Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia has a complicated and diverse history that stretches back more than 7000 years. The city has been home to many an empire, experiencing invasions from the Greeks, Romans and Ottomans. Later, Sofia injured Soviet occupation, and in 1989 the city saw the end of communist rule. Since then, there have been dramatic changes in Sofia, and today the city stands as a fantastic destination for travellers to visit and uncover its rich history and extraordinary traditions.
Past residents of Sofia, from the feast loving Romans, to the spa worshipping Ottomans, knew how to indulge in luxury. Perhaps it is for that very reason Sofia is a fantastic city to visit for a luxury break. Check out our Luxury travel guide to Sofia, which includes everything you need to know when planning an indulgent getaway to the city, be it luxury hotels, fine dining or the best city tours.
This guide is perfect for those who are travelling to Sofia on a luxury. We will show you what to do in Sofia, where to stay, what to eat and how to get around, whether it’s a weekend in Sofia or a long term stay.
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Table of Contents
The best time to visit Sofia
One of the best times to visit Sofia is during the month of May. This is due to the weather being warm, but still avoiding the busiest tourist months from June to August. Sofia is a spectacular city that really comes alive in the warmer weather. Think open-air cultural events and bars that spill out onto the streets, with tables set up to enjoy the long sunny evenings.
How to get around Sofia
Sofia operates a good public transport service, which includes trams, buses, trolley buses and the metro. Tickets are sold at major bus stops and at kiosks that will then need to be validated once on board. As well as being able to purchase single tickets, you can also get a card that is valid for a day or even a month.
Historically, taxi services in the city gained a reputation for ripping off tourists. While this is mostly changed, it’s still worth being wary and making sure your taxi uses a meter. You will find sticking to the official yellow taxis is your best bet.
What to expect in Sofia
The language spoken in Sofia is Bulgarian, the only official language of the country. You may find it similar to other Slavic languages such as Macedonian or Serbian. The currency used is the Bulgarian LEV, so think about how you will exchange your money to find the best rate.
In regards to tipping, it varies depending on the service. In restaurants, expect to add 10 per cent as a customary tip, which goes towards making up the wages of the wait staff. During a visit to the spa, it is good etiquette to tip between 5 and 10 per cent. Tipping your taxi driver is also common in Bulgaria, so remember to add about 10 per cent for your driver too.
Luxury things to do in Sofia
Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
One of the main attractions of Sofia is the inspiring Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. As the most important Orthodox church in the whole of Bulgaria, its importance is significant. This importance is indicated in many ways, one of which becomes obvious as soon as you look up. The cathedral domes are covered in gold. Other rare and somewhat expensive materials were also used in the building of this cathedral, which took over 30 years to complete.
Banya Bashi Mosque
During the time in which the Ottomans ruled Sofia, the Banya Bashi Mosque was built. The name of the mosque means many baths, as it was built over a natural thermal spa. Nowadays, this is the only functioning mosque in the city.
On the outskirts of Sofia, the Orthodox Bonyan church remains as a beautiful medieval relic. Due to its colourful frescos, which are considered to be a highly important example of medieval art, the church designated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph
St Joseph’s is the largest Catholic cathedral in Bulgaria. The cathedral was actually rebuilt after World War Two after it was destroyed during bombing raids. During his visit to Sofia in 2002, Pope John Paul II personally laid the foundation stone at the church.
On the outskirts of Sofia is the Dragalevtsi Monastery, located in the Vitosha Mountains. The monastery, a national monument in Bulgaria, is said to have been a hiding place for revolutionist Vasil Levski. Leviski is a national hero in Bulgaria, after being part of a movement that worked to free the country from Ottoman rule. He even earned the nickname, the Apostle of Freedom. You can reach the monastery by public transport from the city centre, by taking either the 66 or 93 bus.
Rotunda of St. George (Sveti Georgi)
This early Christian church is actually the oldest building in Sofia, still remaining in the city after it was built by the Romans in the 4th century. The red brick church is such a contrast to the hotel building that surrounds it, showing the rich layers of history evident within the city.
National Archaeological Museum
In the centre of Sofia, you will find the National Archaeological Museum. The museum’s collection is housed within what was once the cities largest mosque, Koca Mahmut Paşa Camii. Inside you will discover displays spanning from the stone age, through to the 18th century.
The National Theatre
The Ivan Vazov National Theatre is the perfect place to experience an evening of luxury in a rich cultural environment. Here you can watch performances from many genres, including ancient tragedies through to more modern productions.
If you are looking for high-end retail therapy look no further than Vitosha Boulevard. This is the main commercial street in Sofia, so as you can image, you will find a variety of designer stores such as Versace, Max Mara and Armani. You will also be greeted by a range of different restaurants and bars, perfect for relaxing in after a busy day of retail therapy.
Amphitheatre of Serdica
Before modern day Sofia existed, the civilisation here was once a Roman city named Ulpia Serdica. The remains of the cities amphitheatre are preserved within the basement of a hotel and open for visitors to view. The Amphitheatre wasn’t discovered until 2004 when construction began on the Arena di Serdica Hotel. It is believed that this amphitheatre saw fights between gladiators and wild animals such as crocodiles, wild cats and bears as a form of ancient entertainment.
National Historical Museum
The National Historical Museum is Bulgaria’s largest museum. This museum has a collection of more than 650,000 cultural monuments. Alongside its impressive collection, what is interesting about this museum is it is housed in what was the residence of the counties former communist head of state, Todor Zivkov. It’s not every day you get to walk the halls of a building that was once so shrouded in mystery.
Where to stay in Sofia – Luxury Hotels
Grand Hotel Sofia – The Grand Hotel in Sofia is a luxurious five-star retreat, right in the very the heart of the city. The hotel opened back in 2004, and since then has hosted notable dignitaries and international celebrities alike.
