow - Sheremetyevo, Palma de Mallorca, Paphos, Paris - Charles de Gaulle, Rome - Fiumicino, Skopje, Tel Aviv, Tirana, Tripoli, Valencia, Vienna, Zürich.
Budget airlines including EasyJet, Eurowings and Wizz Air operate from Terminal 1, while the traditional carriers including Bulgaria Air operate from Terminal 2.
There are shops, cafes, post offices, ATMs, and money exchange offices at the airport. For more details, see the airport website.
There is a free shuttle bus operating between the terminals every 30 minutes between 07:00 and 19:00. Outside of those hours, a free shuttle bus can be requested at the information desk or you can use Bus #84 (see below).
To travel between the airport and the city centre:
- Please note that markings for the metro station may be hard to find, they are only on the floor (follow the red line in direction of the arrows).
- Sofia Metro Line 1 (Red) operates service to the airport between 05:30 and 24:00. The stop is located next to Terminal 2 (leave the building and go East). The journey to the city centre takes 20-30 minutes. The journey to the central bus station takes approximately 35 minutes and a transfer is required. A single ticket costs 1.60 lev. You need extra ticket for each piece of large luggage.
- Public Bus #84 operates service between both terminals and the city centre. The journey takes 30-40 minutes. Tickets can be purchased from news stands or ticket machines in the airport. A single ticket costs 1.60 lev. If you are travelling with luggage bigger than 60х40х40, you will need to punch an additional ticket for each item or possibly pay a fine of 20 lev. The bus makes a stop at Orlov Most (Sofia University metro station), where you can transfer to the metro.
- Taxi service from the airport is regulated. OK Supertrans AD is the contracted taxi operator from the airport. It is best to request a taxi either from the taxi stand or the taxi office. Beware of touts offering taxi service as well as fake taxis with the fake "OK" logo! A taxi to the city center will cost approximately 15 lev. The regulated taxi fare is: initial fee of 0.70 lev, price per km 0.79 lev in the day or 0.90 lev at night, price per minute of stay of 0.22 lev, price for ordering a taxi via phone of 0.50 lev.
Central bus station
Sofia Central Bus Station (Centralna Avtogara/Централна автогара) is in the north part of the city centre and is within walking distance to the central attractions. Schedules and fares are available in Bulgarian online.
Eurolines Bulgaria is the largest operator of international buses to/from Bulgaria. Buses operate to/from Belgrade (5 hours, €23) and other cities in Serbia, Vienna (15.5 hours, €59) and other cities in Austria, Paris (36 hours, €120) and other cities in France, Berlin (28 hours, €110) and other cities in Germany, Budapest (11-13 hours, €48), and Prague (21 hours, €63).
Other bus stations
There are 3 smaller bus stations that serve only local destinations. The bus to Samokov operates from the south station (near Жолио Кюри Metro Station, also on the route of Bus #84 from the airport).
Sofia sees plenty of international trains, however most of them are slow and often overnight. There are two daily trains from Bucharest through the border cities of Giurgiu and Ruse, one daytime and one overnight. Passport control and customs takes place approximately mid-trip. After years of absence, trains between Thessaloniki and Sofia have restarted. There is one daytime train each day, with about seven hours of travel time. Also, an overnight train connects Sofia with Istanbul each night costing 70 leva, however recent track works have made this connection quite unreliable with cancellations on short notice and bus replacement. Things should however improve when upgrades are completed on the Turkish side. Russian RZD has a daily train from Moscow via Warsaw. Finally, a slow overnight train connects with Budapest daily.
The main railway station, 42.71194323.3210382 Sofia Central Station (Bulgarian: Централна железопътна гара София, Tsentralna zhelezopatna gara Sofiya) or simply Tsentralna Gara is located on the northern end of the city centre. The station can be somewhat confusing. Domestic departures go from the main terminal and that is where you can buy tickets for domestic travel. If you want to travel to an international destination, use ticket windows 14-17. They speak some English and to book a ticket, you will need your passport. They take credit cards. Platforms can be accessed from the main floor down the escalators at the far left corner. Platform numbering is somewhat confusing: Roman numerals indicate the platform number (I to VI), and Arabic numerals (1 to 12) indicate the actual track. Each platform is divided into East and West. Departures and arrivals are indicated on reliable electronic panels, but, beware, they indicate the track number, not the platform! In any case, leaving by train is mostly recommended if you want to travel overnight to destinations on the Black Sea, since trains for Varna and Burgas will leave late in the evening and get you there in the early morning (a couchette to Varna is 16 leva).
Timetables can be found at the website of Bulgarian State Railways.
All highways in Bulgaria are often under construction.
Access to Bulgaria's Capital is via several entry points:
1. From the North & South via E79/A6
2. From the East - via Thrace Highway E80/A1-A3 or from the old road paralelling the E80 Highway - Zlatitza - Pirdop - Pazardzhik route.
3. From the West - via A1/E80 Liking the city and the Bulgarian-Serbian Border point of Kalotina.
- A1 connects Sofia to Burgas.
- A2 is planned to be from Sofia to Varna, but ends around Pravets and continues from Shumen to Varna.
- A3 is planned to be from Varna to Burgas, but only a few kilometers have been built.
Otherwise coming from Greece the road E79/A6 is in very good shape, so the 300 km from Thessaloniki are done fairly fast if you don't happen to fall into Friday/Sunday traffic jams in the area of Sofia or Pernik.
Coming from the Republic of Macedonia, via Kyustendil the roads are relatively good but driving within speed limits would avoid you much hassle caused either by traffic police, or road conditions. From Central Europe you can drive almost the whole length on highways (via Slovenia-Croatia-Serbia or Hungary-Serbia), with only the last 100 km between Niš in Southern Serbia and Sofia being heavily trafficked mountain roads around the Nishava ravine in not the best shape.
