What to see in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria

Who I am
Aina Martin
@ainamartin
SOURCES CONSULTED:

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

Ho visited Sofia during my I travel alone to Bulgaria and although at first glance I thought the city was ugly, gray and uninteresting, after taking a guided tour (and free!) FREE Sofia tour, I discovered instead that in Sofia there are many things to see and above all that the real charm of this city does not lie in its monuments, but in the history they tell.

Why not take a nice tram ride to discover Sofia?



Sofia in fact it was a city that has been conquered several times since its birth, thus bearing the signs of many peoples, civilizations, kingdoms and forms of government that have left footprints of their passage in every corner of the city.

My advice is therefore to take part in one of these guided tours and free of charge of the city, because in Sofia it is not only interesting what to see, but above all the history that the city has gone through to become the Sofia it is today.

The tour was recommended to me by the hostel I was staying in, Hostel Mostel that in addition to the free tour of Sofia also organizes many others, such as pub crawling or a visit to the Rila Monastery.

Chiesa di Sveta Nedelya

Sveta Nedelya Church

Dated to the late 19th century, actually the Sveta Nedelya Church it is the result of several churches that have been rebuilt since the Middle Ages. Famous because it was almost entirely destroyed when the Communist Party tried to assassinate the king in 1925, by undermining and blasting bombs placed on the roof.


The dead were more than 200 but the king was saved because, as our guide told us, as a good self-respecting Bulgarian he was late!


Statue of Saint Sophia

Located in the commercial heart of Sofia between the two busy streets of Maria Louisa Blvd and Todor Alexandrov Blvd, the statue of Saint Sophia it was erected with not a few controversies in 2001 to replace that of Lenin who evidently did not like the new democratic government very much.

Controversy because the statue seemed too erotic and too pagan to represent Sofia and in fact to see it it would not seem like the statue of a "saint".

The copper and bronze statue is adorned with symbols: the crown symbolizing power, the laurel (fame) and the owl (wisdom).

Banya Bashi Mosque

The only mosque in all of Bulgaria with a dome (15 meters in diameter) over a square structure, the Banya Bashi mosque still bears the name of the architect Mimar Sinan (who also designed the Blue Mosque of Istanbul), although in reality it seems that it was built by his disciples.

Every day, from the minaret the muezzin calls the faithful to pray: the prayer was so strong that recently the decision was made to "turn down the volume" so as not to disturb those who live nearby!

Springs of thermal water

The spring of thermal water near the Public Baths of Sofia

Although it was not in a particularly suitable location for a city, having neither a river nor the sea, Sofia was much loved by the ancient Romans thanks to its 42 hot Springs and 8 different thermal areas with a temperature ranging from 30 to 90 degrees.


Today the thermal springs are located near the Central Public Toilets (which no longer function as public toilets in reality but house a museum) and to the Banya Bashi Mosque and a public fountain gushes thermal water so that people can drink it for free or take a bottle home with them.


Central Public Toilets

The Public Baths of Sofia now house a museum

The beautiful building today no longer functions as a public bath, but houses the Sofia Museum and is the backdrop to a flowery park.

Made by the architect Petko Momchilov, one of the most esteemed and influential architects of the time in all of Bulgaria, the palace was finished in 1908 in a neo-Byzantine style and housed a large communal swimming pool and two separate wings, one for men and one for women since he used to bathe naked in thermal water.

Cabinet

Il Cabinet he is housed in a large building where the government of Bulgaria meets every week. The palace is part of what is called the Largo complex and which consists of a square (independence square) surrounded by three large classical style buildings, a perfect example of architecture of the socialist period in Sofia: one of these buildings is precisely in the council of ministers, on the right is The Presidency and the Sheraton hotel and the one in the middle is the headquarters of the Central Commission communist.

Headquarters of the Central Commission

The headquarters of the dissolved Bulgarian Communist Party, Largo Complex, Sofia


This building was the headquarters of the Central Commission of the Communist Party until 1990 when it was set on fire by the mob enraged against the party.

A curiosity: if you look up you notice a great and noisy absence: the red star! This in fact was removed after the collapse of the Communist Party, but if you want to go and see it now it is on display at the Museum of Socialist Arts.

Today the building houses the government offices and the gorgeous Sofia Hall it is occasionally used for benefit concerts.


Rotunda of San Giorgio

The Rotonda di San Giorgio "pops up" in the middle of the gray buildings of public offices

La Rotunda of San Giorgio it is a charming red brick church, dated around 400 even though it only became a church during the 600, and it is the oldest building in all of Sofia and you wouldn't expect to find it there, surrounded by huge gray buildings.

