Local Tips: The Best Free Things to do in Sofia [UPDATED 2020]

free things to do in sofia

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Planning to visit Sofia soon? You will not regret that decision. Sofia is one of the cheapest European destinations and has it all: cultural and historical heritage, plenty of green areas,  flavorful food scene, exciting nightlife, and even its own mountain!

The list of reasons to visit Sofia doesn’t end here, but in this article, we will focus on the best free things to do in the city. From learning about Bulgaria’s and Sofia’s history, to a free food tour and getting up in the mountains, you’ll find ideas on what to see and what to do in Sofia without spending a lev. 

So, straight to the point, these are my best recommendations for free things to do in Sofia: 

Sofia’s free attractions 

Almost all major sights and attractions in Sofia are free and that includes monuments, memorials, and even an Ancient archaeological complex.

Archaeological Complex Serdika

Archaeological Complex Serdika contains the remains of the ancient Roman city Serdika. The remains were discovered between 2010 and 2012 during excavations for the metro line and are now on display to the public under glass protection. 

The remains are spread all over Serdika metro station, as well as underneath Nezavisimost (Independence) Square, and can be visited for free daily from 7 am until 10 pm. 

If you’re really interested in the history of the place, you can also check out the Archaeological Exhibition ”Ancient Serdica”. This isn’t free, however. The exhibition is open for visits from Tuesday to Sunday, and the ticket costs 6 BGN. 

What else is free to see in Sofia? 

In addition to Sofia’s archeological complex, the other attractions that you can visit for free in Sofia include the National Palace of Culture, The National Theater ”Ivan Vazov”, The Largo, Lions & Eagles bridges, Vasil Levski Monument, and the Monument to the Soviet Army, among others that I’ll share with you in the following sections of this article.

National Palace of Culture aka NDK 

NDK is the largest conference and exhibition center in south-eastern Europe. The Palace is home to over 80 monumental works of art such as paintings, sculptures, and more. The park in front of the palace is a favorite gathering spot for locals and it’s one of the most popular spots among skateboarders. 

In NDK, you can attend concerts and theater plays. The Sofia International Film Festival also takes place in NDK. Those, of course, are coming at a price, but if you’re looking for a cultural event to attend while in Sofia, this is one of the places to check for such. 

National Theater ”Ivan Vazov” 

The building of the National Theater is one of my favorite buildings in all of Sofia. Built by Viennese theater architecture back in 1906, Ivan Vazov’s theater is among the most important landmarks of Sofia, and it’s the oldest theater in the whole of Bulgaria. 

If you’re looking for a cultural event to attend while in Sofia, this is the absolute best place to do so.

The City Garden mostly known as the Garden of the National Theater is another popular meeting spot. 

The Largo

Located right in the heart of Sofia, The Largo is one of the main attractions of Sofia that represents an architectural ensemble of three Socialist Classicism: National Assembly of Bulgaria, Council of Ministers of Bulgaria, and TZUM department store. 

The Largo is at Independence Square, where you can also find the Roman ruins underneath. 

Lions’ & Eagles’ bridges 

Lions’ bridge is a bridge over the Vladaya River in Sofia. The name of the bridge comes from the four prominent lions made of bronze at each end of the bridge.

Two main city’s boulevards cross here: Maria Louise and Slivnitsa boulevards. Sofia’s Central train & bus stations are located on Maria Louise boulevard in the north of the city, and if you follow the boulevard to the south, at the end of it, you’ll reach Serdika’s archeological complex, The Largo, St. George Rotunda and other important attractions. 

Eagles’ bridge is a bridge over the Perlovska River in Sofia. The name of the bridge comes from the four statues of eagles on it, which are its protectors and patrons.

Another two main city’s boulevards cross here: Evlogi Georgiev boulevards and Tsarigradsko shose boulevard which gives the beginning of the Trakia highway. In close proximity to Eagles’ bridge, you’ll find Borisova garden, Vasil Levski National Stadium, Lake Ariana, Sofia University, and the Monument to the Soviet Army. 

There are metro stations nearby both bridges: (M2) Lions’ bridge metro station & (M3) Eagles’ bridge metro station. 

Vasil Levski Monument

You won’t find Vasil Levski Monument listed in every guide about Sofia, however, in my opinion, this is one of the most important attractions in the city because it has been built to commemorate the hanging of the Bulgarian national hero and revolutionary on that same spot on 18th February 1873. 

Who is Vasil Levski? 

Dubbed the Apostle of Freedom, Levski ideologized and strategized a revolutionary movement to liberate Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. Considered by many, Vasil Levski is the greatest Bulgarian and he will always live in the hearts of the Bulgarian people.

Having this in mind, stopping by the monument is not just another free thing to do in Sofia, but paying respect to Bulgaria’s biggest national hero.

P.S. If you’re visiting Stara Zagora, you can check out the Hilendar Convent where he started his education.

Monument to the Soviet Army, Sofia University, and SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library 

I have gathered those together as they’re all located just within a few steps from each other. The Vasil Levski Monument and Eagles bridge are close by, too.

