Mingle With Locals And Backpackers At Kristal Park
Located in front of the National Theatre, this is an excellent place to pair with your viewing of the iconic theater and can quickly fill an entire afternoon.
After long, cold winters being one of the highest elevated capital cities in Europe, the folks of Sofia are usually itching to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. Swing by in the spring and summer months in Bulgaria and take part in your own picnic, people watching and getting to know Bulgarian customs.
It is a great place to bring hostel mates as there is also a growing international vibe with backpackers starting to show up at the park as well.
Tip: It is an excellent place for the sunset, and more locals show up later in the evening anyway.
Monument Of Bulgarian Volunteers
Located behind the Central Military Club, this monument is dedicated to the Bulgarians who volunteered and who fought alongside the Russians for Bulgarian Independence in 1877-1878.
There are 12 artillery cartridges which contain soil from the places where the most decisive battles were fought, along with holding the names of thousands of opulchentsi. There is also a stone from Shipka Pass, where the most famous battle was fought.
Church Of St George Rotunda
The oldest building in Sofia has been here in some form since the 4th century, when it was built as a Roman bath.
The cylindrical structure, set on a square base and crowned with a dome, was later adapted as a church.
Youll find it in an archaeological park in a courtyard enclosed by the presidency, government offices and a luxury hotel at the west end.
The Church of St George Rotunda is composed of red bricks and in the 20th century several layers of frescoes were discovered on the domes interior.
These had been covered up during the Ottoman period when the building became a mosque, and were painted between the 6th century and the 14th century.
You can also spend a little time exploring the Roman ruins outside, set slightly below the modern street level and made up of hypocaust flooring, pillars and street paving.
The core of this riveting archaeology museum is under the domes of the oldest and largest mosques in Ottoman Sofia.
The old mosque was raised in the second half of the 15th century, and following liberation spent a few years as the National Library, before the National Archaeological Museum officially opened here in 1905. What you get is a comprehensive summary of Bulgarias past.
The earliest items in the Prehistory Hall go back to 1,600,000 BCE, in a display divided into Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age.
Be sure to inspect the mosaics on the churchs floor, with early-Christian motifs of animals and plants.
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The Rotunda Of St George
Not another religious site? Yep. If youre a regular on this blog, youll know that were generally not into churchy stuff at all. But Sofia has so many good ones. And this one was actually interesting to go and see.
Its the oldest building in the city: built in the 4th century and still in use. Located in the middle of the presidency courtyard, theres a striking contrast in architecture and if the sun hadnt been that bright, it would have made for a good photo. Soz about that.
Visit The Banya Bashi Mosque
The Banya Bashi Mosque was built in 1576, during the years of the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria, and its the biggest and most important mosque in Bulgaria and the only functioning mosque in Sofia.
The large dome and minaret are visible from afar, but one of the most notorious features of the Mosque is that it was built on natural thermal springs.
You can even see the steam rising from the ground, near the mosque walls.
As this is a working Mosque, you can visit it freely, as long as you comply with the clothing requirements.
It was designed by the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who also built the mosque of Sultan Selim on Edirne and the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul.
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Monument To The Soviet Army
Located on Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard near the Eagles Bridge, this statute creates an imposing silhouette on its surroundings, as it shows a Russian soldier, firearm hoisted, surrounded by Bulgarian men and women. This statue was built in the 1950s to commemorate the Soviet Army liberating Sofia from the Nazis.
This is why the Monument to the Soviet Army, with its direct connection to the communist USSR, is often part of political protest and speech, while the statue to the Tsar Liberator, which commemorates the Russian empires helping liberate the Bulgarians from the Turks, is not.
Check Out The Local Street Art In Oborishte District
Not many tourists stumble upon this little gem of a neighborhood. It has an incredible repertoire of local eateries, artisan shops, and cafes, great for getting some work done. Not only that but the entire neighborhood is filled with creative art on walls and sides of buildings which have become a sort of theme for the area.
Arguably the best part of the neighborhood comes when you get north of Chavdar Bridge, where the density of building murals increases.
These arent just your ordinary graffiti artists, either. It is apparent from the sheer size of these murals that these local artists were contracted to bring this neighborhood to life. Some murals cover the entire length of the buildings, and the whole neighborhood feels like an open canvas.
