Roman ruins, neo-Byzantine churches, sprawling parks and a vibrant cafe culture make Sofia one of the most interesting cities in Europe for a holiday – and one of the most affordable.
Located in the west of Bulgaria, Sofia is yet to attain the same status as some of its European neighbours. Yet this dynamic Slavic city is home to remarkable monuments, cathedrals and museums, it has a national park with skiing and hiking on its doorstep, and boasts some of the most affordable accommodation in the Balkans.
Sofia’s compact city centre is a good place to start. Begin at the dazzling golden-domed Alexander Nevski Cathedral – one of the largest Eastern Orthodox churches in the world. This cross-domed basilica can hold 10,000 people, and is richly decorated with Venetian mosaics and gleaming Carrara marble. Other religious structures worth visiting include the landmark St Nedelya Church and the Roman 4th-century Church of St George – a redbrick rotunda considered the oldest building in Sofia.
Enjoy a stroll along Vitosha Boulevard, the city’s main commercial thoroughfare. This pedestrianised street is home to designer boutiques and local chains, along with plenty of coffee shops, restaurants and bars. Or browse the colourful flowers and food stalls at the Central Sofia Market Hall, whose three storeys house more than 170 stalls and traders.
Sofia is home to dozens of galleries and performance venues. For a taste of the city’s arts and cultural scene, visit the National Gallery for Foreign Art or the National Art Gallery, or take in a performance at the National Opera and Ballet. See Soviet-era artefacts and sculptures at the Museum of Socialist Art, where portraits of Karl Marx hang alongside paintings depicting communist themes.
At Sofia’s southern limit is the national park of Mount Vitosha – a popular excursion any time of year. Hiking, biking, rock-climbing and paragliding are popular summertime activities, while in the winter months you can easily arrange a skiing or snowboarding daytrip from the city.
Sofia combines a long and varied cultural history with modern infrastructure and access to fantastic outdoor activities. With a great range of basic to upscale hotels at affordable prices you’ll find accommodation to suit your break and budget.