Sofia Adventures

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

Bulgaria - Sofia - City Gardens Landcape
Sofia is way more walkable and compact than Bucharest

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 city, and you’ll have to take public transportation, Ubers, or walk quite a bit to see the most spread-out sights.

… You want to eat the better local food (or you’re vegetarian)

Just try finding this many vegetables on one plate in Romania. Just try.

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 (lozovi sarmi) from Greek influence, and kebapche and balkava from the Turks. Bulgarians love their salads and soups: from cold tarator soup in the summer to bob chorba in the winter, and shopska salad all year round, Bulgarian cuisine can actually be quite healthy (if you skip all the grilled meats, that is).

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

Bulgaria - Sofia - Sense Rooftop Bar
Sense Hotel, our favorite bar in Sofia!

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

Bulgaria - Sofia - Vitosha Kopitoto
Haven’t left Sofia, yet I’m 1,500 meters in the air!

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 10th century church and then a nearly 100-foot-tall waterfall in a matter of hours without even leaving Sofia.

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

Romania - Bucharest - Umbrella Alley
If you went to Bucharest and didn’t even ‘gram Umbrella Alley, did you even go?

We’ve written a guide to Sofia’s most Instagrammable spots, but it doesn’t have anything that has close to the same Insta-fame as Bucharest (here are 27 of the best Bucharest Instagram spots here).

With its alleys tiled with umbrellas and its stunning all-white bookstores and its Parisian-esque arcades, Bucharest has so many Instagram hot spots that it’s hard to put your camera down. While I find Sofia beautiful – I mean, just look at Alexander Nevsky! – it doesn’t quite have that “Insta-something” that makes a city like Bucharest blow up, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on your perspective.

… You want to party all night long

Romania - Tuica
Another thing that gives Bucharest the edge? Tuica is way better than rakia. Sorry.

If you’re looking for a city to party in and you’re choosing Bucharest or Sofia, you’ve got to pick Bucharest. Bucharest’s nightlife is crazy, probably only second to Belgrade’s in Eastern Europe (and maybe even all of Europe, to be honest). This is a young city that truly knows how to have fun, and they don’t like to go home until the wee hours.

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

Romania - Bucharest - Romanian Peasant Museum
Bucharest has some fantastic 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

You can’t see Bran Castle from Sofia, unfortunately

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

Bulgaria - Borovets - Cool Runnings Jamaican Food
All this food cost about 5 euros in Bulgaria!

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

Bulgaria - Sofia - Former Communist Party Headquarters at the Largo
Former Communist Party House at the Largo in Sofia. The Red Star that once was atop it is now in the Socialist Art Museum

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

Romania - Bucharest - Street art near Carturesti Verona
Chilling with some street art in Bucharest

I find either Sofia or Bucharest to be the epitome of the “Goldilocks” of travel – not too hard, not to easy. Both cities are well set up for tourism and you’ll find plenty of tourist amenities, from free walking tours to plenty of informational signage to help you navigate around the city. Nearly every person in the hospitality industry will speak a decent level of English, credit cards are widely accepted at restaurants and shops, and public transportation is high quality and affordable. Taxi drivers can be hit or miss, so read our Sofia taxi guide or use Uber in Bucharest.

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!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This