Capital cities such as Prague and Budapest are often preferred over Sofia as a destination. The city’s buildings are diverse, ranging from the Stalinist cold war to ultra-modern ones. Well-kept parks and hip, open-air cafes are found around the city. Read our guide for the ultimate 48 hours in Sofia.
Travel Essentials – 48 hours in Sofia
Airline: Wizz Air from London Luton (LTN) to Sofia (SOF) Terminal 1. From £60, return.
To the city: Free shuttle to Terminal 2 (Letishte Sofia airport). Change for the yellow line M4 metro to Serdica.
Cost: 1.60 BGN or €0.80 (Adult single trip)
Journey time to centre: 60 minutes. The airport is 10 kilometres east of the centre.
Need to know
Visa: From 1st January 2021, UK residents can visit for a maximum of 90 days in any 180 day period.
Travel: Detailed information on the FCDO website.
Currency: Bulgarian Lev (1 GBP = 2 BGN approximately)
Language: Bulgarian. Basic English is spoken and understood.
Best time to visit: June to September.
Time: GMT +2
First Impressions of Sofia
- Lots of street art and graffiti.
- Brutalist Soviet architecture.
- Rundown and dilapidated in places.
Day 1 – 48 hours in Sofia
- Russian Monument Square – Free.
- Palace of Justice (Sofia Court House) – Free (from outside).
- Sveta Nedelya Church – Free.
- The Statue of Sveta Sofia – Free.
- The Church of St Petka of the Saddlers – Free.
- Banya Bashi Mosque – Free.
- Central Public Baths – Free.
- Lenin Square (Independence Square) – Free.
- Roman City – Free.
- Rotunda of St George – Free.
- National Theatre of Bulgaria – Free (from outside).
- Yellow Brick Road – Free.
- St Sofia Church – Free (from outside).
- Cathedral St Alexandra Nevski – Free (from outside).
- Monument to the Tsar Liberator – Free.
- National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria – Free (from outside).
- Monument to the Soviet Army – Free.
- The Red Army Monument – Free.
- Sveti Nikolai Russian Church – Free.
Russian Monument Square
In 1882, this monument, located on a traffic roundabout, was the first to be built in the newly liberated Bulgaria.
Palace of Justice (Sofia Court House)
Simplistic in design, this symmetrical limestone building is home to 24 courts of the city, spread over four floors. Buildings such as the Bulgarian National Bank are of similar architecture.
Sveta Nedelya Church
In 1856 a new church structure replaced the old one. It has a turbulent history. For example, the 1925 assault resulted in 150 deaths. The dome is 31 metres high, where the 11 internal bells ringing automatically.
The Statue of Sveta Sofia
Erected in 2000, it replaced Lenin’s statue. Standing 22 metres tall with her arms outstretched and golden skin, it possesses the symbols of power, fame and wisdom. Ironically, the statue has nothing to do with the city of Sophia.
The Church of St Petka of the Saddlers
Near Serdika metro station is this single-nave medieval Orthodox church, known for its murals from the 14th and 15th centuries. This windowless church captures no natural sunlight.
Banya Bashi Mosque
Banya Bashi means many baths and is Sofia’s only mosque. It is built upon thermal spas where steam rises from vents in the ground. The same architect designed the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
Central Public Baths
This Byzantine-style building was converted from a bathhouse to a museum in 1986. Mineral water is freely available from the small fountains nearby. At one time, it was a popular meeting place.
Lenin Square (Independence Square)
Three imposing Socialist Stalinist buildings surround this yellow cobblestoned square. These include the Bulgarian Communist Party’s former headquarters, the President’s Office and the Ministry of Education. In 1955, a huge red Communist star was placed on top of the Communist Party building, but the Bulgarian flag took its place once the regime had fallen.
The ancient Roman city of Serdica, covering 9,000 square metres, has well-preserved foundations of antique buildings, roads and a Christian basilica. The 2,000-year-old pavement of the road remains virtually untouched. The Amphitheatre of Serdica is beneath a glass dome at the square between the Council of the Ministers and the Presidency. Fights between gladiators and wild animals attracted crowds from all over the ancient city.
Rotunda of St George
Sofia’s oldest landmark from the 4th century, built on a pagan site, was part of the Orthodox church. Inside the 14 metre-high dome are 10th-century frescoes of 22 prophets. The church sits amongst modern government buildings with a road around the perimeter.
