While I’d love to suggest you visit both, if you only have a limited of time, you may find yourself having to choose between Sofia or Bucharest. While I may be a bit biased because I live in Sofia, I think it’s a very valid choice. Sofia and Bucharest both offer incredible history, sights, and culture well worth sampling.
Trying to choose which to visit, Sofia vs. Bucharest?
Here’s some advice to help you make the choice.
Choose Sofia if…
… You have limited time and want a more compact city center
When I compare Sofia vs. Bucharest, one thing is very immediately clear from the geography. Sofia is a much easier city to see thoroughly in a matter of days than Bucharest, which is rather spread out.
The Sofia Free Walking tour covers virtually all of the city center’s most interesting sights in a matter of 3 hours, which leaves you ample time to pick from 100 of the other 101 things to do in Sofia we’ve selected for you!
Meanwhile, while Bucharest has a free walking tour as well, it won’t come nearly as close to covering the main sights of
… You want to eat the better local food (or you’re vegetarian)
Sorry to throw down a Bulgaria vs. Romania battle just a few hundred words into this article, but I’ll fight to the death that Bulgarian food is more delicious than Romanian food. Bulgarian food has a lot more salads and fresh yogurts and cheeses that make the cuisine feel a lot more light, meanwhile, I find Romanian food to be made up of too much stew and polenta for a normal human body to handle.
Bulgaria’s position between Turkey and Greece makes its cuisine quite literally a mishmash (that’s the name of a Bulgarian dish, for the 99% of you who will miss that pun). You’ll find moussaka and stuffed grape leaves (
On the other hand, Romanian food feels to me to rather heavy and hearty compared to the freshness I associate with Bulgaria. While there are some delicious Romanian vegetable dishes like zakuska, it’s hard to find more vegetables on the Romanian plate (polenta doesn’t count!). Generally speaking, I enjoy Romanian food for a meal or two and then get bored, whereas I can always find something on a Bulgarian menu I’ll enjoy.
… You want a more low-key party scene
Sure, Sofia has plenty of all-night nightclubs (we recommend Sugar or Gotham). But while Bulgarians certainly love to party (just go to Studentski Grad…. or don’t), the wave of bachelor party bros that have overtaken Bucharest’s Old Town each night in search of cheap drinks and general debauchery have yet to make it to Sofia in such high numbers.
While you can certainly find a party in Sofia, the city center is generally way more calm than Bucharest in the evenings. There are lots of incredible hidden and cozy bars in Sofia, and we think this city is better for sitting with some friends, enjoying the ambiance and some delicious cocktails, rather than pounding shots with a bunch of bros.
… You want to hike or take day trips into nature
Sofia is perfectly located for nature lovers – I mean, the city itself has a 2200 meter mountain smack dab in its city limits. You can get to Vitosha Mountain easily by public transportation, taxi, or rental car, spend a few hours there, and then be back in the city center to enjoy more of your day.
You could even take public transportation or a cheap taxi out to Boyana Church and then hike to Boyana Waterfall, seeing a UNESCO-listed
While Bucharest certainly has its green spaces, it simply can’t compete with what Sofia has its own backyard. And that’s not to mention the 7 Rila Lakes hikes that Bulgaria is so famous for, an easy day trip from Sofia.
Choose Bucharest if…
… You want to travel for the ‘gram
With its alleys tiled with umbrellas and its stunning all-white bookstores and its Parisian-
… You want to party all night long
As a result, the Old Town where most of the bars and clubs are end up being quite busy until the wee hours. I actually recommend staying outside the Old Town for this reason, unless you’re planning on joining the revelry!
While there are plenty of more relaxed bars where you can have a quieter night, especially near Piata Romana, Bucharest is really a party destination.
…. You love museums
While Sofia has a handful of good museums, Bucharest definitely has the edge on it. The Village Museum in Bucharest is truly outstanding, one of the best of its kind in Europe. Other excellent museums include the Romanian Peasant Museum, the National Museum of Art, and the National Museum of Romanian History.
If you like quirky museums, you can’t miss the Museum of Kitsch, which is as odd and delightful as the name suggests.
…. You want to see castles on your day trips
Whereas Sofia has epic mountains and monasteries easily accessible by day trip, Bucharest is all about castles!
Two castles are quite easily accessible by public transportation or even easier by guided tours: Peles Castle and Bran Castle, aka “Dracula’s Castle” (though of course, neither the fictional nor the real life inspiration for Dracula ever lived here!). Whatever the story, both castles are absolutely stunning and make a fantastic day trip from Bucharest.
Visit both for…
… Amazingly affordable prices and easy connections to Europe
You probably already know this – it may be the reason why you’re reading this article! Both Sofia and Bucharest are rather affordable travel destinations, and you’d spend a comparable amount in each city in terms of accommodations, transportation, food, and fun.
Expect to spend about $30 a day as a backpacker, $50 a day as a mid-range traveler, and whatever you want as a luxury traveler.
… Interesting Communist history and beyond
Of course, what draws many people to this region is understanding the recent Communist history of Eastern Europe. If the history interests you, we recommend doing a guided Communist walking tour – we recommend this one in Sofia and this one in Bucharest.
Yet also remember there’s so much more to both cities than just their Communist histories! Sofia has Roman ruins in their subways from its roots as the ancient city of Serdika, churches dating back a millennia, and mosques marking its time under Ottoman rule. Bucharest is a newer city than Sofia, but you don’t have to stray far to find history in Transylvania, the most historic part of Romania.
… Relatively easy to travel but offbeat experiences
I find either Sofia or Bucharest to be the epitome of the “Goldilocks” of travel – not too hard, not
That said, while the cities are prepared for tourists, they’re still not coming in droves, so visit either Bucharest or Sofia (or both) and prepare to enjoy the big city buzz without the Western European prices or crowds. So pick Sofia or Bucharest, or find a way to pick both, and come and see for yourself!