capital city of Bulgaria
Europe > Balkans > Bulgaria > Bulgarian Shopluk > Sofia
Sofia (София) is the capital of Bulgaria. It is also the biggest city in the country with about 2 million citizens (including suburbs). Today, Sofia is a dynamic European capital, distinguished by its unique combination of European and Communist-style architecture as well as many beautiful Orthodox churches. Furthermore, it claims to be one of the few European capitals with beautiful scenery and a developed ski-resort so close to it - the Vitosha mountain.
Aleksandar Nevski cathedral
Sofia was founded around 2,500 years ago. Over the centuries, it has been given several names — Serdika, Sredets and the remains of the old cities can still be viewed today.
Near Sofia lies Boyana church, which is one of the most valuable memorials of Bulgarian and European culture. The church has frescoes, acclaimed by specialists as the best examples of eastern medieval art from the 13th century AD.
The decline of Sofia during the Turkish Ottoman Empire was followed by the rejuvenation after the Russian liberation in 1878, when Sofia was chosen as the capital of Bulgaria at the First National Constituent Assembly, and followed by a brisk and straightforward period of construction.
Get in
By plane
Sofia Airport (Летище София SOF IATA) (9 km east of the city center). It is the busiest airport in Bulgaria, with annual passenger traffic of approximately 4 million.
Over 20 airlines operate service to/from Sofia, with direct flights to/from Athens, Paris, Vienna, London, Rome, Amsterdam, Munich, Warsaw and other European cities.
Along with traditional carriers, some low-cost companies traveling to Bulgaria are EasyJet (to/from London-Gatwick, Madrid, Manchester) and Wizz Air (to/from Paris-Beauvais, Barcelona, Brussels-Charleroi, Dortmund, Eindhoven, London-Luton, Milan-Bergamo, Rome-Fiumicino, Valencia) and RyanAir. Bulgaria Air, the national carrier operates service to/from Alicante, Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Beirut, Berlin - Tegel, Brussels, Bucharest - Otopeni, Frankfurt, Istanbul IST, Kyiv - Boryspil, Larnaca, London - Gatwick, London - Heathrow, Madrid, Málaga, Manchester, Moscow - Sheremetyevo, Palma de Mallorca, Paphos, Paris - Charles de Gaulle, Rome - Fiumicino, Skopje, Tel Aviv, Tirana, Tripoli, Valencia, Vienna, Zürich.
There are domestic flights from Varna and Burgas.
Budget airlines including EasyJet, Eurowings and Wizz Air operate from Terminal 1, while the traditional carriers including Bulgaria Air operate from Terminal 2.
There are shops, cafes, post offices, ATMs, and money exchange offices at the airport. For more details, see the airport website.
There is a free shuttle bus operating between the terminals every 30 minutes between 07:00 and 19:00. Outside of those hours, a free shuttle bus can be requested at the information desk or you can use Bus #84 (see below). After midnight you might asked to book a cab for such ride.
To travel between the airport and the city centre:
By bus
Central bus station
Sofia Central Bus Station (Centralna Avtogara/Централна автогара) is in the north part of the city centre and is within walking distance to the central attractions. Schedules and fares are available in Bulgarian online.
Eurolines Bulgaria is the largest operator of international buses to/from Bulgaria. Buses operate to/from Belgrade (5 hours, €23) and other cities in Serbia, Vienna (15.5 hours, €59) and other cities in Austria, Paris (36 hours, €120) and other cities in France, Berlin (28 hours, €110) and other cities in Germany, Budapest (11-13 hours, €48), and Prague (21 hours, €63).
MATPU 96 [dead link] is the largest operator of buses in Bulgaria. The schedule is available in Bulgarian online. Buses operate several times per day to/from Skopje (5½ hours, €15).
Other bus stations
There are 3 smaller bus stations that serve only local destinations. The bus to Samokov operates from the south station (near Жолио Кюри Metro Station, also on the route of Bus #84 from the airport).
