Is Sofia, Bulgaria Worth Visiting?

Is Sofia, Bulgaria worth visiting? That’s a great question, especially as we head into warmer spring weather. If you haven’t seen too much of Europe, you’re probably better off planning visits elsewhere. But if you enjoy off the beaten path destinations, with fewer tourists, then a visit to Sofia might be ideal. It’s also the European Union’s cheapest capital city, so that’s certainly appealing if you’re looking to maximize your budget.

We visited Sofia this past November, sandwiching a four day stay between Greece and London. There are now at least four direct flights daily between London and Sofia. And as Bulgaria is now part of the EU, it’s easier than ever to travel there. The Black Sea Resort town of Varna is also becoming increasingly popular in summer, with direct flights there from around Europe.

Temperatures hit freezing during our mid-November visit to Sofia. You won’t encounter too many smiling faces when it’s bitterly cold. Like many places that shift between extreme temperatures, Bulgarians are generally friendlier when the weather is warmer (according to other sources). So don’t visit Bulgaria in winter unless you’re planning to partake in winter sports.

What to See: Is Sofia, Bulgaria Worth Visiting?

Sofia, Bulgaria Worth Visiting?

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is one of the largest in the Eastern Orthodox world. This is an impressive cathedral that is a must see in Sofia. Be sure to also check out the adjacent flea market, this is the place to go for souvenirs and trinkets. One vendor had a huge selection of Olympic and Soviet Games pins, so we picked up a couple antique pins from the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

The Square of Tolerance features a mosque, a Catholic cathedral, an orthodox church and a synagogue, in the center of Sofia, within a few minutes walk from each other. With the current geopolitical climate featuring a backlash against multiculturalism, a visit here is an important reminder that diversity exists worldwide. Sofia is one of Europe’s oldest capitals and has a storied history of influence by greeks, arabs, jews and others.

While many of the highlights of Sofia revolve around impressive houses of worship, there are also quite a few worthwhile museums. Check out the National Palace of Culture Congress Centre, as it’s free and features quality local work. The National Gallery of Foreign Art is very good. And the Museum of Socialist Art is worthwhile for history buffs.

The Central Market (Tsentralni Hali) is a must if you visit Sofia over a long weekend. This is a great place to eat, shop and pick up some souvenirs. We enjoyed some tasty musaka here, one of Bulgaria’s national dishes. Think of the Greek dish, moussaka, but the Bulgarian version includes potatoes instead of eggplant. There’s a saying in Bulgaria that the key to a man’s heart can be found in making a great musaka, so don’t leave without trying it.

Is Bulgarian Food Good?

Bulgarian food is flavorful and it’s easy to find great bang for your buck in Sofia. Bulgarians generally grill meat expertly. They also make good salads, yogurts, feta cheese, red wine and liqueurs. As Bulgaria shares borders with Greece and Turkey, their food is similar, with unique influences.

We highly recommend Made In Home. It’s a quirky and relaxed restaurant with high quality food, drinks and service. Friendly service is refreshing for Sofia because it’s not the norm (at least not during freezing temperatures). We also highly recommend Hadjidraganov’s Cellars. It’s a little touristy but they serve excellent grilled meats, and the ambiance is fun and quirky.

Romance Factor: Is Sofia, Bulgaria Worth Visiting?

Sofia isn’t packed with romantic spots, especially when it’s very cold. But for couples that enjoy city getaways over long weekends, you can enjoy delicious food in some romantic restaurants for a fraction of what you’ll spend in many other European capital cities. Especially if you’re drinking a few wines or beers nightly. And as we previously mentioned, Bulgarians produce some quality wines, especially reds. Don’t go to Sofia for your honeymoon, but don’t rule it out for a wedding anniversary getaway.

A Security Incident at Sofia Airport

Bell had an incident at security when we were leaving Sofia. One of the security agents, who wasn’t even professionally dressed, inappropriately inspected her. With high platform heels, a tight top and tight pants, it’s not an exaggeration that the lady was dressed more like a domantrix than a security agent. Bell made a formal complaint to the European Union who responded by saying that they don’t regulate airport security. That left us pondering the point of their existence. As this was our last impression of Bulgaria, Bell has no interest in returning as there are so many other places to visit in the world. I’m open to visiting Varna during the warmer months.

