How to spend a day in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital

From sitting down for breakfast with locals to dancing to techno in a legendary club, here's our guide to spending 24 hours in the Bulgarian capital. 

Locals play chess in the City Garden opposite the National Theatre, a popular spot for the game.

Photograph by Francesco Lastrucci
By Jack Palfrey
photographs by Francesco Lastrucci
Published 18 Feb 2023, 07:00 GMT

Whether you prefer golden-domed basilicas or Roman ruins, antique flea markets or opulent bathhouses, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in the Bulgarian capital. And if you plan it right, it’s possible to explore the best the city has to offer in a single day. Here’s how to plan the perfect break, taking in all the must-see sights.

9AM: Breakfast at Sun Moon

The sweet smell of freshly baked pastry hangs in the air of this neighbourhood vegetarian bakery and restaurant, where diners converge around a large wooden counter and tables, or on a scattering of seating that occupies a parasol-shaded wedge of pavement outside. Homemade breads, traditional banitsa (a sweet pastry served with yoghurt) and lip-smacking smoothies all vie for the affection of early risers, while pizzas and curries move in to steal the spotlight later in the day. 

10.30AM: Sofia Regional History Museum

It’s no longer a functioning bathhouse, but, in its current guise as a museum, the miraculous building is free for guests to nose around. The floors are still vividly tiled and the large arched windows illuminate plunge pools where bathers once soaked. The exhibits themselves provide an enjoyable overview of the city’s colourful history, encompassing everything from Neolithic-age pottery to gold-encrusted royal carriages. Don’t forget to sip from the mineral-water drinking fountains outside. 

12PM: Ancient ruins and relics

During construction of the city metro, authorities turned up enough Roman remains to make Time Team’s Tony Robinson giddy. You’ll likely bump into some on any trip underground, but the most impressive section is the Ancient Serdica Complex, comprising the remnants of Roman homes, an early Christian basilica and a bathhouse dating from around the fifth century. For more recent relics, a short walk east is the antique flea market, where you can browse stalls piled with war medals, communist-era signs and vintage cameras, while vendors battle one another at backgammon.

1PM: St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Sofia’s star attraction is this enormous, golden-domed basilica, which, despite being named after a Russian prince, serves as a symbol of modern, independent Bulgaria. It took 30 years to build, funded by donations from across the country. Inside, five golden chandeliers dangle far below the beautifully frescoed ceilings, illuminating the portraits of halo-sporting saints that fill the walls. A classical art gallery occupies the tranquil, white-walled crypt underneath. 

Raketa Rakia Bar offers a range of fruity rakia liquor.

Raketa Rakia Bar offers a range of fruity rakia liquor.

Photograph by Francesco Lastrucci

2PM: Lunch at Supa Star

Soup is big in Bulgaria, so much so that the capital has numerous places dedicated solely to serving the hearty dish. Supa Star, a hole-in-the-wall-style spot on hip Shishman Street, was the city’s original ‘soup bar’ and remains its most beloved. Its selection of fresh homemade broths changes daily, ranging from traditional Bulgarian staples like tarator, to more creative offerings, such as sweet potato and ginger. Don’t deliberate for too long, though or aim for an earlier lunch slot — once they’re gone, they’re gone. 

2.30PM: Take a bath

Having opened its doors to the public in late September, Bankya’s magnificent bathhouse is the number one choice, and could be paired with a few lengths in the neighbouring Olympic-size, open-air Aquabankya complex in summer. Alternatively, the Korali Pancharevo pool complex, in the south of Sofia, is smaller, but has unbeatable vistas across Lake Pancharevo and its naturally warm water is extra inviting in winter. Both sites are roughly a 20-minute taxi ride from the centre. 

8PM: Dinner at Shtastliveca

A feel of faded grandeur wafts from this popular dinner spot on Vitosha Boulevard, Sofia’s main thoroughfare, making visitors feel they might have strayed into a Wes Anderson movie. The 1930s-style decor, encompassing old porcelain tea sets, white lace tablecloths and floral-print sofas, steals the show, but it’s complemented by an assortment of delectable Bulgarian dishes, ranging from seared pork-neck steak to stuffed aubergine with smoked cheese. Look out for themed nights, where traditional live music further ramps up the eccentricity factor. 

10PM: Sample Sofia's music scene

Sofia has a reputation for its nightlife, with the halcyon days of the 1990s techno scene clinging on at legendary club Yalta. But for something a little more refined, squash into single-roomed Club Renaissance to hear local songsters tickle the ivories while trams roll past on the cobbled street outside. Memorable live music is also on offer at underground rock and karaoke bar Rock’N’Rolla, and the late-night Jazz Bar

Published in the March 2023 issue of  National Geographic Traveller (UK) 

Sign up to our newsletter and follow us on social media:

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram  


Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2023 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved