Information & Facts
Sofia's climate is one of its main attributes. Situated on an
open plain only 1804 feet (550m) above sea level and ringed in by
the Balkan and Vitosha Mountains, summers days in Sofia are warm
and sunny with temperatures occasionally soaring above 86ºF (30ºC).
Winters are cold and snowy. December and January are the coldest
months and July and August are the hottest months. The capital
receives 25.6 inches (650mm) a year with most rain falling in the
Eating out in Sofia is a varied experience, with many different
options available. Although you'll be able to find world cuisines
like Indian, Italian and Asian, the food at local restaurants tends
to be of a higher quality. There are a number of restaurants
clustered around the city centre, so if you're not sure what you
want you can walk around until you find something.
Meals in Sofia traditionally start with a salad and glass of
plum brandy. From there you can try delicious local dishes like
Tarator, a cold soup made from small cut cucumbers, yoghurt, cold
water, salt, garlic and fennel; cavarma, a hearty pork and
vegetable casserole; or Kiopolu, a salad made from vegetables that
have been baked, mashed, then fried. Local desserts include many
kinds of baked and fried pastries, like Tikvenik, a baked dessert
made from phyllo pastry filled with grated pumpkin, cinnamon,
walnuts, and sugar.
Waiters are usually paid a 15-20% tip for good service, which is
left in cash. Most restaurants will accept credit cards,
The centre of Sofia is easily accessible by public transport,
which includes buses, trams and trolleybuses. Buses run from 5am
until midnight and until 1am for trams. Single trip tickets can be
purchased before boarding as well as on the vehicle and must be
punched once aboard. It is not practical to travel into or around
the city centre by car as parking spaces are limited and traffic
can be a problem. Taxis are cheap and easily available. Tariffs are
shown on the vehicle window.
Bulgarian is the official language, which uses the
Cyrillic alphabet, but English, German and French is spoken in
resorts, hotels and restaurants.
The official currency is the Lev (BGN), which is divided into
100 stotinki. The Lev is tied to the Euro at a fixed rate of EUR1 =
1.955 lev. Bulgaria has strict currency regulations. If you enter
Bulgaria with cash of any currency amounting to the equivalent of
8,000 leva or more, you must declare it to customs officials.
Foreign currency may be exchanged in banks, hotels or at one of the
numerous bureaux de change, however due to a common practice of
misleading rates of exchange it is better to go to banks or hotels
to change money. A receipt called a
bordereauxis issued when exchanging currency, indicating
the amount that will be given, and it must be kept until departure.
Not all banks accept travellers cheques and those that do usually
charge a 5% commission. Major international credit cards are
increasingly becoming accepted by tourist hotels, upmarket shops
and restaurants, travel agents and car rental agents, but Bulgaria
is still largely a cash economy. There are ATMs in the main cities
and at Black Sea resorts.
Sofia's vibrant nightlife is known for being a 24-hour
experience, and there are a range of options, including nightclubs,
bars, pubs, and mehani, a type of traditional tavern serving
meze-style Bulgarian food, with local music. There is a large
concentration of restaurants, clubs and cafes in Vitosha and
Rakovski streets, including restaurant and bar Motto, and the
restaurant Vodenitzata, which features live Bulgarian folk music in
an old mill in the Dragalevtzi district.
The bars and cafes stay open until about midnight, which is when
the clubs take over, carrying on until 5 or 6am. The clubs in Sofia
play a mixture of house, pop, and rock. For a taste of chalga, a
mixture of Turkish pop and gypsy dance, try Avenue Atanas in
Studentski Grad, or Cabaret in Hristo Belchev Street. Pri Kmeta is
a bar and microbrewery that features regular live music, and
Swingin' Hall has a line-up of local and international music on
There are a range of other cultural experiences in Sofia,
including the local and European productions at the National Opera
House, dramatic performances at the Ivan Vazov National Theatre,
Bulgarian and art-house films at the Dom Na Kinoto Theatre, and
Bulgaria Hall, which is home to the Sofia Philharmonic
Public transport in Sofia comes to a halt from 1am to 5am, so
you'll need to take taxis when out late. Walking at night is not
Shopping in Sofia offers a variety of options ranging from
upscale boutiques and shopping malls and their high-end designer
wares to bustling street markets and bazaars with buskers, jumble
sales and uniquely Bulgarian patrons.
Popular Sofia souvenirs include Bulgarian embroidery, dolls in
traditional costumes, and local instruments such as shepherd's
pipes (kaval), ocarinas, and tamboura. You can also get beautiful
wool carpets (called kilims) from the weaving town of Chiprovtsi.
Tchu kilim (Carpet House) has a wide selection of these rugs, while
the well-known Pretty Things Shop in Krakra Street offers charming
Sofia mementos like dolls and quilts handmade in their
Sofia also has a number if interesting outdoor street markets
worth a visit. Many are focused predominantly on fresh produce and
household goods for locals, but the market next to Alexander Nevski
Cathedral has a variety of old weapons, jewellery, music
instruments, medal, coins and more.
Be aware when buying clothes in Sofia that Bulgarian sizes are
smaller than European ones.
Many shops in Sofia will only accept cash or local debit cards,
while you can use a credit card in international stores. The prices
displayed generally include the 20% value-added tax, which can be
refunded when you leave Bulgaria.
Opening hours for stores in Sofia are usually from around 9am to
6 or 7pm Monday to Saturday. Not all shops are open on Sundays.
Sightseeing in Sofia is an exaggeration of the old and new, as
the ancient culture of the Thracians, Byzantines, Romans, Slavs
meet with the mad rush to modernisation that occurred when the Iron
Curtain fell. Thus you'll see a mixture of buildings that will
delight any architecture lover, including the multi-domed Byzantine
Alexandar Nevski Memorial Church, the medieval art of the Boyana
Church (a UNESCO world heritage site), and the Kremlin-like Russian
Church of St. Nicholas.
Like any capital city, Sofia's attractions include a wealth of
museums and galleries, including the National Historical Museum,
the mineralogical-focused Museum of Earth and Men, the Bulgarian
National Gallery of Arts, the Ethnographical Museum, and the Sofia
City Art Gallery.
There are plenty of other things to see and do in Sofia as well,
including visiting the Sofia Zoological Garden, which houses over a
thousand animals; the Sofia City Garden with its cafes, playgrounds
and fountains; and the famous Turkish Mineral Baths.
Many interesting buildings and sights in Sofia have signs with a
phone number on them. If you call this number you can listen to a
three-minute recording telling you about the attraction. You can
also browse Zhenski Pazar or 'women's market', which is open to
both men and women and offers fresh food, flowers and basic goods.
Though there aren't many souvenirs there, it's worth the trip for
the bustling atmosphere. Another busy market is the Tsentralni Hali
(Central Food Halls), which are housed in an ancient Roman
marketplace with archaeological finds on display along with the
fresh food, coffee, wine and other treats.
Sofia is a relatively safe city in which to sightsee. Violent
crime is rare, but pick pocketing is common in the city centre, as
with all large metropolises.
Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3 from last Sunday in March to
last Sunday in October).