Travel Guide Europe Bulgaria Sofia

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Introduction

Church of St. George

Church of St. George

© All Rights Reserved ilyushin

Located in the Sofia Valley, Sofia (София) is the capital of Bulgaria and the biggest city in the country with around 1.4 million citizens. As the centre of the country's political, cultural and business scenes, Sofia is a bustling and dynamic city, but it has a surprisingly relaxed feeling. Whether it is the beautiful scenery in close proximity, the recreational opportunities presented by the proximity to Mount Vitosha and Lyolin, the beautiful orthodox churches or the fascinating blend of architecture influenced by both Communist and Western European styles, the city seems much less busy than it's title of capital would have you think.

With roots tracing back over 7,000 years, Sofia is one of the oldest settlements in Europe and numerous cultural, historical and archaeological monuments have been preserved. The centre of Sofia contains over 300 bars, restaurants and cafes and the blend of both old and new gives the city a unique feeling.

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Sights and Activities

Church of St. George

Church of St. George might be the oldest building in the capital. Built in the 4th century AD by the Romans this church is primarily known for its famous 12th to 14th century frescoes covering the central dome. Although three layers of frescoes have been discovered, with the earliest dating back to the 10th century. These frescoes were only discovered in the 20th century because during the Ottoman period the frescoes were painted over when the building was being used as a mosque. Presently the church is a museum, is surround by the ruins of the ancient town of Serdica and situated behind the Sheraton Hotel.

  • Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - one of the largest Eastern Orthodox Cathedrals in the World. Construction was completed in 1912 and this Neo-Byzantine church is a must see.
  • Banya Bashi Mosque - Originally built in 1576, by the famous Ottoman architect Sinan, is the only functioning mosque from the Ottoman period in Sofia today.

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Weather

Sofia has a continental climate with warm to hot summers and mostly cold winters. Average daytime temperatures in summer (June to September) are between 24 °C and 28 °C, but over 35 °C is possible. Winters last from December to March with mostly temperatures above zero during the day and frost at night, but occasionally dropping as low as -20 °C. Snow is possible during this time. Precipitation is faily even throughout the year, although summers have a bit more rain.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max2.2 °C4.9 °C9.8 °C15.7 °C20.3 °C23.5 °C25.9 °C26 °C22.6 °C16.6 °C9.6 °C4.1 °C
Avg Min-4.9 °C-2.9 °C0.3 °C4.8 °C9 °C12.1 °C13.8 °C13.4 °C10.4 °C5.7 °C1.2 °C-2.7 °C
Rainfall28 mm31 mm38 mm51 mm73 mm75 mm63 mm51 mm38 mm35 mm48 mm40 mm
Rain Days10101012141310877911

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Getting There

By Plane

Sofia Airport (SOF) is located about 5 kilometres from the centre of Sofia and has many flights. It is the hub of Hemus Air and Bulgaria Air (which is owned by Hemus Air). Sofia Airport services flights throughout Europe northern Africa and the Middle East, including Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Beirut, Berlin, Brussels, Frankfurt, Larnaca, London, Madrid, Malaga, Moscow, Palma de Mallorca, Paphos, Paris, Rome, Tel Aviv, Tripoli, Varna, Vienna and Zürich. To add, they have charter services to Antalya, Aqaba, Belfast, Bodrum, Cairo, Chisinau, Copenhagen, Dubai, Dublin, Dubrovnik, Ivalo, Hurghada, Katowice, Kaunas, Kiev, Malta, Monastir, Sharm el-Sheikh, St Petersburg, Tallinn, Tenerife and Warsaw.

Low-cost Airline Wizzair has an increasing number of flights, including to/from Barcelona, Brussels, Dortmund, Eindhoven, Forli, Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Rome, Varna, Valencia and Venice.

Bulgaria Air has a number of domestic flights between Sofia and the Black Sea cities of Varna and Burgas.

To/from the airport
Two bus routes (#84 and #284) connect the airport to the Sofia University area of Sofia city centre, and there are additional small shuttle buses (#30) connecting the two terminals with the city centre as well. Taxis and car rental agencies are widely available. And although for know there is no rail services, the metro line will connect to the airport hopefully before 2015.

By Train

Bulgarian State Railways operates a network of railways to and from Sofia, connecting to cities like Plovdiv and towards the coastline as well.

By Car

Access to Bulgaria's Capital is via several entry points:

1. From the North & South via E79/A6
2. From the East - via Thrace Highway E80/A1-A3 or from the old road paralelling the E80 Highway - Zlatitza - Pirdop - Pazardzhik route.
3. From the West - via A1/E80 Liking the city and the Bulgarian-Serbian Border point of Kalotina.

By Bus

ETAP and Biomet are one of the bigger bus companies offering tickets to numerous cities throughout the country, including Plovdiv and Burgas.

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Getting Around

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.

