Three Days in Sofia on a Budget
Visiting Sofia on a budget is not a very difficult task if you’re coming from the States or Western Europe. In fact Sofia has been named one of the ten cheapest cities in Europe. But we had been travelling through the Balkans for a while and the cross back into the European Union was evident in our daily spending. We needed to find ways to enjoy our time in Sofia on a budget of €50 per day for two people.
In general, Sofia is very affordable but after the budget paradises of Albania and Macedonia, we had to be a little savvier to stay within our daily budget. We still had a great time in this wonderful capital city but we did find some cheap and free things that left our savings feeling better at the end.
We spent an average of €52 per day for two people including all food, accommodation, transport and activities. So to help you out with your planning here are our tips for visiting Sofia on a budget.
Cheap Accommodation in Sofia
We found good, budget accommodation in Sofia hard to come by. The prices were, on average, higher than the other Balkan cities and the standards were not very high. If you’re travelling solo a dorm bed is still the most economical option and a place like Hostel Mostel offers some great, money-saving bonuses like free dinner, breakfast and beer!
Our value find was outside the city centre at Hotel Gorna Bania. It was €18 for an ensuite twin room. The hotel itself was a bit run down but the room was comfortable and clean. There is a bus to the city centre about 100m from the hotel and it takes around 30 minutes. It costs 80c per person so remember to factor that into your budget if you’ll be going back and forth a lot.
Free Things to do in Sofia
Travelling Sofia on a budget is definitely made easier by the huge amount of free things to do there. You can explore modern day, arty scenes and the history of Sofia all without opening your wallet.
Take a free tour
This is a brilliant city for wandering so if you’re in Sofia on a budget you can easily spend a day walking to all the sights. If you want more information about them take a free walking tour where a local guide will tell you plenty of interesting stories while taking you on a 3-hour walk through the city. It is expected that you give a tip (of your choice) at the end of the tour.
Sofia has really got involved in the free (or tip based) tour offers and there are now an amazing variety of alternativ to see Sofia and surrounding areas for free.
Balkan Bites Food Tour – This is an amazing free food tour where you visit 5 local food establishments and sample their specialities. The brilliant tour guides will tell you all about the history of food in Bulgaria and answer any questions you have about the city. This tour was one of our favourite things we did in Sofia.
It starts at 2pm by the statue of Stefan Stambolov in Park Crystal. You don't need to reserve but there are limited places so show up around 15 minutes early. Our guides turned people away as the tour was full! More info on their website.
Communism Tour- This is run by the same company and offers an interesting and fun tour teaching you about life in the communist era. It also includes a Trabi car ride! Every Saturday and Sunday at 10am meeting outside Starbucks. More info on their website.
Graffiti Tour – Yip, free again. This one shows you all the awesome street art in Sofia and explains the stories behind it. Starts at 6pm from the Sveta Sofia statue on Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Here's their website.
Free Cycling Tours – This one isn’t really free unless you brought a bike with you. But they have a special deal if you take the tour. It’s just €5 to hire a bike for the duration on the tour which takes you all through Sofia’s green areas. A cool way to see the city on a sunny day.
The tour starts at 11am every day April-October and meets an the National Theatre. There is also a second one each day during the summer months at various times. Check their website for more details.
Free Hiking Tour – This is a full day tour (5 hours) and gives you the chance to see some amazing views from the mountains just outside the city. It starts at the National Theatre at 11am and takes you to the Boyana Church, waterfall and lake. It's 8km long so not super challenging but bring good walking shoes and some water!
Visit the churches in sofia
There are lots of amazing churches in Sofia and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is one of the most impressive. It’s also free to enter!
Central public mineral baths
In the centre of town is this huge building which is pretty impressive in itself. Unfortunately it no longer functions as a public baths but it is now the Sofia History Museum. All around it are fountains with locals filling up large containers. Now this spectacle is not unusual in the Balkans where fountains are dotted around most cities with fresh drinking water. But the water in coming from these fountains is hot and said to be really good for you. It comes for geothermal springs under the city. Many elderly who can’t afford to buy bottled water come here to fill their tanks. You can also see a person or two taking a wash!
Visit a Museum of art gallery
Many museums in Sofia have one day per month when they are free are so check out if it coincides with your visit. Or if art is more your vibe you’re in luck! The Sofia Art Gallery is free all day erryday! (except Mondays when it’s closed.)
If you’re not there on the chosen free day of the month you can get a bit of history for free at the Serdica metro station. Take the stairs down from the street and you’ll see all of the ruins from the old East Gate of Serdica, Roman ruins from the 6th century, on display. There is plenty to see throughout the station and it really feels like you’re in a museum until a crowd of locals off the latest metro come pacing past on their way to work. I'm not really a history person but I love weird things and ancient ruins displayed in the middle of a metro station is just the kind of odd attraction I can get on board with...especially if it's free!
The elephant bookshop
Take a browse in this funky little bookshop. Looking is free right?! They have a great range of English books, gifts and souvenirs. While you're there pick up a copy of the Sofia Cartoon Map (free) which has some really cool recommendations on it.
For some more ideas of things to do including day trips, check out this Sofia guide from a local.
Places to Eat in Sofia on a Budget
We found the presence of large, cheap supermarkets really exciting after a month in Albania. Had we stayed any longer we would have made use of this and found an Airbnb and hostel where we could cook. But since we mostly cook in the van we decided to treat ourselves.
The main budget eat in Sofia is pizza slices and around lunch time you’ll see queues of locals at these small stalls purchasing a slice for €1. It’s a quick, easy and cheap lunch on the go. There are also lots of small bakeries with a variety of delicious pastry goods laid out to choose from. You probably know about our love affair with burek and in Sofia we could indulge our cravings easily.
We started our first day with a traditional Bulgarian breakfast at Mekitsa e kaffee. This is also a stop on the Balkan Bites tour. Mekitsa is basically a fried bread usually topped with icing sugar. But at this little café you can choose any number of sweet or savoury options and have a delicious (is somewhat unhealthy) meal for €1-3.
On recommendation from Maria of 203 Travel Challenges we had dinner at an authentically local restaurant, Mate Krachme Sam Doydoh, which was really good value for money. From the outside it looks a little like an abandoned building but inside it is a cute little restaurant filled with a few locals. Two meals and beers cost us €12. It's a bit difficult to find so use this google location.
For a bit of a splash out we decided to try a place called ‘The Little Things’. This ended up being the best food we had had on our trip so far! It’s all made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients. But what made it even better was the awesome surroundings. The restaurant is in a house and each room is set up with different furniture and décor. We ate in the ‘library’ and had amazing home-made hummus, a salad with bacon and blue cheese and some insanely good white chocolate Bailey’s chocolate mousse for dessert. We turned up early and were lucky enough to snag a table before a reservation showed up but it’s best to book in advance. A meal for two with drinks was around €20.
Getting Around Sofia
Luckily for budget travellers central Sofia is very walkable. We walked everywhere in our three days in the city and had no problems getting everywhere. But if you’re going further afield public transport is very affordable- 80c for a single trip.
There are bike hire options in the city and it costs around €10 per day.
There is one daily public bus to the Rila Monastery which cost €11 return per person. It leaves at 10.20am from the West Bus Station. We didn't go here but we read about it and you might be able to find a cheaper deal with a taxi if you travel as a group. It looks pretty spectacular!
Sofia is a great place for a city break or a stop on a longer trip through the Balkans. Whether you’re used to Western European prices or trying to travel the world on a shoestring like us, visiting Sofia on a budget is doable and enjoyable!