National Theatre of Bulgaria
Another landmark from 1906 is the Ivan Vazov National Theatre. It was destroyed in World War II but later reconstructed to its former glory. The King opened it, but this resulted in a political protest, so he shut down the university for six months. The building façade is printed on the back of the Bulgarian 50 Lev banknote.
Yellow Brick road
The yellow cobblestones were a wedding present to Prince Ferdinand at the beginning of the 20th century. The bricks in front of the Bulgarian parliament are a symbol of the city. The same limestone can be found in Vienna, Sofia, and Budapest. If someone is born on the yellow brick road, they are known as a Sofianites, a true native of Sofia.
St Sofia Church
Close to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, it competes with the Rotunda of St George as the oldest church in Sofia. It is one of the best examples of early Christian architecture in Europe, with a basilica and three altars. Despite several urban myths, it continues to serve the city and its people.
Cathedral St Alexandra Nevski
As Sofia’s most striking landmark, it took 30 years to build has a capacity of 5,000. It is the largest Orthodox church in the Balkans region. The largest dome is 45 metres tall and dominates the skyline along with the four smaller domes. Inside are brass chandeliers and fine Italian marble.
Monument to the Tsar Liberator
This equestrian monument was erected in honour of the Russian emperor Alexander II. Completed 1907 by an Italian sculptor using black granite from Vitosha, it portrays Bulgaria’s liberation history.
National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria
Opposite the Monument to the Tsar Liberator statue, this Renaissance looking administrative building houses the parliament and legislative body of the Republic of Bulgaria. The 240 members are elected for a four-year term.
Known as Orlov most, the bridge crosses the Perlovska River. The name comes from eagles at the road junction, which are protectors and patrons for the people. Violent political protests frequently occurred at the bridge, which was the gateway to the city.
Monument to the Soviet Army
This monument is 37 metres tall is a short walk from the Eagle Bridge. A Bulgarian man, woman, and her baby surround a Soviet army fighter. The statue honours Soviet soldiers who died in Bulgarian efforts during World War II.
The Red Army Monument
Artists use other statues in the vicinity to make political statements. In 2011, anonymous artists painted the Soviet Army soldiers as American superheroes. Authorities removed the paint swiftly. This location remains popular with counter-cultural radicals and freethinkers.
Sveti Nikolai Russian Church
Completed in 1914, it serves Sofia’s large Russian community. Saint Nikolai brings good luck to students who pray here before their exams. Real gold covers the five domes.
Day 2 – 48 hours in Sofia – Mount Vitosha
The summit, Black Peak, is 2,300 metres above sea level with commanding views of Sofia, which is one of the highest capitals in Europe. The scenery, the crisp mountain air, and the natural beauty make a trip worth the effort.
Getting there: Take the M2 line (Blue line) to Vitosha from anywhere in Sofia. Take bus 66 from the Paradise Shopping Centre (PSC) to the final stop in the Aleko area. It is a short walk to Mount Vitosha.
Cost: €1.60 (Adult single trip – must buy a ticket from the driver as a city ticket does NOT cover it)
Journey time to Aleko and back: 45 minutes each way on bus 66.
Chair lifts: In winter, lifts do not operate, so check the Vitosha website beforehand.
During wintertime, the bus goes up to 1,600 metres. From here, it is a 10-minute walk to the ski centres, chair lift terminus, and a large restaurant. Bring appropriate clothing and footwear. The roads can be icy and dangerous, so exercise caution.
Street art is prevalent in Sofia and often depicts political messages and statements, particularly with the younger generation. Sofia Graffiti Tour offer street art walking tours.
Sofia is an enjoyable city. Yes, gritty in places, but this adds to the appeal. Although there are reports of petty crime, the city feels very safe, even after dark. The food is decent, with plenty of variety for meat-eaters. Choices for vegetarians and vegans are limited.
Locals travel by tram, which clatters as they cross the city under the watchful eye of Mount Vitosha. Sofia’s convoluted history includes Ottoman, Roman, Greek and finally, Soviet occupation. Despite this, people are warm and friendly.
Navigating the city is easy with cheap and reliable transport. Late spring and early summer is the best time to visit, where the climate is pleasant, and the flowers bloom. Winter can be cold and harsh, but visiting is worthwhile. 48 hours in Sofia is ample to cover the main attractions.
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