Sofia is too good to miss. Trouble is, a lot of people do.
This friendly compact city, beautifully laid out and cared for by the people who live in it, is usually used just as a stepping stone for people arriving in Bulgaria who are heading for the coast or to Bulgaria’s new ski slopes.
It’s a shame. Sofia deserves better. And a city break or longer holiday here will prove it.
The old east-meets-west feel is still here, with a scattering of onion-domed churches, Ottoman mosques and Red Army monuments, but these days they share the skyline with glitzy shopping malls, five-star hotels and the best bars and clubs the country has to offer.
Although no grand metropolis, Sofia is nevertheless an attractive and cultured city with plenty to keep you busy for several days or more. Museums, art galleries, theatres, fine restaurants, they’re all here. Sofia is also a surprisingly green city, with huge swathes of parkland within the city boundaries and the ski slopes and hiking trails of mighty Mt Vitosha on the doorstep.
The city has certainly developed quickly over recent years and a new affluence is apparent in the trendy international boutiques and upmarket hotels.
What to see
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
One of the finest examples of 20th-century architecture in Sofia and one of the symbols of the city, the magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was built between 1882 and 1912 to honour the Russian soldiers who died fighting to liberate Bulgaria from Turkish rule in the war of 1878 under Tsar Alexander II. It is the second biggest cathedral on the Balkan Peninsula.
Rising above Sofia, Vitosha is one of the symbols of the capital and is the most visited mountain in Bulgaria. Starting from where the suburbs end, the whole mountain has been designated a national park, the oldest in the Balkans, and is home to deer, bear, wild boar, fox and a variety of rare birds. The resort of Aleko is the most established winter ski resort in the area, offering modern hotels and ski facilities within easy reach of the capital.
Turkish Mineral Baths
A magnificent old building, lovingly restored in recent times, right in the city centre where you can experience an authentic Turkish bath in the same way that the great and good of Sofia have been doing for 100 years.
St. Sofia Golf Club
Bulgaria is becoming known for its quality golf courses and Sofia has its own. Located just 25 minutes from the city centre, this great parkland course was designed by Irish Ryder Cup star Paul McGinley.