Going through past memories, Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria is one destination you remember with pleasure. Walking down the narrow but intriguing streets or enjoying a coffee on Vitosha boulevard are just some of the things travellers will be reminded with pleasure.
Conquered by the Romans in 29 BC from the celts, Serdica as it was known, has changed ownership and names throughout the ages to become what we know it today.
- How to get here and where to stay
- Top things to do in Sofia
- The National Palace of Culture
- Saint Alexander Nevsky Patriarch’s Cathedral
- St. Sofia Church
- Russian Church “Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski”
- National Museum of History
- Cathedral Church “Sveta Nedelya”
- Sofia History Museum
- Sofia Central Mosque
- Sofia Synagogue
- Central Market
- Eagles’ Bridge
- Saint Sofia Statue
- Administrative Area
- Boulevard “Vitosha”
- Day trips from Sofia
- Food and drink highlights
- Final remarks
How to get here and where to stay
If you are travelling by plane, you will be arriving at Sofia Airport (SOF). Flights from London to Sofia tend to be in the £100 return pp point but you can find cheaper ones in the off peak months. Otherwise, train or car can be viable options depending on where you call “home”.
To make sure you get the best deal, read our guide on how to find cheap flights.
The airport isn’t too far away from the city and you can comfortably get a taxi or tube/metro to take you to your accommodation. We stood at a very nice hotel called Rosslyn Central Park Hotel Sofia.
The hotel was right next to the National Palace of Culture offering an easy access to main attractions and key points in the city.
Top things to do in Sofia
Once there, you will be stricken by the fresh air and the view of Vitosha mountain surrounding the landscape. Although the city itself has some great architectural features, many buildings may need a new facade lift up.
Aside from that, there are quite a few places one can see. We would recommend a weekend break is more than sufficient to get a taste and good feel of the city.
The National Palace of Culture
The National Palace of Culture – Congress Centre Sofia (NDK) is the largest, multifunctional conference and exhibition centre in south-eastern Europe. It was officially opened in 1981 to mark 1300 years since the founding of the Bulgarian state.
Saint Alexander Nevsky Patriarch’s Cathedral
This is a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral and serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria. This is also the largest cathedral in the Balkans and one of Sofia’s symbols and primary tourist attractions. You can’t go to Sofia and not pay a visit here.
St. Sofia Church
Opposite from the cathedral, you can see St. Sofia Church. This is the oldest church in Sofia, dating to the 4th century. In the 14th century, the church gave its name to the city, previously known as Serdika.
Interesting fact, is that many of the builders and architects working on this project also worked on the Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Russian Church “Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski”
The Russian church was built on the site of the Saray Mosque, which was destroyed in 1882, after the liberation of Bulgaria by Russia from the Ottoman Empire. It was built as the official church of the Russian Embassy and of the Russian community in Sofia.
This church is not as spectacular as St. Nicholas Cathedral in Nice, France, but definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
After finishing up, one can go to the “Ivan Vazov” National Theatre which is a stone throw a away from the Russian Church. The surrounding area is green and during winter you can see kids doing snowball fights and adults supervising them with clearly visible giggles.
National Museum of History
We would also recommend going to the National Museum of History, Bulgaria’s largest museum. The museum is further out of the central area but offers great views to Vitosha mountain.
The museum was moved to the former primary residence of the dictator and last communist leader Todor Zhivkov at Boyana, and showcases objects connected to archaeology, fine arts, history and ethnography. There, we saw the Panagyurishte Treasure dated 400 BC – 300 BC.
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Cathedral Church “Sveta Nedelya”
Sveta Nedelya is a medieval church that has suffered destruction through the ages and has been reconstructed many times. It is a cathedral of the Sofia bishopric of the Bulgarian Patriarchate and during our visit we saw the Archbishop.
Similarly to other churches, this one is just as impressive and hosts a series of exclusive icons and paintwork.
