Are you looking for the best things to do in Sofia in winter? Read on, as this blog post describes them all!
With towering mountains and the expansive Black Sea, Bulgaria is an incredible year-round travel destination.
In the winter, it offers incredible snow-covered landscapes and atmospheric towns out of the tourist season!
But nature isn’t the only reason to visit Bulgaria in the winter.
Beautiful Sofia, the nation’s capital, boasts a rich history and fantastic cultural attractions that are just as charming in the winter months.
It’s a budget-friendly travel destination, and all of the capital’s best attractions look even more gorgeous when carpeted with a blanket of snow.
So, what are some of the best things to do in Sofia in winter? And how do you plan a trip there? Read on for all you need to know!
This blog post may contain affiliate links.
What’s Sofia like in winter?
Let’s be real: the capital city of Bulgaria is cold in winter.
However, if your Bulgarian winter dreams entail exploring charming Christmas markets, seeing the city with a blanket of snow and getting great deals on hotels, then seeing Sofia in winter could be for you!
Because Sofia’s weather can be dramatic, the nation is quite used to the cold and most attractions stay open.
Plus, while Sofia is a budget-friendly city compared to other European capitals, you’ll find even cheaper prices when it comes to hotels, tours and some attractions in the winter.
Not everything will be open, but you’ll certainly get a flavour of this Eastern European city in the winter months – and some will say that it’s a completely different vibe from the summer months!
What is the weather like in Sofia in winter?
Bulgaria, just like other Balkan countries, is known to get rather cold during winter, especially from November to February. Temperatures are often between 0°C and 10 °C.
Sometimes there are warmer periods during those months, but the general rule is that the closer you are to New Year, the less likely warm spells happen.
Generally, expect a rather chilly winter season!
Rain and snow are also widespread during winter, so check the weather forecast beforehand.
Sofia looks magical under a blanket of snow, but be aware that icy conditions can cause disruption to the city!
Or, just be safe and bring an umbrella and some rubber boots so you’re always prepared.
Here’s a table explaining the weather conditions in different winter months, or you can refer to my more detailed explanations below:
|Month||Average High||Average Low||Average Rainy Days||Average Snowy Days|
|November||10°C (50°F)||0°C (32°F)||15||4|
|December||4°C (39°F)||-4°C (25°F)||13||9|
|January||3°C (37°F)||-5°C (23°F)||11||12|
|February||6°C (43°F)||-4°C (25°F)||9||11|
|March||12°C (54°F)||0°C (32°F)||10||7|
Sofia in November
November’s temperatures are between 0°C (32°F) and 10°C (50°F), meaning that there’s definitely a chance of snow.
The month has on average five days of rain.
At the end of the month, Christmas spirit enters Sofia – and it’s a very jolly time to be in the capital!
Sofia in December
If you’re looking for somewhere for your holiday celebration, Sofia is ideal.
The temperature sits between 4°C (39°F) to -4° (25°F) and snow is common.
You’re quite likely to see a white Christmas when spending the festive season here!
Sofia in January
January can be a cold and dark month, with temperatures between 3°C (37°F) and -5°C (23°F).
As you can guess by those temperatures, snow is fairly common too!
Sofia in February
It warms up a little in February, although snow is still very common.
Expect temperature ranges of around -4°C (25°F) to 6°C (43°F).
Sofia in March
March warms up considerably, with lows of 0°C (32°F) and highs up to 12°C (54°F). Expect snow to melt by now!
The best things to do in Sofia in winter
From touring around the capital with a local to seeing museums that are perfect for the winter season, to going skiing in nearby mountains, here are all of the best things to do in Sofia in winter!
1. Private tour of Sofia
Embark on this private, customizable tour in Sofia.
Led by a local guide, this tour will whisk you through a fascinating blend of ancient and modern landmarks.
Experience the unique blend of Thracian, Roman, and communist histories, and marvel at the architectural masterpieces.
Roam the Square of Religious Tolerance and sense the cosmopolitan spirit of Sofia, a city shaped by the intersection of European and Asian cultures.
It’ll help you see Sofia in a new light!
2. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Regarded as one of the most beautiful Orthodox temples not only in Bulgaria but in the whole Balkans, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (sometimes written Alexander Nevski Cathedral) should definitely be on your list of things to do in Sofia in winter.