Where to Stay in Sofia, Bulgaria

When you know your dates of travel, book a hotel with free cancellation. Then you can always cancel later without penalty.

We stayed at the Best Western Art Plaza Hotel for four nights. The hotel’s location is great for exploring Sofia on foot as it’s just a block from Vitosha Boulevard, the main shopping street of Sofia. The rooms are comfortable and ours was decorated predominantly in purple, which is pretty unique. At the equivalent of around $60 US a night, it’s great value for the center of a European capital city. Breakfast is also included and there is an adequate variety of warm and cold dishes.

You can also find awesome value on apartments (with consistently good reviews) on Airbnb. If you’ve never used the service, sign up here for a $40 credit off your first stay!

Recap: Is Sofia, Bulgaria Worth Visiting?

 

Pros: Most inexpensive capital city in Europe

Quality food and accommodation at great prices

Not as touristy as most European capitals

Cons: A little lacking in a wow factor

The dodgiest airport security we have encountered in over 50 different countries of travel

Can be challenging to explore in winter because of very cold temperatures

We both feel nearby Bucharest, Romania makes for a better weekend trip. Bucharest has a wow factor with the biggest parliament building in the world. It also has a more picturesque, gaudy and vibrant historic center. Check out our article on Why Bucharest, Romania is Worth Visiting to read more on why we rank Bucharest over Sofia.

Want to travel to Sofia, Bulgaria for Free?

Play the credit card points game and use bonus point sign ups for free plane tickets! One of the most popular cards among travel hackers is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. This card also includes complimentary priority pass lounge access with free food, drinks and wifi. The annual fee seems steep at $450, but it includes $300 in travel credits. The 50,000 bonus point sign up is good for $750 in travel credit, sometimes enough for a free plane ticket from the United States to Sofia, Bulgaria!

The Delta Skymiles American Express Gold Card is free the first year and just $95 each year after. They’re currently giving a 60,000 mile sign up bonus which is enough for a free flight to Europe! You’ll typically need around 25,000+ miles for free domestic flights. Often for 35,000 miles you can score a free flight to the Caribbean or Central America. There are other perks to having the Delta SkyMiles AMEX Gold Card, like free checked bags when you pay with the card for Delta flights.

Do you think Sofia, Bulgaria is worth visiting? Unfortunately, we’ve temporarily disabled comments as we were receiving many of the same type of inappropriate comments on the airport security incident.

Planning a trip to Europe and have questions? Contact me at alex@wanderlustmarriage.com and I can assist. We’re experts on European travel as we previously lived on the continent for 6 years and we return frequently.

Disclosure: This article contains some affiliate links. We receive a small commission when you book through certain links, and it costs you nothing extra. Please consider booking through them as it helps us help you!

29 thoughts on “Is Sofia, Bulgaria Worth Visiting?

  1. Wow, that’s a lovely point of view for Sofia 🙂
    I am a native Sofia girl and it’s always amazing to read how people perceive my city.

    And I want to apologize for the behavior of the airport security staff – it’s unacceptable!!!
    Hope you visit again!

    Bistra

    1. Hi Bistra! Thank you for your comment!

      We really appreciate feedback from locals. We’re glad you enjoyed the article!

      Thank you for the apology also, that’s very sweet of you. Hopefully we will return to Bulgaria someday!

  2. I’ve never been to Sofia or Bulgaria and have never read anything about it before so this a very helpful overview. It sounds like a good non-touristy option when the weather is warm, though your experience at the airport is certainly concerning. Love the picture of the Cathedral.

  3. We have a good friend who is Bulgarian, I’m familiar with how good the grilled meats are, must be delicious while traveling the country. Sorry to hear about the security guard experience, it’s a disappointing way to end any trip.

  4. Sounds like a fun adventure despite the airport situation. I hear that Bulgaria has some great wines, wonder if there are good ones near Sofia. Looking forward to see where your travels take you next!

