With one day in Sofia, you can see most of the major attractions and landmarks – if you follow this handy Sofia itinerary for 1 day of course!
Sightseeing in Sofia
Sofia is a very easy city to walk around, and pedestrian friendly. Unlike my home city of Athens, cars actually stop at traffic lights, and there are nice wide pavements! It's also very flat.
Most of the major places of interest in Sofia are located close to one another. As a result, this sightseeing itinerary is based on an almost circular walking route that anyone with average fitness levels can cope with.I actually used this one day itinerary for Sofia myself, on what was my second visit to the city. You'll notice that the itinerary starts at Lion's Bridge. This is because I happened to be staying in this area, so it made a logical start and finishing point.
For other people, the Serdika metro station may be a natural starting point for a one day Sofia sightseeing itinerary. It's central, well connected, and many of the most interesting places to see in Sofia radiate out from here in one quadrant.
Before you start your Sofia sightseeing itinerary
It's always going to be a challenge to fit everything in, so if one day in Sofia is all you have, you'll have to accept that you won't be able to go inside all the buildings. After all, if you wanted to enjoy each museum to the fullest, you'd need several hours in each one. That's impossible with just 1 day in Sofia!
So, I'd suggest choosing just one museum to spend time in. Two at a push. For me, it was the National Archaeological Museum as that's where my interests lay. On a previous visit, we spent nearly three hours in the National Art Gallery, because that's Vanessa's interest. You decide what you prefer.
Additional: Not all museums open on a Monday. If you have just the one day to spend in Sofia, perhaps you might want to avoid visiting on a Monday.
One Day in Sofia itinerary
I've created this Sofia itinerary as a looped walking tour. Whilst there are some signposts pointing to places of interest, you may still want to take a map with you. I found the Google maps was very accurate to use.
As mentioned, I've put the start point as Lion's Bridge because it was basically outside the front door of where I was staying. You can pretty much start anywhere on this Sofia itinerary list, and finish back where you started by going through it in a loop.
Here's a list of the best places to see in Sofia in a day:
1. Lion's Bridge
This bridge over the Vladaya River in Sofia gets its name from the four lions at each corner of it. It probably doesn't feature on most people's list of must do things in Sofia, but if you've got time, it's only 10 minutes walk from Serdika station.
If you like perspective photography, you can play around at Lion's Bridge and see what you come up with. The lion's themselves are not as big as they appear in the photo above!
2. Sofia Synagogue
After leaving the bridge, it's time to start walking into the center of Sofia. After about five minutes, you will notice a large mosque on the left, but we're actually going to turn right here to see Sofia Synagogue.
Apparently, this is the largest in southeast Europe, and it was opened in 1909. Attached is the Jewish History Museum. The museum was closed when I went to visit in August 2019.
Find out more here: Sofia Synagogue
3. Central Sofia Market Hall
The large, official looking building opposite the synagogue is the central Sofia market hall. Entrance to it is made through the doors on the main street opposite the mosque.
Inside, you can find all manner of stalls selling fresh food, clothes, specialities and other things. The market is clean, neat and orderly, and if I'm to be honest, a little plain and soulless. Still, pop your head inside for 5 or 10 minutes for a wander around. Something might catch your eye!
4. Banya Bashi Mosque
From the market, you can't fail to see the Banya Bashi mosque. Originally constructed in 1566, it is the only functioning mosque in Sofia.
You'll notice the dome and the minaret. When comparing my photos of the mosque with other photos, the minaret in mine is white, whilst in others it's red. I'm not sure when, but it looks like there was some renovation work during the last couple of years.
5. Sofia History Museum
Just behind the mosque, is a rather stately looking building with a large fountain in front of it. The building was known as the Central Mineral Baths, which operated until 1986. It was closed due to the building needing work done, and part of it has eventually reopened to house the Sofia History Museum.
This is one museum in Sofia I still haven't been inside. Maybe the next time I visit! If you're interested, you should note that there is an additional fee on top of the regular admittance fee to take photos inside.
6. Serdica Archaeological Complex
As you leave the history museum and mosque behind and head to Serdika metro station, you will notice some archaeological remains below. When they were building the metro, they decided to preserve these remains in a complex known as Serdica Archaeological Complex.