It was built back in the 19th century and is still one of the biggest temples in this part of Europe.
The most dazzling sight within the church has to be the three columns.
In between, you’ll find wide openings from which you can see the famous 12 bells.
3. Central Mineral Baths
Contrary to the name, the Central Mineral Baths aren’t mineral baths but rather a history museum that was built in the place of the baths.
The original mineral baths were built in 1908, in the Neo-Byzantine style which was very common in Bulgaria at that time.
The architect was Petko Momchilov, who famous for being one of Bulgaria’s greatest architects ever.
The museum is focused on the history of Sofia, but there’s still a place where locals and tourists can fill up free hot mineral water.
It’s a popular tourist attraction in Sofia, but in the winter the queues are much smaller!
4. Vitosha Boulevard
If you get tired of sightseeing and just want to relax and have a cup of coffee, Vitosha Boulevard should be your go-to.
Vitosha Boulevard is the street that traverses through the centre of Sofia.
It’s filled with cafes and restaurants so you can refuel and warm up from the cold.
There are also numerous shops if you’re looking for some new clothes.
Most popular fashion brands have their stores here, so the selection is very wide.
Most of Vitosha Boulevard is only for pedestrians, allowing you to walk without having to worry about traffic.
Pull on your warm winter coat and take a stroll here on a cold winter afternoon!
5. Do a Communist Walking Tour
Embark on a fascinating journey into Sofia’s communist history with this walking tour that takes you to notable landmarks of this era.
Beginning at the former Bulgarian Communist Party headquarters, you’ll get to see the city through a historical lens, visiting sites like the secret police investigation facility and the long-gone mausoleum.
The tour continues with a visit to the Soviet Army monument and the National Palace of Culture, each with its own tale to tell.
Over a period of three hours, your guide will share insights about communism’s theory and its specific form in Bulgaria, Marxism-Leninism.
6. Central Market Hall
If you want to purchase any food, clothes, or jewellery, Central Market Hall has got you covered.
The Central Market Hall incorporates numerous vendors selling all types of local products, ranging from fast food to various handcrafted goods.
Apart from shopping, the Central Market Hall is also be considered a monument itself.
It was built in 1909 in the Art Noveau style.
Just make sure to visit the market early in the morning, before it gets overwhelmed with locals and tourists around noon.
7. Sofia Christmas Market
A highlight of winter in Sofia is undoubtedly its enchanting Christmas Market, held in the city center.
Wander through rows of wooden huts selling an array of crafts, Christmas decorations, and traditional Bulgarian festive treats.
Warm up with a mug of hot wine or indulge in traditional festive food like bratwurst and sauerkraut (the Christmas market takes a lot of inspiration from Germany’s).
8. Check out the best museums in Sofia
Sofia boasts a rich selection of museums, perfect for history buffs and culture enthusiasts.
At the top of the list is the National Historical Museum, housing over 650,000 exhibits and offering an in-depth look into Bulgarian history.
The National Museum of Military History is a must-visit for those interested in war relics and military paraphernalia.
Also, don’t miss the Bulgarian Archaeological Museum which houses artifacts from the Paleolithic to the Middle Ages.
9. Go on a Sofia Pub Crawl
Uncover Sofia’s vibrant nightlife on this four-hour pub crawl, a perfect way for solo travelers to mingle with locals and fellow globetrotters.
On this tour, the night kicks off with a complimentary beer at the first stop.
The adventure continues to a second venue where a sweet alcoholic treat awaits with any purchase.
A free draft beer will welcome you at the third bar before the night culminates with complimentary entry to one of Sofia’s popular clubs.
10. Head to the National Theatre Ivan Vazov
If you’re more of an art person and you’ve already explored Vitosha Boulevard, head to National Theatre Ivan Vazov.
It’s situated at the end of the boulevard and is the best theatre in this part of town, although there are many more.
Its program includes nighly opera performances which start at around 8 pm and finish late at night.
The theatre only has 750 seats, and it’s popular with locals.
So make sure to purchase your ticket early, even before arriving in Sofia – as tickets can sell out even in the winter months!
11. Skate on the Ariana Ice Rink
After exploring all the monuments and visiting a theatre, hit the rink!
One of the best things to do in Sofia during winter is the Ariana Ice Rink.
It’s near Borisova Gradina Park on Ariana Lake and, at 1400 square miles, is one of the biggest outdoor skating rinks in Europe.