By Public Transport

Sofia's Public Transport consists of a good system of buses, trolleybuses, trams and since 1998 a metro system, which is currently still growing. Be sure to ask for directions, because the transport network can be confusing for visitors who do not know it well. The public transport operates from 5:00am to about 11:00pm. Taxis are the only transport option in the night.

The price of a single ticket is 1.00 lev (~ €0.50, £0.43) only paid in the local currency. There are also 10-ticket carnets for one passenger (8.00lv), and daily travel cards (4lv). 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 also buy tickets from the driver if he has any available, though this is 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 lv (about €20).

If you are traveling by tram with a large suitcase or backpack, be sure to buy a separate ticket for your bag/case or you might be fined!

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. Currently there are two lines - one that crosses from the western edge of town (Lulin, 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 centre, to the southern part of the city (Khladilnika).

By 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 Bike

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 the few bike paths around the downtown area and districts such as Mladost, Nadezhda, Hipodruma. Rent a bike Bike rental operates from 10:00am to about 8:00pm (April to November). Discover Sofia by bike map or joint to an experienced bike guide.

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Eat

You can easily find take away food in Sofia. For less than 2 leva 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.

  • Happy's Bar and Grill (Just across the street from the Sveta Nedelya church.). Happy's is the Bulgarian equivalent of an American diner, and the Sofia representative of a nationwide chain. There are English-language menus, and the staff (all microskirted young girls, who apparently have to be smiling when they serve you) all seem to have at least some English as well. Portions are generally huge and represent a sort of "watered down" version of their traditional Bulgarian equivalents, although more Western fare is also available.
  • Pizza Victoria. One of the best Bulgarian pizzas.
  • Godzila (Under the Sofia's sport palace with entrance from Gen. Gurko street.), e-mail: office@godzila.bg. Godzila's first restaurant opened in 1999 in the sea capital of Bulgaria - Varna . There you can try some fresh salads, juicy barbecue, delicious pizza and various other dishes. The menus are also written in English and the staff speaks English as well. There are traditional Bulgarian cuisine and Western cuisine as well.
  • Pod Lipite. Very good traditional food. Reservation is required.
  • Motto, 18 Aksakov str. (Motto is on the street right behind the Radisson hotel, and then two blocks East (turn to the right on the first small street behind the Radisson if you are walking from the big horse statue) - it's kind of hard to find as the sign is a small black sign with white lettering.), ☎ +359 2 987 27 23. This place is always fairly busy with a trendy crowd. The decor is modern and cool, and the people typically good looking. The service here is usually pretty nice, and many of the wait-staff speak English. The food is consistent and enjoyable. 5 to 15 lev per dish.
  • Carrera, 4 Golo Bardo Str., ☎ +359 2 960 28 66, e-mail: nikostoyanov@abv.bg. A fairly modern restaurant over in the Lozenetz area. The decor is well done, the service good, and the food very good. Prices are in line with the quality and style of the place. The wine selection is excellent. They also have a nice summer/winter garden area.
  • Hadjidraganovite kashti (Traditional Bulgarian Cuisine), 75 Kozloduy (2 minutes walking distance from the Lion Bridge, around the corner from Ramses II Casino), ☎ +359 (2) 931 31 48. 11:30 - 02:00. Amazing restaurant just off one of Sofia's main streets. The decor is old-style Bulgarian and the food is traditional Bulgarian, plentiful and very, very tasty. Entertainment includes a Bulgarian walking band and guests are primarily locals. Staff is very friendly and most speak English. Reservations are necessary, even on weeknights. €10-30.
  • Mehana Karajata (Mehana Karajata), Bul.Ovcha kupel and ul.Zhitnitsa crossroad, ☎ +359 2 8558804. Try Bulgarian national cuisine - in a traditional Bulgarian home atmosphere. Nicely decorated restaurant with beautiful open garden, typical folk music. €10.
  • Old Days (English version of the name) (Go to Orlov Most corner of the park that holds Vasil Levski stadium. The restaurant is on the "island" in the middle of the "lake" that is on this corner.). Bulgarian national cuisine.

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Drink

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.

