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Sofia – Find Your Story Here!

Posted: 24th September 2014 14:35

Is there culture and heritage in your agenda?  The history book of Sofia is wide open for you and within reach.  Rucksack on back, you can be a Thracian and boast that you have seen how the first settlers had lived here around the 6th millennium BC.  You can be a Roman emperor, walk along the Roman streets, light a candle in the 4th c. St George Rotunda, the oldest surviving building in Sofia, presently operational.  You can be among the 5000 accommodated in the biggest cathedral in Bulgaria, the St Alexander Nevsky, and immerse in unique artistic pieces, lavish decoration, the sounding of the angel-voiced choir and the chime of the 12 bells.  You will know why the city bears this name after you have visited the St Sophia Basilica and the underground museum, the one of its kind in the world. 

Sofia is also an excellent starting point for a day trip to Bulgaria’s most fascinating landmarks – Rila Monastery, the Valley of Roses and Thracian Kings, Koprivshtitsa Architectural Reserve, to mention just a few.

Major Landmarks

Church of St Sophia and the Unique Underground Museum

This three-nave, early Byzantine, cross-dome basilica, erected on the highest point in the city in the late 5th Century, is part of the eastern necropolis of Serdica.  For centuries this was the city’s main church.  However, during Ottoman rule it was reconstructed as a mosque.  Just in front of the building, 16th Century goldsmith Georgi was burned alive, to be later proclaimed as a saint, St. Georgi Novi. 

Beside the church stands the Monument to the Unknown Warrior.  The church has its place in the coat of arms of the city, which holds its annual celebrations on the feast day of St Sophia. 

Top Tip: The year 2013 saw the opening of the unique underground museum at the basilica.  On display in the museum under the church are pagan tombs, remains of Christian temples, mosaics and various artefacts that represent 18 centuries of its history, up to the present-day basilica.

St George Rotunda

St George Rotunda is an early Christian red-brick temple, considered the oldest building in Sofia to have survived with its original structure intact from the ground up. 

Situated behind Sofia Hotel Balkan, raised in the 4th Century AD amid the ancient town of Serdica, it initially functioned as a balneum or public baths.

Top Tip: Every first Wednesday of the month, at 12:00 am you can be part of the change of guard in front of the Presidency building nearby.

Cathedral Church of St Alexander Nevsky and Crypt

St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Church is the Patriarchal Cathedral of Bulgaria.  It was built with voluntary donations in memory of the soldiers who lost their lives in the Russian-Turkish War of Liberation (1877-78), and named after the patron of Russian Emperor Alexander II.  The five-nave, cruciform-domed basilica in Neo-Byzantine style boasts remarkable frescoes amid a lavishly decorated interior.  The cathedral is the biggest operating Orthodox Church in Bulgaria.  The Crypt hosts a permanent exhibition of magnificent iconography pieces from all over Bulgaria.

Top Tip:In close proximity to the grandeur of this building, you may immerse in the green freshness of Sofia Botanical Garden.

GREEN SOFIA

Parks and Gardens

The largest park in the central part of Sofia is the Boris Garden named so in honour of Tsar Boris III.  In the park Ariana pond is located where one can go boating or water-wheeling from spring to late autumn.  In winter the pond turns to the biggest open-air skating-rink in the city.  There you will find tennis-courts, swimming pools, cycle-racing tracks, the National Stadium, and many playgrounds.  The water lilies pond is Sofia citizens’ favourite place of romantic walks. 

Vitosha Nature Park

Vitosha Mountain is the oldest nature park in the Balkan Peninsula.  Its gorgeous silhouette is visible from almost all positions in the city and is an inseparable part of Sofia’s image.  The park encompasses two nature reserves, and is the habitation of a plenty of Balkan endemics and other rare plant species.  The longest cave in Bulgaria, Duhlata, is also situated in Vitosha: it is a natural attraction with galleries placed across six cave levels.  The mountain provides excellent conditions for: walking tours in all seasons, skiing, rock and ice climbing, paragliding, mountain biking, riding tours, snow-kiting, kiting, and much more.  The access to Vitosha is provided through regular bus routes and lifts. 

Top Tip:En route to Vitosha Mountain make sure you visit Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, then on the way back take a walk around Sofia Zoo.

LIVE SOFIA

Are you a fan of artistic atmosphere, small craftsmen’s shops, and home-made cakes?  Then find Aksakov or Tsar Ivan Shishman Streets on the map and the graffiti artwork will show you the way.  Big restaurants, boutique shops and crowds of people wait for you in the pedestrian Vitosha Boulevard where you can also join street musicians and dancers.

Have you allocated some time for a concert, opera performance, ballet show, museum tour or a film festival?  Sofia calendar of events will meet you with world-famous musicians, rock stars, alternative productions and a lot more.  You can either support your favourite team in the Champions League and Europa League qualification rounds in the stadium or test your capacities and adrenaline with a mountain bike, as a rafting team member or by dashing down the snowy slopes of the Vitosha Mountain, only about a 20 minutes’ drive from downtown. 

Top Tip:You may check what life was about in the Paleonthology Museum at Sofia University and in the Museum of Socialist Art.

SHOPPING SOFIA

Traditional commercial area is the pedestrian Vitosha Boulevard and Graf Ignatiev Street.  Yet more boutiques you will find in the malls which quickly turned to favourite places for shopping and entertainment of Sofia citizens.  Slaveykov Square is a unique open-air book market.

NIGHTLIFE SOFIA

Sofia is one of the best cities in Europe for nightlife.  Whatever your interests – from traditional Bulgarian music to hardcore, punk, reggae, techno, electronica, or metal – you are sure to find something to please.  You can choose to relax in a piano-bar or a club, try your luck at a casino, have a wild night in a discotheque, or eventually, throw in all three together.

The city’s 16 universities promise that there is a continuous glut of young people looking to have a good time.  You will find the largest concentration of bars in Sofia near Vitosha Blvd. and around Sofia University where many students like to hang out.  The liveliest night clubs stay open until the cafes open for breakfast and the beer is incredulously cheap throughout so there’s no need to binge up early thinking you’ve hit the happy hour goldmine!

EATING OUT SOFIA

Enjoy a quiet night sampling delectable cuisine at a traditional restaurant or line the stomach with a hearty meal before a big night out.  Sofia offers a full variety of catering establishments;Irish pubs, enotecas and beer houses, European, fusion, eco- and vegetarian food restaurants.  You should not miss the cornerstones of the national and local cuisine, either. 

Top Tip:The phyllo dough pastry, called banitsa with cheese, spinach or leek filling, will suit a breakfast or an afternoon snack.  The typical Shopska salad – cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, parsley and cheese, goes best with rakiya – a strong alcoholic drink.  Bob chorba - beans soup, tarator – cold soup of sour milk, cucumbers, garlic, dill and walnuts, gyuvech – baked mixture of meat and vegetable pieces, sarmi – minced meat in cabbage leafs, are other must-taste dishes served in local pubs, called mehana and elsewhere.

A city of history, culture, spirit and events.  A city of traditions and toleration, adventure and nightlife.  Join hospitable Sofians for a beer and a football match, admire street musicians, challenge your adrenaline, relax in a cosy hotel room or go out shopping.  These are not a random collection of characteristics, but the diverse offer of Sofia.  Try it, find your story in the city, read it, write it for yourself!

www.visitsofia.bg

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