Christmas in Sofia: things to do & what to expect

Christmas tree decorated with lights and Sophia Cathedral on background. Ukraine

Christmas in Sofia: it might not be your obvious break for a festive experience in Europe, but the capital city of Bulgaria has plenty on offer! 

Sofia relishes the Christmas atmosphere, with lots of cultural events and religious focused celebrations, along with family activities. 

If you’re travelling on a budget, beer prices are cheap and there’s always plenty of atmosphere in the streets. 

Fancy a slice of luxury? Warm up in one of Sofia’s fabulous spa hotels! ‘Tis the season, after all! 

Read on, as we detail everything you need to know about visiting Sofia at Christmas. 

This blog post may contain affiliate links.

What’s Sofia at Christmas like?

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia is a fantastic place to visit in the winter, especially during Christmas and New Years’.

The city’s awash with beautiful architecture and populated by friendly people year round, but there are a lot of other tourist attractions which are only present close to Christmas.

Amble around the famous Christmas market or slurp on a hearty Bobena Chorba (lentil soup). It might be chilly outside, but there’s plenty to keep you warm in Sofia!

The city isn’t a big European metropolis like Paris or London, so there aren’t too many tourists – all the more space for you! 

Christmas is also considered a family-first holiday in Bulgaria, so you can feel the family spirit among the locals. They’ll make sure you feel like a member of the family too!

What’s the weather like over Christmas in Sofia?

Step out in Sofia around Christmas, and you’ll be greeted by a palette of winter whites and cool blues.

The air is crisp, with your breath forming fleeting clouds in front of you.

Snowflakes drift down to decorate the streets, sidewalks, and iconic landmarks like the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

A fairly frequent dusting of snow adds an extra layer of charm to the already enchanting cityscape.

Whether you’re bundled up for a cozy walk or sipping warm beverages at a local café, Sofia’s winter climate sets the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable holiday!

Average High Temperature3°C (37°F)
Average Low Temperature-3°C (27°F)
Rainy Days10
Days of Snow12

Pro tip: Layer up. The temperatures are an open invitation to relish the city’s seasonal treats, be it hot chocolate or mulled wine!

Things to do in Sofia at Christmas

Here are the best festive winter activities in Sofia! 

1. Visit the German Christmas market

Christmas tree decorated with lights and Sophia Cathedral on background. Ukraine

A traditional Christmas market wasn’t a thing in Sofia until a few years back, when the German-inspired market was created.

It consists of rows of small Christmas cabins which sell everything connected to Christmas, from food to all types of decorations and accessories.

They even have German bratwursts as well as hot mulled wine.

The market usually occurs from the second half of November to the second half of December (just before Christmas).

It’s located in Sofia’s City Garden, just next to the National Theatre and the National Art Gallery – so you can explore them after you visit the Christmas market!

2. Try ice skating at the Ariana Ice Rink

Fancy trying a more unique winter sport? Hit the ice rink! 

The ice skating rink in the center of Sofia is one of the biggest in the Balkans.

During winter, Ariana Lake is transformed into a huge open-air ice skating rink which is open 24/7.

Its location is perfect for tourists – it’s close to most of the other Christmas attractions and is ideal for a short break while exploring other locations.

It’s also very cheap – the cost of entrance and ice skate rental is under five euros combined.

3. Find hidden gems at Handmade Festivals

The Christmas market isn’t the only place where you can find decorations and Christmas gifts, as there are more and more Handmade Festivals happening every single year.

Artists from all over the city shape their creativity into beautiful tree ornaments, decorations, and various types of gifts.

The dates of these festivals aren’t usually known ahead of time, as they are different every year.

Most of them take place either in the Sofia Central Market Hall, the National Palace of Culture, or the Sofia Live Club, so your best bet is to visit them from time to time and you’re guaranteed to come across a festival at some point!

4. Warm up in famous museums

Lions Bridge in Sofia - Bulgaria

After exploring Christmas attractions and collecting some souvenirs, hide from the cold and learn a bit about Sofia’s history!

Sofia History Museum and the National Ethnographic Institute Museum are the two famous museums that depict life in Sofia in the past through exhibits including traditional clothing and older vehicles.

If you’re travelling as a family Muzeiko is a great option – it’s an interactive museum that helps children learn and discover new things from various fields of science and life.

All three of these are extremely affordable – all tickets are around three euros.

5. Have fun with friends at the Board Games Bar

What sounds more Christmas-y than sitting around a table and playing a board game with your friends or family?

That’s exactly what the Three Trolls board games bar was made for, as it has over 150 different board games from all over the world.

It’s perfect if you’re travelling in a group – but even if you’re travelling solo, there’s always someone looking for an opponent.

The bar also offers a wide selection of craft beer and guests can bring their own food.

So head to the nearest pizza shop first, and then spend hours playing different board games.

6. Feel the Christmas atmosphere on Vitosha Boulevard

With Vitosha Boulevard the very center of Sofia, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Christmas atmosphere is at its strongest here!

The whole boulevard is decorated with beautiful Christmas lighting, and a lot of local vendors can be seen selling their handcrafted accessories.