By public transport
Sofia has a well-developed, cheap, and efficient public transport system that consists of buses, trolleys, trams, subway line. Be sure to ask for directions, because the transport network can be confusing for visitors who do not know it well. The public transport operates from 05:00 to about 23:00. Taxis are the only transport option in the night.
The price of a single ticket is 1.60 lev only paid in the local currency. There are also 10-ticket carnets for one passenger (12 lev), and daily travel cards (4 lev). Tickets and daily cards can be bought at most newspaper stands especially ones adjacent to public transport stops. If you can't find any, you can also buy tickets from the driver if he has any available, though this is not guaranteed. Punch a ticket immediately after you enter the vehicle. The inspectors rarely understand English and you might have problems with them if you travel without a ticket or if you forget to punch it. Inspectors ambush and board buses and trams in groups (and their attitude is generally not friendly at all), sometimes accompanied by police, and make no exceptions. The fine is 40 lev.
If you are traveling by tram with a large suitcase or backpack, be sure to buy a separate ticket for your bag/case or you might be fined!
There are 15 tram lines, 9 trolley lines, 93 bus lines and 2 metro lines. Some of the buses cover the area outside the city center including neighboring villages. Useful routes are bus #84 from both terminals of the airport to the center; from the train/bus station to Orlov most - bus #213 or #214 or tram #1, #7 and #18 to Vitosha Street and Sv. Nedelya Square, #1, #6, #7 to the National Palace of Culture, #18 to Slaveykov square or #6 to Macedonia square.
The subway in Sofia is still under construction and more lines will be available in the next years. There are two lines - one that crosses from the western edge of town (Lulin, Obelya) through the city center, the southeast (Mladost) and the airport, and a second one, that crosses from the northwestern neighborhoods (Obelya, Nadezhda), through the central train and bus stations and the city center, to the southern part of the city (Khladilnika).
Streets have adequate tiled pavements, especially in the city centre. However, they are frequently uneven and potholed, and walking is further made difficult by parked cars, street vendors and cafes. Except for areas in the very centre, pavements rarely have slopes for wheelchair access or designated lanes for bicycle riders. Pedestrian crossings are numerous and are relatively respected by drivers. Use pedestrian underpasses to cross large intersections, though avoid ones in the suburbs as these are usually derelict.
Mini-buses (marshrutki) stop if you just wave a hand and usually are fast way to go somewhere without need to change the car. You pay to the driver when you get on the car. Prices are 1.50 lev. You need to tell the driver if and when you want to get off.
Taxis in Sofia are yellow. Taxis can be caught on the streets or can be ordered by phone, they arrive fast and are reliable. A drive inside Sofia will rarely exceed 10 lev and a trip from the airport to the city center 8-15 lev.
There are many companies offering taxi services, some of them are OK Supertrans taxi (973 2121), €1 Taxi, "962-22-26", Yellow Taxi (91119) and Radio CV Taxi (91263) with fares around 0.80 lev/km. Some taxi companies have smartphone apps available that allow you to register and order taxis to your specific address in real time, thus eliminating the risk of falling prey to scams. As of June 2017, Yellow Taxi has the most user-friendly app for foreigners.
There are some taxis trying to imitate the most popular ones but with outrageous prices (up to 5.90 lev/km) so check before you board, these taxis usually hang around hotels and tourist spots picking on unsuspecting customers, The general rule is that if a taxi driver comes to you and offers you a drive, never accept it because they will try to rip you off.
Taxi drivers may not stop if you hail them on the street and often don't have much change, so plan accordingly (or leave tips!)
Renting a car is possible, but not necessarily a good idea if your plans are restricted to visiting only Sofia and not travelling elsewhere in the country. Driving here can be strenuous for those with less experience behind the wheel - be prepared for traffic jams and disorganized traffic. Those of you who plan on visiting more of the country can rent a car from a local company (much cheaper than the big brands) or use a broker () as some of the local companies do not even have websites.
If you need to park your car, you are recommended to do it in a paid guarded lot. Parking in the center is difficult and you may be parked illegally without knowing it; foreign license plates may attract unwelcome attention of Bulgarian police and of criminals. Even if there are other cars parked in the area, double check that there are no signs or pavement markings prohibiting it. Parking in the central city area on working days is paid , it is divided in a so-called Blue Zone ("Синя зона") - 2lv per hour, and a Green Zone ("Зелена зона") - 1lv per hour. If you have a Bulgarian mobile number, you can also pay by SMS - send the vehicle registration plate number to "1302" for the "Green zone" or 1303 for the "Blue zone". This will charge parking for an hour through your phone bill. Five minutes before the prepaid time is up you will receive a warning sms. You can either send another message for another hour or move your car.
Pay attention to trams or buses stopping in the middle of the road. If you see a stopped tram or bus on your left, you must stop and let the passengers get on/off, according to the Bulgarian traffic code. Failing to stop in this manner may be very dangerous.
If you drive out of the city (or enter the country by road) you must have a toll sticker - vignette ("vinetka" in Bulgarian). Buy it right away at the border or before leaving Sofia from any fuel station. The price is 8 euro and the sticker is valid for one week (one-month, 15 euro, and one-year, 50 euro, vignettes are also available). You must place it on the front window, in the bottom right corner. The fine, if you forget the sticker, is about 200 lev.
Driving with your lights on is compulsory, day and night, all year long.