I would suggest that you treat this lower level of Sofia as an attraction in itself, and walk around this interesting area. There are plenty of signboards explaining the history of the settlement, as well as what the ancient buildings were.
I found it as equally interesting for how the place has been preserved and opened to the public as for the site itself. There's no entrance fee, and you are able to wander around this lower level which also acts as a connection between the Serdika metro stations.
7. Sveta Petka
After you've finished wandering around the lower level of the archaeological complex, head back out to the Sveta Petka church. It's a small place which, being halfway between the ancient and modern cities, is a physical bridge in history.
Famous for its murals, it won't take more than 10 minutes out of your day to go inside. Afterwards, head up to the modern street level for the obligatory photo from the top.
8. Fountain at Atanas Burov Square
This is just a quick photo stop opportunity before going into the archaeological museum behind. The fountain was working when I visited in 2019, and operated in different cycles. You might want to wait five or ten minutes to get just the right photo!
9. National Archaeological Museum
Right behind the fountain, is a building that looks a little like a church, but it actually used to be a mosque. This is where the National Aerchaoelogical Museum in Sofia can be found.
When I visited, there was a 10 Lev entrance fee. Inside, are a collection of artefacts dating from prehistory. I would suggest turning left straight away when entering the museum, and go up the small flight of stairs. In this room, you'll find it explains a little of prehistory.
Whilst a little knowledge of regional historic ages and developments would be a bonus, anyone can enjoy a visit to this museum in Sofia. Perhaps the best room is the treasury, where incredible pieces of workmanship are on display. Some pieces were out on loan, but there's still a remarkable collection including a good funerary mask.
If you intent to visit inside the museum, allow at least an hour, and perhaps an hour and a half.
10. Presidential Guard outside Presidency Building
As you leave the archaeological museum, you'll notice two guards standing very still outside the building opposite. These are the Presidential Guard on duty at the Presidential Palace.
There is a changing of the Guard ceremony on the hour (which I have yet to see!). On the first Wednesday of every month, the changing of the guard ceremony is a much more elaborate affair at 12.00. If you're in town then, don't miss it!
11. St. George Rotunda
Tucked behind the Presidential Palace in Sofia, you'll find the St. George Rotunda. This is thought to be the oldest surviving building in Sofia, and dates back to the fourth century.
The church is a lovely sight from the outside, with it's red brick walls contrasting against the surrounding buildings. Inside, you'll find some remarkable frescoes that were restored in the 20th century after having been covered up during the Ottoman period.
12. National Art Gallery
I hope you're not tired yet, because we're only about halfway through! Up until now, what you've seen should have taken around three hours. So whether you want to grab some lunch now or later depending on when you started is up to you. Anyhow, next up is the National Art Gallery!
Housed in an imposing looking building, the interior is as big as the exterior suggests. The gallery has tens of thousands of pieces, and during our first trip to Sofia we spent two or three hours in here. I would suggest that on a one day in Sofia itinerary you would not have time to see inside, but if you skipped the archaeological museum you might be able to see some of it.
13. Russian Church (Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski)
You'll have to hunt a little for the Russian church near the art gallery, as the trees seem to conceal it. Once you've found it though, you'll wonder why you had problems locating it!
The Russian church was built on the site of a destroyed mosque after the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottomans, by, you guessed it, the Russians! The church remained open during the Russian revolution and the Communist period in Bulgaria. There is still a Russian connection today, as the Russian Government paid for the restoration of the exterior in recent years.
14. Volunteer Monument and Antique Market
Just a short stroll over the road, you'll see some statues in a small plaza area. This is the Monument of the Volunteer, which is a symbol of national pride.
Just in the same park as the monument, is a little market area where people set up stalls to sell antiques, religious paintings, and bric a brac. I'm not sure if it is held everyday, but they were there on a Saturday when I spent my day in Sofia sightseeing.
15. St. Sophia Church
Just a short walk on, you'll notice the seemingly unassuming brick building that is the Temple Sveti Sofia. This is the second oldest church in the city, but perhaps more important as it gave the city its name.
The church has a statue of a lion outside, and there is also a monument to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier next door.
16. Aleksander Nevski Cathedral
There's no way you could have missed it, but finally we get to the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia. This huge Orthodox cathedral is one of the symbols of Sofia and Bulgaria.
