By far, my least favorite thing about Sofia is getting around. It’s a pretty sizable city, not all of it pleasant to walk through, and moving from one place to another can be a pain in the ass. Here are my best tips for getting around in Sofia.
The public transportation in Sofia is fantastic, but not foreigner friendly. There are trams going every which way every couple of minutes, but no posted timetables. You can’t access routes on Google Maps, probably for the same reason. Some tram stops have an electronic display listing how long until the next tram. But I have a feeling that’s limited to some of the stops in city center.
The metro is fantastic, clean and easy to use. From the airport, you can get to many points around city center, because there are only two Metro lines. The tickets can be purchased at a machine and validated to enter the station. Take note of which turnstile the ticket activates. Sometimes it’s left and sometimes it’s right. The downside of the metro is that it runs from 5 am to midnight. And of course, it’s more limited in where it goes.
The tram or bus tickets can be purchased on board. There should be a machine right behind the driver. But in our one attempt to take the tram, we didn’t see it. And then we realized the tram we needed would take 17 minutes to arrive and we needed to be somewhere, so we abandoned the public transportation idea and took a cab.
Taxi drivers in Sofia are scoundrels. It’s like there’s a survey when Bulgarians are teenagers that asks you what you want to be when you grow up. And if you say that you want to be an asshole, they train you to drive cabs.
There are a lot of cab companies, some of which are super shady and are knock offs of real cab companies. But I can’t read Bulgarian so I don’t know the difference. And for all intents and purposes, the real cabs are just as fucking terrible as the fake ones. They’re supposed to always run the meter. This isn’t the kind of place where you negotiate a price beforehand. And if you’re doing that, you’re probably getting overcharged. But how they squeeze an extra 30 cents out of you is by taking stupid routes with more traffic or straight up going in the opposite direction before turning around and going to the right place. It’s super annoying and I wish I could tell them that I would just give them an extra dollar if they take me straight there. But none of them speak English.
There’s no Uber in Sofia, and the closest thing to it is an app called TaxiMe. You can order a cab and get a more realistic estimate of your fare. If you choose to pay by card, you’ll pay the estimate in the app. If you pay by cash, you pay the metered fare. This is useful to avoid having to flag down a taxi that may or may not be honest. But the app barely keeps the cabbies honest. One guy picked us up with another driver’s ID sitting on the dashboard. Another one got out of the car and yelled at us for having too much luggage before driving away after we waited 6 minutes for him to pick us up. So none of these options are very reliable if you’re in a hurry.
My number one suggestion for getting around in Sofia is to stay close enough to walk everywhere. The aggravation of having to ever take a cab or the headache of figuring out a bus schedule is not worth the $5 you’ll probably save by staying outside of city center. If I was ever going to come back to Sofia, I would stay east of the Vitosha Boulevard and south of Alexander Nevsky. That area is bustling with cool bars and restaurants as well as 24 hour grocery stores. This is where you want to go to visit a cute bookstore or to get a craft cocktail. It’s a little more relaxed and cheaper than the area directly around Vitosha Boulevard, and not as hectic. It would put you walking distance to everything in the city.
Or maybe, I would take this hilarious TripAdvisor advice about where to stay in Sofia and stay 2 hours away in Plovdiv.