If you’re planning a trip to Sofia, you’ve come to the right place — literally, we’re the biggest Sofia-themed blog on the internet.
We are two Americans who have made Sofia our home, spending the better part of the past few years in the Bulgarian capital. We’ve hosted dozens of friends during our years in the city, and we’re chock full of useful Sofia travel tips that we think will make your time in the city far more pleasant.
This is a pretty random assortment of Sofia tips – from information on WiFi and SIM cards to cab drivers and beyond – so I’m sure you’ll find something that will be of use to you on your upcoming visit to Sofia.
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Our Top 23 Sofia Travel Tips
Currency & Exchange Rate
Sofia uses the Bulgarian lev as its currency, and the conversion is easy as hell to remember. The plural of lev is leva, because #Bulgarian. The lev is pegged to the euro at 1 euro: 1.96 leva.
Basically, that means there are two leva to every 1 euro. If you’re traveling around more countries in the Balkans, you may want to refer to our currency guide which breaks it down country by country.
If that’s too much math, just half every price and you’ll get the euro amount, which should be easy enough for you to convert in your head to other currencies if you’re a frequent traveler to Europe.
Tipping in Sofia
Generally, Bulgarians aren’t huge tippers, but servers and taxi drivers have come to expect tips from tourists and use them to help themselves survive in a city where the cost of living is increasing rapidly. And with Bulgaria’s wages being some of the lowest in the EU, frankly, if you can afford to travel here, you can afford to tip here.
We recommend tipping 10% for decent service and 15% for fabulous service (which, I’m going to be honest, is not really Sofia’s strong point – but you should reward it when you see it!).
For a taxi, I recommend rounding up to the nearest leva and perhaps adding another leva if the fare is above 10 leva, such as if you’re coming back from the airport.
For example, for a 11.60 leva ride from the airport to the center, I’d pay 13.
If you stay in a hotel with housekeeping, it’s nice to pay a few leva per day. And any other service, such as massage, nails, salon, etc. we recommend tipping about 10% as long as you are satisfied with the service.
Credit Cards in Sofia
Credit cards are widely used in Sofia. If I don’t have cash and I’m going to a place I haven’t before, I’ll check the window to see if they have any credit card symbols in the front. If they don’t, I’ll ask before I order.
Normally, the answer is of course, but it’s better to find out before you order rather than after!
Note that it’s virtually impossible to get your servers to split your bill in Bulgaria so either tell them from the very beginning that you want separate checks or be prepared for one person to pay and everyone else pay them back.
Also, sometimes, places will accept credit cards but only accept cash tips, so I recommend keeping some leva on you so that you don’t shortchange your server.
ATMs and Currency Exchange
One of my biggest Sofia travel tips is to use ATMs rather than money exchange. By far the best way to get money out in Sofia is by using local ATMs. I recommend ones attached to a bank as they are more secure and will offer a better exchange rate. DSK Bank, Raiffeisenbank, and Unicredit Bulbank are the big three banks around here.
There are other smaller ATMs, but they may charge a fee. Honestly, I use a debit card that reimburses my ATM fees (yay, Schwab!) so I hardly notice these things, but you may want to pay attention.
I don’t really recommend exchanging currency if you can help it as the rates will never be as good as getting it from an ATM. If you do, I’d avoid the train station/bus station and Vitosha Boulevard which see a lot of tourists and have some bad rates sometimes. I remember once trying to turn my leva into Turkish lira at the bus station before my overnight train to Istanbul and I would have gotten only about 40% of the value of my leva!
I recommend taking out small amounts of leva from ATMs and if you have any excess at the end of the trip, exchanging it back into a “neutral” currency like Euros, where you’ll get the best rate, rather than trying to change it to another Balkan country’s currency like the lira, denar, or lei where you’ll likely get ripped off.
You can come to Bulgaria without reading Cyrillic… but you will struggle inevitably at some point, as virtually everything will be written in Cyrillic.
From bus destinations to food on menus in non-touristy locations, Cyrillic is omnipresent (and why wouldn’t it be? – the Bulgarian saints Sv. Kiril and Sv. Metodiy invented it!)
I strongly recommend learning Bulgarian Cyrillic before coming to Sofia. It’s almost identical to Russian Cyrillic or Serbian/Macedonian Cyrillic, but there are a few slight differences. You can learn basic Cyrillic in about 4 hours so it’s not that much of an ask.
It’s the number one thing you can do to make your Sofia travel experience run more smoothly, so unless you’ll only be in Sofia for a few hours, I recommend you do it (it’s also a lot of fun!).
