Is the Bulgarian capital of Sofia worth a visit?

Sofia bulgaria balkans things to do guide cafe safety

When we first started planning our trip to Bulgaria we were immediately met with undertones of concern from family and friends – ‘Are you sure it’s safe there?’, ‘Do you really want to go to Bulgaria?’.

We too were a little uncertain about how we would go travelling a far less trodden tourist path, however we can now safely say we are so glad we did! We loved exploring the city without an agenda, and were particularly impressed by Sofia’s tree lined streets, local parks and vibrant street art. Despite being a little grungier than your typical imperial city (ie. Paris, Rome), we felt very safe during our few days there and found some absolute gems along the way. Of course, we would always recommend you take usual safety precautions as a tourist in a foreign city – keep a close eye on your belongings and use common sense when wandering the city, especially at night.

We were surprised to learn Sofia is home to a bustling café culture which stands up to many of the larger European cities we have visited so far. We didn’t have to look far to find numerous specialty coffee roasters and trendy cafes within a 5km radius from the city centre.

Another large part of Sofia’s charm comes from the many religious influences which have left their mark on the city in the form of some very impressive places of worship. Within only 15 minutes on foot we walked past a synagogue, a mosque and a Greek orthodox church – all of which were incredibly beautiful in their own right.

Interestingly, in between some of the most lavish religious buildings we’ve seen to date were much less grandiose, and at times quite dilapidated housing blocks. We learned that many of these monotonous, greyscale buildings were built under the communist regime (from 1946-1989) and have since fallen into disrepair. This creates an interesting dynamic as you wander the the city streets.


When you’re only in a city for a short time (in our case less than 48 hours) it can be hard to get a proper lay of the land and experience the best a city has to offer in terms of food and culture. We were therefore very excited when we stumbled across a free walking food tour run by Balkan Bites. With little knowledge about Bulgarian food or history we were delighted to feed both our minds and our bellies thanks to our excellent guide Daniella. The tour ran for 2+ hours and took us on a journey through food from Bulgaria’s humble beginnings to more modern dishes that Bulgarian’s enjoy today. Some of our favourite foods that we tried were the Banitsa (pastry with eggs, yoghurt and cheese), traditional spreads and dips in an authentic Bulgarian restaurant, and local wine from a local wine bar. The tour also educated us on the history of yoghurt, wine, cheese, garlic and bread – key staples in the Bulgarian cuisine through history and in present times.


Rainbow factory (aka fabrika daga)

This place was effortlessly cool and buzzing with activity when we visited (which happened to be on a weekend). The coffee here was flavourful. Try the cappuccino, or if you order a latte ask for it to be extra hot as our was a little cold. They have an extensive brunch menu on weekends as well if you’re a little peckish after all that exploring.

Chuckys Coffee House

As soon as you step foot in Chucky’s coffee house you’ll be met with incredible coffee aromas. Thankfully the coffee tasted as good as it smelled. There are a few tables inside otherwise you can perch at the makeshift bar outside and people watch.

Coffee Syndicate

Hidden in between grand government buildings and fancy hotels Coffee Syndicate is a real gem. The barista here was happy to chat and very helpful when it came to using up our remaining North Macedonian coins. There’s a plethora of coffee blends to try as well as some little sweet treats at the counter if you feel so inclined.


The Little Things:

We enjoyed one of our favourite meals in a long while at The Little Things. Set in a stunning garden the menu was fresh, healthy and very reasonably priced. We shared the most delicious cous cous pilaf with a polenta and cheese tart. This was a great vegetarian option if you’re not much of a meat eater.


We first stopped by Zoya as part of our Bulgarian food tour and loved it so much we went back the following day! Zoya specialise in superfood smoothies, vegan/vegetarian Banitsas (traditional Bulgarian ‘pies’), and ‘healthy’ desserts (dairy free, gluten free, no added sugars etc.). The sweet treats we samples as part of the tour were INCREDIBLE and their smoothies went down a treat as well. Zoya are more than just a cafe however, they also sell organic skincare, cleaning products and nutritional supplements.

Garafa (wine bar):

While not strictly a ‘food’ store Garafa sold grapes in our favourite form – wine! With an light and airy interior and a wide range of wines lining the walls this place is definitely worth a visit. We were particularly surprised to learn the extent of Bulgaria’s wine production (4th biggest in Europe), and the quality of the vino we tried was excellent! We would have loved to take some wine with us for the road, but alas travelling for 6 months means we have to pack light. If you happen to go maybe you can pick up an extra bottle for us?

So should you visit Sofia?

Sofia is an emerging city with lots of culture, history and great food! While it isn’t necessarily ‘better’ than some of our other favourite big cities (e.g. Budapest, Prague, Athens etc), it is unique, ‘off the radar’, and excellent for the budget traveller. If you are looking for a stop on your travels that’s a little different, consider Sofia.

Want to stay in Sofia?

We stayed at Sofia Hotel Balkan, an impressive building that offered some luxury at a surprisingly affordable price. If you stay at Sofia Hotel Balkan, try to upgrade your room or stay on the upper floors as these were newly renovated (at least the ones we stayed in). If you’re looking to snag even more of a bargain, or look at alternative accommodation, take a look below:

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