By train
Berths in the train from Istanbul to Sofia
From Romania, a train runs daily from Bucharest at noon, taking ten hours; the return train leaves Sofia at 09:00. June to Sept this is a through-train, Oct-May you have to change at Rousse ("Ruse") on the border. There's no longer an overnight train.
From Greece, a train runs daily from Thessaloniki at 07:00 reaching Sofia by 14:20; the return train leaves Sofia at 15:00 to reach Thessaloniki (shown on departure boards as "Solon") for 22:20. You need to stay there overnight for connections to & from Athens, Piraeus and the ferries to the Greek islands.
From Turkey, a sleeper train departs Istanbul Halkali at 21:40, running via Edirne, Kapikule on the border where you get out for passport control, and Plovdiv, to reach Sofia by 09:00. The eastbound train leaves Sofia at 21:00 to reach Istanbul for 07:40. Second class single fare is €20, plus supplement of €10 for couchette or €15 for a sleeper berth.
From Serbia, from mid-June to mid-Sept a direct train runs daily between Belgrade Topcider and Sofia, taking ten hours. However the Budapest-Belgrade line is disrupted throughout 2020 for engineering works, so it is difficult to reach Bulgaria from western Europe by train.
Within Bulgaria, trains run to Sofia from all the major cities, including the seaside resorts of Burgas and Varna.
The main railway station,
Sofia Central Station (Bulgarian: Централна железопътна гара София, Tsentralna zhelezopatna gara Sofiya) or Tsentralna Gara is on the northern end of the city centre. The station can be somewhat confusing. Domestic departures go from the main terminal and that is where you can buy tickets for domestic travel. If you want to travel to an international destination, use ticket windows 14-17. They speak some English and to book a ticket, you will need your passport. They take credit cards. Platforms can be accessed from the main floor down the escalators at the far left corner. Platform numbering is somewhat confusing: Roman numerals indicate the platform number (I to VI), and Arabic numerals (1 to 12) indicate the actual track. Each platform is divided into East and West. Departures and arrivals are indicated on reliable electronic panels, but, beware, they indicate the track number, not the platform! In any case, leaving by train is mostly recommended if you want to travel overnight to destinations on the Black Sea, since trains for Varna and Burgas will leave late in the evening and get you there in the early morning (a couchette to Varna is 16 leva).
Timetables can be found at the website of Bulgarian State Railways.
By car
The motorway network in Bulgaria is still under construction.
Access to Bulgaria's capital is via several entry points:
The following motorways heading for Sofia are already in service:
Coming from North Macedonia, via Kyustendil the roads are relatively good but driving within speed limits would avoid you much hassle caused either by traffic police, or road conditions. From Central Europe you can drive almost the whole length on highways (via Slovenia-Croatia-Serbia or Hungary-Serbia), with only the last 100 km between Niš in Southern Serbia and Sofia being heavily trafficked mountain roads around the Nishava ravine in not the best shape.
Get around
By public transport
Map of Sofia Metro
A metro/subway train in Sofia
A bus in Sofia
Sofia has a well-developed, cheap, and efficient public transport system that consists of buses, trolleys, trams, subway line. The transport network can be confusing for visitors who do not know it well. The public transport operates from 05:00 to about 23:00. Taxis are the only transport option in the night.
The price of a single ticket is 1.60 lev only paid in the local currency cash. There are also 10-ticket carnets for one passenger (12 lev), and daily travel cards (4 lev). Tickets and daily cards can be bought at most newspaper stands especially ones adjacent to public transport stops. If you can't find any, you can almost always buy tickets from the driver, though not guaranteed. Punch a ticket immediately after you enter the vehicle. The inspectors rarely understand English and you might have problems with them if you travel without a ticket or if you forget to punch it. Inspectors ambush and board buses and trams in groups (and their attitude is generally not friendly at all), sometimes accompanied by police, and make no exceptions. The fine is 40 lev (which is the inspector's price of a ticket for your current trip, so you can use your unvalidated ticket on another bus.)
