If you are spending any amount of time in Sofia Bulgaria, Vitosha Boulevard (Vitoshka in Bulgarian) is the best place to settle in and live like a local.
This central neighbourhood with it’s wide pedestrian area is the perfect blend of culture and convenience. For the slow traveler, it’s a great place to be.
Where is Vitosha Boulevard?
Vitosha Boulevard (named after nearby Vitosha mountain) is in Sofia’s city center. It is not far from the famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and near a number of other attractions.
The easiest way to get to Vitosha is by taxi.
There is a metro that leaves from Sofia airport, but it takes a long time to get to the city center.
If you are worried about getting gouged on an airport taxi, stay the night near the airport and ask for a cab in the morning. You can also take the metro just a few stops and try hailing a cab further away from the airport.
Why Visit Sofia?
While Sofia is not my absolute favorite place in Bulgaria, it tops the list for many visitors.
Sofia is a great mix of hip young people, ancient history, and modern convenience. Sofia is also the one city in Bulgaria that the language barrier will not be as much of an issue.
If you want to pay with a card for most things, Sofia is also the best choice, as Bulgaria has not been quick to move away from cash.
Things to do On or Around Vitosha Boulevard
Of course I can tell you that Vitosha is a great place to be, but what is there to do?
Of course I would be silly not to mention the main draw of Vitosha for many tourists and locals: Shopping!
We don’t really shop for sport, but Vitosha Boulevard is the place to do that.
This is where you can find souvenir shops, Bulgarian specialties, and big city chain stores like H&M.
The Sofia Walking Tour is absolutely free (in English!) and begins at the Palace of Justice on the north end of Vitosha Boulevard.
Meet your guides in front of the lion statues any day at 11 am or 2 pm. They will guide you through the streets of Sofia’s city center and end at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
The best part? No reservation required! Simply show up.
They also offer a free daily tour in Spanish at 11 am.
Gratuities are recommended.
Enjoying the Atmosphere
When we were adopting from Bulgaria, we spent a lot of time waiting for a visa and then passport for our daughter in Sofia.
She was a fussy little nugget and going places was hard. We spent countless hours walking up and down Vitosha Boulevard, and truly this is my fondest memory of Sofia.
On a good day you can see the mountains at the end of the boulevard. It’s a nice place to watch the sun rise or set.
At night Vitosha comes alive with friends and family meeting for an evening out.
The cobbled walkway is wide enough for everyone, and there are plenty of places to stop and take a moment.
National Palace of Culture
On the opposite end of Vitosha Boulevard from the Palace of Justice, is the National Palace of Culture.
This impressive example of Brutalist architecture is another great place to have a walk around.
There is a long path with fountains leading straight up to the “Palace,” and a meandering one that goes around one side of it and out the back.
There is also a pretty nice dog park behind the palace, if you want to see some puppers playing.
The face of Bulgaria’s capital city has changed a lot in very recent years.
When we first visited in 2015, the “1300 Years” monument constructed during Soviet times, was still standing on the grounds of the National Palace of Culture.
It has since been torn down, but you can actually still search it and see it on Google maps! Switch to street view and click the little circles in that location and people’s photos are still there.
For the basic among us, there is also a Starbucks across the street from the grounds of the National Palace of Culture, just a couple blocks off of Vitosha.
(I know I’m supposed to be promoting slow food, slow travel, and slow culture, but sometimes I like a taste of home.)
St. George Rotunda
St. George Rotunda is an ancient church just two blocks past the end of Vitosha Boulevard. This church is surrounded by ancient ruins, and was originally Roman baths.
It is one of the oldest churches in the world!
Sofia was once named Serdica, and was a crucial part of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, and you can see remnants all around the city center. Most are very close to Vitosha.
For more about St. George Rotunda, and the ancient ruins of Serdica, check out this post:
St. Petka and the Saddlers
The church of St. Petka and the Saddlers is a medieval church that has all but been swallowed by modern development. It is now preserved….in the middle of the metro area!
St. Petka is rumored to be the place that Bulgaria’s greatest hero, Vasil Levski, was buried.
Here is the whole story about the church, and why you will want to go honor Vasil Levski while you are in Bulgaria:
If you are lucky enough to visit Sofia during the month of December, you can walk just 2.5 blocks from Vitosha to Sofia City Garden, and the Christmas market!
At night the Christmas market is truly a magical little European Christmas market, with stalls selling all kinds of trinkets and treats.
