Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria
The capital of Bulgaria is located in the western part of the country, in the Sofia valley and surrounded by mountains. It is situated at the foot of Vitosha mountain and is among the few capitals in the world with such a proximity to a high mountain – only about 10 km away from the city center. The city is at altitude of 595 m.
The city of Sofia was elected to be the capital of Bulgaria in 1879. Today it is the largest Bulgarian city with a population of 1.3 million people, with approximately 7.1 million people in the country /according to data of the National Statistical Institute as of December 2017/.
With its many historical and cultural sights, the city of Sofia is a great destination for cultural tourism. It has a modern metro which is connected with the airport, the central bus station and the railway station. There are also several highways from the capital to the Black Sea coast as well as to the borders of Turkey, Greece, Romania and Serbia. The low-cost airlines of Wizz Air, Ryanair and EasyJet, which have been launched for several years, attract thousands of foreign tourists each summer, with the growth of their visits steadily increasing. Here the tourists usually stay for a few days, explore the sights of Sofia, get to know the delicious Bulgarian cuisine, some of them then take to our mountains, the big cities and famous landmarks of the country. In recent years Sofia has confirmed itself as one of the cheapest tourist destinations in Europe for urban and weekend tourism.
The geographical location /an important crossroad of the Balkans that connects Western Europe with Asia Minor and the Middle East, as well as the Baltic Sea with the Aegean Sea/, the natural conditions and hot mineral springs of this region have been an attractive place to live since ancient times. It has been inhabited since 6th millennium BC, which is proved by a number of archaeological finds and especially the large neolithic settlement in the eastern part of Sofia – Slatina.
The historical sources, as well as the archaeological discoveries, which fill the Bulgarian treasury with brand new artifacts every year, show the incredibly rich history of this ancient city. The Thracian Treri and Tilatei tribes used to live here; later on they were displaced by the Serdi tribe – a tribe considered as a Thracian one, but also with possible Celtic origin; the city was also Roman – a favorite one of Constantine the Great /306-337/, famous for his words: "Serdika is my Rome". In the 9th century the settlement was conquered by Khan Krum and it became a Bulgarian one. It was under Byzantine and Ottoman rule along with the other Bulgarian lands. Sofia was liberated from the five-century Ottoman rule on 4 January, 1878. Over the centuries, the city had different names – Serdika, Ulpia Serdika – In the name of the Roman Emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus /98-117/, Sredets, Triaditsa, and from the end of the 14th century takes the name Sofia – named after the St Spohia - the Wisdom of GodBasilica.
In its history, the city used to be one of the largest economic, administrative and cultural centers on these lands. Serdika was one of the centers of the new Christian religion. Here, in 311, the Roman emperor Galerius issued his Tolerance Edict, which for the first time empowered Christians in the Empire to freely profess their faith. /The edict is known as the 317th Edict of Milan, but it had been created and promulgated 2 years earlier and exactly in Serdika/. A church council was held in Serdica in 343, which was a continuation of the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Today in Sofia, at the underground archeological level of the St. Sophia basilica /6th c./ can be seen a mosaics and walls from the early Christian churches /4th – 5th c./. The whole area under the Basilica is turned into a unique Underground Museum where visitors can touch the almost 20-century history of the city. In front of the basilica there are 3 plates with the text of the Tolerance Edict in Bulgarian, Greek and Latin. Next to the temple is the Monument of the Unknown Warrior.
The Basilica is one of the symbols of Sofia. Another symbol and one of the most visited sights of the capital is the rising St. Aleksandar Nevski Temple-Monument. Among the sights, which are the main points of the tours of most tourists, are also: The Ancient Complex near TZUM (Central Department Store); one of the oldest active Christian temples in the country and in the world – St. George Rotunda Church; the world-famous with its unique frescoes and under the protection of UNESCO church – Boyana Church.
In fact, a large part of Bulgaria's historical and cultural treasures are preserved in the capital, in its museums, galleries, and so on. You will be delighted by the sightseeing if you visit the National Museum of History, the National Archaeological Museum, the Museum of History of Sofia, the Amphitheater.
