Sofia is probably one of the most underrated European capitals but also such a nice jewel to add to your collection of visited cities. Bulgaria is situated on a crossroad between Europe and Asia which contributed greatly to its rich history, culture and traditions. I am not going to lie to you – if you’re coming from the ‘westernised’ world you might find the place quite different – but more than interesting! This article is going to reveal to you the top 7 places you should put on your list during your stay in the Bulgarian capital. I was born and raised in Sofia so keep in mind that these recommendations are coming from a local. 😉 Have fun exploring and don’t hesitate to share your impressions of the city with me!
The Largo of Serdika – above and underground
One of the best places to start your sightseeing of the city is the Serdika metro station. Why? It’s in the heart of Sofia, all of the sights are within a walking distance (most of which really really close) and it’s the only place in Sofia where both metro lines cross (which means whichever line you take – you’ll eventually reach Serdika!) The station has a few exits and you should aim for one leading to Vitosha boulevard, but don’t go out to the very top yet! On the middle level (where all the souvenir shops are) you can find a “secret” entry to the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Serdica (the old name of Sofia), which were uncovered while constructing the metro. The place is also worth seeing because of the glass rooftop, which gives you a glimpse at the Largo square above.
2. Vitosha Boulevard
If you continue walking straight from Serdika station, there is no way you can miss the main (shopping) street of the city. The place is always quite busy, the cafes are usually full and it’s one of the main spots where locals like to meet up. You could literally spend hours on this street just enjoying the atmosphere – street musicians, occasional dance shows, countless cute little restaurants and a gorgeous view! The mountains are so close to Sofia that they can be seen very well even from a street level where you are surrounded by buildings! But don’t forget to turn around for another beautiful view of the St. Nedelya church on the other end of the street. Oh how I love taking a walk there during sunset..
3. National Palace of Culture
If you walk through the whole Vitosha boulevard, at the end you will enter the garden of the National Palace of Culture. If you continue straight on, you will reach the building itself. Now it’s not the building that is worth seeing, it’s the whole area around it – the fountains, the flowers, the skaters’ and bikers’ spot, street musicians if you’re lucky, the mountain in the distance behind the building… All of this gives off such a nice vibe – the vibe of Sofia.
4. “Ivan Vazov” National Theatre
This is the largest theatre in Bulgaria, and definitely one of the prettiest buildings! The small park in front of it is a favourite hang-out spot for Sofia residents of all ages. There are a few benches there that turn into a chess battlefield every day, so if you are confident in that game – why not challenge a local? 😉 Jokes aside, the theatre is one of the ‘must see’ places in Sofia, so do not miss it.
5. City Centre and its vibrant streets
What a better way to get to know a place than to get lost in it. The city centre of Sofia is full with small paved streets, cute cafes, shops, street art and everything your heart desires. You will also run across many small parks and gardens, which are usually buzzing during the evening time with people chilling and chatting over a beer. The Open Book Market at the Slaveykov Square is a place I’d recommend walking by, and the benches there are quite instagrammable! 😉 (find out why for yourself!)
6. St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Probably the most important thing every single Sofia guide would mention is the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and that’s not without a reason. This is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world and it is easily the biggest landmark of the city. Located in the city centre, there is no way you can miss it! It might look good in pictures, but trust me – it’s even better in person and the size of it might surprise you.
P.S. The domes are plated with actual gold.
7. Central Mineral Baths
The central part of Sofia is known for its mineral springs; this is why the city’s public bath was built exactly there and had been used as such till 1986. The building’s facade is covered with colourful ceramic mosaics and is one of the most picturesque places in Sofia. Right behind the building you will find the mineral fountains where you can fill up your water bottles for free! The water is known to be very helpful when it comes to gastrointestinal diseases, kidney stones, liver and gallbladder disorders.
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