I’ve flown in and out of the Sofia airport dozens of times. Since my first trip to Sofia in 2016, I’ve flown either in or out of the Sofia airport thirty-five times, counting tonight’s flight to Berlin and not counting the numerous times that I just picked up or dropped off a rental car or picked up visiting family.
So yeah, I have a lot of thoughts about the Sofia airport, and a lot of tips for how to make sure you have the best trip here possible.
Flying Out of the Sofia Airport
While Sofia is the country’s capital, flying out of the Sofia Airport feels like flying out of a regional airport in the US. It’s a small, manageable airport with only a short walk between security and your gate (provided you show up at the right terminal).
The most frustrating thing about flying out of the Sofia airport is that the two terminals are nowhere near each other. If you take a taxi to the airport, this is the first thing your driver will ask you since they are a five-minute drive apart.
The walk between them seems practically impossible since you’re walking down busy streets with no sidewalks. During a particularly bad taxi scam, I had to get out on this stretch and walk back (the taxi driver had the meter set so that it was going up a leva a second). I would stress that you need to know what terminal you are flying out of, and don’t trust having to get between the terminals.
If you do arrive at the wrong one, you can take the shuttle that goes between the two with two caveats. First, the shuttle only runs between 7 am and 7 pm. Second, it only runs every thirty minutes. Therefore, if your flight is early, late, or you are running late, then you can’t trust the shuttle.
In this worst-case scenario, take a taxi. But read our Sofia taxi guide first to avoid your own scam.
The Sofia airport is *typically* super efficient. The two exceptions are if you get pulled out of line by border control (next section) or when there is an emergency. I clocked it once, and I was able to check a bag, go through security, and get through border control in under twenty minutes.
The security line is typically short, running smoothly, and it has handy signs to give you time estimates based on where you’re standing in line.
The only things about the security line here that I will note are that sometimes they make you take out your camera, take off your shoes, and take off your jacket. Sometimes they don’t. There’s no rhyme or reason, just do what they ask.
Border control for leaving the country typically goes fast. Only once have I seen it slow down dramatically. They do a good job of adding border control agents to meet line demand.
There have been two times when I’ve had to deal with border control where I got pulled out of line. Both times, I got walked down to the office and had to wait while they communicated back and forth. If any forms need to be filled out, prepare to wait for them to be filled out by hand in triplicate. So yeah, super slowly.
If you know everything with your visa is good, leaving should be easy. They’re pickier about people entering the country versus leaving the country, for obvious reasons. However, if you have overstayed your visa or have any other issues, give yourself a cushion of time for those forms to be individually completed.
The Sofia airport has wifi. It used to be seriously awful (like barely useable). It’s gotten much better, and I was even able to make a Facetime video call tonight with no interference. So yay!
Snacks & Shopping
This is where the Sofia airport really falls short. There are no restaurants at the Sofia airport, just a sad collection of Sky Cafes. They are overpriced for Bulgaria, but under-priced for airport food. The problem isn’t the quality, which is okay. The real problem is they have no real variety or options. You wouldn’t want to show up needing a real meal.
Feel free to bring your own snacks, just make sure they aren’t liquid-based (so no leftover chicken tikka masala. Not that I’ve ever seen anyone try to do that…ahem…). Foods with a lot of sauce will get confiscated at security.
There are not many shopping options once you’ve completed security and border control. There are some Bulgarian souvenier shops and duty-free shops. The convenience stores that sell snacks also sell some books and other souvenirs.
Not sure why, but I find flights in and out of Sofia have a disproportionately high percentage of people who clap when the airplane lands. It’s heinous.
Flying Into the Sofia Airport
Landing in Sofia is pretty hassle-free, just missing some amenities you might enjoy. See sections above for wifi, snacks, and clapping, which all apply to passengers flying into Sofia as well.
Most flights into Sofia will land in the middle of the lot and then shuttle passengers to border control. I hate it so much, but it’s the price I pay for flying budget airlines. The only flights that seem to consistently land at a gate are Bulgarian Air and Turkish Airlines, but I can’t be certain all their flights are straight in and out of the gate.
Since you will most likely be leaving the plane and standing outside for at least a few minutes, you want to be dressed appropriately for Sofia’s weather when leaving the plane. Depending on where you’re traveling from, this may mean you should be wearing layers that you can easily add or subtract.
Border control moves more slowly when arriving than when leaving. The lines are split into EU passports and All Passports. Remember that even though Bulgaria isn’t part of the Schengen Zone, they are part of the EU.
If you get pulled from the line and need to pay a previous overstay fee or have issues with your visa, prepare for it to take a while.
Once you’re in the arrivals terminal, you’ll find ATMs, taxi stands, and Sky Cafes at both terminals. Terminal 2 also has a little convenience store, pharmacy, and the place where you pick up rental cars.
Ground transportation options at the Sofia airport are actually awesome, provided you can successfully avoid scams.
The metro leaves from Terminal 2. A ride on the metro is 1.60 leva, or about ninety cents USD. You can only pay with leva, so get cash out at arrivals if you want to take the metro.
Taxis to almost anywhere in the city should be less than twenty leva (about $12 USD) However, follow the instructions in our Sofia taxi guide to avoid getting scammed. Seriously. Don’t get in a taxi at the Sofia airport without reading it.
Sofia does not have Uber or Lyft, so these are not options. However, if you get in a reputable taxi with the meter running, your ride should be very economical.
Where to Stay in Sofia
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.
Don’t Leave For Sofia without Travel Insurance!
Finally, make sure you always travel to the Balkans with a valid travel insurance policy. The region is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses. Recently my aunt fell on a train in France and needed surgery, but luckily her travel insurance covered the costs in full. Thank goodness!
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.