It’s also an ideal location if you want to treat yourself to some new clothing (early Christmas present?), as many famous fashion brands have their stores here.

Plus, it’s heaving with restaurants and cafes – the perfect places to warm up with coffee while admiring the boulevard!

7. Ski down Vitosha Mountain

Winter landscape of Vitosha Mountain, Sofia City Region, Bulgaria

After you’ve explored the city center, don’t miss the mountains!

Head to Vitosha Mountain for a ski session – it’s only a 30-minute taxi ride away.

Prices are also very cheap, especially around Christmas, so you can probably secure a full-day ski pass for under 15 euros.

It may be a smaller ski resort, but it’s great for a Sofia Christmas break.

Pro tip: If you have longer in Bulgaria, head to Bansko, the winter capital of the country.

Sofia Christmas Traditions

Ivan Vazov National Theatre in Sofia - Bulgaria

Although most Bulgarians are Orthodox Christians, they follow the Gregorian calendar so they celebrate Christmas on 25th December like most other countries.

The one thing that’s different to other countries is that here Christmas lasts for 3 days, from 25th to 27th December.

25th is the main Christmas, – it’s celebrated as the day Jesus Christ was born.

On the 26th, people who carry the names Joseph, Hristo, and Hristina are honoured, while people named Stefan, Stefka, and Stoyan are celebrated on the 27th!

Another tradition is that during Christmas Eve dinner, only vegan meals are served (like during the fast) and there has to be an odd number of them.

The traditional bread that is prepared only during Christmas usually contains various fortunes which are meant to foretell what will members of the family experience in the next year. Dishes are also not put away after dinner and are left on the table during the night.

When midnight strikes on the 24th of December (Christmas Eve) there’s another tradition that takes place, called Koleduvane.

During Koleduvane young single men, who are dressed in special traditional clothes, go from house to house singing Christmas carols.

This is meant to give the household good fortune for the following year.

What to eat in Sofia during the holiday season

Freshly baked homemade bread arranged in traditional Bulgarian textiles. Image of some tasty Home-made bakery products.

Visiting Sofia at Christmas doesn’t only allow you to experience tradition, but to taste it as well.

Bulgarian food is one of the richest in this part of Europe. 

There’s a popular saying about Bulgarian cuisine: “Meat is king and bread is queen”, as most of their dishes consist of various types of meat combined with fresh warm bread.

For your appetizer, it’s best to start with soup, either Shkembe or Bean.

Shkembe soup is richer in flavour and a bit on the spicier side, and is also said to be one of the best cures for a hangover!

For your main dish, you can either get sarmi or moussaka, if you’re more into vegetables, or try the famous Sach, a combination of mainly meat and some side vegetables, which is prepared in a clay pot to give everything a lot more flavor.

For dessert, traditional tikvenik and rice pudding are both great choices, but most of the other desserts taste fantastic as well.

To wash down all this tasty food, try some of Bulgaria’s best drinks! 

Considering that you’re visiting the Balkans, your trip has to include the popular alcoholic drink – rakia.

If you’re more into wine, try a traditional Bulgarian red. You can find bottles of local wine for as low as three euros!

Where to Stay in Sofia at Christmas

Below are the top recommendations for where to stay in Sofia at Christmas:

Hotel and SPA Moreni

You’ll revel in a splendid holiday cocoon at Hotel and SPA Moreni.

Imagine waking up to an awe-inspiring sunrise view from your own balcony.

Your feet sink into plush carpets as you navigate spacious rooms en route to a high-end bathroom, complete with premium toiletries.

Your comfort is the hotel staff’s command, always available, always welcoming.

Dine-in sophistication at the hotel restaurant, or simply head to the spa, an architectural marvel even at first glance.

From soothing treatments to an indoor pool to a bubbly hot tub, you’ll find luxury embroidered in every detail here!

Click here to read more about it.

5 Vintage Guest House

Location, location, location!

Just a 2-minute stroll from Sofia’s main street puts you at the doorstep of 5 Vintage Guest House.

Your room greets you with a flat-screen TV and a functional, yet charming, interior.

Got a coffee craving? Saunter over to the shared area and treat yourself to complimentary coffee, tea, and snacks.

From easy after-hours check-in to unmissable attention to comfy details, this guest house offers a potent mix of value and convenience.

Click here for more information.

Hostel Mostel

If your ideal Christmas getaway needs to be friendly on the wallet, yet rich in experience, Hostel Mostel has got you covered.

Positioned in a revitalized 19th-century building, the hostel sits comfortably in Sofia’s center, a quick walk to Serdika underground station.

Whether it’s a private room or an 8-bed dormitory, you’ll find a sense of privacy uncommon in hostels.

The spacious common area serves as a social magnet, complete with a billiards table.

Need laundry done or looking for lockers? They’ve thought of that too.

Click here to see more of what they offer!

Are you ready for Sofia at Christmas?

Whether you’re in Sofia looking for Santa Claus or just want to relish in the festive atmosphere, there’s plenty to enjoy in the Bulgarian capital over the holiday season!  

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