Where to Stay When You Visit Sofia
One of my favorite things about living in Sofia is that it has a small, compact, and easily walkable city center that means most attractions are within 30 minutes of each other on foot (and in the event that you need to take transit, it’s never that far away). Coming from living in NYC when every friendship felt long-distance, I love that about Sofia.
We’ve created a guide to all the best places to stay in Sofia here, broken down by budget, which you should find useful when trying to figure out where to stay. We generally recommend staying in the center, which we roughly map as follows: no further north than the train station, no further east than the edge of Zaimov Park in Oborishte, no further south than NDK, and no further west than Mall of Sofia.
Using that zone as your benchmark, aim for something in the middle of that quadrangle. The rest of Sofia isn’t dangerous by any means, but it can be a little out of the way from most of the things you likely want to see.
Here are our top 3 recommendations for where to stay when you visit 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.
Getting a SIM card in Sofia is a relatively straightforward process, and it’s even more straightforward seeing as we’ve written out exactly how to get a SIM card in Sofia.
You will likely need your passport (I always have). I have gotten my SIMs from both A1 and Vivacom and both have been perfectly fine for my needs. Visiting Sofia is a lot easier with a SIM card, as you can use local apps like Moovit and TaxiMe, as well as Google Maps and Google Translate earlier.
A1 in particular usually has the best deals as far as I can tell – I would be able to get 4 gigs of data plus some calls for 6 leva, about 3 euro. Not a bad deal at all!
Packing for Sofia
We are in the process of creating packing lists to help you know what to pack for Bulgaria and the other Balkan countries, but here are the top five things you do not want to leave at home:
– A Lonely Planet guidebook (we recommend this one for Bulgaria & Romania), to help you plan when on the ground, preferably with a Bulgarian phrasebook and Cyrillic cheat sheet
– An unlocked smartphone, so you can buy a cheap SIM card and use apps like Uber and Google Maps. If you don’t have the ability to unlock your main smartphone, we recommend buying a cheap unlocked one online like this unlocked Samsung phone.
– A raincoat and layers, as Sofia’s weather can be unpredictable and showers are frequent. We recommend this Marmot PreCip jacket (here’s a women’s jacket and a men’s) as they are fully waterproof, lightweight, and stand up to the abuses of heavy travel.
– Motion sickness pills for windy roads, Balkan buses, etc. I recommend ones that are natural and use ginger rather than chemicals as they are non-drowsy – I like these ones.
– Hiking boots if you plan to take advantage of Sofia’s incredible hiking opportunities! I have these Ahnu boots and love them. For men, maybe try these Keen boots, which come recommended by my friends.
While smoking is quite popular in Bulgaria, and if you eat or drink outside you are likely to smell quite a few people’s cigarettes, it’s not nearly as bad as other Balkan countries where they allow people to smoke inside year-round (cough GREECE cough NORTH MACEDONIA cough SERBIA).
There are very few establishments in Sofia which allow smoking indoors and generally restaurants and bars are very good at adhering to the law. There is usually a patio section for smokers and it typically will be heated in winter.
Bulgaria is part of the EU, but it is not yet part of Schengen (though that could change in the next few years). That means that Bulgaria is a fantastic place to go if you are a digital nomad / perpetual traveler and need to get out of the Schengen Zone for 90 days!
Bulgaria’s visa rules differ for every nationality, but for Americans, you can stay for 90 days out of every 6 months. If you have a valid Schengen visa, or are allowed into Schengen visa-free, the same 90 days out of 6 months should apply. If you have questions about your specific nationality, please look at the Bulgarian MFA page. I cannot answer any visa questions.
Generally, you’ll find a pharmacy (apteka – АПТЕКА) on every other street in Sofia, marked by a green cross. Many operate 24/7 – if you need one specifically, I know for the fact that the one next to the European Parliament building on G.S. Rakovski Street is 24 hours.
It’s pretty easy to get most things over the counter in Bulgaria if you know the proper names for them. You may not get your exact brand, but there’s usually something similar. One thing I always struggle with is finding salicylate bismuth, Pepto Bismol – so I always recommend stocking this from home if you like it for stomach issues.
If you have an urgent medical need, such as specific psychiatric medications, such as certain types of anti-anxiety medication or pain medications, you will need to see a doctor and receive a prescription on a specific form, as they are controlled substances in Bulgaria.
Food & Dietary Restrictions
Bulgaria is an easy place for vegetarians and slightly tougher for vegans, as the country is more than a bit obsessed with their dairy (and particularly their yogurt and cheese).
Vegetarians, you will be well served by shopska salad, eggplant and pepper and cheese etc. dips, most stuffed peppers and vegetables as they usually are stuffed with rice rather than meat, baked cheeses with honey, and grilled vegetable dishes.