If you are traveling with a large suitcase, it also requires a ticket. The day ticket needs to be shown to the person at the ticket office before every metro trip, as they are supposed to check the date stamp (manually applied at the time of sale) before activating the ticket barriers to accept it. If you are staying for 4 or more days, or 3+ days and arriving directly in the city centre, you can also buy a 3-day ticket on an electronic card from the public transport offices (not from metro stations or at the airport) for 10 lev + 2 lev card fee.
There are 15 tram lines, 9 trolley lines, 93 bus lines and 2 metro lines. Some of the buses cover the area outside the city center including neighboring villages. Useful routes are bus #84 from both terminals of the airport to the center; from the train/bus station to Orlov most - bus #213 or #214 or tram #1, #7 and #18 to Vitosha Street and Sv. Nedelya Square, #1, #6, #7 to the National Palace of Culture, #18 to Slaveykov square or #6 to Macedonia square.
The subway in Sofia is still under construction and more lines will be available in the next years. There are two lines - one that crosses from the western edge of town (Lyulin, Obelya) through the city center, the southeast (Mladost) and the airport, and a second one, that crosses from the northwestern neighborhoods (Obelya, Nadezhda), through the central train and bus stations and the city center, to the southern part of the city (Khladilnika) - although it is a bit silly because trains operate two routes which each involve a combination of both lines. This may become more confusing as the system expands.
On foot
Streets have adequate tiled pavements, especially in the city centre. However, they are frequently uneven and potholed, and walking is further made difficult by parked cars, street vendors and cafes. Except for areas in the very centre, pavements rarely have slopes for wheelchair access or designated lanes for bicycle riders. Pedestrian crossings are numerous and are relatively respected by drivers. Use pedestrian underpasses to cross large intersections, though avoid ones in the suburbs as these are usually derelict.
By mini-bus
Mini-buses (marshrutki) stop if you just wave a hand and are usually fast way to go somewhere without need to change the car, but they aren't common anymore. You pay to the driver when you get on the car. Prices are 1.50 lev. You must tell the driver if and when you want to get off.
By taxi
Taxis in Sofia are yellow. Taxis can be caught on the streets or can be ordered by phone, they arrive fast and are reliable. A drive inside Sofia will rarely exceed 10 lev and a trip from the airport to the city center 8-15 lev.
There are many companies offering taxi services, some of them are OK Supertrans taxi (973 2121), €1 Taxi, "962-22-26", Yellow Taxi (91119) and Radio CV Taxi (91263) with fares around 0.80 lev/km. Some taxi companies have smartphone apps available that allow you to register and order taxis to your specific address in real time, thus eliminating the risk of falling prey to scams. As of June 2017, Yellow Taxi has the most user-friendly app for foreigners.
There are some taxis trying to imitate the most popular ones but with outrageous prices (up to 5.90 lev/km) so check before you board, these taxis usually hang around hotels and tourist spots picking on unsuspecting customers, The general rule is that if a taxi driver comes to you and offers you a drive, never accept it because they will try to rip you off.
Taxi drivers may not stop if you hail them on the street and often don't have much change, so plan accordingly (or leave tips!)
By car
Renting a car is possible, but not necessarily a good idea if your plans are restricted to visiting only Sofia and not travelling elsewhere in the country. Driving here can be strenuous for those with less experience behind the wheel - be prepared for traffic jams and disorganized traffic. Those of you who plan on visiting more of the country can rent a car from a local company (much cheaper than the big brands) or use a broker ([1] [dead link]) as some of the local companies do not even have websites.