Hilton Sofia – Opposite the National Palace of Culture, the Hilton Hotel Sofia features an indoor pool, fitness suite, restaurant and bar. This luxurious hotel is within walking distance of many of the cities best boutique stores, restaurants and nightclubs.
Intercontinental Sofia – The Intercontinental Sofia is located near the cities University and boasts many features to keep guests happy during their stay. On site you will find the Floret Restaurant and Bar, offering quality dining options.
Sense Hotel Sofia – Only a few steps away from parliament, the five-star Sense hotel is a great option for guests opting for a luxury getaway. Highlights include an exclusive spa, stainless steel swimming pool and a rooftop bar offering beautiful panoramic views over the city and of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Arena Di Serdica Hotel – This five-star hotel blends modern luxury with historical beauty. The hotel houses one of the cities historical treasures, the remains of the Amphitheatre of Serdica. This Roman Amphitheatre gives the modern hotel a huge boost of character, but it isn’t the only reason to stay here. Also on site is a spa, a great way to rewind and recharge after a tiring day.
Luxury eats in Sofia
Cosmos – For fine dining in Sofia, look no further than Cosmos. Here the chefs have worked tirelessly with traditional Bulgarian foods, to use them in a modern and imaginative way in order to wow diners with their creations. Cosmos even received the Bulgarian Modern Cuisine Award in 2017, showcasing its impressive quality.
Raketa Rakia Bar – This communist era bar not only has a great selection of the traditional Bulgarian brandy known as rakia but the menu too is sure not to disappoint. The tasty variety of food highlights some of Bulgaria’s best dishes.
Este – Showcasing both high-quality food and high-quality service in Bulgaria’s capital city is Este. The unique fusion of Bulgarian, French and European influences merge to create highly impactful and flavourful dishes.
Shtastliveca Vitoshka – Dine at Shtastliveca Vitoshka for a taste of delicious Eastern European food in a central location. The interior is modelled on the idea of a 1930’s home, providing a cosy ambience for diners.
Ahora by Sevda Dimitrova – After winning the second season of the Bulgarian version of Master Chef, Sevda Dimitrova opened her restaurant Ahora in Sofia. The aim of this winning chef is to use Bulgarian products, whilst combining different styles to create dishes full of unique flavours as well as having comforting qualities. The relaxing atmosphere and tasty food makes for a luxurious dining experience in Bulgaria’s capital.
Luxury tours to do in Sofia
Valley of the Thracian Kings, Hidden Treasures
This mega 10-hour tour packs in a lot of Bulgarian history in one day. After being picked up from your hotel, you’ll be whisked away on guided visits to Golyama Kosmatka Mound, Ostrusha Tomb and the Tomb of Kazanlak, which is actually a UNESCO listed site. Throughout the day, you’re sure to be delighted by mythical Bulgarian history.
Rila Monastery and Wine Tasting Tour
Enjoy a private tour to the Rila Monastery, paired with a wine tasting at the Medi Valley on this luxurious tour. Taste some of Bulgaria’s best locally produced wine as your guide teaches you more about the region.
Private Day Trip to the Seven Rila Lakes
Get back to nature during this private hiking tour of the stunning Seven Rila Lakes. The air-conditioned car will pick you up from your hotel, and drive you to the mountain ready for a day in nature you won’t forget in a hurry.
3-Hour Private Bulgarian Food Tasting Tour of Sofia
On this private tasting tour, you will discover the culinary traditions of Bulgaria as your local guide whisks you around the city. You will visit bakeries, food stalls and restaurants, trying an array of much loved local delicacies such as Banitsa and Sarma.
The Ultimate Balkan Horse Riding – Glozhene Monastery Ride
One way to experience the beautiful natural landscapes of Bulgaria is on horseback. This 7-hour tour will take you through rural villages, lush forests and onto the panoramic Balkan mountains. Along the way, you will pay a visit to the St George Monastery, a lovely oasis deep in the Bulgarian countryside.
Sofia Evening Tour with Folklore Dinner
If you are looking for something to do at night in Bulgaria, consider taking part in this evening tour followed by a folklore dinner. As you indulge in a four-course meal, enjoy watching a traditional folk dance show.
Private Day Trip to Plovdiv with Traditional lunch
Escape the hustle and bustle of Sofia for a day on this private trip to Plovdiv. Here you will discover a Roman theatre, ancient stadium and other Roman ruins. The trip also includes a three-course lunch of traditional Bulgarian foods. The door to door transportation also offers free wifi, so you can stay connected during your journey.
Ancient History Spa and Wine from Sofia
During this 8-hour day trip, you will be guided through the town of Koprivshtitsa, which is brimming with 19th-century revival architecture. Later, you will pay a visit to the Thracian Temple of Starose, alongside a local winery and spa. The tour forms an indulgent day with a mix of history and relaxation in the beautiful Bulgarian countryside.
Recommended luxury tours in Sofia
- Private Tour from Sofia to Plovdiv
- Ski and Snowboard Day Trip to Borovets resort. We provide all you need!
- Sofia Evening Tour with Folklore Dinner
- Bulgaria and Serbia in One Day from Sofia
- Hot-air balloon trip above Belogradchik
- Flight tour over Vitosha mountain and Kopitoto
- 3 days in Rila: Lakes in the mountain of wisdom
- Iskar Gorge- Nature Day Trip from Sofia
- Rila Monastery and hiking to the Stob Pyramids- Private Day Trip from Sofia
- Vitosha Mountain and Pancharevo Lake Private Day Trip from Sofia
- Sofia Guided Walking City Tour with Traditional Breakfast
- Saeva dupka and Ledenika Caves Day-Tour from Sofia
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