Sofia is one of the greenest capitals in Europe, with the big park zones ideal for biking. Slow traffic in downtown is perfect for cycling. On a bike you will save time and will enjoy sport activity. Sofia also has a few bike paths around the downtown area and in districts such as Mladost, Nadezhda, Hipodruma. Be careful as many cars double park and may open doors without noticing you. Rent a bike () Bike rental operates 10:00-20:00 (April to November). Discover Sofia by bike map or joint to an experienced bike guide.
Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe and has ancient ruins throughout the city center.
In the administrative center of Sofia, the streets are covered with a specific yellow pavement. It was laid in the beginning of the 20th century and were a present to the Bulgarian Tsar Ferdinand for his wedding from the Austria-Hungarian royal family.
Sofia was founded because of the quality of its mineral waters. In the city, there are 7 independent mineral water springs. One of the springs is in the central area of the city and is accessible for everybody - cross the square behind the mosque, next to TSUM (the intersection of Iskar and Ekzarh Yosif streets).
- 42.699423.32371 Sofia Public Mineral Baths. It is an old building of interest. It was renovated and is now a museum of the history of Sofia.
- 42.68839723.3507112 National Museum of Military History, 92 Cherkovna Str., ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. 10:00-18:00. adults 8 lev (on March 15, 2012).
- Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum, 6A Moskovska Str., ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Has a permanent collection of traditional Bulgarian costumes and a changing exhibition.
- 42.69611123.3344443 Earth and Man National Museum (Национален музей), 4 Cherni Vruh Blvd, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. 10:00-18:00. Has the biggest collection of gigantic minerals in the World. 2 lev.
- 42.65497223.2707784 National Museum of History, 16 Vitoshko lale str. (ул. Витошко лале 16) (Take trolley #2 southwest from the corner of Praga Blvd. and Patriarh Eftimiy Blvd. Get off at the roundabout at the end of the bus line. Cross the busy Okolovrustino Shosse (ring road) and walk through the trees. The museum is not visible from the road, nor are there any signs.), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 09:30-18:00. The National Museum of History (Национален исторически музей) in the Rezidentsia Boyana in Sofia contains more than 650,000 exhibits and is one of the largest history museums on the Balkans, so be prepared to spend several hours. The aim of the museum is to provide a comprehensive view on Bulgarian history from the prehistory to present, in as broad of a European context as possible. One main attraction are golden or silver mugs and jewelery that date from Thracian (around 4th century BC) and roman periods. About half of the exhibits have English captions. 10 lev, 1 lev for students.
- 42.69633123.3245645 National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, 2 Saborna Str., ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. 10:00-18:00. 10 lev.
- 42.7040523.311996 [dead link]National Polytechnic Museum, 66 Opalchenska Str., ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 09:00-17:00.
- 42.69568323.3284647 National Museum of Natural History, 1, Tzar Osvoboditel Blvd, ☎ , fax: . 10:00-18:00. Has four floors of everything from rocks and minerals to insects and stuffed bison. It is a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon.
- 42.6930123.327588 House-Museum of Ivan Vazov (On the corner of the streets G. Rakovski and Ivan Vazov.).
- Museum of Sport, 1A Bulgaria Blvd (National Stadium Vasil Levski), ☎ . 09:00 to 17:00.
- Museum of Paleontology and historical geology, 15 Tzar Osvoboditel Blvd (Inside Sofia University.), ☎ .
- National Literature Museum, 138 G. S. Rakovski Str., floor 2, ☎ .
- National Agricultural Museum, 30 Suhodolska Str., ☎ .
- National Ecclesiastical History-Archeological Museum, 19 Sveta Nedelya Sq., ☎ . 09:00 to 17:00.
- 42.69611123.3344449 [dead link]National Gallery for Foreign Art, 1 St. Aleksander Nevski Square, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 11:00 to 18:00. 4 lev.
- 42.723.3310 Museum of Socialist Art. (updated Aug 2017)
- 42.69648123.32678611 National Art Gallery, 1 Batenberg Sq., ☎ . 10:30 to 18:00. Has old Bulgarian art, icons, etc. 4 lev.
- Sofia Art Gallery, 1, Gen. Gurko Str. (The entrance is from Kniaz Al. Batenberg Str.), ☎ . 10:00 to 19:00. free.
- [dead link]Sofia City Art Gallery (Софийска градска художествена галерия), 1 General Gurko St (ул. Ген. Гурко 1), ☎ .
- 42.69583923.33296912 St. Aleksander Nevski Cathedral. One of the largest orthodox churches worldwide and the largest in the Balkan Peninsula.
- 42.64467223.26617213 Boyana Church, 1-3 Boyansko Ezero Str. (Getting here is quite difficult. Take tram #9 or #10 from the stop underneath NDK (National Palace of Culture) to Hladilnika neighborhood (the last stop). Then catch bus #64. The bus stop is 50 meters away but you better ask someone for directions because there are several different stops in the vicinity. The stop for the church is a small plaza with a few shops near the end of the #64 bus line. Ask the driver or the other passengers where to get off and then walk uphill and turn left.), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 09:00 to 17:00. This small 14th-century church and garden is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The church contains some very well preserved murals. It is located at the foot of Vitosha mountain and is a good starting point for day trips in the mountain. Entrance is 10 lev, or 2 lev for students.
- 42.69686123.32286114 Church of St. George (Behind the Sheraton Hotel).
- 42.696523.331515 Hagia Sophia Church, 2 Paris str.. It is located just across the square and to the right from the Aleksandar Nevski Cathedral. It was built in the 6th century over an even older church. It is a witness of the whole Bulgarian history and is a valued cultural monument. In the 14th century it gave its name to the city of Sofia. It was destroyed several times and during the Ottoman rule it was used as a mosque.
