Surrounded by mountains, Sophiathe capital of Bulgaria, is a very special city with a typical oriental charm.
It is located right in the center of the Balkan Peninsula, so much so that its name comes from the word Sredets, which means “in the middle”.
It is the fifth highest European capital in Europe at 550 m above sea level. Prices are low and flights are frequent enough and undeniably low cost to be able to reach it at any time of the year.
Have you ever thought of visiting Sofia?? Here are our must-see suggestions.
The charm of Sofia is far from that of other eastern capitals such as Prague or Budapest, however it has a special history because it was a borderland and has undergone many changes over the years, even in its name, which before reaching the current it has changed eight times.
The historical-cultural hub of Bulgaria is divided into 24 neighborhoods and its center is small enough to visit on foot.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Symbol of the city, it is the most important religious place in Sofia. Dedicated to the Russian hero Alexander Nevsky for his intervention in the fight against the Turkish occupation.
You will have seen it on all the postcards of Sofia: it has green and gold domes and is huge. In fact, the central dome is even 50 meters wide.
The style is special because it mixes different materials, such as Italian marble and Brazilian alabaster. It gets busy during the day, so try to get there early in the morning.
The church of Agia Sophia
Just in front of the cathedral is another church worth visiting, the oldest in Sofia, built in the 4th century on the ruins of the necropolis of the city of Serdica or Roman Sofia.
It was renovated and reopened to the public in the late 1990s after two earthquakes and its conversion into a mosque.
It has no bell tower, but a bell was placed on a tree outside the church in 1878 to celebrate when the Russians defeated the Turks.
Royal Palace and National Gallery
Once intended to house royal members, now the Palace has been transformed into a huge art gallery, giving tourists the opportunity to better discover the history of Sofia through the works of Bulgarian artists.
The Rotunda of San Giorgio
It was built as a pagan temple and then turned into a church: it is the Rotonda di San Giorgio, which with its diameter of 10 meters stands between concrete buildings that contrast with its beauty, such as the Presidency of the Republic and the Ministry of the Interior.
Ivan Vazov National Theater
One of Sofia’s finest buildings is the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, which overlooks the public gardens.
Rebuilt after the bombings of 1945 and renovated again in the 1970s, it has a neoclassical style. On the facade there are several cherubs in white and gold, including one in particular that attracts the attention of tourists.
In fact, it seems that during the work it was not specified which elements should be gold and which should remain white, and one worker had seen fit to paint the private parts of a cherub in gold!
The National Archaeological Museum in Sofia
It is also worth a visit for its location, which was the largest mosque in Sofia. Here are 2 hoards, one of which is a tomb of King Sevt III, while the other contains 13 pieces from the Late Bronze Age.
The Russian Church of Sofia
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was built in 1878 and is recognized by its five golden domes.
This corner of Sofia is very reminiscent of Russia, between the church, Alexander II Avenue, the Russian Embassy and a monument dedicated to the king.
Leaving the more cultural points of interest behind, you can relax a few minutes from the center with a little shopping, including food and wine. In fact, at the Tsentralni Hali covered market you can find a little bit of everything, from souvenirs to local gastronomy.
A walk on Vitosha Avenue
Another place for shopping, this time more international, is Boulevard Vitosha, where there are many international chain stores and other typical Bulgarian ones where you can buy cosmetics and various rose products, a specialty of the country. Not only that, the street is full of bars and restaurants.
The most hipster and trendy area of Sofia is around Ul Han Krum where you can discover many vintage shops and various special clubs and restaurants, such as Hambara, a secret bar, which has no signs and is lit only by candles, or Apartment, a real house, modern and well furnished, where you can drink a beer or eat something.
It is a very spartan market where time seems to have really stood still. About The enterprise Zhenski Pazar is located at Bul.
Stefan Stambolov, a very central area of the city and, within it, you can breathe and taste the real aromas and flavors of Sofia.
Stalls and shops of all kinds offer passers-by fruits, vegetables, street food and spices as well as clothes and handicrafts.
What to see with kids
The best time to come to Sofia with children is in spring or summer, when the temperatures are more generous and it will be pleasant to walk around the elegant city.
Sofia’s historic center can be easily explored and is full of parks and green spaces, perfect for a refreshing stop.
If you like walking and hiking, don’t miss a walk in the Vitosha Mountain Nature Park, a wonder for adults and children.
What to see in Sofia in one day
- Rotunda of San Giorgio
- Covered Market
- Healing spring
- Banya Bashi Mosque
- Sophia Cathedral
- Women’s Market Zhenski Pazar
What to see in Sofia in three days
You can visit Sofia in a short time. Divide the sights into three days as follows:
Start at Parliament Square, where you’ll find the statue dedicated to Tsar Alexander II. Behind it is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
If you want, you can stop inside, at the Museum of Ancient Art. Nearby, do not miss to visit the Church of Sveta Sofia.
After lunch continue to the churches of San Giorgio and Santa Domenica. Finish with the Tsentralni Hali covered market.
Spend the whole morning at the National Gallery. After lunch, continue to the Church of St. Nicholas and the Ivan Vazov National Theater. If you fancy a walk, the City Garden park is perfect for relaxing in the summer or visiting some markets during the Christmas season.
Spend the last day at Boyana Church (to be reached by public transport or taxi) and its gardens, then finish the day with the National History Museum and a dinner in the historic center.
See what you must eat in Sofia:
- Skebe Chorba
The outskirts of Sofia
Sofia is surrounded by mountains, frequented every season by both locals and tourists. THEVitosha Natural Parkthe oldest in the Balkans, it is the lungs of Sofia and turns into a ski resort in the winter, while in the summer there is the possibility of relaxation with excursions and hiking on marked trails, with holidays in shelters and chalets.
About 120 kilometers away from Sofia, there is the Rila Monastery which, together with the church of Boyana, is definitely worth a visit.
Organized tours usually include both. The latter is surrounded by greenery in a truly evocative atmosphere and is a World Heritage Site. Its fame stems above all from the magnificent cycle of frescoes, painted from 1259, among the best preserved in Europe. There are 89 scenes for 240 human figures.
A bus also leaves from Sofia to Plovdiv, an ancient city whose historic center is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its colorful houses date back to the Turkish era and it is full of theaters, cultural centers, music academies and points of archaeological interest.
The video with the 10 must-see sights in Sofia