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Sleep

  • Levitt Hostel, 55 Vitosha Blvd shifted, ☎ +359 885640012, e-mail: alekzander.levitt@gmail.com. Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 11:00. Offers free unlimited high speed Internet (1000 Mbit/s) and Wi-Fi connection through the entire hostel, free coffee and tea any time of the day, free use of fully equipped kitchen, free blankets, pillows and sheets, free towels on request, free laundry (with 3 nights stay), free use of iron/ironing board, free hair dryer, free city maps, travel desk, security system + 24 hours video surveillance, designated smoking area, no curfew or lockout. €10.
  • Art Hostel. 21/A, Angel Kanchev str., provides cheap accommodation and a friendly atmosphere where tourists and locals mingle in the small basement bar. Dormitory beds start from €12 (09/2011), "The Guardian" says "Probably the coolest youth-hostel in Europe".
  • Canape Connection Hostel, 12 A William Gladstone St, ☎ +359 2 441 63 73, e-mail: hostel@canapeconnection.net. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. A new generation hostel that offers chill-out atmosphere in a small charming house in the city center. The spacious canopy beds ensure your good night-rest, while the rich and healthy home-made breakfast gives you a great start in the mornings. €11-16.
  • Crosspoint Sofia Hostel (КросПойнт София Хостел), #6, Parensov St (Just a block away from Patriarh Evtimiy Square, and some 500 m away from the Parliament.), ☎ +359 896511179, +359 888455699, e-mail: office@crosspointhostel.com. Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 11:45. A hostel with a friendly atmosphere. Free Wi-Fi; 1m-wide spacious and very comfortable beds; metal lockers. Offers mixed and female dorms as well as private rooms. Great young staff with an attitude working there. €9-18.
  • Hostel Lavele, 14 Lavele St (behind BulBank, which is in front of Sveta Nedelya Church.), ☎ +359 884 08 02 83, e-mail: lavelehostel@gmail.com. Cozy hostel with fantastic rooms and comfortable beds. Not a party hostel, but has a good staff that loves to help out and create a lively social atmosphere. Hidden in a small quite street. Good breakfast included in the morning including homemade yogurt and bread, filter coffee, and plenty more to fill you up. Lots of good maps and information about Sofia, including a really cheap day trip to Rila Monastery. Internet in all of the rooms. From €10 for dorm. €26 for double private room.
  • Hostel Mostel, 2A, Makedonia Blvd, ☎ +359 889223296. Has a huge lounge to chill out, you can browse the net on modern computers. All en-suite dorm rooms, trips to Rila Monastery are run daily. From €9.
  • Nightingale Hostel, 2A, Petko R. Slaveykov Square shifted (Close to the corner of Solunska Str. and Graf Ignatiev Str.), ☎ +359 877214888, +359 29801583, e-mail: booking@nightingalehostel.com. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. At Famous Slaveykov Square (center of the downtown), a non-smoking eco hostel provides beds and rooms and it is a social place with air-conditioning, common/TV room and lobby area. Free of charge- breakfast, kitchen, PC and WiFi internet, lockers, maps, call a taxi, book a club, check timetables service, hot showers in renovated and sexes separated toilets and 24hr reception desk. Laundry, pick up, meals and drinks are available. Friendly and talkative staff. A lot of info for local life. €7-12.
  • Orient Express Hostel - Sofia. 8A Hristo Belchev Str. - This small hostel offers a variety of room options. From €8,5. edit

Internet Hostel Sofia, 50A Allabin Str (On the corner with Vitosha Blvd and Allabin Str), ☎ +359 889138298, e-mail: interhostel@yahoo.co.uk. [4] - Small but probably the most central hostel in Sofia. Very popular place with own Irish Pub: McCarthys, many room types inc. studios and apartments, one of the first hostels opened in Sofia. From €8. edit