- 42.69861123.31972216 Catholic cathedral St. Joseph, 125, Knjaz Boris I (next to Sheraton Hotel), ☎ . Holy Masses: Sa 17:30 & Su 10:30 in Bulgarian; 12:00 in Latin; 18:00 Bulgarian
- 42.69677823.32155117 Saint Nedelya. (updated Jul 2016)
- 42.695723.329118 St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. (updated Aug 2017)
Other places of worship
- 42.69951123.32257519 Banya Bashi Mosque.
- Amphitheatre of Serdica (Located in the geographical center of the city under the flags of the EU.).
- 42.6914323.3326421 Battenberg Mausoleum. The mausoleum and final resting place of Prince Alexander I of Bulgaria (1857–1893), the first Head of State of modern Bulgaria.
- Knyaz Battenberg's Palace (Right in front of the city garden.).
- 42.696723.335322 Monument to Vasil Levski. It commemorates the hanging of Bulgarian national hero and major revolutionary figure Vasil Levski in the city on 18 February 1873.
- 42.693723.332323 Monument to the Tsar Liberator. Representing the power of freedom and across from it are the National Assembly and the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
- 42.6962523.3315324 Monument to the Unknown Soldier. Across from Aleksandar Nevski cathedral; on the side of Hagia Sofia's Church.
- 42.6962823.3305325 Tsar Samuil Monument. A statue of the Bulgarian warlord and tsar Samuil, who ruled Bulgaria between 997 and 1014. (updated Jul 2016)
- 42.692323.310526 Russian Monument. An obelisk built by the Russians. (updated Jul 2016)
- 42.697723.323327 Largo. 3 buildings of Socialist Classicism architecture.
- Prince Alexander of Battenberg Square. The largest square in Sofia. Includes the National Art Gallery.
- 42.6919223.3243028 Petko R. Slaveykov Square (along Graf Ignatiev Str. , between Solunska Str. and Rakovski Str.). A famous square, real Sofia center with a monument of writers father and son Slaveykov. It`s a biggest open-air book market in the Balkans.There are round benches and street musicians act very often. free.
- 42.688323.328529 Patriarh Evtimiy Square. A popular meeting place.
- 42.687923.319630 Park National Palace of Culture. (updated Jul 2016)
Parks and gardens
- 42.688623.337931 Borisova Gradina (Boris Garden). The oldest and best known park in the city. Includes the Ariana Lake.
- 42.695223.325632 City Garden. It's the oldest and most central public garden, in existence since 1872.
- 42.673923.308634 Yuzhen Park (South Park). A nice park in the south-east part of the city, although a bit too crowded on weekends. Vibrant with open area cafes, entertainment for children and grown-ups, and a few ponds with ducks.
- 42.697432623.342041835 Oborishte Park, Yanko Sakazov blvd. A park near the center of the city with places to eat and drink. Also known as "Zaimov Park". (updated Jul 2016)
- 42.69055623.337536 Orlov Most. A bridge over the Perlovska River near the centre of Sofia
- 42.70523.32388937 Lavov Most. A bridge over the Vladayska River near the central train station. (updated Jul 2016)
- 42.694223.332738 National Assembly of Bulgaria, 2 Narodno Sabranie Sq., ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com.
- Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, 1 15 November Str., ☎ , fax: .
- 42.6941523.3265340 Ivan Vazov National Theatre, 5 Dyakon Ignatiy Str., ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 42.6948023.3359941 SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library, 88 Vasil Levski Str., ☎ , fax: . 08:30 to 20:30.
- 42.685223.319042 National Palace of Culture, 1 Bulgaria Sq., ☎ , fax: . The biggest congress center in the Balkans (a massive monolithic communist-style building). If asking for directions, ask for NDK (en-de-ka), as most Bulgarians refer to it by this acronym.
- 42.695223.329943 Central Military Club. It`s a multi-purpose monument of culture building in the city center. Also known under the name Kristal.
- Cafes and restaurants. Sofia is full of trendy cafes with outdoor seating in the summer and good-quality restaurants.
- 42.697523.33051 Sofia Opera and Ballet, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. During summer, open air shows in the evenings are offered.
- Arena Cinema. One of the biggest Bulgarian cinema multiplex. Cinemas in Sofia play all films except children's films in their original language with Bulgarian subtitles.
- Sofia Bike Tour (National Theatre Ivan Vazov), Dyacon Ignatiy, 5, ☎ . Visit the greenest capital of Europe on a bike. Every day free bike tour (12 April–November) at 11:00 and 17:00. Escape from the city and join to the bike countryside tour around Sofia. Start Point: National Theater "Ivan Vazov"
- Playgrounds. If you're travelling with kids, they might love playgrounds. The "rich" one is in the park that holds Vasil Levski stadium (close to the corner with Orlov Most; there are actually two playgrounds close to this corner and you'd look for the one more inside the park).
- Eat with a local Bulgarian Host (BonAppetour), ulitsa "Krasna kitka" 5, Sofia, Bulgaria, ☎ , toll-free: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Experience a complete 4-course authentic Bulgarian food with a local chef at her private garden in Sofia city. Get a taste of local culture and authentic food. US$20. (updated Jan 2016)
- The New Sofia Pub Crawl. Nightly pub crawl departing at 9PM from Crystal Garden. The guide(s) will take you around to different local pubs and clubs tailored for the number of people participating on the crawl and the night of the week. A few of the stops give you a free drink but at others you will need to pay. During the tour you will learn about some of Sofia's history and its art scene. On a weekend, with a presumably large crowd, the crawl will tend towards clubs and larger pubs. On a weeknight, and with a smaller crowd, the crawl will stop at smaller pubs which seem to be local favorites and hidden gems which you are unlikely to stumble upon yourself. Tickets can be purchased online for 20BGN and presented on your phone. (updated Apr 2018)
It is strongly advisable to skip exchange offices on the street and use exclusively banks for exchanging money. Some exchange stalls will try to scam you by buying your currency at very unfavorable rates. It's also possible to change money at a good rate in casinos if you play there.
