Sofia, Bulgaria

Travel Guide to Sofia, Bulgaria

Ever growing, never old is Sofia's motto, and it fits the city well. The city changes regularly with new business coming in regularly. Sofia is an area that offers something different every time you visit. With a rich history, amazing architecture, and many shops, restaurants, and bars, you will never be bored.

As the largest city in Bulgaria, Sofia is easy accessed by bus, train, or plane. Many tourists feel that the bus system is the easiest and most affordable way to see the area. Buses arrive in the city many times per day.

  • Province: Sofia
  • Population: 1,203,680 (Year 2005)
  • Altitude: 550 Metres
  • Postcode: 1000
  • Area Code: 0359
  • Geographic Coordinates: 41° 42' North, 24° 20' E
History

Founded by Thracians around 3,000 years ago, the area called Serdica became a thriving area thanks to its central location and local hot springs. The location allowed for easy access by troops, and the nearby trade routes ensured supplies could be easily transported in and out of the city.

When the Romans took over the city, they erected impressive churches. The city became the capital of its province, and as Bulgarians overtook the area, they renamed it Sredetz, meaning middle. In 1018, Byzantine armies came and conquered the area. Renamed Triyaditza, meaning “between mountains, the Byzantines helped continue Sofia's importance as the key city in the area and ensured the city's trade and military bases continued to grow. Next in line were the Ottomans who continued to help the area thrive. In the late 1800s, the area finally gained its independence.

During World War II, much of Sofia was destroyed during bombing raids. Many of the historic buildings, more than 12,000, were damaged or demolished. After the war, Sofia became part of the Eastern Bloc, and Communists gained control. The area became a key industrial site until the 1980s when Communism ended. The area is still rebounding following the end of Communist control.

Site Seeing

Built in the late 19th century, Saint Alexander Nevski Memorial Church is a huge neo-Byzantine church with copper and gold domes. Inside the church crypt is the Icon Museum where huge murals are remnants of the ruined monasteries from the 9th to 19th centuries. The church is open daily and admission is free. If you get the chance, attend one of the daily services. The Icon Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday.

Tsurkva Sveta Sofia is a Byzantine era brick church. This is one of the oldest churches in Sofia. It has been restored and is now one of the most popular churches for weddings, funerals, and baptisms. The Monument to the Unknown Soldier stands in front of the church entrance. In the back are stands where hand tatted lace is sold by area residents. The church is open daily and admission is free.

Tsurkva Sveta Nedelya is a neo-Byzantine church that was totally restored in 1925 following a bombing that killed 123 people. This church is the former site to a huge statue of Lenin, the Communist leader. That statue was torn down following the end of Communism. Today, a 24 metre bronze statue of Sofia is displayed. The church is open daily and admission is free.

A 15th century mosque now houses the National Archaeological Museum. The museum has been renovated and all exhibits are labeled in both Bulgarian and English. There are many historic artifacts located within the church. The most popular artifact is a collection of gold vessels dating back to Thracian times. These vessels called the Vulchitrun Treasure weigh over 12 kilograms. The museum is open Tuesday through to Sunday

Rotonda Sveti Georgi is the oldest building in the city. This Roman temple dates back to the 5th century. Totally restored, the rotunda is located in the Sheraton Balkan Hotel's courtyard. Medieval frescoes, restored to their former glory, draw in huge crowds. The rotunda is open daily and admission is free, though donations are accepted.

Banya Bashi Dzhamiya was designed in 1576 by one of the Ottoman’s greatest architects. Currently, visitors can stop in front of the mosque to pray, if appropriately dressed. Hot mineral water from the area springs can be sampled from taps in the square adjacent to the mosque.

Restored in 2000, Tsentralni Hali is a huge market where fruits, cheese, vegetables, meats, wines, breads, and pastries are sold by local vendors. There are a number of coffee bars and fast food kiosks. Also, try Zhenski Pazar, a women's market. Zhenski Pazar is known as a market in which only women vendors were allowed to sell their goods, but now men and women both sell goods (nuts, pastries, clothing, jewellery, homemade jams, crafts, etc.) and it is the largest market in the city.

