Sofia is a special city. Colorful, lively, and full of young people. There’s something about the food, the small streets, and the gardens that’s hard to resist. At a crossroads between East and West, it’s full of art, culture, and history. But you haven’t really seen Sofia until you’ve tasted its nightlife.
Nighttime is when the city really comes alive. Many tourists go back without experiencing the nightlife of Sofia, though, because they don’t know where to go, how to move around, or how safe the streets are at night. This article will make sure you do. It will tell you everything you need to know about Sofia’s nightlife to have the time of your life. Read on to learn your way around and party like the locals do.
As the article is quite long, here is the short answer to all of your key questions:
Please read on to really get to know Sofia at night:
Most restaurants, bars and clubs in Sofia are open every night of the week. But if you really want to experience the local nightlife at its best, go out on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Or all three nights, if you’re that kind of person. That’s when most locals go socializing and clubbing and when the biggest parties in town are held.
Friday is surely the highlight of the week. People have been looking forward to blowing off some steam and are ready to show their best moves. Saturday is also loads of fun - no alarm clocks and nowhere to be the next morning, so locals often stay dancing all night. Thursday is when folks that can’t wait for Friday go out. Or when you’d warm up for Friday night. In both cases, you’ll be in good company.
Unlike other cities, Sunday is not the day to go partying in Sofia. People are getting ready for the new week and would rather not be hung over at work on Monday morning. And if you’re not fond of crowds, try Tuesday or Wednesday night. It’s easier to get a good table at the bar, live bands are often playing, and everyone is more laid-back. Some clubs are closed on Tuesday and Wednesday but bars won’t be in a hurry to see you leave.
For the typical working times of bars and nightclubs, see the next section.
When in Rome… you know how the saying goes. Same thing for Sofia. A typical night out here starts around 8:00 PM with dinner in the city center. This will give you some precious fuel for the night ahead.
Around 10:00-11:00 PM locals would head to a bar to get some drinks. Bars in Sofia are open around 6:00 PM and work until 1:00-2:00 AM. Some of them even have a dance floor to keep you dancing till 6:00 in the morning when you don’t feel like moving elsewhere. There are lots of great bars in Sofia, so many locals spend the evening bar-hopping. To check out the best of them, read on.
If you want to go to a full-fledged nightclub, however, the best time to do so is around midnight. Unlike many cities in Europe, the party in Sofia never stops. Most clubs start working at 10:00 PM and stay open all night. Both bars and clubs can serve alcohol all day and night, so you don’t have to worry about that. Most clubs charge a small entrance fee of 10-15 BGN (5-7.5 EUR), except on live concert nights and special events (Heloween, New Year’s Eve, etc.) when entrance will cost more or match the concert tickets’ prices.
Always bring your ID with you, whether you’re 18 or 68 - Bulgarian law requires everyone to carry a personal identification document. Some bars and clubs will ask for your ID, regardless of your visible age, so you risk not getting in.
Have in mind that you need a reservation to make sure you’ll get a table. Good bars and clubs in Sofia get very crowded, especially on weekends. Reservations are free, you just need to call the place in advance - preferably the day before. You will still get inside most clubs without a reservation but you’ll have nowhere to put your drinks and belongings. You can also book a so-called “VIP table” at most clubs, which includes a sofa away from the crowds but usually requires your company to spend a certain minimum. Some VIP minimums get as steep as a few hundred EUR, so be careful.
There’s no dress code for getting into a club. Still, make sure you’re not dressed for the beach, and avoid sportswear if you want to blend in. Most people put on their party outfits - dresses and skirts for the ladies, jeans, and shirts for the guys. Nightclubs have a coat check to store your jacket in the winter. They might charge you 1 BGN for it, so bring some coins.
When you’re tired of dancing, finish off the night Sofia-style by grabbing something to eat early in the morning. It’s a local drink-and-breakfast tradition that’s worth trying out. Street food is open all night around big clubs, so are a few pubs and restaurants. More on which later.
Don’t forget to try a local Sofia party, whenever you get the chance. When it’s warm outside, “Bench parties” in the beautiful Sofia parks are a must. Just grab some beers and sit on a bench with your pals. Or make some new friends at a random bench. The City Garden near the National Theater, The Crystal Garden and NDK are all regular bench-party headquarters. In the summer, there are also concerts and live music in the open at places like Maimunarnika, Switch and Kino Cabana which will give you a real taste of Sofia.
As for the famous local Home parties, don’t miss them if you’re invited. Bulgarians are great hosts and take good care of their guests. Nearly all young people speak English. Just bring some drinks and snacks for everyone to share. “Bench” and home parties are both warm-ups for a night out that include drinks and some snacks, so you can skip dinner and go straight to a nightclub after midnight if you feel like dancing.