ATMs are widely available and accept all major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Diner's, etc.), although you have to check your daily limit with your bank. ATMs will let you withdraw at most 400 lv in one go, but if your card limit allows it, you can make two or more withdrawals.
Credit cards are widely accepted in larger stores and supermarkets, but in small souvenir shops or restaurants you will definitely need to carry some cash.
Souvenirs can be bought many small shops in the subways in front of the old Party House and in the metro station at the Largo. The Ethnographic Museum has a small shop tightly crammed with souvenirs of all kinds from all over Bulgaria (on the right, just as you enter the main entrance). Antiques and souvenirs can also be found in Aleksandar Nevski square, in stalls just opposite the church.
- Vitosha Boulevard. It`s the main commercial street in the centre of Sofia. Its pedestrian part is a popular place for walks. It is known as the most expensive street in Sofia.
- 42.660623.38241 The Mall, 115 Tzarigradsko Shose Blvd (Many bus lines stop at THE MALL. Choose between bus no. 1, 3, 5, 6, 76, 84, 114, 204, 213, 214, 284, 305, 306, 313 and 604.). 10:00 to 22:00. a convenience store, Largest shopping mall in Bulgaria; contains also a Carrefour store, large Arena cinema, a lot of cafes and restaurants, etc.
- 42.699923.32212 Central Sofia Market Hall, Knyaginya Maria Luiza Blvd (Opposite the Banya Bashi mosque.). Has many stalls selling all kinds of food, drink and cosmetics. The second floor has various fast-food cafés.
- 42.698323.30914 Mall of Sofia, 101, Aleksander Stamboliyski Blvd, ☎ , fax: . Contains a Piccadilly store and a Cinema City multiplex.
- 42.679823.36766 SkyCity Mall, 52 Kosta Lulchev Str. (You can get there by tram No 20, bus No 9, and Route Taxi No 1, 19 and 21.), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. 10:00 to 22:00. Also has an entertainment center.
- 42.691123.35387 Serdika Center Sofia. Contains a Piccadilly store.
- 42.645123.39268 Sofia Outlet Center.
- 42.664123.28889 Bulgaria Mall.
- 42.658223.315210 Paradise Center. Largest shopping mall in Bulgaria; contains also a Carrefour store, large Arena cinema, a lot of cafes and restaurants, etc.
- 42.624523.352711 Sofia Ring Mall. Contains a karting track and a Cinema City multiplex. (updated Jul 2016)
You can easily find take away food in Sofia. For less than 2 lev you can get a slice of pizza, a hot-dog or a sandwich. You can get more traditional Bulgarian food in bakeries, offering banitsa and other kinds of pastry. This food is often consumed with ayran or boza . Another possibility is to get a katma, which is a big pancake filled with cheese, ham, jelly or chocolate.
Pizzeria-type restaurants and snack bars can be found all over Sofia. Although many are very uninteresting for the traveler looking for a meal with a local flavor, some include excellent Bulgarian dishes.
- Mr.Pizza, 44 Neofit Rilski Str., ☎ . Popular in Sofia, get there early or reserve if you want a table in their courtyard. 10 to 15 leva per person..
- Baаlbek (Near Slaveykov Square.). This is great Arab food. Downstairs is take-away kebabs and falafels, and upstairs a small eat-in. Excellent hummus and salads, etc., and cold beer.
- Trops House. It`s a fast-food type of place, offering traditional Bulgarian meals and drinks. It can be found in several locations throughout the city center.
Mid to High End
- Happy's Bar and Grill (Just across the street from the Sveta Nedelya church.). Happy's is the Bulgarian equivalent of an American diner, and the Sofia representative of a nationwide chain. There are English-language menus, and the staff (all microskirted young girls, who apparently have to be smiling when they serve you) all seem to have at least some English as well. Portions are generally huge and represent a sort of "watered down" version of their traditional Bulgarian equivalents, although more Western fare is also available.
- Pizza Victoria. One of the best Bulgarian pizzas.
- Godzila (Under the Sofia's sport palace with entrance from Gen. Gurko street.), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Godzila's first restaurant opened in 1999 in the sea capital of Bulgaria - Varna . There you can try some fresh salads, juicy barbecue, delicious pizza and various other dishes. The menus are also written in English and the staff speaks English as well. There are traditional Bulgarian cuisine and Western cuisine as well.
- Pod Lipite. Very good traditional food. Reservation is required.
- Motto, 18 Aksakov str. (Motto is on the street right behind the Radisson hotel, and then two blocks East (turn to the right on the first small street behind the Radisson if you are walking from the big horse statue) - it's kind of hard to find as the sign is a small black sign with white lettering.), ☎ . This place is always fairly busy with a trendy crowd. The decor is modern and cool, and the people typically good looking. The service here is usually pretty nice, and many of the wait-staff speak English. The food is consistent and enjoyable. 5 to 15 lev per dish..
- Carrera, 4 Golo Bardo Str., ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A fairly modern restaurant over in the Lozenetz area. The decor is well done, the service good, and the food very good. Prices are in line with the quality and style of the place. The wine selection is excellent. They also have a nice summer/winter garden area.