Vegans may have a little more trouble, but there are a few vegan-specific restaurants or vegetarian restaurants that cater to vegans. Check out Loving Hut, Edgy Veggy, Dream House, or Sun & Moon.
Gluten-free people and celiacs, vegetarian/vegan restaurants are a great place to start as they usually are quite savvy about food allergies. A lot of Bulgarian cuisine is naturally gluten free as wheat products are generally not used in any of the BBQ meat and the salads are almost always gluten-free. As always, ask and be prepared with an explanation of your allergy in Bulgarian on Google Translate in case of confusion.
People with nut allergies – peanuts are not commonly used in Bulgarian cuisine, but it still benefits you to ask! My friend with a life-threatening peanut allergy used allergy cards in Romania and Bulgaria and was glad that she had them. Walnuts are more commonly used, so if you have a specific nut allergy, I recommend translating it before eating out at a local restaurant.
You’ll be delighted to know that you can safely drink the tap water in Sofia. Unless you have major stomach sensitivities, there should be no issues. I’ve drank the water here for years without incident; same as Stephanie.
If you’re worried about it, you can buy bottled water or you can fill up from the hot spring taps just outside the Central Mineral Baths like all the locals!
Taxis and Taxi Apps
Uber has been banned in Sofia for years, but luckily, Bulgaria is a pretty tech-savvy place and there are plenty of apps that allow you to hire a taxi in a way that is registered and secure. I highly recommend using an app or calling a reputable company rather than hailing a taxi off the street, as Sofia taxi scams are unfortunately quite common, especially for travelers visiting Sofia for the first time.
Luckily, it’s pretty much impossible to get scammed using an app as everything is tracked. I use TaxiMe because I can store my credit card information inside it and use it cashless, just like Uber.
I’ve also used Yellow successfully a number of times, but I have never successfully been able to save my credit card to it, so I’ve always had to use cash which is why I prefer TaxiMe.
You can also call OK Supertrans at +359 02 973 2121 for a secure, registered ride. They will dispatch you a taxi and send you a text with its registration number as well as an estimate of when it will arrive.
Approved Taxi Stands
The exception for hailing taxis without an app or phone call is at the airport and at the Central Bus Station (important: NOT the Serdika Bus Station nor the Central Train Station, which are about 100 meters and 200 meters away from the Central Bus Station respectively).
You can avoid taxi scams at the airport by going up to the OK Taxi stand and registering your ride. You’ll give the operator your address, he or she will give you a piece of paper which you’ll give to the driver (pro tip: take a quick photo of the paper in case you don’t get it back and you need to make a complaint or you lose something in the car). This ensures your ride from the airport is registered and they won’t do any funny business.
From the Central Bus Station, they don’t have an official dispatch stand like such, but the OK Taxi stand is monitored and the taxis will queue up. No fake taxis should be in the queue, but you can double check that the number is correct – it should say 973 21 21 with zero exceptions. Match it to the number shown on the sign pictured above.
Alternately, you can pre-book an airport transfer, which will be more expensive but guarantee no headache upon arrival and may be a good option if you arrive at Sofia late at night and are nervous about getting in without a hitch.
Sofia Travel Safety at Night
I’ve lived and traveled in countless cities over the years and I consider Sofia city center one of the safest places to walk at night as a solo woman. I never get harassed or catcalled and have never once felt unsafe.
However, I would not walk home alone at night if I didn’t know the neighborhood well and would have to have my smartphone out at all times, or if I were exceedingly drunk. In both those instances, it’s far safer to take a taxi.
Wondering what to do in Sofia at night? We have a post with a bunch of ideas!
The Sofia Metro
The Sofia metro is a little confusing, but extremely cheap. How many other cities in the world can you get from the airport to downtown in about 30 minutes and under 1 euro? Not many that I can think of, but luckily, Sofia airport connects directly to the metro and getting into the city center couldn’t be easier.
A ticket costs 1 leva 60 stotinki (about 80 euro cents) and can be bought inside the metro at the ticket booth or from the ticket machines, which can give small amounts of change.
The metro is a little confusing as there are two lines and one of them runs in a “loop” – check out the map below.
That means that if you’re heading south from, say, Lavov Most on the blue line, you’d have to switch over to the blue line going in a different direction at Serdika if you wanted to reach the airport -going in a straight line would bring you down to NDK and Vitosha.
Sound confusing? It is, so just download the app Moovit — it’s really helpful for explaining trams, buses, and subways and giving predicted departure time, as Google Maps is still learning its way around Sofia (but is getting better!)
Also – hang onto your ticket, you never know if ticket control will come by!