In short, to party the way Sofia does:
Sofia has not one but two great party districts. Both promise an unforgettable night, each in their own way. If you can, try to visit both parts of the city. Both have their bars, their nightclubs and their street food. As they’re pretty far from each other, we suggest you stick to one or the other in a single night.
Downtown Sofia, or “The Center”, as locals call it, is the ground zero of Sofia’s nightlife. This is where most of Sofia’s iconic bars and clubs are located, some of them going back as early as the fall of the Communist regime in the 90s.
There are more bars and discos in the center, not just in sheer numbers but also in terms of diversity. Whatever you feel like dancing to, the Center has it. It’s also where all the hippest and coziest bars and clubs are situated - whether you’re in the mood for a candle-lit barn-style bar or a 1920’s inspired intimate speakeasy place you need a password to enter. The music scene is also more diverse here and includes anything you can think of. Pop, house, jazz, hip-hop, rock, blues, latin pop, you name it. There’s live music every night, as well as piano bars and karaoke clubs.
Bars and clubs in the Center are more scattered, as it stretches over 30 minutes of walking from one end to the other. However, they are usually grouped in clusters. You’ll find many of Sofia’s best night spots around Vitosha Blvd; Georgi Rakovski Str; Ivan Shishman Str; NDK; and Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd.
Going out in the Center has a social element to it. It’s where people want to be seen and where all the cool kids hang around. You will notice girls have spent a lot of time on their make-up and their outfits and guys not being all too casual about their looks either. No one is dressed formally but you’ll hardly find anyone sloppy.
Student’s town, a.k.a. “Studentski grad”, is the other major hotspot of Sofia nightlife. Officially a residential area of Sofia, it has such a distinct character that locals consider it a city within the city. It’s located in the periphery of Sofia but it’s still a normal taxi ride away from the Center.
Students’ town is probably the youngest-populated part of Bulgaria, as it’s home to several of the biggest Sofia universities and where most of the students from out of town live. Sofia has the staggering 25 universities which explains all those young people (including foreign students) in “Studentski” and its buzzing nightlife. And “buzzing” is an understatement. Students’ town is Sofia’s own Vice City - it’s practically just bars and nightclubs and some blocks in between for their patrons to get some sleep in between parties.
While clubbing in the Center has a pinch of sophistication to it, Students’ town is as crazy as a party place gets. With people here being largely in their twenties and the neighbourhood being known for its wild all-night parties, this is where locals go if they want to forget all their worries. The music is louder, people dance more, and everyone seems tipsier. Some love it, some hate it but nightlife in Sofia wouldn't be the same without it.
Students’ town is also the place to go if you want to listen to “chalga” - Bulgaria’s characteristic mix of pop, folk and Oriental music. Chalga parties are famous for their hedonistic, YOLO atmosphere, often crossing the fine line between having a good time and taking things too far. Clubbing has always had an element of escapism to it but that’s even more pronounced in the Balkans and especially in chalga clubs. You have to see it to decide if it’s your thing or not but it can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can find chalga in some clubs at the Center too, but Students’ town is where this music really feels at home.
Bars and clubs in “Studentski” are generally closer to each other and within shorts walks. If you find one, there’s more around. Most are located on “8 dekemvri” Str. and “Akad. Boris Stefanov” Str. Music here is more mainstream with few clubs sticking to a certain style. People are usually dressed casually. Unless they want to impress someone, that is. Chalga clubs are the big exception with everyone trying to impress everyone else. If you’ve headed to one, you might want to hop inside a dress or your “party shirt”, respectively.
SUMMARY: for a classy night out, stay at the Center. For a wilder and less responsible time, hit Students’ city. Chalga music and clubs are their own subdivision in Sofia's nightlife and culture.
Nightlife isn't just about bars and clubs, of course. If you’re more interested in the fine and visual arts, there’s quite a lot the city can offer you at night.
The beautiful National Opera and Ballet house has shows almost every night, starting around 7:00 PM. Bulgaria is famous around the world with its Opera singers - if you’re a fan of opera, don’t miss visiting it.
Theater in Bulgaria is performed in Bulgarian. Unless you have a Bulgarian grandmother on your mom’s or dad’s side, you’ll find it difficult to understand. However, The Free Sofia Tour will soon offer theater shows in English for the city’s visitors. Stay tuned for more information - this article will be updated to reflect news on the subject.
Sofia is also home to several film fests every year. The most popular of them is the “Sofia International Film Fest”, held every spring, which brings rare movies from all over the globe. Even if you’ve missed the official fest dates, you can find many of them at small cinemas around town.
Cinemas such as “Vlaikova” and “Dom na Kinoto”, where you can both find an alternative movie and support local culture. Other interesting film festivals in town include the “Sofia Independent Film Festival” and the “Master of Art” documentaries fest. There are also foreign film fests every year bringing the best of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Middle Eastern and African cinema, etc.
You can also see a Hollywood movie at one of Sofia’s numerous malls any night of the week. They start as late as 10:00 PM and are in English, only subtitles are in Bulgarian. The only exception are children’s movies, which are dubbed in Bulgarian.