- Hadjidraganovite kashti (Traditional Bulgarian Cuisine), 75 Kozloduy (2 minutes walking distance from the Lion Bridge, around the corner from Ramses II Casino), ☎ . 11:30 - 02:00. Amazing restaurant just off one of Sofia's main streets. The decor is old-style Bulgarian and the food is traditional Bulgarian, plentiful and very, very tasty. Entertainment includes a Bulgarian walking band and guests are primarily locals. Staff is very friendly and most speak English. Reservations are necessary, even on weeknights. €10-30.
- Mehana Karajata (Mehana Karajata), Bul.Ovcha kupel and ul.Zhitnitsa crossroad, ☎ . Try Bulgarian national cuisine - in a traditional Bulgarian home atmosphere. Nicely decorated restaurant with beautiful open garden, typical folk music. €10.
- Old Days (English version of the name) (Go to Orlov Most corner of the park that holds Vasil Levski stadium. The restaurant is on the "island" in the middle of the "lake" that is on this corner.). Bulgarian national cuisine.
- Starbucks, Corner of Vasil Levski Blvd & Gurko Blvd.
- Nedelya Sweet Shop, ☎ .
- Art Club since 1991, 6 Tsar Ivan Asen II Str..
- JJ Murphys Irish pub
- Cocktail Bar - tasty cocktails, crowded in the evenings, has a summer garden (it is actually in a small park, which becomes occupied by the customers)
- Bar 5L - Speakeasy (5L is a transliteration of rooster in Bulgarian). Designer cocktails in cozy atmosphere. The key, corresponding to the day of the month, unlocks the door (not sure whether they change it at midnight).
The Sofia nightlife is vibrant, concentrated mostly in two areas - the city center and around Studentski grad (Студентски град/Student's town), which is the neighborhood where are the university dorms. There are frequent live performances in various venues, check the freely distributed guides in various shops and restaurants like Programata (Програмата/The Program). The primary distinction between the clubs is whether the music includes chalga (чалга/folk-turkish-greek-serbian influenced local genre) or not. Expect that any local acquaintances will have strong feelings whether they attend or not the chalga clubs. There are hundreds of clubs and bars, with prices from 2 leva for beer and 5 for cocktail to luxurious places charging exorbitant sums. It is better to pay with cash, as POS terminals are not widely available, especially in the cheaper places. The people start to gather after working hours for a beer, cocktail or glass of wine, moving to dinner around 20:00 and clubs and discos after 23:00.
In the warm months, crowds overflow from the more popular places like Bilkova (Билкова/The Herbal) on the street. The centrally located parks and gardens like Crystal (Кристал) and Gradinkata na Narodniya (Градинката на народния/The garden of the national theater) and crowded during the summer, with drinks provided from nearby shops or cocktails in disposable cups.
- Carrusel. Upscale club, hosting DJ parties and special events.
- Culture Beat. Boutique cafe, bar, and nightclub, in NDK (National Palace of Culture). Great view from the terrace in the summer.
- Gramophone - contemporary music
- RocknRolla - large underground venue with rock music, on Garibaldi square
- Yalta - the biggest, oldest and most famous disco in Sofia, existing since the communist times, resident and guest DJ parties and events. EDM, house.
- Bedroom Premium Club - R&B, hip-hop, house
- Stroezha - rock and contemporary music
- Onyx - contemporary music
- Sugar - hip-hop
- Bar Dak and Bar Dak 2 - bars
- Once Upon a Time Библиотека - housed in the building of the National Library, rock.
- Club Alcohol - rock
- Mixtape 5 - huge club, next to NDK (National Palace of Culture), various events.
- Sofia Live Club - live events, in NDK
- Club Terminal 1 - big venue, mostly rock
- Club Mascara - in the building of the National Opera, contemporary music, house.
- Megami - in the Marinela hotel, chalga, upscale.
- BIAD - Rakovski streer, next to Memento, chalga.
- Club Revue - opposite of the National Assembly, chalga.
- Dada Cultural Bar - tango, salsa, live performances
- [dead link]Apartment. Popular among locals as well as foreigners is the "apartamenta", some sort of private club in the second floor of a turn of the 19th century mansion where you find a series of rooms, all in different styles and wall-drawings, colourful tapestries, etc. Go to the right, get a drink in the kitchen (everything non-alcoholic is 4 lv), and just pick and choose a room which looks cozy enough (shouldn't be too hard to find one with all the couches lying around). If you love the music, there are Mac computers in most of the rooms where you can pick something out of the playlist. Have a game of chess. There is also a Cinema room, if there is nothing running just go in, pick a movie out of the list and start the projection. There is also home-made chocolate and cream and all different kinds of organic drinks like Himalayan tea or Kiwi nectar.
- Lodkite. In the huge "Borisova gradina" park near the stadium (just ask you way around) you'll find this open-air place, located in an old leisure-park parcour (you know, that type of small water-channels where kid can drive around in little gondolas). The boats have gone and the channels serve as improvised sitting places (basic tables made out of wood planks put between the two sides of the channel). There are also some tables on the court and lights decorating the trees illuminate the scene. The public sound system has experimental electronic music, ambiance, progressive rock, or whatever the DJs feel like. The later it gets, the more you'll find people sitting everywhere on the floor on the trees. On warm summer nights, this place is a must-be.
- The largest discos in Sofia are concentrated in Student's town (Studentski grad) in the southern part of the city and can be reached by buses #94 (from Sofia university and Culture palace), #280 (from Sofia University, Orlov most) and #102. The last bus to Studentski grad departs from the city center at about 11:30PM (from Sofia University and Culture Palace). The entrance fee for most discos is between 1 and 5 leva (€0.5 - 2.5). Discos that can be visited there include: Avenue, Tantra, Orient 33, Jim Beam, Maskata, Stroezha.
