Sofia, Bulgaria Mixes Ancient Ruins with Metro Style
Sofia, Bulgaria is one of the oldest cities in the world. It has been inhabited since at least 7000 B.C. and was first recorded in history in 29 B.C. Sofia has always been a favorite amongst tsars, emperors, and dictators. Sofia was strategically built along the road connecting Europe to the Middle East. It has allowed the city to soak up the best of many cultures throughout the ages.
Metro Meets Ancient
Today, Sofia has begun its transformation into a modern capital. Sofia’s history has been impacted by every period and every ruler over multiple millennia. The city has ruins from the Roman era, Bulgarian architecture, Ottoman-era mosques and houses, post-liberation central European theaters and palaces, communist-era monuments and apartments as well as modern-day construction.
In fact, sightseeing can begin immediately upon arrival in the city. Once you land at the airport, hop on the metro to the central station, Serdica. The ancient Roman city of Serdica is over 2,000 years old. Many Roman ruins were discovered while building the new metro lines in the city. Today the metro station is intertwined with the ruins, allowing locals and tourists a chance to enjoy history on-the-go.
The President, the Prime Minister, and other government buildings are also surrounded by ancient ruins. In front of the Presidential offices, you can observe the presidential guard, which changes frequently and offers great photo opportunities.
The city also features temples of worship for the four major western religions all within 1 km of each other. This is known as the Square of Tolerance. The Church of St George is considered the oldest building in the city. In the same square, you will find the National Archeological Museum featuring numerous frescos, columns, and artwork from different periods of history. Also nearby is the Sofia City Museum located in the old city bathhouse and the National Art Gallery located in the former Tsar Palace.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
At this point, you might find yourself on a yellow brick road towards Oz, but don’t worry you are still in Sofia. The walkway between the Palace, the Parliament, and the main cathedral is made of yellow stones. Stroll through the City Garden Park, in front of the palace, to soak up the sun and watch locals play chess. One of the most iconic buildings in the area is the National Theater Ivan Vazov. The theater was designed by famous Vienna architects Helmer and Fellner and has become the center of Bulgarian performance art.
Alexander Nevsky is one of the biggest Christian temples in the world and it serves as the seat of the Bulgarian Patriarch. The crypt has a massive museum displaying some of the most important Bulgarian icons.
Next, to the cathedral, the St. Sofia Church has stood since the 4th century. It is one of the most important Christian churches in South-Eastern Europe. The church stands in the middle of an ancient necropolis and numerous tombs have been discovered below it.
Cafes & Restaurants
Once you have had your fill of ruins, museums, and churches, head to Vitosha Boulevard. This shopping boulevard is lined with multiple restaurants, bars, and cafes. In the distance, you can see the Vitosha Mountain rising over the city skyline. The National Palace of Culture hosts many events and concerts in the area.
Next, take a stroll to Borisova Gradina Park. It is the largest park in the city and a popular place for locals and tourists alike. Ariana Lake is a small body of water where you can rent boats and spend time enjoying the outdoors. Enjoy lunch on the small island in the lake at Ariana 1904 for authentic Bulgarian cuisine and great views.
Vitosha & Beyond
Definitely, spend time on the outskirts of Sofia where the National Historical Museum is located at the base of Vitosha Mountain. The museum showcases the Panagyurishte Treasure. The small Boyana Church features some of the world’s best frescoes and is highlighted on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Last but not least, take a day trip to hike the Vitosha Mountain trail to the Moreni rock formations. The Moreni rocks look like a river of boulders. Once back in the city reward yourself with fresh beer and fried cheese with jam at Luciano Brewery. Enjoy a “Jiva Bira.” This fresh, non-filtered, and unpasteurized beer only lasts one day so get one while it’s cold!
Sofia’s slogan, “It grows, but it never ages,” truly captures the unique spirit of the city. It is a fun and vibrant place where you can experience everything from nature and history to cuisine and nightlife.