Sofia is an easy city to fall in love with. The architecture is beautiful and elegant, with tough, gritty buildings mixed in between. The people are friendly but calm, allowing you to discover Sofia at your own pace.
There are amazing natural wonders right outside the city, and gorgeous monasteries just a short drive away. Here are some of our favorite photos of Sofia to show why we think you’ll get swept away here, too.
Sofia is Romantic
Stepping into the street on Valentine’s Day during my first year here, I was blown away by how many men and women I saw carrying flowers to deliver to loved ones, toting small gifts they’d received earlier in the day, or simply holding hands walking down the street. Sofia’s international reputation is mysterious and hard-edged, but that is deceptive. Sofia is a city of love.
It’s a Photographer’s Dream
While I adore talking street photos here because the people are so interesting, I also love taking photos of Sofia’s stunning architecture. One of the things I love is so many of my favorite buildings here are built in a way that makes them easy to photograph.
Unlike many cities, who’s most lovely buildings are hidden on tiny medieval streets, Sofia’s best landmarks are often situated prominently at the ends of boulevards, on little squares, or (even better) standing on their own little island in the middle of the road. This makes capturing them more of an artistic challenge than a logistical one. This is also why so many images of Sofia seem like they’re right out a dream.
Read next: 21 of the Most Instagrammable Places in Sofia
There is so much Beauty in the Details
Beyond the big, overwhelming architectural shots, Sofia is beautiful up close! I love taking time to spot some of its lovelier details and intricate patterns. Everywhere you look, there is something new to appreciate.
Walking around the city, it’s important to let your eyes wander. Some of my very favorite photos of Sofia that I’ve taken are places few people might think to look.
Even its Communist Architecture is Stunning
It’s easy to appreciate a big, towering cathedral or the colorful domes of an Orthodox Church, but Sofia even has beautiful Communist architecture. This is especially true of the Largo complex, which centers on the Former Communist Party Headquarters and is built in the Socialist Classical Style.
But even it’s brutalist buildings have their own elegance, like the National Palace of Culture (also known as NDK), which has beautiful fountains in front of it that makes for a fun mix of soft and hard edges. This building also has striking artwork inside and during the day you can see Mount Vitosha behind.
It’s Teaming with Old School Touches
One of the best reasons to travel the Balkans right now is that things are changing. While there are beautiful vintage yellow or green trams everywhere you look today, you also see the occasional new one, reminding everyone that the past will fade into memory.
But right now, Sofia is a fabulous mix of the modern (freaking fast wifi and trendy cafes) with some of the most romantic vestiges of the past.
While the new trains may be slick, I am in love with the beauty of these older ones.
While Also Showing Off its Modern Side
I recently went on a beautiful street art walk with Allison and our friend Gemma from Two Scots Abroad. The city has amazing street art, you just have to know where to find it. And because Sofia has so many Soviet-style high rise buildings, there’s lots of open real estate for serious mural artists to display their craft.
The Hazdhi Dimitar neighborhood is one of the best spots for seeing how street art and Soviet-style apartment buildings are a perfect modern adaptation for its leftover communist architectural legacy.
It’s Simply Fabulous in the Springtime
While there are a ton of beautiful things to see year-round, each season has its own distinct pleasure. Spring, especially April, is an amazing time to walk around and enjoy the city squares. In late March, the city transforms, practically overnight. One morning there will be a light dusting of snow, and the next the entire city is alive with tulip beds, blossoming trees, and cultivated gardens.
This beauty is not relegated to the city, even the highways put on a springtime display!
And Everyone Comes out to Celebrate in the Summer
Once Sofia warms up, everyone comes out to play. Head to City Garden or Vitosha Boulevard and you’ll see groups of locals chatting and having a beer or impromptu picnic. There are old men playing dominoes or chess, teenagers circling up for hacky sack, and cultural clubs meeting up to do some traditional Bulgarian dances.