- 42.6693323.369651 4km, boulevard Tsarigradsko shose 111 (Take metro line 1 to G.M.Dimitrov Metro Station and walk ~15 min. through Dimitrov boulevard to the big roundabout). This place plays mostly drum&bass and dubstep music. Entrance is ~€10, but slightly cheaper if you arrive before midnight.
- Levitt Hostel,
55 Vitosha Blvdshifted, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 11:00. Offers free unlimited high speed Internet (1000 Mbit/s) and Wi-Fi connection through the entire hostel, free coffee and tea any time of the day, free use of fully equipped kitchen, free blankets, pillows and sheets, free towels on request, free laundry (with 3 nights stay), free use of iron/ironing board, free hair dryer, free city maps, travel desk, security system + 24 hours video surveillance, designated smoking area, no curfew or lockout. €10.
- Art Hostel. 21/A, Angel Kanchev str., provides cheap accommodation and a friendly atmosphere where tourists and locals mingle in the small basement bar. Dormitory beds start from €12 (09/2011), "The Guardian" says "Probably the coolest youth-hostel in Europe".
- Canape Connection Hostel, 12 A William Gladstone St, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. A new generation hostel that offers chill-out atmosphere in a small charming house in the city center. The spacious canopy beds ensure your good night-rest, while the rich and healthy home-made breakfast gives you a great start in the mornings. €11-16.
- 42.68986523.3287561 Crosspoint Sofia Hostel (КросПойнт София Хостел), #6, Parensov St (Just a block away from Patriarh Evtimiy Square, and some 500 m away from the Parliament.), ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 11:45. A hostel with a friendly atmosphere. Free Wi-Fi; 1m-wide spacious and very comfortable beds; metal lockers. Offers mixed and female dorms as well as private rooms. Great young staff with an attitude working there. €9-18.
- Hostel Lavele, 14 Lavele St (behind BulBank, which is in front of Sveta Nedelya Church.), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Cozy hostel with fantastic rooms and comfortable beds. Not a party hostel, but has a good staff that loves to help out and create a lively social atmosphere. Hidden in a small quite street. Good breakfast included in the morning including homemade yogurt and bread, filter coffee, and plenty more to fill you up. Lots of good maps and information about Sofia, including a really cheap day trip to Rila Monastery. Internet in all of the rooms. From €10 for dorm. €26 for double private room..
- Hostel Mostel, 2A, Makedonia Blvd, ☎ . Has a huge lounge to chill out, you can browse the net on modern computers. All en-suite dorm rooms, trips to Rila Monastery are run daily. From €9..
- 42.69226823.3238062 Nightingale Hostel,
2A, Petko R. Slaveykov Squareshifted (Close to the corner of Solunska Str. and Graf Ignatiev Str.), ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. At Famous Slaveykov Square (center of the downtown), a non-smoking eco hostel provides beds and rooms and it is a social place with air-conditioning, common/TV room and lobby area. Free of charge- breakfast, kitchen, PC and WiFi internet, lockers, maps, call a taxi, book a club, check timetables service, hot showers in renovated and sexes separated toilets and 24hr reception desk. Laundry, pick up, meals and drinks are available. Friendly and talkative staff. A lot of info for local life. €7-12.
- Orient Express Hostel - Sofia. 8A Hristo Belchev Str. - This small hostel offers a variety of room options. From €8,5.
- Internet Hostel Sofia, 50A Allabin Str (On the corner with Vitosha Blvd and Allabin Str), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com.  - Small but probably the most central hostel in Sofia. Very popular place with own Irish Pub: McCarthys, many room types inc. studios and apartments, one of the first hostels opened in Sofia. From €8.
- 42.7102423.317133 [dead link]Alegra Hostel, Sofroniy Vrachanski street № 145 (near central railway and central bus station), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 11:00, check-out: 12:00. skype: alegra.hostel VIBER: 00359889446364 Location:in the center, at a quiet street, on the first floor of a three-storey residential building, with fully independent separate entrance and a tiny courtyard. The living area occupies 80 m². 4 separate rooms, individual locks, a fully equipped kitchen (kitchen stove, dishwasher, pots, saucepans, refrigerator, porcelain food sets, coffee machine, tea, microwave oven), two bathrooms with toilet, small vestibule. Bedding: Three rooms with three single beds, three individual locking wardrobes. The fourth room is furnished with two single beds and wardrobe. Window with PVC framed windows, convector radiators for heating in each room. All doors are locked with separate keys. In each room there are table, chairs, television, free WiFi, Internet, fax and two towels for each guest. Washing machine, clothes dryer, hair dryer, ironing board, mirror, bedside lamp, non-stop hot water. The Guest House is set up to accommodate up to 11 people. Included in the price: breakfast, tea, coffee. €30 private room /€15 per person. (updated Apr 2015)
- 10 Coins Hostel, Dechko Uzunov 24, Nadezhda (Take blue line to "Han Kubrat", nuicance to find without GPS), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 2:00, check-out: 11:00. Average but friendly hostel outside of the center, Small kitchen, quiet neighborhood. Dorms 7EU, Privates 18EU. (updated Aug 2017)
- Holiday Inn Sofia, 111 Aleksandar Malinov Blvd, ☎ . Modern five star hotel offering conference facilities and spa centre. Rooms from €68.
- Holiday Village Diplomat. Is near Vitosha mountain and 20 min away from the city centre. Spacious rooms, large park area and friendly staff.