The restoration work lasted about 70 years but finally since 1998 it has been reopened to the public and occasionally hosts small art exhibitions.

The church has a excellent website (In English), where under the “chants” section it is possible to listen to the ancient songs.

City Garden

A very nice little park that houses the National Theater in front of which there is a famous fountain with the statue of a dancer. in this park chess players often come to test their improvements against other players.

Ivan Vazov National Theater

Ivan Vazov National Theater

Built in 1907 by the Austrian architects Helmer & Felner, the Teatro Nazionale it has a 40 meter high facade with a pediment supported by 6 white marble columns on which a bas-relief with Apollo and the muses is sculpted.

The interiors of the Theater were destroyed by a fire in 1923 and were restored 6 years later, but the theater was destroyed several times (including during the Second World War) and always rebuilt according to the neo-classical style that belongs to it.

The Theater is dedicated to ad Ivan Vazov, the "patriarch of Bulgarian literature, certainly important for the national culture, but currently remembered for the urban legend according to which Ivan, who apparently he was half libertine, died of a heart attack at the age of 70 under a beautiful girl in her twenties during a crazy night of sex (lucky him).

Church of Hagya Sophia

The church most loved by the inhabitants of Sofia, Hagya Sophia

La oldest orthodox church in Sofia reopened to the public in 1999 after major renovations: a very important place for the inhabitants of Sofia because the city takes its name from this church. Built at the highest point of the city, the church stands on the ruins of the ancient necropolis of Serdica (the ancient Roman name of Sofia).

You can visit the ancient tombs that lie under the church, as they are part of the fascinating museum opened to the public in 2013.

A curiosity: if you look at the church you can see that it does not have a bell tower and the bronze bell was applied to the branch of a tree in front of the facade.

During the Ottoman era, the church was transformed into a mosque, but since two earthquakes 40 years apart first collapsed the minaret and then killed the two sons of the Imam, it was abandoned and restored as a church after the Liberation.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

La Sofia's most famous cathedral, I'd say. When I left and asked around what to see in Sofia, this church was the first response I received and I have to admit with good reason.

The style of the Cathedral is neo-Byzantine and the cathedral is dedicated to the Russian Tsar Alexander Nevski who saved Russia from the invasion of the Swedes.

The best artists of the time worked the interiors of the Cathedral to make it of a special richness: marble from Siena and Carrara, glass windows, Venetian mosaics, paintings, columns in onyx and alabaster, all contributing to making the interior very rich but without making it kitsch.

The spectacular external domes, covered with pure gold, were donated by Russia and still today, after some restorations, they shine in the sun.
A dispassionate tip: take the time to visit the crypt under the cathedral with the collection of icons.

Free Sofia Tour!

Other things to see in Sofia

  • Mausoleum of Georgi Dimitrov: easy to say to see it, but in reality it no longer exists, it was completely demolished within 6 days.
  • National Library
  • Sofia University
  • Monument of the Tsar Liberator
  • Parliament
  • National archeologic museum
  • Open-air museum of ancient Serdica
  • National Art Gallery and Ethnographic Museum (Royal Palace)
  • Synagogue
  • St. Petka's Church

Other Sofia Tours

Free bike tour (April-November)

A sportier way to explore the city The advantage is that you see more things, because you move much faster than on foot. The tour is free (offered by Sofia Green Tour), you can rent bicycles directly at the meeting point.

Free hike to Vitosha mountain (April-November)

Sofia Green Tour also offers a free 8km hiking tour to Vitosha Mountain where you will see Boyana Church, Boyana Waterfall and Lake. Also you can enjoy a beautiful view of Sofia from above.

Free food tour

What's better than exploring Sofia's best restaurants with someone who lives there? This is a great opportunity to really get to know Bulgarian cuisine and discover places where the locals go! In the Balkan Bites Free Food Tour you can try typical dishes and get more information about the history and preparation - this tour is also recommended for vegetarians!

Pub crawl

Not only do you see some bars that you would never have found on your own or that you never suspected existed, but you will also learn about their history and some fun anecdotes. A nice way to get to know the Sofia nightlife!

If you want to book a tour in advance, GetYourGuide is one of the best platforms to do this. Here local tour operators offer all kinds of experiences and day trips to other parts of the country.

Be sure to check out the overview page to see all available tours!

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