If you need to park your car, you are recommended to do it in a paid guarded lot. Parking in the center is difficult and you may be parked illegally without knowing it; foreign license plates may attract unwelcome attention of Bulgarian police and of criminals. Even if there are other cars parked in the area, double check that there are no signs or pavement markings prohibiting it. Parking in the central city area on working days is paid [2], it is divided in a so-called Blue Zone ("Синя зона") - 2 lev per hour, and a Green Zone ("Зелена зона") - 1 lev per hour. If you have a Bulgarian mobile number, you can also pay by SMS - send the vehicle registration plate number to "1302" for the "Green zone" or 1303 for the "Blue zone". This will charge parking for an hour through your phone bill. Five minutes before the prepaid time is up you will receive a warning sms. You can either send another message for another hour or move your car.
Pay attention to trams or buses stopping in the middle of the road. If you see a stopped tram or bus on your left, you must stop and let the passengers get on/off, according to the Bulgarian traffic code. Failing to stop in this manner may be very dangerous.
If you drive out of the city (or enter the country by road) you must have a toll sticker - vignette ("vinetka" in Bulgarian). Buy it right away at the border or before leaving Sofia from any fuel station. The price is 8 euro and the sticker is valid for one week (one-month, €15, and one-year, €50, vignettes are also available). You must place it on the front window, in the bottom right corner. The fine, if you forget the sticker, is about 200 lev.
Driving with your lights on is compulsory, day and night, all year long.
By bicycle
Sofia is one of the greenest capitals in Europe, with the big park zones ideal for biking. Slow traffic in downtown is perfect for cycling. On a bike you will save time and will enjoy sport activity. Sofia also has a few bike paths around the downtown area and in districts such as Mladost, Nadezhda, Hipodruma. Be careful as many cars double park and may open doors without noticing you. Rent a bike) Bike rental operates 10:00-20:00 (April to November). Discover Sofia by bike map or joint to an experienced bike guide.
Map of Sofia
Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe and has ancient ruins throughout the city center.
In the administrative center of Sofia, the streets are covered with a specific yellow pavement. It was laid in the beginning of the 20th century and were a present to the Bulgarian Tsar Ferdinand for his wedding from the Austria-Hungarian royal family.
Mineral springs
Sofia was founded because of the quality of its mineral waters. In the city, there are 7 independent mineral water springs. One of the springs is in the central area of the city and is accessible for everybody - cross the square behind the mosque, next to TSUM (the intersection of Iskar and Ekzarh Yosif streets).
Sofia Public Mineral Baths. It is an old building of interest. It was renovated and is now a museum of the history of Sofia.
Earth and Man museum
Aleksandar Nevski Cathedral
Boyana church
Other places of worship
Historical buildings
Battenberg Mausoleum
Open spaces
Parks and gardens
Yuzhen Park (South Park)
Other sights
National assembly of Bulgaria
A Shopping Mall in Sofia
It is strongly advisable to skip exchange offices on the street and use exclusively banks for exchanging money. Some exchange stalls will try to scam you by buying your currency at very unfavorable rates. See Bulgaria#Money for exchange rates.) It's also possible to change money at a good rate in casinos if you play there.
ATMs are widely available and accept all major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Diner's, etc.), although you have to check your daily limit with your bank. ATMs will let you withdraw at most 400 lev in one go, but if your card limit allows it, you can make two or more withdrawals.
Credit cards are widely accepted in larger stores and supermarkets, but in small souvenir shops or restaurants you will definitely need to carry some cash.
Souvenirs can be bought many small shops in the subways in front of the old Party House and in the metro station at the Largo. The Ethnographic Museum has a small shop tightly crammed with souvenirs of all kinds from all over Bulgaria (on the right, just as you enter the main entrance). Antiques and souvenirs can also be found in Aleksandar Nevski square, in stalls just opposite the church.
Fast food
You can easily find take away food in Sofia. For less than 2 lev you can get a slice of pizza, a hot-dog or a sandwich. You can get more traditional Bulgarian food in bakeries, offering banitsa and other kinds of pastry. This food is often consumed with ayran or boza. Another possibility is to get a katma, which is a big pancake filled with cheese, ham, jelly or chocolate.