Sofia History Museum
The Sofia History Museum is housed in the former building of the Central Mineral Baths and is devoted to ethnography, archaeology, economy, and cultural life in Sofia and its region. It was built near the former Turkish bath and was used as the city’s public baths until 1986.
Interesting fact is that on the side of the museum you might find a water tap that smells like rotten eggs! Don’t be afraid, no one overboiled their eggs! It’s thermal water which is available for anyone to take. It’s said to help various medical conditions and you’ll see many people bringing bottles to take some water home.
Sofia Central Mosque
Right next to the Sofia History Museum is Banya Bashi Mosque, the only functioning mosque in Sofia, a remnant of the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria which lasted nearly 5 centuries. The mosque was actually built over natural thermal spas and derives its name from the phrase Banya Bashi, which means many baths.
The mosque is famous for its large dome, 15m in diameter, and the minaret.
The Sofia Synagogue is the largest synagogue in South-eastern Europe and the 3rd largest in Europe. It’s one of two functioning synagogues in Bulgaria. It does look impressive on the outside and much better than some synagogues we saw in the Jewish Quarter in Krakow, Poland.
The Central Market is where we can see the Synagogue, a Christian Church and the Mosque. All these 3 are on the same square kilometre and their proximity to each other reminds us of how close we all are.
Visiting the Central Market, one can also explore the Bulgarian culinary landscape. Anything from fresh vegetable produce to dry cured salamis and meats are on display. An experience similar to the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid. Here you can also buy souvenirs and this is where we got our Sofia magnet from.
Eagles’ Bridge is a bridge over the Perlovska River in downtown Sofia. As you can imagine, the name of the bridge comes from the four statues of eagles on it, which are, symbolically, its protectors and patrons.
Saint Sofia Statue
Whilst sightseeing, you are likely to pass by the Saint Sofia Statue. This is a fairly new statue which replaced the statue of Lenin that was on the same spot.
To finish off a quick look around the administrative area where the Presidency building is, Dondukov 2. This is similar to how the British call their 10 Downing Street. The government buildings are imposing and staying in the square remind us all of the greatness Bulgaria has to offer.
You can also see the National Assembly building, National Bulgarian Bank, the Court House and others.
Vitosha Boulevard is the main commercial street in the centre of Sofia. This is a favourite area of ours where you can find lots of posh stores, restaurants and bars. We love going there for drinks or dinner. It’s a great place with nice and buzzing atmosphere.
Day trips from Sofia
Food and drink highlights
There are many eateries in Sofia. They cover typical Bulgarian dishes anything from kebabs to salads and sach dishes. One thing to note, if you ever go out with a Bulgarian for dinner – always order a salad and the local spirit called rakia.
You could go into a restaurant and go through two pages of menu and still be looking at salad options. Yes – they love their greens!
Also – note to self – make sure you eat slow. Sitting down to eat is an excuse to catch up with others rather than a reason to eat. So make sure to fill up the time with conversation.
When eating out, sharers similar to tapas are also quite popular. Also it wouldn’t be wrong to order a parlenka either to share with your friends. Parlenka is a flat bread with either cheese or garlic butter toppings. Go on, it’s a holiday after all, you’ve earned the calories ;).
We would recommend the Happy Bar & Grill chain, they offer a diverse and fresh set of options and the customer service is great. We also visited Happy when we went to Varna, it is a good choice anywhere in Bulgaria. Having said that there are plenty of choices just as suitable. Feel free to explore!
To finish off your stay we definitely recommend you stay and enjoy a coffee on the Vitosha Boulevard. It boasts a great view of the eponymous mountain and the bars and cafes here run all year round with the help of outside heating.
In conclusion, Sofia is an easy to visit destination, people are hospitable and warm wherever you meet them and always enjoy telling you more about their culture. Overall, it is a great destination and offers a mountain town feel in conjunction with the hustle of a big vibrant European capital.
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