The Sofia City Garden is a nice walk even if you don’t buy anything!
The National Art Gallery is across the street from the City Garden, and is also lit up in Christmas lights for the festive season.
Places to Stay On and Near Vitosha Boulevard
All of these hotels and apartments have been vetted and stayed in by people that I have actually talked to.
Sofia Place Hotel
Sofia Place hotel is very popular with families, and is great if you are on a budget.
It is conveniently located just one block from Vitosha Boulevard. They have regular hotel rooms and a variety of apartments to choose from.
Price: $35+ USD per night
Best Western Art Plaza Hotel
The Best Western Art Plaza is actually right on Vitosha Boulevard.
We don’t often stay in chain hotels, but Best Western is my favorite. You always know that you’re getting – and that’s usually an amazing breakfast!
(Actually the Best Western Sofia Airport is amazing too!)
Price: $67+ USD per night
VIKO Boutique Apart Hotel
VIKO Boutique Apart Hotel is a couple blocks from the far end of the National Palace of Culture. This means it is about a 10 minute walk to Vitosha, and the furthest recommendation I am including.
VIKO is a luxurious hotel with spacious apartment options, but it won’t break the budget by North American standards.
Personally I would pick something closer to Vitosha for less money, but others really liked this hotel.
Price: $113+ USD per night
A favorite amongst my American friends, the Sofia Hilton Hotel is a splurge, but pretty convenient too.
It is located just behind the National Palace of Culture, so just a walk across the grounds to Vitosha Boulevard.
This is the only hotel on the list with a swimming pool, which is not very common in Sofia. (Thus very popular with kids!)
Price: $138+ USD per night
If we are staying more than one or two nights in a city, we always prefer to have an apartment. I like to be able to cook meals, do laundry, and pretend we live there!
In Sofia we like Marrinella Apartments. They have several spacious units that are all close to Vitosha. (Typically 2 blocks or less.)
Price: $25 – $97 USD per night
They have weekly rates!
Marrinella Apartments haven’t been reservable on booking.com recently, but you can still book through their website here.
You can see their previous reviews and a number of photos on their booking.com page still.
Best Restaurants On and Around Vitosha Boulevard
Here are a few popular restaurant choices on or near Vitosha Boulevard. Of course the best restaurant is the one with the best atmosphere, and you will find plenty of patio space to go around on Vitosha!
One of my favorite things about Vitosha is all of the restaurant patios open in the fall and winter with their heaters running and blankets on the chairs. So cozy and fun.
Happy is a Bulgarian institution, and therefore you must experience it, and it may as well be in Sofia!
Happy is located at the end of Vitosha Boulevard, near the Palace of Justice. They have a HUGE menu of Bulgarian dishes, pizza, pasta, breakfast, and more. They also have an extensive sushi menu, and it is delicious.
Happy is a chain restaurant across Bulgaria, and it has the same casual dining atmosphere that you would expect here.
Shtastlivetsa is so fun because you have to know where it is! It is quite literally a hole-in-the-wall on Vitosha Bouleavard. You will definitely want to use your map to navigate to it.
Once inside, Shtastlivetsa turns into an Alice in Wonderland-esque restaurant with loads of space to go around.
This restaurant offers vegetarian and vegan options! They also have an extensive salad menu, offer pasta, appetizers, and Bulgarian specialties.
Farmhopping Kitchen is 2.5 blocks from Vitosha Boulevard, near the National Palace of Culture.
This unique farm to table experience offers dine-in and takeout. They specialize in fresh Bulgarian cuisine.
This is a kids choice, but it’s not a “kiddie” restaurant by any means.
Ugo is right on Vitosha Boulevard and offers a huge pizza menu as well as salads and desserts. They also have an extensive drink menu for the adults in your group.
This is a comfy and casual option in the heart of the city center.
Raffy Bar & Gelato
Raffy is another Bulgarian chain, but a little fancier, and it is right in the middle of Vitosha Boulevard.
Raffy Bar and Gelato is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of restaurant, but they do have vegetarian and pescatarian options.
Another Bulgarian chain, Pizza Palace is in just about every city. This is a great choice for kids. They do pizza and pasta in a cozy family atmosphere.
Visit Vitosha Boulevard
If you head to Sofia on your next trip to Europe, you should definitely spend some time on Vitosha Boulevard, just taking in the city.
Have you been to Sofia? Did you visit Vitosha Boulevard?