And while you will spot a few tourists, Sofia is a great place for a summer vacation because the hordes of foreigners that head to Italy, Spain, and even Croatia haven’t discovered it yet.
While Autumn is Bursting with Rich Colors
If you can’t see Sofia in the spring or summer, don’t worry, because Sofia is also a great place to see in the fall. Autumn leaves change into fabulous colors, adding an extra flare to your hike on Mount Vitosha or a day trip out of the city. I’ve driven through New England to see the leaves change, and honestly, it’s better in Sofia.
The trees here love to put on a display, and the region’s mountains raise them on a pedestal for all to see.
And in Winter, Everything Glows Under a Dusting of Snow
Sofia is blessed with four distinct seasons, but winter is by no means less fun than the rest. The architecture here pops when covered in a layer of snow, and Mount Vitosha looms in the background, helping the city show off its winter side. If winter sports are your passion, you can ski or snowboard right on Mount Vitosha.
However, if you’d rather stay in the city, you can explore the Christmas Market, go ice skating, or enjoy the amazing restaurants in Sofia.
Read Next: 11 Magical Things to Do in Sofia in Winter
The buildings here simply look like they were made to show off in the wintertime, making it a fabulous place for a winter city break.
It has Stunning Monasteries
No matter the season, if you come to Sofia, you must take a tour of one of the gorgeous monasteries. We have so many monasteries in Bulgaria that it’s hard to choose my favorite, but a day trip to Rila (just two hours away) should be on everyone’s itinerary.
I love Rila so much that I keep going over and over. It’s amazing in every season, but I especially love the thick fog covering the mountains behind it in winter.
If you are looking for cool and unusual things to do (and buy), Sofia’s markets are a great place to stop. We have many, but some of my favorites are the Open Air Book Market and the Ladies’ Market. In our markets, you can find everything for sale from used books to organic produce to old family photos and bits of military memorabilia.
Since I live near the Ladies’ market, I love visiting to snap photos of locals. While we list this place on our giant round-up of things to do in Sofia, I almost never see tourists when I’m there walking.
I especially love the mix of Bulgarian, English, Russian, and German books. For some reason, I adore the Cyrillic alphabet and, while my book purchases are all in English, I have a blast going through the Bulgarian titles. Whenever I spot a copy of Mark Twain or Ernest Hemingway in Bulgarian, I feel like this city is really home.
And the History is Everywhere
Sofia loves its literature, but it loves its history more. Whether you want to see a Thracian helmet, Roman church, or socialist statue, there’s a place in the city dedicated just for you. And while everyone heads to the Central Mineral Baths and the historic center, I love spending the afternoon at the Socialist Museum of Art and seeing all the artwork from the country’s socialist era in one place.
Not every historic place worth visiting is easy to find! The Rotunda of St. George is the oldest building in Sofia, but the communists constructed buildings around it to hide it from view. This Roman church was saved, but you have to know where to find it.
Some Come to Sofia for the Culture
Sofia is a city full of students, theater, opera, and other cultural endeavors. Even if you can’t speak the language, you can appreciate its cultured core, its love of language, and the beauty of its intellectualism.
Even some of its benches are monuments to literature and literacy!
Others come for the Spectacular Views
We love photographing the city from the street, but it’s also gorgeous from above! One of my favorite things is to head to Sense Rooftop Bar (one of the best bars in Sofia) and enjoy the views of the city.
Some of the great views are just outside the city, like this one from Kopitoto on Mount Vitosha.
But Everyone who Visits Falls in Love with the Vibrant Sunsets
I have no idea why, but the sunsets in Sofia are some of the most beautiful city sunsets I’ve ever seen. At times the sky is violently pink, tinged with gorgeous oranges and yellows, while at other times it’s a soft, misty pink and purple.
I love walking home at sunset and watching the sky change as I make my way through the city.
The only things you’ll cherish more than your photos of Sofia is your memories of our wonderful city.