The ice rink open during the winter months and has a tent over it, protecting the rink from rain and snow.
The ice skating conditions are top-notch because of the latest equipment they use.
It’s perfect whether you’re a beginner or very experienced!
12. Visit Vitosha Mountain
Although not actually in Sofia, Vitosha Mountain is only just out of the city limits.
It’s one of the best day wintery trip options from Sofia.
It’s one of the best hiking destinations in Bulgaria with long easy trails and epic views.
Skiing is also popular here but there aren’t a lot of slopes, so if you’re a more experienced skier you might get bored after a while.
The conditions for skiing are better elsewhere in Bulgaria!
On the other hand, if you just want to relax, you can take the chairlift to the top of the mountain and enjoy the best views while snapping some great photos.
13. Go back in time at the Serdica Amphitheatre
Serdica Amphitheatre is a perfect destination if you’re a history enthusiast.
This Roman amphitheatre wasn’t discovered until 2004, but instantly became a sensation.
Historians concluded that it was one of the largest in the Roman empire and that it was used to host battles between gladiators and wild beasts.
It was also discovered that it was previously a theatre before it was turned into an amphitheatre.
Today, it is a part of the Arena di Serdica hotel, but visitors can still explore it from the hotel’s specially designed gallery.
14. Rila Monastery and Boyana Church Day Trip
Set off on a day trip from Sofia, delving into Bulgaria’s rich cultural history at the Rila Monastery and Boyana Church, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
You’ll traverse the tranquil countryside and explore the largest Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria.
Then, you’ll marvel at the intricate medieval frescoes of Boyana Church.
This tour offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the spiritual heritage and natural beauty of Bulgaria, and you can read more about it by clicking here.
15. Take this tour to North Macedonia
Experience Serbia and North Macedonia in just one day!
On this tour, you’ll journey to the border town of Bosilegrad, once the core of former Yugoslavia, before crossing into Bulgaria and onto North Macedonia.
Here, the picturesque 12th-century Osogovo Monastery awaits, a site that has morphed from a mosque to a church over centuries.
Cap off the day with an authentic Macedonian lunch, pairing delectable grill specialties with the famed Skopsko beer.
It’s a cultural and gastronomic extravaganza!
Where to stay in Sofia in winter
Here are some of the top recommended places to stay in Sofia in winter!
Hostel Mostel is a popular choice among budget travelers due to its affordable rates, clean rooms, and friendly staff.
It’s centrally located, which makes getting around Sofia a breeze.
The hostel offers free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast, and even organises pub crawls, which could be a great opportunity to meet fellow travelers.
COOP Hotel is a mid-range option offering excellent value for money. It’s conveniently located near key attractions like the Central Sofia Market Hall and the Sofia History Museum.
The hotel provides comfortable rooms, a fitness center, a restaurant serving Bulgarian and international cuisine, and complimentary Wi-Fi.
The staff are known for their helpfulness and professionalism.
For a luxury stay, the Sense Hotel Sofia is a great option.
This five-star hotel is located on Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard, right next to the iconic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
It offers stunning city views, a rooftop bar, a high-quality spa and wellness center, and a gourmet restaurant.
The rooms are modern, spacious, and well-equipped. The service is top-notch, ensuring a truly luxurious experience.
What to eat in Sofia in winter
Bulgarian food is incredible – so it’s no surprise that Sofia can offer you a variety of dishes no matter your food preferences.
“The meat is king and the bread is queen” is a famous Bulgarian saying – this can partially explain their traditional food with most containing meat!
Meshakana skara is one of the most popular Bulgarian dishes.
It combines all of the best meat options into one big meal for multiple people!
The perfect thing to go with it is shopska salad which is a Bulgarian traditional salad made from fresh vegetables and sirene, a Bulgarian white cheese.
Other great examples of Bulgarian cuisine include sarmi and stuffed peppers, both of which are vegetables stuffed with minced meat and rice.
Not much Bulgarian food is vegan, so food options aren’t as diverse as in other countries.
But just in the centre of Sofia lies the Sunmoon Bakery, which is a completely vegan restaurant with a lot of different dishes.
It’s also very cheap compared to other restaurants so you should give it a try even if you’re not strictly vegan!
