Sofia is a city full of surprises. If you can get past the grouchy demeanor of Sofia’s residents, the Bulgarian capital is a fascinating city to explore. In one day, you can discover Sofia’s ancient Roman, medieval, Ottoman-era, and communist history and dive deep into Sofia’s thriving culinary scene.
Though reserved and unassuming, Sofia is a treasure trove. Ancient Roman ruins are integrated perfectly into the modern landscape. 5-star restaurants seem to hide in old houses. Warm thermal waters flow freely. And, locals make wishes in church crypts. Here’s how we recommend spending one day in Sofia, Bulgaria.
What to do in Sofia Bulgaria in One Day
- Breakfast at Rainbow Factory
- Free Walking Tour
- St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
- The Russian Church
- Lunch at Made in Blue
- Markets (Central Market, Ladies Market)
- Dinner at Aubergine
- Night at the Opera
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1. Eat Breakfast at Rainbow Factory
The Rainbow Factory (Fabrika Daga) is a casual eatery specializing in salads and sandwiches. It’s a great option if you’re in a hurry and want to grab something to eat before, or after the walking tour. Popular among locals, this tiny restaurant gets quickly packed, especially around lunchtime.
They serve breakfast Monday through Friday (starting at 8:00 a.m.) and brunch on the weekend (starting at 9 a.m.) During the week, Rainbow Factory offers variations of scrambled eggs, omelets, banitsa (Bulgarian egg & cheese “börek”) and mekitsi (fried dough). On the weekend, they offer a traditional breakfast menu.
We came here twice and were blown away by the ingenuity and deliciousness of the food. The staff is friendly and the service is extremely fast. We loved their rainbow factory salad, tuna salad, chicken tandoori sandwich, and lentil soup.
Address: ul.Veslets 10, Sofia 1000, Bulgaria
Hours: Mon – Fri: 8:00 AM – 10:00 PM; Sat: 9:00 AM – 9 PM; Sun: 9 AM- 8:00 PM
2. Take a Free Sofia Walking Tour
Start your day with a Free Sofia Walking Tour. This 2-hour tour will give you a sweeping overview of the history of Sofia and the city’s most important sites. We recommend joining an early tour so that you have time to revisit some of the sites’ interiors.
The walking tour begins by introducing you to the Thracians, an Indo-European tribe, who settled in present-day Sofia, because of its healing thermal waters. These waters still play an active role in life today. On the tour, you’ll see locals filling up large bottles of thermal water, for healing purposes.
The tour continues to Sofia’s impressive Roman ruins. As you learn about the ancient Roman city of Serdica, you’ll walk on an actual Roman street along excavated ruins.
The tour also encompasses Sofia’s most important religious buildings, including the Banya Bashi Mosque, Sofia Synagogue, Early Christian basilica Sveta Sofia (Hagia Sofia), and St. Nedelya Church. The tour ends at St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Meeting Place: Palace of Justice
April-October: 10 AM, 11 AM & 6 PM
November-March: 11 AM, 2PM & 6 PM
3. Visit St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The free walking tour ends outside the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Walk in and enjoy Sofia’s most glorious landmark. The multi-domed cathedral impresses from every angle. Built in the neo-Byzantine style, St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was completed in 1912.
The church was named after a Russian saint in order to honor all the Russian soldiers who died fighting the Ottomans to secure Bulgaria’s freedom. The cavernous interior is dimly lit and smells of incense. It’s equal parts sacred and eerie.
Address: pl. “Sveti Aleksandar Nevski”, 1000 Sofia Center, Sofia, Bulgaria
4. Write down a Wish at the Russian Church (St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker)
Before you head to lunch, make a stop at the Russian Church, which is a 6-minute walk from St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
With gold-plated onion domes and a fairytale exterior, the Russian Church is a must-see site during your one day in Sofia. After you have a chance to admire the church’s interior, head outside and to the right. There’s a door leading to the crypt where the grave of Archbishop Seraphim Sobolev is located.
The Archbishop was known as a wonderworker, and locals write him notes filled with their wishes and prayers. Paper and pencils are provided. Simply sit down, write down a wish, and place it at Seraphim Sobolev’s grave.