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People Watching At The Womens Market In Sofia
Known by the locals as Zhenski Pazar, spending some time at the Womens Market is one of the best things to do in Sofia. According to the legend, back in the days only women were allowed to trade their wares there. Nowadays, this chaotic market located in the heart of the city is still one of the landmarks of Sofia selling anything from fruit, nuts, spices, fish, cheese, cured meat, handcrafts, and whatnot.
Prices are affordable and ingredients are fresh I actually did some shopping myself when I have been there. Womens Market is the right place to enjoy a coffee while sitting on a bench, witnessing the folkloristic and colorful skills of Bulgarian traders, and play with your camera with some click clicking. I dare you not to take pictures!
Join one of the local tours in Sofia:
If you are a snow lover, you will be happy to hear that Bansko is one of the best places to visit in Bulgaria. Located at the foothills of the Pirin mountains, it will take you only 1.30 hour by car to reach Bansko ski resort from Sofia. Dust your snowboard and get ready to enjoy the Bulgarias premier ski destination.
Speaking of rakija: dont over stress if you a had one many glasses: Bansko hosts the first Ayurveda Clinic in Bulgaria, where you can enjoy a complete body detox according to the most traditional Ayurvedic methods.
Free Walking Tour Of Sofia
This tour will take you around the most popular Sofia attractions and will make you aware of what the city offers.
Around cities in Europe , you may have taken a free walking tour guided by a local â usually a young adult or student â who has taken the time to study the citys history and modern realities and is often an excellent source of local information.
In Sofia, it is no different, and the city offers an excellent free walking tour which meets every day at the Palace of Justice at various times depending on what time of year you are visiting the city. Check the times here.
The tour will take you past all of the most well-known attractions in the city center of Sofia and give you the most bang for your buck in terms of historical and present information.
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Day 1 Central Sofia Sites
The first day of this Sofia itinerary sees you visiting some of Sofias main sites and monuments. Today will give you a great introduction to the city and is the ideal starting point if you only have one day to spend or 2, 3 or more.
Begin your Sofia itinerary at Serdika Metro Station. While this may seem like an odd choice to begin sightseeing, it is worth noting the Serdika has a lot more to offer than just a metro line.
Serdika, which was the ancient name for Sofia, sits at the historical centre of the Bulgarian capital and in the metro station, you can see the ancient remains of the former city. Seeing these ruins truly puts into context just how old Sofia is and how long humans have been living in the city.
Another sight near Serdika Station would be the Church of St George Rotunda, which is a 4th-century church that sits among the ruins. It is still in operation today and, though it is certainly smaller than most of the other spectacular churches in Sofia, it is still worth a visit.
Sveta Nedelya Church
After marvelling at the ruins of Serdika, walk only about 100 metres to the Sveta Nedelya Church. This Eastern Orthodox church is one of the most important in Bulgaria and is defined by its incredible architecture.
The Church is located in Sveta Nedelya Square which is considered to be the geographical centre of Sofia and therefore has been a historical crossroads of the city for hundreds of years.
Sofia History Museum & Mineral Baths
Visit The St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is arguably Sofias most significant landmark and one of the finest Sofia attractions in Bulgaria. It is also right where I stayed.
The church is also a memorial for the 200,000 Russian soldiers who perished in the Russo-Turkish War. The cathedral sits on a property with six other buildings, including the parish hall, the rectory, and Our Lady of Tikhvin, the original church.
Every Saturday at 5:00 pm, an All-Night Vigil occurs. Every Sunday starting at 9:30 am, the Divine Liturgy. It is respectful to dress appropriately when visiting the cathedral.
Typically, the attire resembles the old custom where men and women stand on opposite sides of the church. I recommend not wearing anything that could be distracting and too casual. That means no shorts, clothes with text, and sports uniforms, to name a few.
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Practical Information About Sofia
Although Bulgaria is a part of the European Union, the official currency is Bulgarian Lev. Credit cards are widely accepted, including restaurants and shops. Keep in mind that American Express is not popular and its not accepted everywhere.
Yet, be sure to have some cash at hand for small purchases.
Bulgarian is the countrys only official language. Yet, in most cases, youll get by speaking English. If you need help, ask younger people. Most of the older people dont speak English . The staff working in restaurants around the city centre speak English and usually, there are English menus.
Bulgaria operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz. The associated plug types are C and F.If youre from the US, this is the only travel adaptor that youll need.If youre from the UK, this is the best-rated travel adaptor.