Every fall, for 3 straight nights, Sofia hosts the international “A to Jazz Festival” which brings some of the biggest jazz names in the world. It takes place in the gorgeous park behind the Hilton Hotel, known as the “Dog’s garden”. Be sure to visit “A to Jazz” if you’re around when it’s being held. Another important music fest is the “Sofia Music Weeks” festival for classical music that takes place every year. You can also find various smaller music fests in the warmer months across Sofia’s parks.
As in most countries, galleries and museums close around 6:00-7:00 PM. Nevertheless, if you’re lucky to visit Sofia at the right time of the year, you can enter a whole lot of magnificent museums and galleries in the city Center for free in the popular “Night of the Museums”.
Moving around Sofia at night is easier and cheaper than in most capitals. Here’s a short summary of all major means of transportation you can use after sunset:
The easiest way to get around Sofia is by foot. There’s always a good bar or club nearby. Most party places in the Center are close to each other. The same goes for bars and clubs in Students’ town. If your data roaming is free, you can use Google Maps to find bars, nightclubs and addresses, even gardens.
Plus, Downtown Sofia is absolutely gorgeous at night. Just walk around the Yellow Brick Road and breathe in its beauty and its ancient history. We recommend seeing the Presidential House, the National Theater, the St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral, the Russian church and the nearby Crystal garden, the Parliament. They’re all within a reasonable walking distance.
Using a taxi is an easy way to move around Sofia. There are thousands of taxi cabs, prices are much lower than those in Western Europe and distances are not too long, especially in the night when there’s little traffic. There are a few things to keep in mind, though:
You can also rent an electric car or an electric scooter. Perfect for short distances, as you can leave it anywhere in the city center. Grabbing one requires 3 things in advance, however:
Untypically of a European capital, Sofia is a really safe place. Tourists often share it’s the safest city they’ve ever been to, both in the daytime and at night. This is especially obvious in the Center, where everything is well-lit and feels very casual.
There’s a reason for Sofia to be safer than most big cities. On one hand, it’s still much less popular to visit than cities like Paris, Rome or Berlin. Fewer visitors mean it’s less attractive to petty crime. On the other hand, Bulgaria still attracts more budget travelers with its affordability. Budget travelers, too, are less interesting if you’re into stealing things.
Pickpocketing is rare, let alone robberies. Compare this to the thousands of stolen smartphones, wallets and purses every day in cities like Barcelona or even nearby Athens and you’ll get a feeling of how safe you are in Sofia.
Just keep an eye on your belongings and don’t put your phone and wallet in your back pockets, where they can be easily snatched. This should normally be enough to make your trip incident-free.
People in Sofia are nice to foreign visitors, as they’re a new thing around. This might gradually change, as the city becomes more crowded with tourists but that’s nowhere to be seen on the horizon yet.
There are no gangs to watch out for. Nor are there ghettos, unless you get really lost and decide to walk to the airport. Public transport going all night also helps you avoid getting lost. Physical violence is rare, as well. You’d usually have to be rude and violent yourself to provoke this behavior in locals. Just a few things to be careful with, though:
Time to discuss the drink-and-breakfast part of the night. Most restaurants and pubs work until midnight but they stop taking orders around 10:30-11:00 PM. So if you end up hungry in the early hours of the morning, you’ve got a few options:
Depending on where you’re coming from, you’ll probably notice prices in Bulgaria are lower than what you’re used to. Much lower, if you’re visiting from Israel. Here’s what the typical things you buy at night would cost you:
On the street:
At the restaurant:
At the bar/club:
* Yes, a small drink in Sofia is 50 ml, and a large one is 100 ml. This leaves many visitors honestly surprised.
Tipping is common in Bulgaria in restaurants, bars and nightclubs, as service is not included in the price. Not leaving a tip would mean you’re unhappy with the service. To spare you the math, just add 10% to your bill and you’ll be fine.
Tipping your taxi driver is also common. Give them 2 BGN if you’re very happy or just round the sum if your ride was “meh” (6.40 to 7.00 BGN, for instance).
Cash (BGN) is king in Bulgaria. Foreign currencies (EUR, USD, GBP) are not accepted.
Street food stands, public transport, street shops and many bars only take cash. However, finding an ATM is easy as there are many throughout the Center and Students’ town. To be on the safe side, look for a well-lit ATM, preferably at a bank. Withdrawal fees depend on your own bank’s terms.
Many restaurants, bars and nightclubs also accept credit/debit card payments but don’t count too much on that. Note that when you’re paying by card, tips are usually not included, so you’ll need to add the tip in cash.
There you have it… You now know everything you need to know about Sofia’s nightlife to have a blast! Whether you’re a party monster or not, make sure you give it a try before you go back home. Have fun, drink responsibly and make lots of new friends ;)