Founded in 1888, Sofia University is the oldest highest educational institution in Bulgaria. The university’s architecture is truly impressive and you shouldn’t miss passing by while visiting Sofia. Also, just across the street, you can find the university’s garden and library garden. 

SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library is the national library of Bulgaria and it’s named after the creators of the Cyrillic. No, Russians haven’t invented the Cyrillic, Bulgarians were the brothers who did that. 

Around the Monument to the Soviet Army, there is a large park where many younger people are gathering. 

In 2011 the monument was painted overnight by a group of anonymous artists who “dressed” the Soviet Army soldiers as the popular American culture characters: Superman, Joker, Robin, Captain America, Ronald McDonald, Santa Claus, Wolverine, The Mask, and Wonder Woman. The caption that was painted underneath ”в крак с времето” translates to as ”in pace with time”.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is one of Sofia’s symbols and most popular tourist attractions. Being a must-see sight while in the city, it is great that is part of the list of free things to do in Sofia.

The Orthodox cathedral serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria and it is believed to be among the top 10 largest Eastern Orthodox church buildings. An interesting fact, however, is that Alexandar Nevsky cathedral can fit in the hall of the Devil’s throat cave – the largest cave hall in Bulgaria after the entrance hall of Devetashka cave.

Russian Church “Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski”

The Russian Church in Sofia is famous for its magical power to make wishes come true. The legends has it that if you visit the crypt and write your biggest wish on a piece of paper, you will have your wish fulfilled. 

What would you wish for? 

St George Rotunda

Built in the 4th century, St. George church is the oldest Eastern European Orthodox church. Hidden away from tourists’ eyes, the church is situated in the courtyard of the Presidency and Sheraton Hotel Balkan. More Roman ruins can be witnessed in the church’s surroundings.

Nowadays, the church is a museum protected by UNESCO.

“Square of Tolerance”

Sofia is the only place in Europe where Eastern Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Muslims, and Jews can all pray in their place of worship just across the street from one another.

The Square of Tolerance is situated in the heart of Sofia, and its center is Serdika.

St Nedelya church

This Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox church is a medieval church that suffered destruction many times before and has been reconstructed many times in the past. On April 16, 1925, the St Nedelya church comes under terrorist attack in which over 130 people were killed.

St Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral

This Roman Catholic cathedral was destroyed by bombs during World War II and it was rebuilt between 2002 and 2006. Pope John Paul II personally laid the foundation stone of the new stone during his visit to Bulgaria in 2012.

Banya Bashi Mosque

Sofia’s only functioning mosque. The name Banya Bashi can be translated to ”a lot of baths”, and comes from the neighboring Central Baths. You can visit it as a tourist, there is no entry fee. 

Sofia Synagogue

Is the largest synagogue in Southeastern Europe and houses the Jewish Museum of History. If you want to visit the interior of the synagogue, you have to pay an entrance fee and go through a security clearance.

Other churches to visit in Sofia

Sofia is a city where you can find lots of churches. Even if you’re not religious (like me), you’ll still find yourself amazed by the impressive icons and frescoes inside those churches. I have already covered some of the most important and impressive ones, but you can also check out St Petka church, St Sofia church and the list goes on to over 50 churches that you can visit in Sofia!

Note that many of the churches have museum halls, which you can enter at a cost.

free things to do in sofia

St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral

Now that we have covered the main monuments and churches of the city, let’s move on to the more fun and exciting free things to do in Sofia, starting with my favorite green areas!

Sofia’s Parks 

One of the best free things to do in Sofia is to enjoy the city’s parks. Sofia has vast green areas with the largest park being Borisova Garden. It’s also the oldest park in Sofia and of local’s favorite spots, Actually, all parks are favorite to the local people as places to hang out, ride bicycles, play sports, or relax at a hammock with a book in hand and beer in the other. 

One of the most fun things to do in Borisova Garden in Sofia during summer is joining an acro yoga session. Even if you don’t have any experience, others in the group will teach you. And it’s absolutely free to join. Check out the Facebook group of Acro Yoga Sofia for information on when there will be people playing at the park. 

Other popular parks in Sofia include South Park, National Theater Garden, Park Zaimov, Doctor’s Garden, and Park Crystal. These are all located in the city center so you’ll never be too far away from a park.  

Free Walking, Graffiti & Food Tour

Joining a free tour is always a great idea, so you can learn more about the place that you are visiting and often get some very good tips and recommendations from the locals who are leading the tour. In Sofia, just like in any other big city, there is a free walking tour that takes you to some of the highlights of the city. I always recommend people to join it as they can learn lots about Sofia. 

Among all of the free tours in Sofia, my favorite has to be the free food tour! Yes, you read that right – Sofia is probably the only big city that can offer a free food tour. At least, I haven’t heard about any other. 

During the free food tour, Balkan Bites, you visit 5 different spots where you try local foods, as well as dishes that are very popular in Bulgaria. 

