Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria. Distinguished by its special combination of classic European and Communist style architecture Sofia is home to many ornate Orthodox churches and Soviet looking stone civic buildings. The city boasts vast manicured parks and with such closes proximity to mighty Mt. Vitosh for skiing or a hike, it is easy to enjoy a break from the busy city streets. Some of the best things to see and experience in Sophia are The Nevski Church, the most beautiful park in Sophia, Park Borisova Gradina and Manastirska Manernitsa restaurant to sample delicious Bulgarian cuisine.
Sofia is one of Europe’s most ancient capitals. Originally established by the Thracians, it was later an important city of the Roman Empire; Emperor Constantine famously referred to it as “My Rome”.
A large part of Sofia’s ancient heritage is still preserved. The most prominent example is the red-bricked Hagia Sophia (Sveta Sofia) Church from the 6th century which gave its name to the city itself. Make sure you visit the church’s underground crypt to see Roman frescoes and artifacts.
Saint George’s Rotunda is even older than the Hagia Sophia Church and bears the title of the oldest extant building in Sofia. Dating to the 4th century, its unusual cylindrical structure is now curiously nested in the courtyard of the Sheraton Hotel, Ministry of Education and Presidency edifices.
Many locals still don’t know that Sofia has a partially preserved Roman amphitheater. It’s not easy to find though – its ruins are now mainly inside the Arena di Serdica hotel. Ask at the reception and they will be glad to let you in to see the amphitheater for free. Being on the underground level of a hotel and knowing that gladiators fought on this very spot is a surreal feeling.
Some twelve kilometers southeast of the city center, the former village of Pancharevo is a favorite weekend retreat for the citizens of Sofia. Pancharevo owes its attraction to its scenic location between the Vitosha and Lozen mountains and particularly to the artificial Lake Pancharevo, a preferred place for sunbathing, swimming, fishing and watersports. Because Sofia is relatively far from the sea, locals jokingly call Lake Pancharevo the “Sea of Sofia”.
Take buses 1 or 3 from Tsarigradsko Shose metro station and you’ll be enjoying the beaches of Lake Pancharevo in no time. There’s a trail with a panoramic view of the lake for you to hike. And if you feel like seeing some medieval ruins, you can visit the fortress of Urvich at the neighboring village of Kokalyane.
Now go back to the cosmopolitan city center and feel the vibe of Vitosha Boulevard, which is Sofia’s main shopping street. A pedestrianized thoroughfare, its main part runs from the Saint Nedelya Church to the grand National Palace of Culture. Vitosha Boulevard is lined with comfortable cafés to sit in and engage in some people watching. If you’re hungry, you can have lunch or dinner at an Irish pub, an Italian restaurant or a Chinese fast food place.
Not far from Vitosha Boulevard, along Graf Ignatiev Street, is Slaveykov Square, well known for its open-air book market. Browse the dozens of stalls selling all kinds of literature in a multitude of languages, from romantic novels to political and scientific volumes.
Photo source: Picture 1: airlines-airports.com; Picture 2: blog.radissonblu.com; Picture 3: en.wikipedia.org; Picture 4: pixhd.com; Picture 5: holeinthedonut.com; Picture 6: drawhome.com