Where to Stay in Sofia
Accommodations in Sofia offer great value compared to other cities in Europe. Here is a general range of what we mean by each budget category:
- Budget: A room in a hostel, usually $5-12 USD per night for a dorm bed or under $40 for a double.
- Mid-range: Around $40-80
- Luxury: Around $100 per night or more
Budget: For a hostel, we always recommend Hostel Mostel. I have never stayed at the Sofia location but several of my friends have and have always spoken highly of it. I stayed at the one in Veliko Tarnovo and it was excellent. Perks include a free vegetarian dinner in addition to breakfast included in your stay! Check rates and availability here. If you are traveling in peak season, be sure to book online, as Hostel Mostel is popular and tends to get booked up.
Mid-range: For a trendy new boutique hotel that is shockingly affordable, we recommend R34 Boutique Hotel. The location is fantastic, near the Ivan Vazov National Theater in central Sofia. It has gorgeous, loft-inspired details like exposed brick, giant windows, and streamlined but modern décor. It’s a great bargain, too – check rates, reviews, photos, and availability here.
Luxury: As far as we see it, there’s only one option for the best hotel in town: Sense Hotel. We go to their upscale, beautiful rooftop bar all the time when we have guests in town – it has one of the best views in the entire city and they make fantastic cocktails. With beautiful views over Alexander Nevsky, Sofia’s most iconic landmark, the hotel couldn’t be in a better location. Sense Hotel also boasts a state-of-the-art fitness center, an art gallery in the lobby, an excellent spa with luxe treatments, and an indoor pool. It’s truly the best choice in town. Check rates, reviews, photos, and availability here.
Looking for more hotel options in Sofia? Check out our full Sofia Hotel and Hostel Guide.
What to Bring with You to Sofia
We have an entire Bulgaria packing list for your convenience, but make sure not to leave these items behind!
We strongly recommend having your own unlocked smartphone to make travel around Sofia easy – and it’s super cheap with a local SIM (here’s how to get one in Bulgaria).
If your own phone company charges too much to get it unlocked, you can buy a cheap unlocked smartphone online (here’s one we recommend). But generally, if your smartphone is unlocked, we advise you to bring that with you and just be sure you have travel insurance in case of breakage, loss, or theft.
Bulgaria is a safe country, but we always recommend people to be cautious with their belongings. We know a lot of people like money belts for Europe – this is the best-reviewed one we’ve seen. However, neither of us use them.
Instead, we both have the same awesome anti-theft backpack by PacSafe and bring it everywhere with us – in Sofia, when we travel, and even just on beach days and coffee outings! With locking zippers, slashproof construction, and other security features, it’s peace of mind in a bag. It’s also surprisingly gender-neutral and stylish.
Finally, don’t forget a guidebook! While travel blogs are great, we love having a well-researched guidebook at our fingertips. We suggest Lonely Planet Bulgaria & Romania as the best option for the country.
Read next: Essential Bulgaria Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Bulgaria
Sofia Travel Resources
We want you to have the best trip to Sofia possible. To help you, we’ve created a number of resources that will be helpful. If this will be your first time in Bulgaria, check out our Bulgaria trip planning guide and our recommendations for the best places to visit in Sofia and our two-day Sofia itinerary.
For transportation, check out our guide to avoiding taxi scams in the city. If you’ll be flying into Sofia, you can read our tips for flying in and out of the Sofia airport.
We also have Sofia restaurant and bar recommendations. We also have articles for popular day trips from Sofia like Plovdiv, the Rila Lakes, and Buzludzha.
For more resources for your trip, check out our pages on traveling in Bulgaria and the Balkans.
Planning a Trip to Bulgaria? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Make sure you always travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. Travel here includes outdoor activities and travel to highly touristed sites. You need to be covered in case you have an accident or fall victim to theft. Travel insurance will help you recover your expenses and continue to enjoy your trip.
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
>>Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.<<
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Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.