Sofia, capital of Bulgaria

Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria. It is the largest city in the country (had 1,282,386 inhabitants in 2015), and is located in the west of Bulgaria, in the Balkan Peninsula.

The city is marked by a characteristic communist architecture, composed of numerous apartment blocks, wide avenues and numerous parks.

Sofia lies in a large valley at approximately 600 meters above sea level, surrounded by Mount Vitosha to the south, Mount Lyulin to the west and the Balkan mountains to the north.

Some small streams cross the city from south to north, flowing into the Iskar River, which runs east of Sofia and heads north to empty into the Danube in the north of the country.

The biggest activity of the city is in the center, on the boulevards Tsar Osvoboditel and Vitosha, the latter has some exclusive blocks for pedestrians.

The rest of the city is composed of blocks of apartments and some suburbs of single-family homes, most of them to the south of the city.

Sofia had 1,282,386 inhabitants in 2015, while its metropolitan area, which includes cities such as Bozhurishte, Kazichene, Bistritsa and Pernik, reaches 2,100,000 inhabitants.

Bulgaria belongs to the European Union since January 1, 2007, although it is not yet part of the Schengen area. The official currency is the Lev (abbreviated BGN) and at the end of January 2018 the change is 1.57 BGN = 1 USD.

The country had 7,384,000 inhabitants in 2012, an area of 110,879 square kilometers, and its official language is Bulgarian.

Sofia Bulgaria map
Two walks from the center take us through most of Sofia’s tourist attractions. A south course on Vitosha Boulevard and another southeast course on the Osvoboditel.

Downtown

The center of Sofia has many shops and a wide range of gastronomy and nightlife, most attractions are close to each other, allowing you to visit them walking through the streets of the city.

Starting from the central area of Sofia, most of the attractions can be visited using two boulevards as axes of our route, the Vitosha and the Tsar Ovoboditel.

In our first stage we will walk through the Vitosha that takes us in a southerly direction. Here, in the most central area of the city, we can visit the small Church of Saint George (Sveti Georgi), a small rotunda temple built in red bricks in the 6th century.

Church Sveti Georgi
Saint George Church (Sveti Georgi)

In front we have the Largo building complex, an architectural ensemble of three buildings of Classicism, which were designed and built in the 1950s, with the intention of becoming the new representative center of the city. Today it is considered one of the main examples of the architecture of socialist classicism in Southeast Europe and one of the main constructions of Sofia.

Next to the Largo complex, there is the small Church of St. Petka of the Saddlers. It stands out for its 1 meter thick walls, made of brick and stone.

The church was mentioned for the first time in the sixteenth century and built on the site of an ancient Roman religious building. Today it is a monument of culture known for its mural paintings of the fourteenth, fifteenth, seventeenth and nineteenth centuries that depict biblical scenes. Some experts say that the remains of the national hero Vasil Levski are buried in this temple.

If we walk a few meters to the north, we can visit the beautiful Mosque Banya Bashi (Mosque of the Baths). It was built in the sixteenth century and it is necessary to pay a ticket to enter.

Returning to the area of the Largo buildings, at the intersection of María Luiza and Todor Alexandrov boulevards, we find the Serdica metro station, where the lines of the city, the M1 and the M2 intersect.

On this corner is a bronze statue of about 24 meters, dedicated to the city’s protective goddess, Sofia. Although it was not always there, before, in communist times, there was a Lenin monument in the place.

To the west of the intersection is the Saint Joseph Cathedral (Sveti Iosif) and the monument of Pope John XXIII. While to the south of the same is the Cathedral Saint Nedelya (Sveta Nedelya), dating from the tenth century, although on numerous occasions it was destroyed and rebuilt again.

From this point we head south along Vitosha Boulevard, towards the pedestrian section of it.

It is about seven blocks where people walk on the cobbled street and decorated with square flower flower beds on their banks.

In this area we find many clothing stores of all kinds, such as H & M, Orsay, United Colors of Beneton, Niko, among others. Jewelers, perfumeries and gift shops also find their place in these blocks of Boulevard Vitosha.

Sofia downtown street
In contrast to the wide and busy avenues, some small streets, remain in total tranquility.

National Palace of Culture

When arriving at the Boulevard Patriarh Evtimiy, the Vitosha stops being pedestrian and goes to the south of the city. Here we have the Park of the National Palace of Culture. It consists of a fairly large park with fountains and paths that cross it. There is even a small water channel.

Here we find the National Palace of Culture, built between 1978 and 1981 and formerly called Lyudmila Zhivkova Palace. The huge building has an area of 123,000 square meters, distributed in 8 floors and 3 underground floors, and in 2005 it was proclaimed the best congress center in the world by the International Organization of Congress Centers. Here are held congresses, conferences, events, exhibitions, our and concerts.

National Palace of Culture.

Walking the Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard

In our previous tour we walked from the center to the National Palace of Culture, using Vitosha Boulevard as the axis. Now, from the center, where the Largo building complex is located, we propose another route.

This time we will use the Osvoboditel Boulevard as an axis, which has many attractive nearby margins.

Our tour will take us southeast on the boulevard. First of all we find the Alexandre I Square next to the Gradska Park, where until 1999 there was the Georgi Dimitrov Museum, built in 1949 to house the embalmed body of the communist leader Georgi Dimitrov (1882-1949). Its construction took place in a record time of 6 days, time it took to get the body of him from the Soviet Union. In 1990 the body was cremated and the ashes were taken to the central cemetery, and in 1999 the government of Ivan Kostov destroyed the museum. Currently in the square there are very few vestiges of that museum.

