Sofia: Bulgaria’s Capital – the Top 10 Places of Interest
For many travelers, Bulgaria isn’t necessarily at the top of their bucket list – at most, they consider visiting the Golden Beach for partying. A change is in order, though! The country and especially its capital Sofia consists of picturesque streets, impressive churches and contrasting landscapes. Additionally, Bulgaria is easy to reach whether by car, train, or plane.
Bulgaria’s capital is teeming with surprises. This is due to the unique combination of old traditions and modern developments typical of a metropolis. So, you can be sure that a trip to Sofia will be filled with variety – it must be said though that the cityscape is largely dominated by various places of worship.
All in all, that sounds like a great combination, doesn’t it? Sofia has certainly enchanted us, now we have to tell you all about it. That’s why we’ve gathered all the necessary information you need for a trip to Sofia. In addition, we’ve also put together a list of the top 10 places of interest in the Bulgarian capital. Here we go!
Sofia in a Nutshell
Were you paying attention in geography class? Do you know where Bulgaria is? If not, then now is the time! The country is located in Southeastern Europe – more precisely in the northeast of the Balkan Peninsula. Bulgaria borders Romania, Serbia, Northern Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey. Moreover, the country is located on the Black Sea and offers its visitors extensive coasts on which to relax.
Covering an area of just over 111,000 square kilometers, Bulgaria is one of the largest countries in Europe. Due to its size, the landscapes and climatic zones vary considerably depending on the region. Therefore, your preferred vacation destination will differ greatly according to the time of year, although the climate is mostly continental. In other words, there are hot summers and sometimes cold winters in most parts of the country.
Sofia is both the capital and the political center of the country. Over 1.3 million people live here – did you know that? The metropolis on Mount Vitosha is one of the oldest cities in Europe: 8,000 years ago, a Stone Age settlement was located at this very spot!
The city itself is anything but old-fashioned, though. The many cool events taking place here are proof of that. For example, there’s the A to JazZ Festival, where bands perform for three days every summer. You can sit down on the lawn in front of the stage, lean back and relax while listening to the melodious jazz music.
You can also visit the Sofia International Film Festival in March, whose aim is to introduce Bulgarian and Balkan films to the international audience.
Naturally, you will also get your money’s worth when it comes to culinary delights, which is why you simply must have a taste of the Bulgarian cuisine in Sofia! It is famous for its stews, especially for the delicious bean soup bob chorba, which the locals often eat during lunch or dinner. Or how about a schopska salad? It consists of cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers, with grated feta cheese and chopped parsley sprinkled on top.
The public transport network of the city is well-developed – befitting a city with over a million inhabitants. It includes buses, streetcars, trolleys, and subways. The metro is a relatively new addition, covering the city with just two lines. But a third one is in the works! The Metro is already one of the largest subways in Europe – and it’s still growing. This way, you can safely get to all your destinations.
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Sofia
Let’s start with the highlights: the top 10 places of interest in Sofia! You’ll surely like them as much as we do.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
We start with one of the most important landmarks of the Bulgarian capital: the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. As the main church of Bulgaria, it is not only of great importance for Sofia, but it is also very popular beyond Bulgaria’s borders. The magnificent building is the second-largest Orthodox church in the Balkan Peninsula – only the Cathedral of St. Sava in Serbia is larger.
The pompous church was built at the end of the 19th century based on the plans of the Russian architect Alexander Pomerantsev. It is dedicated to the 200,000 fallen Russian soldiers who helped Bulgaria achieve freedom and independence during the war. That is why Alexander Nevsky is the namesake of both the cathedral and the square.
It looks truly magnificent! The cathedral measures 76 meters in length and 53 meters in width. In addition, numerous round arches characterize this place of worship. The huge golden dome and the gilded bell tower complete the overall picture. The interior has a similar style, with mosaics, columns and other elements made of gold and marble. We recommend you also take a look at the ceiling, as numerous paintings decorate the dome!
Church of Bojana
The church of Bojana is rather plain, comparatively speaking. Nevertheless, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a few decades. However, the church itself has existed for far longer, with the oldest parts dating back to the 10th century! Hard to believe, isn’t it? Nowadays, the building no longer funtions as a place of worship, but as a museum – and part of the National Historical Museum of Sofia.
As inconspicuous as the church is from the outside – on the inside, you will find impressive and colorful paintings. They show various figures and scenes and are among the best-preserved relics of Eastern European art from the Middle Ages. You can admire their beauty during a guided tour.
