KATHRIN DI LAURO TRAVEL BLOG

Your Solo Travel Guide to: Sofia, Bulgaria

My first visit to Sofia was back in 2008, and I have to be honest, it was not love at first sight. It happened to be February (we were celebrating my birthday!), and there was lots of snow. Unfortunately, back then, they weren’t quick to clear the snow (which is the opposite of my beloved city of Munich), and my fancy suede Sergio Rossi boots were not the right choice for the occasion. (Thankfully, my husband was quick on his feet and wrapped each foot in a large garbage bag to save my shoes and the day.) We thoroughly enjoyed our night out from there, and it was an all-around memorable birthday. 

My husband’s company is in Sofia, so it’s a place I’ve had the privilege of visiting quite often. Though my trips there may initially fall into the couples travel category, I end up really feeling like a solo traveler since he’s busy from the moment we land. It’s allowed me to really get to know beautiful Sofia, and I hope you too will be using this solo travel guide to Sofia!

The Best Things to Do in Sofia, Bulgaria

If you’re wondering what to see in Sofia, Bulgaria, here are a few stops to add to your itinerary. 

The Alexander Nevski Cathedral is by far the most beautiful building in Sofia. It is located in the center of Bulgaria’s capital city. It still surprises me that cars can drive right along the cathedral’s roundabout. It’s one of the few historical monuments you can still get close to with cars. Others like the Louvre in Paris have turned the nearby roads into pedestrian areas due to the number of tourists visiting the city. The laid-back and less touristy atmosphere of Bulgaria is so refreshing.

The beautiful Alexander Nevski Cathedral during golden hour.

The Church of Sveti Sedmochislenitsi is another pretty, much smaller church surrounded by a quaint city park. Here you’ll find a mixture of generations coming together. I always enjoy people-watching. The kids are playing, people are meeting on benches, and the new pedestrian area is full of small food stores and local shops. I highly recommend stopping to get freshly roasted nuts of all kinds in one of the tiny shops. One of the best delicatessens is the olives filled with white peeled almonds.

The Russian Church Sweti Nikolaj Tschudotworez, officially known as the Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker, is a must-see with its multicolored tiles and domes coated in gold.

Another one of my all-time favorite spots is the Este Spa. If you just need some time to unwind, this is the perfect place to do so (I go there every time I visit Sofia). It is honestly the best city spa I have ever experienced. You’ll see right away why it was awarded as the 2017 and 2018 Global Spa of the Year. It feels super exclusive and luxurious; plus, I have never seen more than one other client getting treated while I am there. The treatments are not only incredibly relaxing, but they also won’t take too much out of your travel budget. 

Soaking in the architecture and breathtaking scenery at Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church.

If you are someone who prefers to hop on a tour to get your bearings when you first arrive in a new city, you can take one of the free two-hour walking tours. A guide will happily show you some of the city’s main highlights right away. Then you can decide what you’d like to go back and explore more in-depth!

My last recommendation for my active solo travelers is to head a bit outside the city for a hike in the Vitosha mountain area! It’s such a beautiful spot to take in nature and re-energize the soul.

The gold accents on the Russian Church Sweti Nikolaj Tschudotworez are my favorite.

The Best Places to Stay in Sofia, Bulgaria

If you’re looking for trendy, intimate accommodations, then I highly recommend you stay at the K21 Boutique Bed & Breakfast. This B&B is located in the center of Sofia (and I just so happen to be a co-owner!). You’ll feel right at home in one of our six individually styled rooms. As a thank you to my subscribers and followers, I’m offering a 20% discount on your stay! Feel free to send me a DM on Instagram or send me an email to hello@kathrindilauro.com to book.

Should you decide a 5-star luxurious hotel experience is more your style, then I recommend staying at the Hyatt Regency Sofia. This upscale hotel is central to many of Sofia’s top sites. Another great option is the Sense Hotel Sofia. The Rooftop Gastro Bar is a great nightlife and cocktail spot, plus you can’t compete with its rooftop Cathedral views! The Sense Spa is another lovely city spa offering ESPA Natural Skincare products. 