The exhibited artworks at the National Art Gallery are impressive and also the ones in its branches: Square 500 and the Museum of Christian Art in the crypt of the St. Aleksandar Nevski Temple-Monument. Interesting for the visitors are also exhibitions in other branches – Museum of Socialist Art, Sofia Arsenal – Museum of Contemporary Art, etc. The National Art Gallery is located in the beautiful building of the former royal palace, currently housing the National Ethnographic Museum as well.
Among the landmarks of the capital there are many ancient temples that admire people with their architecture, frescoes and so on. Most of them are located in the very center of the city. One of the most visited temples is St. Nedelya Church, the ancient St. Petka Samardzhiyska Church /11 c./, the Russian St. Nikolay Church. Nearby are also the Banya Bashi mosque /16th c./, The Synagogue and others.
Today, many museums can be visited in Sofia. Among the most interesting are the Earth and Man National Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of Military History, the Polytechnic Museum, the National Museum of Sports and many others.
One of the symbols of the capital are the Ivan Vazov National Theater and the National Palace of Culture /NPC/, famous for their beautiful buildings. Among the architectural monuments are also the National Opera and Ballet, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, the former Central Mineral Bath, the former Party House, the National Library and many others.
Today Sofia is the largest administrative, cultural, educational and economic center of the country. Here are also important institutions such as: the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers, the Presidency, the St. Kliment Ohridski Sofia University and many other higher education schools, business and shopping centers, cinemas, theaters, concert halls, etc.
The city has excellent opportunities for congress tourism.
There is a number of sports facilities and centers and opportunities for relaxation and tourism in Sofia. The favorite parks in the city are the Boris's Garden, the South Park and others. Preferred for a walk and pleasant time are also the zoo and the two botanical gardens - University Botanical Garden in the center of the city and the Botanical Garden of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, which is close to the National Museum of History.
The tourist sites in the region as well as the opportunities for different types of tourism in the nearby areas of Sofia are a lot; only some of them will be mentioned.
Sofia and its surroundings are a famous destination for pilgrimage tourism. One of the most eminent monasteries in the region, founded in the 14th-15th centuries and which formed the Sofia Mount Athos, is the Dragalevski Monastery /14th c./. Today, a number of active monasteries can be found in the vicinity, such as the Bistrishki Monastery, Kremikovski Monastery, Obradovski Monastery, Zemenski Monastery, Buhovski Monastery, Lozenski Monastery and many others.
Only 10 km away from the city center is Vitosha Mountain and Vitosha Nature Park – the most preferred place for relaxation and tourism due to the numerous natural landmarks, tourist trails, opportunities for hiking, cycling, winter tourism, fishing etc., and also because of the accessibility and urbanization of the mountain. You would also enjoy spending a lot of time walking to the Vrana Park Museum, which is located on the outskirts of the city, or to the Katyn pyramids, which are very close to Sofia in the direction of Novi Iskar and Iskar Gorge.
Attractive traditional events. There are many cultural events that take place in the capital; their programs can be checked on the tourist website of Sofia Municipality: https://visitsofia.bg .
Accommodation. There are various opportunities for accommodation – from luxury hotels to world chains to hostels, family hotels and more.
In Sofia you can visit numerous different restaurants with excellent cuisines, both international and national; and also taverns, fast food restaurants, etc., as well as places for entertainment – discos, bars, clubs and more.
Among the favorite places for walking and shopping of the residents and the guests of the capital is Vitosha Boulevard and the small streets in the area.
Tourist Information Center /TIC/ – Sofia
Sofia, 22 Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd.
Tel.: +359 2 491 83 44, +359 2 491 83 45, e-mail: email@example.com, website: https://visitsofia.bg
Tourist Information Center /TIC/ – Largo
Sofia, Serdika 2 Metro Station
Tel.: +359 2 494 93 15, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: https://visitsofia.bg
365 Association organizes free walking tours of Sofia. More information about Free Sofia Tour can be found on the website: https://freesofiatour.com/ and https://365association.org/. The lectures are lead in English. The tours are held every day and at any time of the year without a request in advance; for organized groups you can call tel.: +359 988 920 461. 365 Association organizes free walking tours in the city of Plovdiv, too.