Church of St. Nicholas
Let’s move on to the next church. As you can see, there are lots of churches in Sofia. The Church of St. Nicholas belongs to the Russian Orthodox community, with the typical Russian architecture to match – it is absolutely beautiful to look at. Make sure to take a photo of it!
Rotunda Sveti Georgi
Another sight, another church: the Rotunda of Sveti Georgi. It is the oldest Roman church in Bulgaria, dating back to the 4th century. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? However, its surroundings are not quite as old, with the church being framed by modern and tall houses. At the first glance, it may not look so magical and charming, but it is exactly this combination that characterizes this city and gives it its incomparable flair – you’ll see!
National Art Gallery
Time for a change of course: the National Art Gallery’s collection contains breathtaking works of art by the most important Bulgarian artists. Therefore, it is Bulgaria’s most important art museum! Take a look at the more than 50,000 drawings, sculptures and paintings, which are classified as contemporary and modern art.
Just the outside of the magnificent building is worth a visit. After all, it is the former royal palace of Sofia! It has been a historical monument since 1978.
Banya Bashi Mosque
The impressive Banya Bashi Mosque, built in 1576, is one of Europe’s oldest mosques! Moreover, its architect Sinan was also involved in the construction of the al-Haram Mosque in Mecca – the most sacred site in Islam.
The interior of the Banya Bashi Mosque is just as magnificent. The prayer hall is decorated with blue and white walls with intricate lettering from the Koran. Because the building is considered a national cultural monument, its appearance has not undergone any changes for more than a century.
This house of worship can accomodate about 700 worshippers. The women pray on the upper floor and the men on the lower floor. Officially, non-Muslims musn’t enter the mosque, but they are tolerated outside of prayer times. Of course, you must wear appropriate clothing, which means covering your knees and shoulders, as well as wearing headscarves for women. You can borrow those at the entrance. For more information, check out our tips for visiting a place of worship.
Sofia is the perfect city when it comes to houses of worship. The Sofia Synagogue is not only the largest synagogue in Southeastern Europe, but also the fourth largest on the continent. In fact, it is the only house of prayer in the Bulgarian capital.
The synagogue was opened in 1909 – but remained closed for a year in 1943 because most Jews from Sofia were deported during the Second World War. You can learn more about this topic in the Museum of Jewish History in the synagogue.
Sveta Petka Church
Next to the Banya Bashi Mosque, the Sofia Synagogue and the Orthodox Cathedral Sveta Nedelja, the Catholic Church Sveta Petka completes the so-called “Square of Toleranc”. However, in all honesty, the mosque and the synagogue look much more magnificent than the Sveta Petka.
The church blends in perfectly with the other buildings in the medieval center of the city, since it looks like a simple residential building. Its foundation walls are underneath the surface. This is because the church was built secretly during the Turkish rule over Bulgaria. An interesting story, isn’t it?
Have you had enough of culture and churches? Then visit the Vitosha Boulevard! On this beautiful and gigantic shopping street, countless stores invite you to browse. Sofia’s most famous pedestrian street has a very special and inviting flair, mainly due to the historic benches, streetlamps, and fountains.
This is the ideal place for a break in a café or restaurant. You can watch the passerby during your break – there is always a lot going on here! A visit to the shopping street is worthwhile, but it isn’t cheap at all. You will still be able to afford a souvenir or two here!
The history of the market is very fascinating. Under communist rule, women were not allowed to go outside – except to the Women’s Market, hence its name. Back then, women even sold their home-grown vegetables and fruits here.
In terms of historical and cultural attractions, you’ll get your money’s worth in Sofia. As far as places of worship are concerned, no other city can compare. Especially the Banya Bashi Mosque is impressive. The Sofia Synagogue, with the Museum of Jewish History, is also magnificent.
The Catholic and Orthodox churches look rather plain from the outside, but are just as interesting! The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral stands out with its magnificent appearance.
However, the capital is also modern and exciting, as demonstrated by the lively streets and markets, especially on Vitosha Boulevard and at the women’s market.
Now those are some convincing arguments in favor of a trip to Sofia, right? Bulgaria’s capital is still relatively unknown compared to other cities. Make the most of it! What are you waiting for? We recommend you combine your trip with a visit to Bulgaria’s beautiful beaches!
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