- Maxim Hotel, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A hotel 5 min walking distance from the train/bus station and 5 min away in the opposite direction from downtown Sofia. It is a cute hotel with a nice bedroom and also a living/TV room, large private bathroom and includes breakfast buffet in the morning. Only negative is they do not have an elevator. Cost in slow season was €60 for 2 people, €50 for one person.
- Metropolitan Hotel Sofia, 64, Tsarigradsko shose Blvd, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: Reservations@metropolitanhotelsofia.com. Business 4-star hotel located near airport, ideal for business and leisure.
- Red House B&B, 15, Lyuben Karavelov St. A charming B&B located in the Red House cultural centre. From €30.
- Hello Sofia Guesthouse, 12 Stefan Stambolov Bul (Close to the corner with Todor Aleksandrov & Hristo Botev Blvd), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Just opened small and cozy guesthouse in the very center of Downtown, eco-friendly, offers individually designed en-suite rooms, also deluxe dormitories and studios, furnished and supplied with all natural materials and fabrics/linens, pillows by choice, free parking during the weekends, free WiFi, 40" LED HDTVs and individual PCs in some of the rooms! From €20.
- 42.6783023.326164 Hotel Lozenetz, 23, Sveti Naum Bul., ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Maria Luiza Hotel occupies an exquisite building dating back to the turn of 20th century and listed as one of Bulgaria's cultural monuments of national significance. Maria Luisa Hotel offers a combination of the standards and services found in a luxury hotel plus the privacy and independence of one's own home.
- 42.697023.32245 Sheraton Sofia Hotel Balkan, 5, Sveta Nedelya Sq. (Opposite the statue of Sofia and Sveta Nedelya Church), ☎ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Impressive 5-storey hotel, in classical design, houses 184 rooms, including 19 suites. All rooms are soundproof, with air condition control, direct dial phone, message alert, TV with satellite program, radio, mini bar.
- Park Inn by Radisson Sofia Hotel, Atanas Dukov Str. 36, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Set in a building that resembles a baroque castle, this hotel offers 77 rooms and 36 one- or two-bedroom apartments.
Generally, Sofia is a very safe and walkable city, even at night. Nevertheless, you should avoid poorly lit areas and use your common sense. Avoid the area around the central Bus and Rail Station, Maria Luiza Blvd, the dark areas of the city parks and the Lions' Bridge (Lavov Most). Single women and girls should be especially careful. Junkies get high in these areas, prostitutes (both female and transsexual) offer their "services", some people might want to tempt you with touts of contraband (stolen, illegal, etc.) and/or try to mug you. These areas are also frequented by the homeless and the drunk. If your hotel is in the area you'll be alright, just don't hang around it unnecessarily. Try to act like you are familiar with the area (and familiarize yourself during the day) and look like a local. It is wise to choose a hotel/hostel in a good, central location.
Pedestrians should be careful since many Bulgarian drivers do not yield right of way to those on foot.
Do not get into conflict with locals especially if they seem aggressive or drunk, particularly football fan groups who tend to be drunk and aggressive. Avoid wearing football shirts or scarves of the Sofia-based football teams, especially on match days.
Be wary of petty thieves and poorer neighborhoods, as pick pocketing and thefts are common. If you are approached by locals trying to sell stolen goods, give you directions or bother you exercise caution.
If you get in legal trouble with some of the locals, the Bulgarian police and judiciary may not protect you adequately because of corruption and nepotism.
Be careful with taxis, make sure you check the prices first before you get in (the fare is per kilometer and it should be something like 0.79 lev during the day and 0.90 lev during the night, avoid cabs that display their fare as above 1.00 lev), also make sure the cab has the driver's card on the front with his name.
Banks exchange most currency so there is usually no need to use exchange offices which often offer a poor rate, ignore entirely anyone on the street wanting to change money; you will get a awful exchange rate, or a handful of fake banknotes.
- Finland, 26-28, Bacho Kiro 5th fl 1000 Sofia, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Th 08:15-16:15, F 08:15-15:00.
- France, 27-29, Oborishte 1504 Sofia, ☎ . (updated Oct 2016)
Sofia has a large number of free wireless hotspots in bars, restaurants, and cafés. You may find also in hotels and public areas, like "Park Zaimov". The airport has a free public wireless hotspot, and so does the central train station in Sofia.
- Vitosha is a magnificent landmark mountain rising just south of the capital. It is easily accessible by public transportation or by car and day trips in Vitosha in a sunny day are highly recommended. In the winter it is well suited for skiing  and its proximity allows one day ski-trips; in the summer it is great for hiking. A great way to spend few days in Sofia, being on its "balcony," enjoying sunny days on the mountain with a spectacular view on the capital. So going to Sofia provide gives you a unique chance to witness the rare symbiosis of the metropolitan city with its nature park.
- Rila Monastery is the most famous monastery in Bulgaria, situated in the huge Rila Massive. It is a 1½-hour drive away from Sofia.
- Plovdiv is a large city in Bulgaria. It is one hour (or 2-4 hours by train - frequent connections, price 9 lev per person) drive on a good highway away from Sofia. Plovdiv lies around three hills in the otherwise totally flat Thracian plain. Its historical center, Roman remnants & relaxed feeling make it a great day-trip.
- Veliko Turnovo a beautiful city along a winding river, the former capital of Bulgaria in the Middle Ages. The original city castle and walls are reconstructed. Be sure also to visit nearby Arbanassi.
- There are also many monasteries around Sofia.
- Istanbul is reachable by night train from Sofia Central Station (D 493). The train departs at 21:00 and, as of March 24, 2017, travels as far as Halkali (27 km from Istanbul Sirkeci Terminal). From here passengers take a minibus (included in the ticket price) to Istanbul Sirkeci. Sleeper, couchette and regular seating tickets are available.