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A trip to the Balkans isn’t complete without a stop in Sofia, Bulgaria. This capital city has existed for over 2000 years. The area has been occupied at times by the Thracians, Romans, Ottomans, and Soviets. And visiting Sofia does not have to cost an arm and a leg – here are the best free things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria.


Free Things to do in Sophia Bulgaria | The Common Traveler | image: Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

1.      Admire the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Perhaps the most well-known destination in Sofia is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Entrance to the church is free, though if you want to take photographs, there is a 10 lev fee.

Founded in 1886, this church honors the soldiers who died during the liberation war from Ottoman rule in 1877. One of the ten largest Eastern Orthodox churches in the world, it is the largest cathedral in the Balkans. The inside is not to be missed.

Free Things to do in Sophia Bulgaria | The Common Traveler | image: Roman remains of Serdica

2.      Explore Roman ruins of Serdika (or Serdica)

Did you know that the ancient town of Serdika existed where present-day Sofia lies? It seems like everywhere that the city digs, they find Roman remains. While developing the metro, excavators found the remains of Serdika. In its infinite wisdom, the city decided to preserve the ruins and make them a free open-air public museum.

Are you familiar with the expression “all roads lead to Rome?” Yes, you’ll see part of the road that led from this area of the world directly to Rome. But the area was inhabited as early as 6,000 BC and the name comes from the “Serdi” Celtic tribe. The ruins include multiple signs explaining the history and significance of each.

3.      Try some mineral waters

Underneath the city of Sofia run hot springs. Once upon a time, the city housed several mineral bathhouses. The bathhouses were the place where the community met to discuss what was happening and where many marriages were arranged. The Central Mineral Baths have been converted into the Regional History Museum of Sofia.

While the bathhouses are gone, the city still has mineral water and makes them available to the people. For example, just outside the Regional History Museum, there are several taps where the water is reported to help those afflicted with heart issues. Just beyond the Museum, you’ll find people with their large water jugs or personal water bottles filling up at another station. Bring a tea bag if you’d like!

Free Things to do in Sophia Bulgaria | The Common Traveler | image: pedestrians along Vitosha Blvd

4.      Window shop along Vitosha Boulevard

The place to see and be seen in Sofia is Vitosha Boulevard. Lined with restaurants and shops, this pedestrian street offers something for everyone. Visitors should be wary that prices at the restaurants along this road are higher than in other places. Shops run the gamut from fancy to an H&M and other local retailers. Best to just window shop here!

Free Things to do in Sophia Bulgaria | The Common Traveler | image: Church of St. Nikolas the Miracle-Maker

5.      Visit the Church of St. Nikolas the Miracle-Maker

Just around the corner from the former Russian embassy, this church was built so that the Russian employees would have a nearby place to worship. This Russian Orthodox church is structurally different from those of the Eastern Orthodox ones, with its five gold domes. The outside is beautifully decorated, earning it the reputation as “the prettiest church in Sofia.”

Free Things to do in Sophia Bulgaria | The Common Traveler | image: St. George Rotunda Church with roman remains in front

6.      View the St. George Rotunda Church

Originally built as a Roman bath house in the early 4th century, this became an important church when the city was Serdica. Remains show how the flooring allowed the mineral hot springs to both warm the rooms and fill up the baths.

The church is considered the oldest building in Sofia and is currently a Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Inside, visitors can see frescoes dating back to the 12th, 13th, and even 14th centuries. The church is usually only open during services, typically on Sundays.

Free Things to do in Sophia Bulgaria | The Common Traveler | image: fountains and flowers at National Palace of Culture

7.      Relax at the National Palace of Culture

This cultural center opened just in time for Bulgaria’s 1300th anniversary in 1981. Today, visitors can experience concerts, plays, ballets, and exhibitions. The surrounding area features large fountains where locals and visitors come to enjoy the beautiful weather. It’s worth taking a stroll through the park and even seeing if there are any free art exhibits open to the public inside the building.

Free Things to do in Sophia Bulgaria | The Common Traveler | image: Banya Bashi Mosque

8.      Visit the Banya Bashi Mosque

The only remaining functional mosque in Sofia, this is a living reminder of the Ottoman occupation. Completed in 1566, the mosque was built over mineral hot springs, and steam rises from vents near the walls.

Because it is an active mosque, visitors are welcome outside of prayer times. As a reminder, all visitors must remove their shoes before entering. Additionally, women visitors must be modestly dressed and cover their hair (bring a scarf).

9.      Discover the Zhenski Pazar Women’s Market

The oldest market in Sofia is the spot to buy your souvenirs at prices half of those in the tourist areas. You’ll find not only goods but foods, including honey and wine, which can be purchased directly from farmers and producers.

The market is just off the “Area of Tolerance,” where the Banya Bashi Mosque, a synagogue, an orthodox church, and a cathedral all co-exist close to each other.

Free Things to do in Sophia Bulgaria | The Common Traveler | image: National Theater building at night with fountain in front

10.    Take a free walking tour

Alright, maybe this is not a completely FREE thing to do, but walking tours are worth it! Free Sophia Tour is the largest and most popular tour company and with good reason. They lead tours in English and Spanish. During the free walking tour, guides explain the history of the city and of the buildings you see along the way.

No need to book in advance with Sofia Free Tours, just show up since their tours run every single day, 365 days a year. Their principal tour shows the most common sights that visitors will want to see. The company also offers a free tour of the Jewish community. Jewish people have also been in the area for 2000 years, so you’ll learn about their important role in this area.

Sofia Free Tours offers other tours for a minimal cost, such as a Communist Tour and Pub Crawl. The Pub Crawl is an excellent way to discover different types of drinking establishments and to experience a taste of Sofia’s nightlife. The Pub Crawl was probably one of the most fun things I did in Sofia.

So what do you think? Have you been convinced to visit Sofia, Bulgaria?

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Happy travels,
Annick, The Common Traveler

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Traveling to Sofia, Bulgaria? The Common Traveler shares her favorite free things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria. From beautiful churches to trying some mineral waters, there's a little bit of everything!

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