Sofia has been named one of the best-value weekend destinations in Europe. The city offers cheap food and accommodation, but it also has many exciting things to do and see for free. Travelers on a budget should aim to visit during the summer, when its zero-budget entertainment list grows even bigger – you can literally spend no money other than for food and your hotel room.
Some of the best guided tours in Sofia are free. You can explore the main landmarks with a local guide, taste its delicacies on a culinary tour, discover its graffiti scene, or enjoy it while pedaling on a bike. Like most free tours, it’s customary to tip the guide at the end if they did a good job.
This is a free open-air history lesson in the very center of Sofia. The Bulgarian capital’s religious history is implied in what is called the Square of Religious Tolerance: a small patch of land with four places of worship on its four corners (St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral, the Sofia Synagogue, St. Nedelya Orthodox Church, and Banya Bashi Mosque). If you want to delve into the history of these buildings, you can visit them for free (except for the synagogue, where you will have to pay a small fee).
Making a wish come true is a piece of cake when you are in Sofia. All you need to do is write your wish on a piece of paper and leave it in the Russian Church’s crypt. It is where Archbishop Serafim’s grave is located. Locals believe that when he was on his death bed, he said to one of his disciples not to worry that he’d be gone and to “send him letters.” These words of his became famous, and still today, almost 70 years after his death, people write letters and prayers to him.
While you are in Sofia, you don’t need to buy a single bottle of mineral water. Sofia was founded as a roadside settlement where tired travelers could stop and relax at the mineral springs. Today, you can obtain free mineral water from the street drinking fountains located just across from the Sofia History Museum and Banya Bashi Mosque. The water is warm, but this fact doesn’t discourage the locals.
There are several cozy book cafés in Sofia where you can buy a coffee or a cappuccino and spend hours reading Bulgarian and foreign-language books. Chitalnyata is a tiny building in the park in front of the National Theater. You can read Bulgarian literature in English, look at photo albums by local artists, and learn about the country’s fascinating history. Other options are the Peroto Literature Club, which is located in the building of the National Palace of Culture, and the Orange Cafe-Bookstore, which is on the last floor of a historical building near Slaveykov Square.
Summer is a busy season in all the major parks in Sofia. Live music concerts, cultural events and art festivals take place every week. The event that gathers the biggest number of people is a three-day celebration of jazz and world music. A to Jazz Festival held in South Park has been the most popular summer outdoor event in Sofia for several years, and for good reason: it’s free, it’s family-friendly, it introduces jazz to people who never thought they’d like it, and it has a laid-back vibe, with thousands of people picnicking and enjoying the warm starry evenings in the grass.
Cinema lovers can enjoy a movie night outdoors for free. Blok Kino is a series of free screenings that take place in parks and other open spaces in Sofia’s neighborhoods. It shows Bulgarian movies – both documentaries and recent cinema hits. Bulgarian National Television also organizes free screenings of Bulgarian movies that tour the whole country. The tour usually starts and ends in Borisova Gradina Park in Sofia. Places like Kino Cabana and the G8 Cultural Center host open-air screenings, too, with affordable tickets (around BGN10/US$6).