A few meters away we find the National Theater Ivan Vazov, and the Grand Hotel Sofia.

We continue walking along the boulevard and a few meters walk we find the Royal Palace that currently houses the National Art Gallery, it is the main museum in Bulgaria, with about 50 thousand pieces of Bulgarian art.

A few steps further on is the Russian Church, also known as the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker.

The National Assembly of Bulgaria is located two blocks further on, following our southeast direction along the same boulevard, behind it a block away is the impressive Orthodox Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky, built in honor of the 200,000 Russian soldiers who they died fighting for the independence of Bulgaria during the Turkish-Russian War in the years 1877 and 1878. The entrance costs 6 levs (3 for students), and can enter between 10:00 and 18:00 from Tuesday to Sunday .

Alexander Nevski Cathedral
Orthodox Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky.

Returning to our tour, we can see the monument of Tsar Alexandar II in front of the National Assembly, and following the Boulevard Osvoboditel we are on the left with the building of the University of Sofia.

In front of the university we have the Knyazheska Park, where in its center we find the monument to the Soviet Navy, made in 1954.

The Kliment Ohridski station, on the M1 metro line, is also located in this square.

At this point, the Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard crosses a bridge over the Perlovska creek and takes the name of Tsarigradsko Shose Boulevard, which runs to the southeast of the city.

Borisova Gradina

Continuing with the route we had been taking along the Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard, we visited the Borisova Park (Borisova Gradina), one of the most beautiful and largest in the city. The Vasil Levski National Stadium is located in the northern sector of the same.

The stadium, named after a revolutionary considered a national hero in Bulgaria, is the largest in the country, has a capacity for 43,500 people, and is used as a venue for the national football team.

Near the stadium, at the intersection of Dragan Tsankov boulevards and Evlogi i Hristo Georgie, lies the M1 metro station.

Continuing in the Borisova Park, and next to the Vasil Levski Stadium, we find a small lake called Ariana, which dates from the 19th century and was created with the purpose of providing a place of relaxation for the inhabitants of Sofia.

The lake is about 175 meters long, 75 meters wide and shallow. It stands out especially in spring and summer, when the landscape is dressed in green and the place is full of people who go to the restaurant on the shore or sail on the pedalos.

Ariana Lake, Sofia

Following our walk along the Borinava Gradina, we continue towards the south of the park because for its multiple paths covered with tall trees and lush vegetation.

In the center of it we find another stadium, the Balgarska Armiya Stadium, home of the CSKA club of Sofia and with a capacity of 22,015 spectators.

To the east of the stadium, a few meters away, we have a large area of park devoid of trees and with numerous benches to rest.

Borisova Gradina Sofia

To the south of the stadium we have the velodrome and the María Luisa pool complex with some pools of different sizes and depths.

In the west sector of the park we find the quietest area of the park, full of vegetation and small trails.

Undoubtedly, one of the places I like most about Sofia is this great park, which stands out especially in spring and summer as one of the most beautiful places in the city.

Borisova Gradina Night

Accommodation

The city has a wide range of accommodation for all types of travelers, starting from the cheapest such as Hostel Mostel, Nightingale Hostel and Guesthouse or Vega Pension, among others, where prices start from 25 euros for a room shared with other people; Even the most luxurious and complete establishments, such as the 5 star hotels Hilton, Hotel Anel, Marinela Sofia or Sofia Hotel Balkan, with prices of around 200 or 250 euros per night.

One of the great advantages of the Bulgarian capital is that most of the accommodations are in the central area.

Transport

Getting to Sofia is not complicated at all. The Sofia Airport (SOF) is located east of the city, about 8 kilometers from the center.

Last 2017 moved some 6,490,096 passengers, thanks to its wide range of destinations, such as London, Rome, Milan, Athens, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, and many more. There are also several air routes to the rest of Europe thanks to the low cost airlines Wizz Air, EasyJet and Ryanair.

Within Bulgaria, the national airline Bulgaria Air has flights to the city of Varna and in summer also offers flights to Burgas.

To get from the airport to the center of the city there are buses, taxis and the M1 line of the metro.

Meanwhile, by land, you can reach Sofia by train from other Bulgarian cities or neighboring countries such as Greece, Turkey or Romania; As also using the buses that connect the city with others in the country and neighboring countries. The Central train station and the bus station are located next to each other, 10 blocks north of downtown, on Avenida María Luiza. The subway has a station on the M2 line in the same place.

To move within the city you can use the bus lines, trolleybuses and the tram. Sofia has two metro lines (M1 and M2), and a third is under construction to be enabled in 2019.

Sofia Metro Map
Map of the two operating lines of the Sofía metro, with their corresponding stops.

I will emphasize that there are some free tours in Sofia, guided by English-speaking locals. These are the two-hour walking tour (www.freesofiatour.com), and the one-hour bike or walk tour of Boyana (www.sofiagreentour.com).

Undoubtedly Sofia is a city with a lot to offer, unknown to many, but which invites you to discover it. In the next publication we will be touring the Zaimov Park, the Boyana area and many other beautiful places in the Bulgarian capital.

Sofia sunset

News Reporter

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