 

The Best Restaurants in Sofia

The brand new Hyatt Regency Sofia is my new favorite spot for dinner in the city. It is a must for any Sofia solo travel guide. The cuisine at The Revolutionary Dining Room and Bar is creative and bursting with flavor. The chef takes traditional Mediterranean dishes and compliments them with an Asian influence. The service is great; the restaurant manager actually used to work for Four Seasons Hawaii! Cap off the night on the top floor at The Scene. This after-dinner hotspot has delicious cocktails and beautiful rooftop views of Sofia and Alexander Nevski Cathedral.

If you’re willing to venture off the beaten path a bit, I really encourage you to hop in a 20-minute cab ride to Cinecitta. This is on my list as one of the best restaurants I’ve visited in Bulgaria; I dine there at least once every stay. The baby squid filled with marinated sea bass and ricotta is my favorite entrée. If you like steak, the Bon Fillet Charolais is a must. The Vegan roasted cauliflower with truffles, broccoli cream, vegan cashew cheese, and smoked walnuts is my regular starter. I normally avoid dessert mainly because of my green, keto-oriented nutrition lifestyle. However, from time to time, I indulge in their dessert with fresh strawberries, cheese cream, Belgian chocolate, mint, and mint brittles.

Club of the Architects, a lovely Art Nouveau Restaurant not far away from the St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral, has the best fresh salads in Sofia. They are prepared on the spot, and I love that I can always trust the quality. Grab a spot on their charming patio and enjoy the surrounding trees, plants, and tranquil oasis in Stile liberty. It is always my first choice when I want to eat a healthy, great quality lunch in an easy and relaxed atmosphere. 

Another lovely neighborhood in the city center is Oborishte. Here you’ll be able to find some adorable beer gardens and traditional Bulgarian restaurants.

Admiring the intricate details at the Rila Monastery in the nearby Rila Mountains.

The Best Day Trips from Sofia, Bulgaria

Though I always travel into Sofia by plane, I often visit other destinations by car once there. During my first visits (back in time!), I drove to Varna and Burgas at the Black Sea. These are very popular summer destinations. Perhaps the most famous one is Sunny Beach, with its many all-inclusive hotels. (It’s not my thing personally, but if it’s yours, I highly recommend stopping over!)

One of the things I do love most about visiting Sofia is its proximity to Greece! Sofia is about 180 km from the Greek border and less than 300 km from Thessaloniki. If you can stretch the time you have for your Sofia trip, I highly recommend the scenic road trip over the Balkan Mountains to Greece. The panoramic landscape views are breathtaking.

If you can rent a car or take a car service, the beautiful Monastery Rila in the Rila Mountains, which is about 120 km from Sofia, is a must see. Founded in the 10th Century, this Monastery is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. It has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site.

Head to Plovdiv for another great day trip. The first traces of settlement in the area date back to the 6th Millennium B.C. It’s the second largest city in Bulgaria after Sofia. Ancient Plovdiv is a UNESCO world heritage site, so you know it’s filled with history and charm.

 

Solo Travel Advice for Sofia, Bulgaria 

If you’ve been on the fence about your next solo trip, Sofia should definitely be on your list. It’s an easy and calm city (besides the typical rush-hour traffic). When I compare Sofia to the other European capitals I’ve spent time in, I am always amazed at how chilled and dignified the pace is. The people you’ll meet are authentic and easy-going. Everyone is kind and calm. Throughout all these years, I have never encountered an unpleasant approach or rude behavior. 

There is one thing I do want to mention for solo travelers to be aware of that does bring me a certain level of stress – the taxis! Taxis are by far the best way to get around Sofia, but English is still not widely spoken in cabs. (English is spoken in mostly all restaurants, bars, and hotels, though!) Sometimes the language barrier makes me feel uncomfortable. What works best for me is showing the address on the mobile phone map so the driver can see exactly where to take me. Always make sure the taximeter is switched on! Taxis are inexpensive, and it is the only mode of transportation I have ever taken when being by myself. (Although there is a new, modern metro system that travels throughout the city and to the airport as well!)          

If Sofia hasn’t been on your radar as a top solo travel destination, I highly recommend you add it! It’s such a beautiful, historic city with a calm and authentic feel. It is actually somewhere I can see myself moving in 10-15 years from now!

What do you think? Would you love to explore Sofia? Let me know in the comments or on my latest Instagram post!

Before you head out on your next solo travel adventure, be sure to check out my post about what to pack.

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