    1. Hey Diningtraveler. Yeah, Bulgaria is an excellent country for wine lovers. Apparently it was the world’s second biggest producer of wines in the 1980’s, before communism fell. It’s now seeing a resurgence of quality stuff https://www.lonelyplanet.com/bulgaria/travel-tips-and-articles/wine-tasting-in-the-balkans-a-guide-to-bulgarias-wineries. There are some wineries near Sofia and several winery tour options. There are also some great wine bars in Sofia. This was not why we went to Bulgaria but if we go back, we’ll definitely do a winery tour as what we enjoyed there was delicious!

  5. Awesome! I’m planing to go to Europe in July and I’m making my schedule so this post is very helpful!.. as I have been before (6 months living in Austria and traveling around) I think it’s worth visiting, also I liked the fact you mentioned about being European Union’s cheapest capital city :), thanks for sharing!
    xoxo,
    Pilar
    http://thelifestylehunter.com

    1. Hi Pilar. Have a wonderful time on your upcoming trip! We’re glad you’re putting Sofia on your list. If you haven’t been, we’d also recommend going to Bucharest, Romania. Their Parliament building, “The People’s Palace” is the biggest in the world. They also have a really lively and interesting old town, and it’s just 2 and 1/2 hours by train to the lovely town of Brasov, in Transylvania.

  6. Hi. Been visiting Bulgaria past 5 years and keep going back. Sveti Vlas next to Sunny beach and Nessebar are awesome, along with Sozopol. Veliko Tarnovo is an absolute must along with skiing in Bansko, Seven Lakes district….. Sorry, once I get started….

    1. Thanks for the tips on Bulgaria, Ingrid! We’ll consider these spots on a future visit to Bulgaria (hopefully!).

  7. I am an American Expat who chose BG as my retirement location with homes in Sofia and St Vlas on the Black Sea. A four day visit is a challenge for any new locale however I have found it friendly with many beautiful locations to visit. Most populous areas speak English.

    Beware car rental companies as they seem to always find a way to charge E500 in damage even if it is normal wear and tear.

    Don’t drink and drive as you will suffer greatly if caught.

    Other than that if you are into history dating as far back as 5000 BC this is a great base. Easy travel from Varna and Sofia to all of Europe.

    Did I say cost of living? I lol whenever I pay for anything. My seaside villa and home in Broyiana Sofia are equivalent to Newport Beach and Beverly Hills at less than 10% of the cost

    Happy to send photos and pricing.

  8. As an AlerExpat in BG. Yes you
    will love it. Follow a few basics and it is enjoyable

    Don’t rent a car
    Don’t drink and drive There is no probable cause in BG
    Leave your Diva-ness at home
    All meat is served well done. No such concept as rare or medium
    All eggs are served dry and over cooked
    Hollandaise and Bernaise do not exist

    Ask a lot of basic wuestions about your food first. Fresh fruit and salad is best. Anything that can be cooked will be very very well done
    Dry and have no taste. If you return anything you will still pay for it

    Tip 10% in cash. No AMEX but Visa ok for bill

    1. Hey John. Thanks so much for sharing your tips on traveling in Bulgaria with us!

      We’re not familiar with renting a car in Bulgaria but we have heard of car rental companies making up excuses to charge people for damage they did not cause themselves. Good to always inspect the car carefully before driving off and make sure any damage is documented in the paperwork. We can see how this could be trickier in Bulgaria.

      Yes, we got the impression that all meat is cooked well done in Bulgaria. If that’s what the locals do, best to stick with that custom, especially in summer with hotter temperatures that meat can be exposed to.

      Enjoy your retirement in Bulgaria!

    2. Well done food makes sense in warm climate. Try to find some raw food in Thailand and good luck with your doctor. Like Thailand, in Bulgaria take care what you drink as water. Prefer bottled water or boiled tea. At least in Bulgaria you will find more soups for lunch than in Greece, where soups are not served due to warm weather (warmer than Bulgaria). Try soup from beef intestines with red chilly pepper and garlic, goes very well on the beach with beer.

