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Sat at the foot of Mount Vitosha in the west of Bulgaria, laid-back Sofia is the country’s capital and largest city. The modern city mixes communist-era architecture with present-day construction, but its centre is home to grand historic churches, a vibrant cafe culture, leafy parks and busy shopping streets, all within easy walking distance of each other.
You’ll find somewhere to stay in Sofia whether you’re looking for a luxury weekend break or a budget trip – there’s a good range of accommodation from smart four-star brands to cheap hotels and apartments.
In recent decades Sofia has undergone rapid development, with road improvements and a metro system that opened in 1998. Excavations carried out during the building works uncovered ruins from the ancient Roman city of Serdica; you can view these in an open-air museum.
Vitosha Boulevard is the major commercial thoroughfare and is lined with restaurants, bars and upmarket boutiques. It runs from St. Nedelaya Square to the northern boundary of South Park, and is also near landmarks such as the four-storey Sofia Court House and the National Palace of Culture – a large multifunctional conference centre.
Alexander Nevski Cathedral is Sofia’s crowning jewel and a national icon. A neo-Byzantine edifice mostly built between 1904 and 1912, it is the second largest cathedral on the Balkan peninsula and one of the largest Eastern Orthodox churches in the world. Visit during a daily service for the most atmospheric experience; take in the darkened interior to a background of soothing prayers and chants.
Other cultural and historical highlights include the Museum of Socialist Art, the National Art Gallery and the 4th-century Church of St. George, which sits in a rear courtyard of the Sofia Hotel Balkan and is considered the oldest building in Sofia.
While you’re here don’t miss the chance to explore Mount Vitosha, only five miles (8km) to the south of the city centre. You can get to the mountain easily by public transport to enjoy the country’s oldest national park – a beloved beauty spot for Sofians, who come to ski in the winter and explore the many hiking trails in the summer.
Equally cherished by Bulgarians is the World Heritage Site of Boyana Church. This perfectly preserved medieval monument on the outskirts of the city was closed for renovations for over 50 years before reopening in 2006. Comprising three adjoining structures, the site is one of the most complete examples of east European medieval art in the world and is so popular that visits are restricted to a 10-minute tour in the company of a guide. Back in the city centre other notable religious buildings include the Banya Bashi Mosque – the last still-functioning mosque in the city – and Saint Sofia Church, a 6th-century Byzantine edifice that stands in the middle of an ancient necropolis.
Sofia’s year-round appeal and mix of culture, cool and outdoor fun are combined with a good range of accommodation and hotels, making it a great destination for trips of all kinds.
Still in need of more inspiration? Check out our hotels in Istanbul.