  • Alegra Hostel, Sofroniy Vrachanski street № 145 (near central railway and central bus station), ☎ +359 889446364, e-mail: alegrahostel@abv.bg. Check-in: 11:00, check-out: 12:00. skype: alegra.hostel VIBER: 00359889446364 Location:in the center, at a quiet street, on the first floor of a three-storey residential building, with fully independent separate entrance and a tiny courtyard. The living area occupies 80 m². 4 separate rooms, individual locks, a fully equipped kitchen (kitchen stove, dishwasher, pots, saucepans, refrigerator, porcelain food sets, coffee machine, tea, microwave oven), two bathrooms with toilet, small vestibule. Bedding: Three rooms with three single beds, three individual locking wardrobes. The fourth room is furnished with two single beds and wardrobe. Window with PVC framed windows, convector radiators for heating in each room. All doors are locked with separate keys. In each room there are table, chairs, television, free WiFi, Internet, fax and two towels for each guest. Washing machine, clothes dryer, hair dryer, ironing board, mirror, bedside lamp, non-stop hot water. The Guest House is set up to accommodate up to 11 people. Included in the price: breakfast, tea, coffee. €30 private room /€15 per person.
  • 10 Coins Hostel, Dechko Uzunov 24, Nadezhda (Take blue line to "Han Kubrat", nuicance to find without GPS), ☎ +359 889303592, e-mail: 10coins.hostel@gmail.com. Check-in: 2:00, check-out: 11:00. Average but friendly hostel outside of the center, Small kitchen, quiet neighborhood. Dorms 7EU, Privates €18.
  • Holiday Inn Sofia, 111 Aleksandar Malinov Blvd, ☎ +359 2 8070707. Modern five star hotel offering conference facilities and spa centre. Rooms from €68.
  • Holiday Village Diplomat. Is near Vitosha mountain and 20 min away from the city centre. Spacious rooms, large park area and friendly staff.
  • Maxim Hotel, e-mail: hotel_maxim@abv.bg. A hotel 5 min walking distance from the train/bus station and 5 min away in the opposite direction from downtown Sofia. It is a cute hotel with a nice bedroom and also a living/TV room, large private bathroom and includes breakfast buffet in the morning. Only negative is they do not have an elevator. Cost in slow season was €60 for 2 people, €50 for one person.
  • Metropolitan Hotel Sofia, 64, Tsarigradsko shose Blvd, ☎ +359 2 419 19 00, fax: +359 2 419 19 09, e-mail: Reservations@metropolitanhotelsofia.com. Business 4-star hotel located near airport, ideal for business and leisure.
  • Red House B&B, 15, Lyuben Karavelov St. A charming B&B located in the Red House cultural centre. From €30.
  • Hello Sofia Guesthouse, 12 Stefan Stambolov Bul (Close to the corner with Todor Aleksandrov & Hristo Botev Blvd), ☎ +359 889138298, e-mail: sofiaguest@yahoo.com. Just opened small and cozy guesthouse in the very center of Downtown, eco-friendly, offers individually designed en-suite rooms, also deluxe dormitories and studios, furnished and supplied with all natural materials and fabrics/linens, pillows by choice, free parking during the weekends, free WiFi, 40" LED HDTVs and individual PCs in some of the rooms! From €20.
  • Hotel Lozenetz, 23, Sveti Naum Bul., ☎ +359 2 9654444, e-mail: info@lozenetzhotel.com.
  • Maria Luiza Hotel occupies an exquisite building dating back to the turn of 20th century and listed as one of Bulgaria's cultural monuments of national significance. Maria Luisa Hotel offers a combination of the standards and services found in a luxury hotel plus the privacy and independence of one's own home.
  • Sheraton Sofia Hotel Balkan, 5, Sveta Nedelya Sq. (Opposite the statue of Sofia and Sveta Nedelya Church), ☎ +359 2 9816541. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Impressive 5-storey hotel, in classical design, houses 184 rooms, including 19 suites. All rooms are soundproof, with air condition control, direct dial phone, message alert, TV with satellite program, radio, mini bar.
  • Park Inn by Radisson Sofia Hotel, Atanas Dukov Str. 36, ☎ +359 2 861 5700, e-mail: info.sofia@rezidorparkinn.com. Set in a building that resembles a baroque castle, this hotel offers 77 rooms and 36 one- or two-bedroom apartments.

View our map of accommodation in Sofia or use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet access is widely available in Bulgaria, although about 60% of the population has regular access. Broadband internet is available through cable, ADSL, fiber optics, WiMax and LAN connections. You can also access internet with your mobile phone, via GPRS or 3G. Speeds are pretty fast in the capital. Outside Sofia, speeds are significantly lower. Internet cafes are available in most towns and cities, and in some villages. Computers are usually not available in libraries, or in public places such as train stations, but free wireless access is often available in such public places and in gas stations. Many pubs and hotels will also have WiFi that is free of charge to use. In recent years, wireless access has been growing, especially in biggest cities, but is still rather limited. Paid wireless access is also available. Speeds in Bulgaria are surprisingly good! In fact Bulgaria is in top 10 of the countries with fastest wireless Internet speeds worldwide.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to Bulgaria is: 359. To make an international call from Bulgaria, the code is: 00
There are three mobile operators in Bulgaria: Globul, MobilTel & Vivacom. You can buy phone cards from post offices, kiosks and other street vendors.

The pan-European standard number 112 for all emergency calls is working everywhere in Bulgaria since September 2008. If, for some reason, you can not connect to 112, dial 166 for police, 150 for ambulance and 160 for the fire department.

Post

Bulgarian Posts is the national postal service of Bulgaria. Services are fairly reliable and have been getting better and faster of the years. Still, it takes anywhere from days (domestic) to weeks (intercontinental) to send postcards, letters and/or parcels. They also have a very handy price calculator for all items, both priority as well as non-priority. Bulgarian post offices generally are open from 8:00am to 6:00pm, though some are also open on Saturday (mornings) or keep longer evening hours (mostly the central post offices in big cities or in tourist areas along the coastline). You can buy stamps and postcards at the post offices or at newspaper kiosks. Single stamps for domestic services start at 0.45 leva, for international destinations prices vary by region. For sending packages, you can also use more expensive but faster courier services offered by for example UPS or DHL. TNT and local ones like City Express or Econt are also options.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 42.710543
  • Longitude: 23.323827

Accommodation in Sofia

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This is version 28. Last edited at 8:46 on Apr 11, 18 by Utrecht. 41 articles link to this page.

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