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Capital of Bulgaria, Sofia is packed full of culture. The amount of churches and various monuments located throughout this beautiful city reflects its incredible - and often turbulent - 2,000 years of history. The city boasts an enviable number of archaeological sites and the cobbled streets bristle with history.
The many restaurants serve up Eastern European delicacies and specialities that will sate the taste buds of any foodie. With so much to do, you’ll love every moment spent in this romantic and deeply interesting city. Perfect for mini breaks and extended, more active, holidays, no time is enough in Sofia.
More about Sofia
Sofia houses some of Bulgaria’s largest museums. Cultural entertainment sits at the heart of the city, with cinema and theatre dominating.
Sofia leads the way in Europe for performing arts, with the National Opera and Ballet of Bulgaria boasting some of the world’s most famous dancers and singers. Many international artists have performed here too, including Rammstein, Rihanna, George Michael, AC/DC and Sting.
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Top 5 things to do in Sofia
Whether you’re visiting Sofia for the weekend or for a week, this church simply has to be top of your sightseeing list. It is easily one of the most awe-inspiring monuments in the whole of Bulgaria. Massive and impressively ornate, the Aleksander Nevski Church was built between 1882 and 1912. The reason behind its build was to commemorate the 20,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgaria’s independence.
These wonderful gardens lie just south of the centre of Sofia. Statues and seamlessly endless flower beds fill this park to the brim. The perfect location for a relaxing afternoon or - if you’re feeling more energised - a morning run, you’ll find monuments and stadiums in here, too. Perhaps the best monument is the Mound of Bortherhood, built during communist times in 1956 and it features sky-scraping obelisks and socialist iconography.
Natural History Museum
This fascinating museum is located in what was once a mosque. Fans of all things ancient history won’t be able to leave until they’ve seen the vast collections Thracian, Roman and medieval artefacts. The museum showcases just how wealthy some of these old nations were. Some of the museum’s highlights include a mosaic floor, Thracian burial artefacts and masks and gold statues.
Elegant and ornate, these mineral baths are one of Sofia’s best kept secrets. Also known as the Turkish Baths, there is nothing more relaxing than having one of these five-step soaks. Located in what was once a medieval church, you’re surrounded by rich social history and delicate facades as your skin is scraped, oiled, massaged and put back into a very clean shape. Make a day of it by visiting the local art exhibitions next door.
Sofia feels distinctly regal and there’s nothing more regal than the city’s Royal Palace. The palace was originally built as part of the Ottoman police force’s headquarters. The palace has particular resonance in Sofia’s social history because Vasil Kevski, a Bulgarian hero, was tried here before his execution. After the Russians liberated Sofia and the wider area, the palace was recaptured and turned into a royal residence. Hit three birds with one stone by visiting - the city’s National Art Gallery and Ethnographical Museum are located inside it.
10 facts about Sofia
Sofia is Bulgaria’s chief commercial centre. The city has direct rail links with other major European cities including Athens and Istanbul.
Sofia has quite a turbulent past. Once ruled by the Turkish for over 500 years, it was later captured by the Russians and in 1879 the city became the capital of a now autonomous Bulgaria.
In Hollywood film, The Terminal, Tom Hanks who plays a man stuck in an airport speaks Bulgaria.
One of the most popular drinks in Sofia is Mastika. This is a 47% proof spirit that is made with tree resin and you’ll find it served in most restaurants and bars.
An incredibly popular dessert in Sofia, and the rest of Bulgaria, is yoghurt. In general, Bulgarians eat a lot of yoghurt.
Sofia, although leafy, is one of the most densely populated areas in the country and is fairly urbanised. A third of Bulgarian is thick with forest.
There are several monuments in Sofia that are dedicated to when the Russians liberated the city from Turkish rule. These include the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral and the statue of Czar Alexander II.
The city’s name has changed several times during its history. Way back in ancient times it was known as Serdica, then it was christened Sredets, then Triaditsa and finally Sofia in the 14th century.
Sofia used to be a Thracian settlement. The area was occupied by the Romans in 29AD and became an army camp under the Emperor Trajan in 100AD. You can still see elements of this history scattered around the city.
Sofia is incredibly productive. It is Bulgaria’s most important commerce district, manufacturing machinery, leather goods, food and textiles.