Accommodation

Many hotels in Sofia offer great accommodations within walking distance of many area attractions. To get the best rate, it is suggested that you book early.

All rooms at the Hilton Sofia come with electronic key cards, telephones with voice mail, internet access, coffee makers, in-room safes, and satellite television. Each private bathroom features hairdryers, separate bathtubs, and shower stalls.

The three-star Brod Hotel is one of the area's least expensive. Rooms come with complimentary bottled water, direct-dial phones, private bathrooms with bathrobes, satellite television, and a minibar. Breakfast is complimentary to all guests.

Radisson Sas Grand is located in the heart of the city, near the Parliament building. Rooms are spacious and well stocked with amenities ranging from bathrobes and slippers to electronic key cards and well-stocked minibars.

The Olymp Park Hotel & Spa is right at the base of the Vitosha Mountains. The hotel is within walking distance of a popular underground complex packed with shops, restaurants, and bars. Rooms come with massaging chairs, private baths, satellite television, telephones, and high-speed internet connections.

Industry

Following the fall of Communism, many Sofia residents found themselves reaching poverty levels. Thankfully, Sofia is finally rebounding. Many manufacturing plants are found in the city. Leather, textiles, and rubber plants produce more than 75% of the entire country's output. Sofia is also home to the main division of the Bulgarian National Bank and the Bulgaria Stock Exchange is located in the city.

Tourism is one of Sofia's larger revenue producers. Many tourists come to the city to see the sights and experience Bulgarian culture. Thanks to the tourism, area farmers can bring their produce to sell at the area's markets. Craftspeople can make a good living selling their handcrafted items to the tourists at Zhenski Pazar and similar markets.

Gastronomy

Happy Bar & Grill is a chain of restaurants found in Bulgaria that offer grilled chicken entrees. The food is fresh and healthy; drinks are cold and satisfying.

Egur-Egur is another popular spot in the city. Armenian food is on the menu. Dishes tend to be low fat and rich in meats, vegetables, and spices. Mint is used in many Armenian dishes.

Sirene po Shopski is a dish made from a white cheese (like a mild Feta) that is mixed with eggs, tomatoes, and green peppers and then baked in a clay pot. This dish is a Bulgarian specialty that is served in many traditional restaurants.

If you are daring, try Hunting Park. This restaurant's menu is focused on local game. Depending on the season, you'll find deer, wild boar, or other wild game cooked to perfection.

For traditional Bulgarian fare, head to Mechata Dupka. The chef cooks all of his foods in the classic manner. Meals are incredible and cost little.

Nightlife

Sofia is the greatest city to fit if you are looking for plenty to do once the sun goes down. There is a huge variety of dance clubs, bars, and theatres to suit varying tastes and ages. The drinking age in Bulgaria is 16, so expect a younger crowd when you are in the clubs.

Club and bar selections tend to change hands quickly, so be sure you check the guidebooks when you get to town to see what is currently popular.

Apartamenta is a semi-private club located in a 19th century mansion. To gain entry, you must ring the bell and request entrance. Inside the door is a dimly lit staircase that heads to a number of rooms, much like apartments, and in each room a different activity is held. There are rooms for dancing, chess rooms, tobacco/smoking rooms, and even a small cinema in which you can pick from the DVDs on the shelf.

For live music, head to Backstage or Bourbon Street. Backstage offers live shows regularly. The music style at Backstage varies from day to day. Jazz and Blues are the norm at Bourbon Street.

For dance clubs, you need to head to Escape. Security is tight, so expect to be searched for weapons. Inside there are two stories with huge dance floors. The music varies from day to day, but usually you'll find something with a great beat. Maria Luisa and Alkohol are also great choices. Near the college, Spartakus is a former gay club that now brings in a young, hip crowd.

There is also the International Casino Club Sofia that is a great choice for those willing to spend a little cash. A passport is required for entry.

Summary

If you are travelling to Bulgaria, be sure to make Sofia the area in which you spend the most time. There is much to see, do, and taste in the area. You certainly need to dedicate at least four days to the area in order to see the more popular attractions.

Sofia is packed with exquisite restaurants, trendy bars, and breathtaking architecture. Do not miss the chance to see this classic city; you'll want to return again and again.