Pizzeria-type restaurants and snack bars can be found all over Sofia. Although many are very uninteresting for the traveler looking for a meal with a local flavor, some include excellent Bulgarian dishes.
Mid to High End
The Sofia nightlife is vibrant, concentrated mostly in two areas - the city center and around Studentski grad (Студентски град/Student's town), which is the neighborhood where are the university dorms. There are frequent live performances in various venues, check the freely distributed guides in various shops and restaurants like Programata (Програмата/The Program). The primary distinction between the clubs is whether the music includes chalga (чалга/folk-turkish-greek-serbian influenced local genre) or not. Expect that any local acquaintances will have strong feelings whether they attend or not the chalga clubs. There are hundreds of clubs and bars, with prices from 2 leva for beer and 5 for cocktail to luxurious places charging exorbitant sums. It is better to pay with cash, as POS terminals are not widely available, especially in the cheaper places. The people start to gather after working hours for a beer, cocktail or glass of wine, moving to dinner around 20:00 and clubs and discos after 23:00.
In the warm months, crowds overflow from the more popular places like Bilkova (Билкова/The Herbal) on the street. The centrally located parks and gardens like Crystal (Кристал) and Gradinkata na Narodniya (Градинката на народния/The garden of the national theater) and crowded during the summer, with drinks provided from nearby shops or cocktails in disposable cups.
Stay safe
Generally, Sofia is a very safe and walkable city, even at night. Nevertheless, you should avoid poorly lit areas and use your common sense. Avoid the area around the central Bus and Rail Station, Maria Luiza Blvd, the dark areas of the city parks and the Lions' Bridge (Lavov Most). And don't go to the Borisova garden, it is very dangerous (especially during the night). Single women and girls should be especially careful. Junkies get high in these areas, prostitutes (both female and transsexual) offer their "services", some people might want to tempt you with touts of contraband (stolen, illegal, etc.) and/or try to mug you. These areas are also frequented by the homeless and the drunk. If your hotel is in the area you'll be alright, just don't hang around it unnecessarily. Try to act like you are familiar with the area (and familiarize yourself during the day) and look like a local. It is wise to choose a hotel/hostel in a good, central location.
Pedestrians should be careful since many Bulgarian drivers do not yield right of way to those on foot.
Do not get into conflict with locals especially if they seem aggressive or drunk, particularly football fan groups who tend to be drunk and aggressive. Avoid wearing football shirts or scarves of the Sofia-based football teams, especially on match days.
Be wary of petty thieves and poorer neighborhoods, as pick pocketing and thefts are common. If you are approached by locals trying to sell stolen goods, give you directions or bother you exercise caution.
If you get in legal trouble with some of the locals, the Bulgarian police and judiciary may not protect you adequately because of corruption and nepotism.
Be careful with taxis, make sure you check the prices first before you get in (the fare is per kilometer and it should be something like 0.79 lev during the day and 0.90 lev during the night, avoid cabs that display their fare as above 1.00 lev), also make sure the cab has the driver's card on the front with his name.
Banks exchange most currency so there is usually no need to use exchange offices which often offer a poor rate, ignore entirely anyone on the street wanting to change money; you will get an awful exchange rate, or a handful of fake banknotes.
Sofia has a large number of free wireless hotspots in bars, restaurants, and cafés. You may find also in hotels and public areas, like "Park Zaimov". The airport has a free public wireless hotspot, and so does the central train station in Sofia.
Go next
Bankya Is around 14.3 kilometres away from central Sofia and offers a range of pools and water springs and a large park near the centre of the city. You can get there by taking the 47,48 or 49 bus from the Slivnitsa metro station. Bus fares are around 1.60 levs or you can get a all day ticket for 4 levs.

This city travel guide to Sofia is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.
Last edited on 21 May 2021, at 10:31
Content is available under CC BY-SA 3.0 unless otherwise noted.
Privacy policy
Terms of Use
HomeRandomNearbyLog inSettingsDonateAbout WikivoyageDisclaimer