5 tips for Sofia

night view of the architectural ensemble of three Socialist Classicism edifices in central Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria

Sofia has an ambivalent reputation as a post-communist city full of concrete and gray. There’s something to that, Sofia certainly has its gloomy side. However, Bulgaria’s capital is more colorful than its reputation. In fact, it’s full of blue-green and gold domes, red tulips and yellow brick streets. Away from the buildings and boulevards, spacious parks and manicured gardens offer a welcome respite.

Sofia is still one of the undiscovered destinations in Eastern Europe. Unjustly so, because the Bulgarian capital has long been well on the way to presenting itself as a cosmopolitan, modern capital. It boasts a variety of churches with onion domes, Ottoman mosques and stubborn Red Army monuments that give it an eclectic, exotic feel. Excavation work during the construction of the metro revealed a treasure trove of Roman ruins from nearly 2000 years ago, when the city was called “Serdica.”

Sofia is probably not love at first sight. But the longer you explore the metropolis, the greater the sympathies become. In particular, we were fascinated by the contrasts: Eastern bloc building sins and modern architecture, gloomy shades of gray and colorful street art, Orthodox church and Ottoman mosque, reserved older residents and hip young people, traditional restaurants and Western fast food chains, cosmopolitan urbanity and nearby nature in the Vitosha Mountains at the gates of Sofia.

Tip 1: Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a famous landmark in Sofia and also the symbol of the capital. The popular tourist destination owes its name to the national saint Alexander Nevsky. The Bulgarian Orthodox Cathedral represents the seat of the current Patriarch.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia
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The cathedral was designed by Alexander Pomerantsev, a Bulgarian architect, and built in the early 20th century. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is located on Alexander Nevsky Square in the center of Sofia. In addition to its function as a landmark, this landmark is a memorial. It commemorates Tsar Alexander II and the approximately 200 thousand soldiers who died during the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule at the end of the 19th century.

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral attracts numerous visitors to the city throughout the year. The interior of this sacral building offers, among other things, three altars and five side aisles. The mural design was made by the most famous artists of Bulgaria and Russia. The entrance area of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is made of stained glass and marble from Siena and was designed to be particularly magnificent.

Those who want to visit this wonderful sight Sofia and the landmark of this city can visit it every day. Numerous guided tours are offered on site.

Tip 2: Central Mineral Spa

Already the Romans built a bath at the spring with 46° warm thermal water. Later, a hammam stood on the site in the Ottoman Empire. Then came the Central Mineral Bath from 1913 until the 1980s.

Central Mineral Spa in Sofia
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Today it is the Historical Museum of Sofia and one of the most photographed subjects in the city. It stands in the park across from the Banya Bashi Mosque.

Come to the park, bathe your feet outside in the fountain filled with thermal water and sit down to rest on one of the park benches. There is no bath inside anymore. The park in front of the bath is one of the quietest places for a short break from sightseeing in Sofia.

Tip 3: Saint Sophia Church

The Church of Sveta Sofia (St. Sophia) of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in the Bulgarian capital Sofia is one of the oldest church buildings in the European Southeast. In a previous building the Council of Serdica took place in 342. The history of the city of Serdica (now Sofia) is closely connected with the church of Sveta Sofia, which made the city famous in the ancient world. The church is the oldest religious building in the city, built on the highest part of the city at that time.

Church of Sveta Sofia
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The present-day church of Sveta Sofia is a cruciform basilica with a narthex. It is built with three naves and a three-walled apse. The church was built on the foundations of several ancient churches from the Roman city of Serdica, which were destroyed by raids of the Goths and Huns. In 2 this century this place was a Roman theater, only in the next centuries several temples were built one after another.

The first early Christian church was built, according to the edicts of 311 and 313, probably in the early 4th century, not far from the ancient arena and the pagan, as well as Christian necropolis of the city. From another antechamber of the present church, a basilica larger than the first one, the floor mosaics have been preserved. It was built in the middle of the 4th century and became the seat of the famous Council of Serdica. Until the 6th century many great changes and extensions were made. In the middle of the century the church was so damaged by the invasion of the Huns and Goths that Emperor Justinian I ordered the construction of a new Balisika.

Tip 4: Central Market Hall

The Sofia Central Market Hall was built in the Neo-Renaissance style, with echoes of Neo-Byzantine architecture and Neo-Baroque. The building has a rectangular ground plan and a floor area of 3200m². On each of the four sides there is an entrance. The main entrance, facing Maria Luisa Boulevard, is adorned by a bell tower with three clocks placed on the tower in 1915. In the facade above the main entrance, the east side of the building, there is also the relief of the coat of arms of Sofia, which at that time did not have the motto “Grows but does not age”, this was added to the coat of arms only in 1911, and also did not yet have laurel branches. The roof consists of a steel and glass construction.

Sofia Central Market Hall
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In 1955, the building was declared a cultural monument of national importance. The Market Hall is an architectural cultural monument in Sofia.

The construction of the Central Market Hall was decided by the Sofia Municipality and started in 1909 according to the designs of architect Naum Nikolov Torbov, who had won the announced architectural competition. The market hall was opened in 1911 after two years of construction and became an important commercial object in the center of Sofia. By the end of the 1940s, the Sofia Municipality authorized about 170 stores and stalls in the Sofia Market Hall, and the rents and assortment of goods were strictly regulated. After the 1950s, the interior of the hall was significantly changed. The market hall was closed for a major reconstruction in 1988 and reopened after its modernization in 2000. In the basement of the market halls, remains of the Roman fortress wall of Serdica have been uncovered and can be visited.

The 134 stalls and stores of the market hall offer food, clothing, jewelry and other items. On the first floor, which is designed as a gallery, there are cafes and restaurants.

Tip 5: National Theater Ivan Vazov

National Theater Ivan Vazov in Sofia
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Among the most famous cultural institutions is the traditional Ivan Vazov National Academic Theater.  The Ivan Vazov National Academic Theater was founded in 1904. It was named after the Bulgarian, writer, historian and politician Ivan Vazov, who is considered the patriarch of Bulgarian literature. Operas, dramas and dance performances are part of the varied program offered here.