A Tourists Guide to Bulgaria’s Capital City
Here at Excedo Travel, we try our best to convey our knowledge and enthusiasm for everything related to tourism in Bulgaria. Recently, we have written a guide to romantic activities in Sofia, our capital city, and advice for backpackers visiting Sofia. We decided it might be good to offer a more general Sofia city guide for anyone considering a trip to Sofia in the future. Bulgaria is a beautiful country with so much to offer guests, but one thing most visitors have in common is that they stay in or close to Sofia for a portion of their trip. Even if you’ve come to Bulgaria for the hiking opportunities, we hope this guide will let you get the most out of your time in the capital. And if anything in this guide inspires you to visit Sofia with Excedo Travel, check out our Private Day Trips in Bulgaria and our Custom Guided Tours in Bulgaria.
Facts About Sofia
Sofia is a city steeped in rich history, with evidence that people inhabited this area as far back as 5000 BC. The city has been ruled by some of Europe’s greatest historic powers, such as the Romans, who established the city, and later by the Ottoman Empire.
Sofia’s Thermal Mineral Springs
Sofia famously has springs of thermal water that were used in the past to create a thermal Graeco-Roman spa known as the Central Mineral Baths. Today, however, the original spa is now a museum. Water from the spring is supposed to provide you with many vital minerals and nutrients, so make sure you grab a drink on your visit to the city.
Nodding Your Head Means No and Shaking Head Means Yes
This is more of a fact about Bulgaria as a whole, rather than just Sofia, but it bears mentioning as you may be confused to see the locals shaking their heads at you when it seems like they are saying yes to a question. This is because we are different from the rest of the world: shaking our heads means yes to us and nodding our heads means no!
Built on Roman Ruins
Sofia is built on top of Roman ruins. Just like Rome, the city we know as Sofia today certainly wasn’t built in a day. It was built over many many centuries, on top of ancient Roman ruins. In the first century BC, the Roman Empire expanded into the area we know as modern-day Bulgaria. The city was known as Serdica at the time. There are many Roman ruins and vestiges of the Roma era in Sofia today — you just have to know where to look!
Things to See in Sofia
There are many wonderful things to see and do in Sofia, so we can’t necessarily do justice to this topic here. We can, however, offer a few suggestions for anyone not sure where to start out on their Sofia vacation.
Ivan Vazov National Theatre
This stunning national theatre is one of Sofia’s most iconic buildings. The work of the famed Viennese architects Helmer and Fellner, the neoclassical architectural style never fails to impress. You can simply visit the Ivan Vazov National Theatre to marvel at it from the outside, but if you have the time, we highly recommend booking tickets to see a show ahead of time. If you don’t speak Bulgarian (few outside of Bulgaria do), opt from a musical performance instead of something purely theatrical.
Boyana Church can be found on the slopes of Vitosha Mountain, just a short drive outside of Sofia. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the best examples of Medieval Orthodox architecture and art in all of Bulgaria. Boyana Church comprises three buildings made across several centuries, (the 10-11th, 13th, and the 19th centuries). This is a must-see for visitors who love history, old churches, and medieval art. If this sounds ideal for you, check out our Boyana Church for Hikers Tour.
The St George Rotunda
If you like your history as old as possible, you have to visit the St George Rotunda. This is the oldest building in ‘modern’ Sofia. Built in the 4th century AD, this ancient church has one intact section complete with several layers of beautiful frescos, but it also has ruined sections that highlight just how big this church once was. When you visit this deep red building, take a few moments to reflect on all of the civilisations that have worshipped in this church over the years.
What to Eat While in Sofia
Rather than starting to recommend specific places to eat in Sofia, we would like to simply recommend some great types of local food to look out for. Trying local cuisine is a huge part of travel, so we hope you will enjoy some of Sofia’s local dishes. We can’t list everything worth trying in this brief guide, but we hope to at least whet your appetite.
Tarator — Cold yoghurt soup
To people coming from many other cultures, the idea of cold yoghurt soup often isn’t very appealing. But almost everyone is converted as soon as they try tarator. This fresh, tasty soup contains cucumbers, local Bulgarian yoghurt, garlic, dill, and walnuts.
Banitsa — Pastry with eggs and cheese
A favourite breakfast treat in Sofia, banitsa is made from filo pastry, eggs, a kind of Bulgarian cheese a lot like feta, yoghurt, and butter. The result is a gorgeously delicate savoury treat. If you try a bansita on your first day in Sofia, you’ll struggle to resist the urge to have one every day for the rest of the trip. We suggest that you simply don’t resist the urge!
Shopska Salata — Cucumbers, tomatoes, and Sirene cheese
This humble salad is an absolute must on your visit to Sofia. Similar to the world-famous Greek Salad, Shopska Salata deserves to be every bit as renowned and beloved. It is made of chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onions, peppers, and a generous grating of a special local cheese called Sirene. What’s so special about this cheese is that it is made with a particular kind of bacteria that is only found in Bulgaria.
That’s all we have time for in this Sofia city guide. We’ve only skated over the surface of everything there is to see, do, learn, and taste in this incredible city. Our Discover Sofia Walking Tour is a great way to become acquainted with the city at the start of your trip, helping you to find out exactly what interests you most of all. That way, you can add these places to your trip itinerary. However you decide to experience Sofia, we hope you have a wonderful time!