The Church Of Saint Nicholas
From the Cathedral of Alexander on foot to the main street of the capital we can find the Church of Saint Nicholas also called the Russian Church. The site was built after 1882 by the Russians and was used as the church of the Russian embassy, which was located next door, to from the entire Russian community to Sofia. The church is named after the Emperor of the time in Russia, Nicholas II. When the emperor died near his sarcophagus, he was placed a box to fulfill his wishes. Even today people write and post wishes on the box hoping that Nicholas will grant them.
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The Church Of St George Rotunda
The Church of St. George Rotunda is the oldest preserved building in modern Sofia, built in the 300s. It is a wonder how it still survived after so many centuries. Inside you will be amazed with frescos from different times in history ranging from the 10th and 14th centuries. The church became a Mosque in the 1600s.
It is free to go inside but you are not allowed to take photos. Outside the church you can still see the flagstones of a Roman street and other remnants. In your 2 days in Sofia you must visit the Church of St. George Rotunda.
Catholic Cathedral Of St Joseph
The predominant religion in Sofia is Bulgarian Orthodox however, there is a small Catholic population in the city. The Cathedral of St. Josephs was originally destroyed during the Allied bombing raids during World War II, and restoration was a difficult process under the anti-religion Communist party.
However, the Cathedral has been restored in its original location. Pope John Paul II laid the foundation stone for the newly resurrected Cathedral in 2002. While most do not choose to visit the interior of the cathedral, everyone can appreciate the view of the Catholic Cathedral, Orthodox Church Sveta Nedelya, the Baya Banshi Mosque, and the Sofia Synagogue, which together comprise a monument to religious tolerance in the center of the city.
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Taste Some Traditional Bulgarian Food
Bulgarian cuisine is, in a way, representative of the whole Eastern Europe cuisine as it shares characteristics with the cuisine from neighboring countries. It is known for having good quality products as its main ingredients for mostly pork and chicken-based dishes. Its also some of the best-tasting food youll ever have in Europe so better take advantage of the time youre in Sofia to try it!
Suggested tour: Join a local and have them help you discover the best eats in town by showing you the best places to have traditional food and wine!
National Palace Of Culture
Between Vitosha Mountain and Vitosha Boulevard sits this emblem of communist architecture. Its home to the Sofia International Film Festival as well as year-round concert performances, conferences, and conventions.
While its not typically on Sofia walking tours, we think its one of the most important places to visit in Sofia as it is central to life in the city. Step inside to see the some of the 80 monumental works of art that are part of the NDK, especially the gorgeous and overwhelming Revival statue, known affectionately as Mother Bulgaria.
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Take A Day Trip From Sofia
Bulgaria has way more to offer than just Sofia, and is especially famous forhaving ancient sites and stunning nature. Here are the top three things you cando as day trips from Sofia to add some variety to your trip:
Visit The Ivan Vazov National Theater
One of Sofias most stunning pieces of architecture is the National Theater named for Bulgarian poet Ivan Vazov. Along with Hristo Botev, he is considered one of the fathers of Bulgarian revolutionary poetry making the honor of having the National Theater named after him well-deserved.
Even if you cant actually watch a performance here due to your lack of Bulgarian language skills you will enjoy the gorgeous façade and the square in front of the theater which is bustling with life.
If youre more curious about Ivan Vazov you can also find his grave next to Saint Sofia Church.
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Drink With Locals At Hambara Bar
Located at ul. 6-ti septemvri 22, 1142 Sofia Center, Sofia, Bulgaria
This is one of the most unique bars Ive ever had a drink in. The entire experience starts with finding the place â and this may require befriending a local to take you there.
The entrance is not particularly noticeable from street view as it is required to take a back alley through what seems like someones backyard. There is no signage or very little if so, to notify you have arrived.
Upon arriving, it requires a knock on the door where a little old woman will answer, and words will be exchanged in Bulgarian, which sounds like a Whats the password? type game.
Step through the low-sitting door into a room that feels like it was lost in the cave. No windows lit exclusively by candlelight with long sticks of wax jutting up from each table.
When a candlewick burns low, an employee will come around and slap another foot-long stick of wax in the center of the table while the old wax cools off and hardens right on the table.
There are two levels in this bar, though if you are a big guy like me, you may be a little timid to climb the rickety stairs to the unstable-looking second floor.
The slow jazz which plays gives the entire bar a cozy, warm, and sophisticated ambiance that feels great for a cold winter night in Sofia.
Even if the drinks were ridiculously expensive , I would still make it a point to visit this bar for its sheer uniqueness. If only more bars around the city existed like this!