There’s also one more free tour in Sofia that I really like personally and that is the Graffiti Tour. If you’re a street art fan, then you shouldn’t miss joining it, too. More about the street art in Sofia and where you can find some yourself in the following section.  

P.S. I guess everybody knows that, but I’ll say it just in case. These tours are absolutely free to join, however, it’s highly recommended to tip your guide at the end of the tour. Tips are completely optional but will be highly appreciated. 

free tours sofia

Street art 

In Sofia, more and more street art is popping up every day. You can find meaningful and mind provocative pieces of art, as well as funny ones and random scribbles, too. Locals often use street art to attract attention in protests. 

And although, you’ll accidentally stumble upon street art while exploring the city, here are a few places to look for street art: 

Hadzhi Dimitar neighborhood – Hadzhi Dimitar is the mecca of street art in Sofia. Here, you can find building-size murals the most famous of which is the portrait of Grandpa Dobri. He was a donor for the restoration and maintenance of many Bulgarian Christian churches and is considered by many to be an exceptional spiritual example in Bulgarian society. 

Serdika – Just outside Serdika metro station, you’ll find a parking lot that has been turned into a piece of art. It’s one of the most famous street art spots in Sofia and the murals there are being occasionally replaced with new ones. 

The corner of Bacho Kiro and Ekzarh Kospeh streets – Talking about murals that are being occasionally replaced? Then I can not miss mentioning this spot. Building-sized murals beautify another parking lot. One minute walk away from here, you can find one of my favorite bars in Sofia – The Muse Bar. 

Sofia’s utility boxes – A great initiative that started back in 2011. Unlike the utility boxes that you would find elsewhere and just pass by without even noticing, in Sofia those are colorfully painter and hard to miss. You can see examples all over the city. 

Underpasses – Another place where you should look for street art is Sofia’s underpasses. Recently, Sofia’s Central Bus station underpass was colorfully painted and is now one of the best examples of underpass street art in Sofia.

Museums to visit in Sofia

Depending on the time when are you going to visit Sofia, you can visit some of the city’s top museums for free. 

National Museum of History – It’s one of the largest museums in the Balkans and contains more than 650, 000 exhibits. The museum aims to provide a comprehensive view of Bulgarian history from prehistory to the present. 

It’s free every last Monday of the month and on the 18th of May, International Day of Museums.

National Archaeological Museum – This museum occupies the building of the largest and oldest former Ottoman mosque in the city, the construction of which started in 1451.

It’s free every last Sunday of the month.

National Museum of Natural History – It contains a collection of over 400 stuffed mammals, over 1,200 species of birds, hundreds of thousands of insects, and other invertebrates. The collection also includes samples of about one-quarter of the world’s mineral species.

It’s free on the 18th of May.

Night of the Museums – For one night per year many museums in Sofia are free of charge. Usually, this event takes place on the weekend closest to 18th May (International Museum Day).

On September 17th, the day of Sofia, the entrance to all museums and galleries in Sofia is free.

free things to do in sofia

Sofia History Museum

Events

Sofia hosts many events and festivals throughout the year, which you can also attend for free. 

Those are some of the free events and festivals that you can attend if you happen to be in Sofia at the time they take place. 

For more information check their websites. 

Hiking near Sofia

One of the best free things to do in Sofia and my personal favorite is hiking. Yes, right, hiking. Sofia’s own mountain Vitosha is rising at 2, 290 meters above sea leave, but is far not the only place where you can go hiking close to the city.

The list of one-day hikes near Sofia is very long, but for this article let’s focus on Vitosha only. 

Sofia is the European capital which is most close to a mountain. Vitosha is situated only 30min away from the city center. How lucky are we to have a mountain in the outskirts of the city, right?

Right?!

If you go hiking up in Vitosha Mountain, why not even climb the highest peak Cherni Vrah? I have done it in summer, in winter, during the day, during the night and it has always been a great time spend in the outdoors. 

Other places that you can visit in Vitosha Mountain are Kopitoto (best view of the city), Kamen Del, The Blue Arrow shelter, and Boyana waterfall, just to name a few. 

The Sofia neighborhoods that give start to many hiking trails in Vitosha are Knyazhevo, Simeonovo, Dragaletvtsi, and Boyana. 

free things to do in sofia

Change of the guards 

You can watch the change of the guards in front of the Presidency every hour between 8 AM and 8 PM.

Streets of Sofia 

Vitoshka is the most popular street in the city center of Sofia. The street is full of cafes, bars, clubs, and shops. Vitoshka is the pedestrian part of Vitosha boulevard and runs from St Nedelya square to NDK. 

Walking the direction from St Nedelya square to NDK, you’ll be seeing Vitosha Mountain as a background and that is the best that Vitoshka has to offer. 

Personally, I don’t really like hanging out on Vitoshka and prefer the streets Shishman, Ivan Asen, Oborishte, and Angel Kunchev far more.

I hope that my tips and recommendations about free things to do in Sofia will help you have a great time in my home city. If there is anything else that you would like to know about Sofia, let me know. 

Thanks for reading, 

Bilyana

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