      I find the report on security check problem lacking details and a but overblown. I never heard any such problem in Bulgaria and I am native Bulgarian with dual nationality, been in over 45 countries. I personally prefer all passengers to be well well checked and don’t care how the security is dressed.

      1. Thanks for the tips, Julian. That soup sounds good. Avgolemono, a lemon soup is a popular soup in Greece, but it all depends on the time you visit as to how available soups will be. Greek salads are fantastic on warm days and very healthy. Good diets and a relaxed lifestyle on Greek islands like Ikaria and some others are why residents there have one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

        Bell can assure you that she dealt with the most unprofessional experience she’s ever encountered with Sofia Airport security (and we’ve traveled to a similar amount of countries). Yes, airport security should be strict. But the security agent should not have put her hands INSIDE Bell’s underwear without gloves. If security puts their hands inside someone’s underwear – 1) they better have a good reason and 2) they should absolutely wear gloves as it’s a health risk otherwise. So the security agent touched Bell’s nether regions without gloves AND the agent was not dressed professionally (tight clothes with boobs popping out and high heels). Some guys may think this is cool, but Bell never wants to return to Bulgaria after that experience. She’ll choose Greece or even returning to Romania over going back to Bulgaria. Sofia Airport needs to step up their security professionalism. I would like to see more of Bulgaria someday, but Bell isn’t interested now. There are too many other destinations where she’s had better experiences.

        1. While i can understand your concerns about the check without gloves, you must be aware that there may be reasons not to use them. There are other ways to make sure that health concerns are not an issue.

          What makes me suspicious about your airport problem, is that you appear to have issue with how the security staff was dressed. The agent lives in their own country and can not take into account the cultural preferences of all passengers. She will for sure not dress like a Saudi if she has to check a Saudi woman for example. If she likes, she will work naked. In Eastern Europe nowadays the mood is more like “my way, or the highway.” And this is probably also what you have to consider.

          1. Hi Julian. You’re entitled to your opinion but you said “If she likes, she will work naked.” No, it’s pretty standard internationally that security agents do not show up to work naked. If she wants to go to the beach or whatever naked on her free time, that’s her right. My wife was the one that took issue with the way she was dressed. I found the agents choice of attire puzzling because why would you want to wear high heels if you’re standing all day anyway. But that’s her right – she should just act more professionally.

  9. Hi i m from Sofia, the airport security is pretty good there..also how do u expect that there are a lot of tourists in November..not the season at all..!?!? I can tell u that you can have very unpleasant situations also in other countries, single experience does not mean the security is like this..

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ren. While a single bad experience can happen anywhere, that situation was very strange. I think what I wrote about Sofia was fair – we enjoyed the food, sites and discussed that it’s a good value experience. We certainly do not want to bash Bulgaria. I’m glad we went, just unsure we would return. And to clarify, we did not expect or mind that the city didn’t have so many other tourists in November. Too many tourists at once means prices will be higher anyways.

      Hopefully we have a reason to return to Bulgaria someday so we can experience more of the country.

  10. Interesting discussion in many ways
    To start with, no idea why Google places this blog I my daily news on Sunday, July 2018!
    The content of the article is typical personal travel blog , with no insight on the location, culture, history and the only personal story is a bizarre pseudo sexual experience.
    Full disclaimer, myself born in Sofia, living abroad for past 18 years and have been to more that 70+ countries and counting, including 12 USA states. Personally for a dynamic of country would comment on the homeless people in Philadelphia downtown, sleeping in every entry hall, including Churs side entrance, rather they one single person behavior. For a world traveler, to make conclusion on whole country and related people after ONE experience is very non-common sense. Especially if the country has more that 2 centuries of documented History under the SAME name of Bulgaria, when the olseso human settlement has been found in it’s territory, the oldest gold treasure, has been the crade of Cyrillic alphabet and the culture of all so called Slavic languages. Hint: the language of of sermon in the Russian church and alphabet is Old Bulgaria.
    Good luck for next travel and keep your mind open for best of life experience.

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