Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, has plenty to offer for a nice city trip. Thanks to its long history and diverse cultural influences, there are many interesting sights and museums. Other advantages are the good accessibility and the low prices. A number of low-budget airlines operate direct flights from the Netherlands and Belgium. The city center can be reached quickly, easily and cheaply from the airport. The prices of food and catering are more than half lower than in the Netherlands. All this makes Sofia a destination for travelers who are looking for an affordable city trip and enjoy shopping, culture or history. Saint George’s Church / Source: Pascal Reusch, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)
Sofia offers many interesting sights
Although not a fashionable capital, Sofia has plenty to do for a long weekend away. Summer is the best period. The temperature is then between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius and there is relatively little precipitation. Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe, with a history dating back to the eighth and seventh centuries BC. The domination by different peoples and cultures, such as the Romans, the Thracians and the Ottomans, and the influence of different religions has resulted in a diverse range of sights. There are churches of different religions, many museums (not all equally interesting), theaters and parks (with festivals). Recommendations are:
- St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world.
- Open archaeological excavation of Roman remains (around and in the Serdica metro station).
- St. Sophia church from the sixth century, the namesake of the city.
- St. George’s Church, has its origins in the fourth century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Banya Bashi mosque, one of the largest in Europe, from 1576.
- The Boyana church (fourteenth century) with frescoes is also on the UNESCO list. Located at the foot of Mount Vitosh.
- National Archaeological Museum, housed in the oldest and largest Ottoman mosque.
- National Art Museum in the former royal palace.
- National Historical Museum, with many Thracian treasures, armor and armaments.
Sofia is easily accessible
A strong advantage of Sofia is its accessibility with direct and affordable flights. The connection from the airport and the city center is also fast and cheap. The city center is compact and well-organized, with good public transport.
Short and affordable flights from the Netherlands and Belgium
In 2017, there are direct flights to Sofia from Schiphol (Transavia and Bulgaria Air), Eindhoven (Ryanair), Brussels (Bulgaria Air), Charleroi (Wizz) and Dortmund (Wizz). The flight duration is relatively short: 2:30 hours (from Brussels) and 2:45 hours (from Schiphol), comparable to destinations in Spain. Transavia has been flying to Sofia since 2017 and offers very affordable airline tickets if you book well in advance of departure.
Good connection to Sofia airport and city center
The airport is located 11 km from the center of Sofia. The city center can be reached in about 20 minutes by metro or taxi. The modern metro line (Line 2/Blue Line) departs from the east side of Terminal 2 and runs between 5 am and midnight. The ticket price is 1.6 Lev (0.82 euros) (2018) and applies to any destination. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket machine or at the counter. A taxi ride to the center with the official taxi service OK Supertrans costs approximately 20 Lev (10 euros) (2017). Ask for a ticket at the company counter in the arrivals hall of Terminal 2. The advice is not to take a ride from other taxi companies or from people who approach you in the arrivals hall. There is a good chance that it will cost you more.
Compact and well-organized city center
The city center is easily walkable and is home to the main attractions, entertainment venues and shopping centers. You can also take the metro or taxi or rent a bicycle if you want to go a little further. For example, to the parks on the edge of the city center or the National Historical Museum. When hailing the taxi, pay close attention to the rates. Some taxi companies use a logo very similar to OK Supertrans, but are more expensive.
Vitosha boulevard / Source: Stolichanin, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-4.0)
Low prices and ease of payment in Bulgaria
A second advantage of Sofia is the low price level. The ease of payment is also quite good, despite the fact that a currency other than the euro is the official means of payment in Bulgaria. The city has many indoor shopping centers and the wide Vitosha promenade in the center offers a variety of shops, restaurants and terraces for a day of shopping.
Bulgaria’s price level is one of the lowest in Europe. The price index is more than half lower than in the Netherlands and Belgium (2017). This means that you pay about half as much for groceries or an average catering establishment as you would at home. Naturally, this does not apply to electronics and luxury products that are also for sale in the West. Nevertheless, you can shop, eat and go out cheaply in Sofia.
Favorable exchange rate
Bulgaria is not part of the euro area, but converting local prices to euros is easy. The exchange rate is approximately 1.96 Bulgarian Lev for one euro (2017). This means that you can divide local prices by two to find the euro price. Since the rate of the Lev is slightly lower than 2 Lev for one euro, you are only slightly underestimating the euro price. The exchange rate has been stable since the turn of the millennium due to an arrangement with the euro (currency board).
Credit cards and also cash euros (change in Lev) are accepted in many shops and restaurants. The ATMs accept your debit card. It is therefore not necessary to exchange money at home or in Bulgaria. There is an ATM in the arrivals hall of the airport.
Negatives of Sofia
Sofia has no major negatives. The city is modern, has a lot to offer and is fully equipped. You may have some difficulty deciphering the Cyrillic script, but there are plenty of local Bulgarians who speak English (especially young people). A relative disadvantage is the attractiveness of other (capital) cities, which score better on some points. There are more popular and interesting destinations in the region (such as Budapest, Istanbul or Moscow). For the spoiled and demanding traveler, Sofia may be a bit boring and provincial. Paris, Rome, London and Berlin are better destinations. That is why Sofia is mainly a destination for budget travelers and for travelers who have already been to many other cities and want something different.