Address: bul. “Tsar Osvoboditel” 3, 1000 Sofia Center, Sofia, Bulgaria
5. Eat Lunch at Made in Blue
We highly recommend eating lunch at Made in Blue during your one day in Sofia. This delightful multi-story restaurant is located in a bright blue house. Each retro-inspired room is uniquely decorated with antique accents and watercolor-painted walls. Old tools adorn one room, while framed leaves adorn another.
Their menu is innovative and extensive. We tried their chicken stew, vegetarian borscht with yogurt, and avocado salad. Each dish was lovingly prepared and tasted like true home-cooking.
Address: 6 Yuriy Venelin Street, 1000 Center, Sofia
Hours: Monday – Friday (10:30 AM – 10:30 PM); Saturday & Sunday (12:00 PM – 12:00 AM)
6. Shop on Tsar Ivan Shishman street and visit the Markets
Shopping in Sofia is refreshing because Bulgarian boutiques haven’t all been replaced by huge brand name stores. If you love shoes and bio-products, you’ll be in heaven.
There are two notable markets in Sofia: the Central Sofia Market Hall and the Ladies’ Market. The neo-Renaissance Central Sofia Market Hall is a covered market space in the heart of the city. Quiet to almost a fault, this market isn’t a vibrant place of commerce. Vendors passively sell food, herbs, and souvenirs. Though we wouldn’t recommend shopping here, it’s a nice place to grab a coffee, or simply take refuge from the cold.
The second market in Sofia is the outdoor Ladies’ Market. Vendors sell vegetables and fruits at alarmingly cheap prices. I bought a kg of lemons for 2 Lev (~1 EUR). There are a few souvenir shops selling pottery and textiles near the market. But, skip shopping here and save your money for Tsar Ivan Shishman street.
On this street, you’ll find unique “only in Sofia” shops and boutiques. Drop in Testa Gallery to see imaginative pottery and jewelry (8 Tsar Shishman Street, 1000 Center, Sofia). Around the corner, you’ll find a bio shop called Zoya (22, Aksakov Str., 1000 Center, Sofia). If you’re looking to buy a souvenir, we recommend their organic rose oil, or rose water.
7. Eat Dinner at Aubergine
Aubergine is the crown jewel of Sofia’s dining scene. No, we haven’t eaten at every restaurant in Sofia. Yes, we stand by our first statement. The menu is innovative and fresh. It’s obvious that Aubergine is a passion project and that each menu item is borne out of love and experimentation. The Chefs reimagine well-known dishes with new ingredients. Also, each dish on the menu is paired with a craft beer.
Address: ul. “Carnegie” 11, 1142 Sofia Center, Sofia, Bulgaria
Or, Eat Dinner at Cosmos
If you’re looking for another dinner option, consider Cosmos. Cosmos takes plating to another level. Each dish looks more like art than food. We’re okay with that. Though the food is delicious, the portions are on the small side. So, if you’re really hungry, opt for Aubergine. If you’re craving something different and innovative, head to Cosmos for a gastronomic journey that honors Bulgarian tradition and development equally.
Address: Lavele St 19, 1000 Sofia Center, Sofia, Bulgaria
8. Go to an Opera (or Ballet)
If you’re looking for something to do in the evening in Sofia, find out what’s being staged at the National Opera and Ballet of Bulgaria. Sofia’s Opera House has an austere exterior, but the Viennese-style-interior is grand. Red velvet chairs contrast perfectly with the ivory-colored balconies.
If you can choose between an opera and a ballet, opt for the ballet. We saw Simon Boccanegra (Verdi) and it lacked inspiring direction and staging.
Where to Buy Tickets: There’s a box office to the right of the main entrance. Tickets are very reasonably priced, starting at 12 Lev. We bought our tickets a few hours before the opera.
Address: 30 Vrabcha street, Sofia, Bulgaria
Where to Stay in Sofia
Budget | Hostel Mostel is a top-rated hostel in Sofia that offers both private and dorm-style rooms. Hostel Mostel offers a 24-hour front desk, luggage storage, and breakfast (included).
Mid-Range | 5 Vintage Guesthouse is a great-value accommodation closely located to Ivan Vazov Theater and the Archaeological Museum. Quirky and clean, you’ll enjoy the guesthouse’s location and comfort.
Luxury | Sense Hotel is the ultimate treat-yo-self accommodation in Sofia. From a rooftop bar with views of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral to sleek, modern rooms, Sense Hotel was designed to impress.
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