To call it big, is an understatement! 5,000 people can be accommodated inside, and the total area occupied is 3,170 square metres (34,100 sq ft). The cathedral is notable for its gold dome, and beautiful interior. Depending on the time of day, you'll need to pick your angle to get the best photos, as the sun does tend to shine off the dome!
17. Tsar Osvoboditel
You'll be starting a section of longer walking now, with a stop first at the monument to Tsar Osvoboditel.
It was pretty much just a photo stop for me, and facing it, I turned left, and started walking to Eagle Bridge.
18. Knyazheska Garden
Before Eagle Bridge though, you'll find Knyazheska Garden on your right hand side. The monument depicts Soviet troops who lost their lives in Bulgaria in World War 2.
Strolling past during the day, I saw a number of skateboard ramps. I suspect at night, this is a popular place for skaters to show off their skills.
19. Eagle Bridge
In a manner similar to Lion's Bridge, Eagle Bridge in Sofia has statues of eagles on it.
This bridge spans over the Perlovska River, and it's at this point we turn right as we start to loop back around and head toward the Palace of Culture. Along the way, you'll walk past a big park on the left hand side, and also the National Sports Stadium.
20. National Palace of Culture
Visually, the Palace of Culture in Sofia is one of my favourite places in the city. With the fountains pumping out water, and colourful flowers growing in neat lines, the building looks perfect.
In the areas outside, there are seats where you can sit down and read a book, and open spaces. Inside the building, is a mix of cinemas, theatres, libraries, and even a Costa Coffee! If you had packed some food to take with you,t his would be a nice place to sit and enjoy it.
21. Vitosha Boulevard
This is the famous ‘shopping street' in Sofia. Stretching from just over the road from the Cultural Palace, it finishes at St Nedelya Square.
Vitosha Boulevard is pack full of places to shop, and places to eat. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but certainly worth spending a little time at.
22. St Nedelya Church
As you near the end of Vitosha, you'll see the green domes of St Nedelya Church in front of you. This is another landmark building, with origins dating to the 10th century.
It also marks the end of the circular walking tour. From here, Serdika square is just a short stroll away.
Other Things to see in Sofia
As you have probably realised, Sofia has a lot of things to see! You can definitely see the above in one (full) day, but there are also a couple more places you could consider if staying for 2 days in Sofia.
Museum of Socialist Art, Sofia
One of the interesting things about visiting ex-communist countries, is visiting the museums dedicated to socialist and communist art. Part history lesson, part propaganda, it reveals how socialist ideals were broadcast to the public using art and sculpture.
The museum is a little out of the center, but worth the journey if you have extra time in Sofia. I visited this museum on my first time in the city.
National Museum of Military History, Bulgaria
Almost every European capital city has a museum dedicated to military history, and Sofia is no exception. It's in an out of the way location, but if you like cold-war era Soviet and Eastern Bloc military hardware it's worth the trek.
Again, I visited this museum during my first city break in Sofia in 2017.
Where to stay in Sofia
It's going to make the most sense to stay as close to the center of Sofia as possible. There are many apartments and hotels in Sofia to choose from. I ended up with a 35 euro a night apartment with kitchen and good wifi. There's plenty of other options, some cheaper, some more expensive. Check out some places to stay in Sofia on the hotel map below.
Sofia Day Trips
If you plan on staying in Sofia for longer than a day, you can use the city as a base to explore some of the nearby region. Here's some of the best day trips from Sofia to choose from.
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FAQ about Sofia and Bulgaria
What currency do they use in Bulgaria?
Bulgaria uses the Bulgarian Lev, which is divided down into Stotinkas.
Are there ATM machines at Sofia airport?
Yes there are, and they can be found in the public areas of arrivals and departures.
Is there a charge to use ATM machines in Sofia airport?
I used an ATM machine and didn't get charged. I didn't try them all though.
How to get from Sofia airport to the city center
There are metro, bus and taxi options to get from Sofia airport to the city center. Arriving at Sofia airport, I chose to take the metro. Returning to the airport, I did the same again.
What is the best time to visit Sofia?
Whilst it's generally a good idea to avoid Europe destinations in August due to crowds, August is actually a pretty good month to visit Sofia. The reason being, that many locals and tourists are at the beaches instead! At times, it felt like I had the city to myself in August.
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