Sofia Trams & Buses
On the first car of a tram or bus, there will be a driver who is able to sell you a ticket and make change (so long as it’s reasonable – aim for 5 leva or less if you can.
If you get a paper ticket from the driver, you will have to validate it by finding one of the yellow, hole-punchy things on the poles, and punching your ticket. Yes, that’s as technical of a term as I can manage at this point. It’ll make sense when you get on a bus or tram, I hope. Don’t miss this step: don’t forget to validate your ticket on trams or buses!
If your bus or tram has one of those fancy automatic ticket printers, you can use that too. However they only take coins under 50 stotinki, and they don’t give change, so if you have any lev coins, they’re actually worthless. But if you do have lots of small change and can buy a 1.60 ticket out of coins worth less than 50, then they’re helpful. They print with the date and location on it, so you don’t need to validate those.
If ticket control comes by and you don’t have a valid ticket – you’ll have to pay a fine between 30-40 leva, so it’s not worth risking (they come by pretty frequently).
Parking in Sofia
One annoying aspect of Sofia travel is parking. If you don’t have a local SIM that’s either contract-based or pre-loaded with extra money for parking, parking in Sofia sucks.
I’ve only driven and parked in Sofia a few times, and in that handful of times, I’ve gotten my car booted twice and needed to call the Urban Mobility Center to un-boot my car to the lovely tune of 30 leva.
You need to send a text with your license plate number via SMS to the number listed. It’ll be either a Blue Zone number (1302) which costs 2 leva per hour with a max time of two hours or a Green Zone number (1303) which costs 1 leva per hour with a max time of four hours.
However, if you don’t have a local SIM or a SIM that can be billed, you won’t be able to use this service and I’ve never been able to find an actual ticket machine in the city as it’s basically all been phased out and turned to SMS-based parking… so, instead, what I would recommend is parking in one of the private lots if you need to park in Sofia.
They’re usually more expensive, like 2 leva an hour in a green zone, but it is totally hassle-free. There are usually private lots every couple of blocks, so opt for that over street parking if you don’t have a local SIM that has extra lev on it to be used for parking.
If you’re ordering delivery, there are two options: Foodpanda.bg and Takeaway.bg, which used to be BGmenu.
I like Foodpanda’s customer service better and have had less issues with them, but I’ve had some problems with Takeaway which is why I no longer use them.
WiFi in Sofia is generally stellar, some of the fastest in Europe (I honestly find it better than Romania outside of Bucharest). My home internet, which is the cheapest option, is usually 45 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload, but sometimes it’s even faster.
Nearly every restaurant or bar you go to will have WiFi, and there is free WiFi in a lot of the parks as well (though not all) as well as along Vitosha Boulevard.
If you plan to visit Sofia as a digital nomad as many travelers do, there are a lot of great coworking spots that cater to the digital nomad crowd.
Here are a few we know, but haven’t tested personally.
Catcotheque / Коткотека: Cowork with cats! From 8 BGN for the first hour and 2 BGN per additional hour, or daily passes available.
Betahaus: Recently moved, but I used to really like their café downstairs with coffee and beer. Haven’t checked out the new location. Now it’s a pricier premium coworking spot. Daily pass is 35 BGN. A monthly pass is 350 BGN.
Neworking: Premium coworking at a premium price. From 33 lv per day, 120 lv for 5 days, or 269 per month.
Bulgaria uses type F outlets (also works with C and E) and the standard voltage is 230 volts. If your country has a standard voltage between 220-240 (like the UK and rest of Europe, as well as Australia, some Asia, and some Africa) you can use your electric appliances without a voltage converter.
Don’t even try to bring your American or Canadian hair dryer to Bulgaria! The voltage is much lower and it won’t work. You’ll fry it without a voltage converter. But since you also need an adaptor, we recommend a dual adaptor/voltage converter (or frankly, just leave it at home and buy a cheap one for Europe travel).
Sofia Travel Resources
We want you to have the best trip to Sofia possible. If these Sofia travel tips weren’t enough, we have plenty of other articles for you!
To help you, we’ve created a number of resources that will be helpful – this 101 things to do in Sofia should be a nice start!
If this will be your first time in Bulgaria, check out our Bulgaria Trip Planning guide.
Planning a Trip to Bulgaria? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
We think it’s a good idea to travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. Travel here includes outdoor activities and travel to highly touristed sites. It’s a good idea 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.
Originally from California, Allison has been living in Bulgaria for the last two years and is obsessed with traveling around the Balkans. She has been published in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, Matador Network, and the Huffington Post. She loves befriending dogs, drinking coffee, geeking out about wine, and cooking food from around the world.