How to travel around Sofia
Sofia is a big city, and if you want to visit as many tourist attractions as possible, exploring by foot may not be the best option.
Possible options include public transportation, taxis, and car rentals.
Public transport mostly consists of buses and is a great budget option for anyone trying to not spend a lot on transportation, with regular buses connecting tourist destinations being very easy to find.
Taxis are cheaper than in Western European countries, and TaxiMe is a useful app for finding taxis.
What to pack for Sofia in winter
We’ve already mentioned that Sofia and the whole of Bulgaria have pretty cold winter months.
So packing warm clothes will ensure you can comfortably enjoy your travel and not worry about ever being cold.
These include your usual stuff such as sweaters, thick pants, and a weatherproof jacket, as rain and snow are often present during winter.
Don’t forget gloves, a wooly hat and scarf – especially if you’re planning on spending a lot of time outside!
And of course, if you plan on visiting Vitosha Mountain for a ski session, don’t forget your ski equipment.
Last tips for visiting Sofia in winter
Sofia is a wonderful place to visit – especially during winter – but there’s a lot to know when planning your trip here!
- Stay for a few days: This will allow you to explore all the monuments and try all of the different things without feeling like you’re in a hurry.
- Regularly check the weather forecast: It can change daily and you don’t want to come during a snowstorm or any other weather condition which can hurt your experience!
- Dress appropriately: Sofia can get quite cold during the winter months, so it’s essential to pack warm clothing. Consider bringing thermal layers, a heavy coat, waterproof boots, gloves, and a hat. If you plan on participating in outdoor activities like skiing, you’ll also need the appropriate gear.
- Consider a guided tour: Sofia has a rich history and a lot of cultural and historical sights. A guided tour can provide you with insights that you might not otherwise get. There are also free walking tours that you can join, which can be a great way to see the city’s highlights.
- Be ready for shorter daylight hours: Like many European countries, Bulgaria has shorter daylight hours in winter. This can impact sightseeing plans, so it’s a good idea to start your day early and plan your activities accordingly.
- Public Transport: Sofia’s public transport network is well-developed and inexpensive, and runs throughout winter. It includes buses, trams, and a metro system. Remember to always have a valid ticket, as inspectors can impose fines on the spot for ticketless travel. If you’re heading to the city from the airport, you can pre-book a private transfer – click here for more information.
FAQs about visiting Sofia in winter
Does Sofia have snow?
Yes, Sofia experiences snow during the winter months, usually from December to February.
The city, situated at the foot of Mount Vitosha, basically becomes a winter wonderland.
Just make sure that you dress warmly and wear appropriate footwear!
What is there to do in Sofia at Christmas?
Sofia offers plenty of activities during Christmas.
Explore the Christmas markets, which are famous for their festive decor and traditional Bulgarian crafts and delicacies.
The city also hosts concerts and cultural events. Don’t forget to visit Sofia’s beautifully decorated churches, like the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Is there snow in Sofia in January?
Yes, Sofia typically sees snow in January.
The city’s average January temperature ranges between -4°C (25°F) and 3°C (37°F); giving it perfect conditions for snow.
It’s a wonderful time for outdoor activities like ice skating, skiing, or simply enjoying the winter scenery.
What is Bulgaria like in December?
Bulgaria in December is typically cold and snowy, especially in the mountains.
Cities like Sofia and Plovdiv have a festive atmosphere with Christmas markets and events.
It’s also a great time to enjoy winter sports in popular ski resorts like Bansko and Borovets.
Remember to dress warmly!
How many days do you need in Sofia?
A stay of 2-3 days is generally enough to explore Sofia’s main attractions, such as the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the National History Museum, and the Boyana Church.
However, if you want to experience the city’s vibrant food and arts scene, or take day trips to nearby attractions like the Rila Monastery or Mount Vitosha, a longer stay of around 5-7 days is recommended.
Is Sofia worth visiting?
Absolutely! Sofia is rich in history and culture, with many fascinating sights such as the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Serdika ruins, and the Museum of Socialist Art.
The city also boasts a vibrant food and nightlife scene. Additionally, Sofia serves as an excellent base for exploring the surrounding mountains and natural wonders of Bulgaria.
Are you ready to visit Sofia in winter?
It may be chilly, but Sofia in winter has lots of attractions and charm. Layer up, plan your days accordingly, and you’ll love the Bulgarian capital in the cooler season!