Over the centuries, Sofia has been at the crossroads of cultures and empires. Today, the capital of Bulgaria is a mix of cosmopolitan cafes and byzantine churches. The urban European destination is crisscrossed with trams, porting people between markets, museums, and cultural sites, all within walking distance from your Sofia hotel.
The city is a gateway to some of the Balkan's prettiest scenery, including mountain resorts and Black Sea beaches. However, a holiday in Sofia itself is well worth a stop. Here are the best things to do in Sofia, Bulgaria:
Tour the Cathedral:
The St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the largest church in Bulgaria and can hold 10,000 people in its 34,100 square feet of space. The Bulgarian Orthodox church was built in honour of the Russian soldiers who lost their lives in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877- 1878 which freed Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. The gold domed cathedral is filled with Italian marble, mosaics from Venice, onyx, and the relics of its namesake - Alexander Nevsky. After admiring the cathedral, wander down ploshtad Aleksandar Nevski to shop at the daily antique market.
Catch a show at the theatre:
The Ivan Vazov national theater is a well-known meeting point in the center of Sofia. While it is pretty from the outside, the theater (which is named for a Bulgarian writer), is best admired from one of the 750 seats inside. During the performance season, the theater regularly puts on shows by international playwrights. There are also sometimes free concerts and cultural events in the square in front of the theatre.
Shop at Ladies Market:
Ladies Market (known locally as Zhenski Pazar) is the busiest market in Sofia. The large indoor market has fresh produce and local foods, as well as Bulgarian handicrafts and clothes. The market covers several blocks ul Ekzarh Yosif and bul Slivnitsa.
Take in the Central Baths:
The brightly colored Central Baths building once housed a mineral water bath that opened in 1911. The baths closed in 1986 but are being reopened as a city museum and hydrotherapy center. The pools are sadly gone, but locals still come daily to collect warm mineral water from the tap in the park beside the ceramic-titled building.
Take a nature walk in Borisova gradina park:
Find a green escape without ever leaving the city centre with a walk through Borisova gradina (or Boris's Garden). Borisova is the oldest public park in Sofia, and one its most popular. It is a lovely place to take a stroll under the trees, but it is also full of playgrounds, lakes and fountains. In the winter, one of the ponds is transformed into an outdoor skating rink, but in warmer weather you can play tennis at the courts inside the park.
Admire Boyana Church:
While less grand that the city's imposing cathedral, one of the most beloved churches in Sofia is St. Nicholas and St. Panteleimon. More commonly known as Boyana Church, the sacred spot is recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its lovely frescoes dating back to 1259. The style of the figures is considered a pre-cursor to the style that would later be used to decorate churches in the Renaissance.
Climb Mt. Vitosha:
Boyana Church is found at the foothills of Mt. Vitosha, about 5 miles outside of the city centre. After a visit to see the art, catch a bus up one of Bulgaria's highest mountains. Vitosha is the oldest nature reserve in the Balkans and Sofia is the only European with brown bears thanks to this mountain retreat. In the winter, this is the closest skiing option to the capital, but it also makes an excellent day trip for short hikes and outdoor sports.
Learn more at the National History Museum:
With 650,000 items, the National History Museum is Bulgaria's largest museum. Only about 10% of the extensive collection is on display, but it is still the best place to learn about the 1300 years of the Bulgarian state. The museum has displays that cover fine arts, history, and even archaeology - and one of the most beautiful is the collection of delicate Thracian gold jewellery. There is also a café to rest up before tackling more exhibits.
Have you ever been to Sofia, Bulgaria? What would you add to the list?