5 days in Sofia, Bulgaria (what to do, what to see, what to experience)

This is a reflection back to my 5 day solo travel to Bulgarian capital.



From foggy London I took an afternoon flight to a night kissed Bulgarian capital Sofia. It has been my first visit, not just to the city, but to the country as well.
First think you'd notice is that they are using cyrillic alphabet, and second, that despite being part of EU, their national currency are Lavs (lions). Lion is also the symbol of country, and you can find statues of it everywhere.
The airport consists of two terminals, there's direct metro connection to one of them and free airport shuffle to the other, but at such late hour, taking a taxi that takes you straight to your holiday home, is the best decision. Especially since they're so affordable. Plus I got a night sightseeing trough the center of the city.
National Assembly (Parliament)
That's how I arrived to my central apartment, which turned out to be truly amazing, and clearly to grand for just one person. Especially since it featured the whole playroom with football and darts. And my lovely hosts got me a chocolate, so spending the whole day on the go turned out not to be so awful at the end.
See the day



Palace of justice
Coming to a completely new place, no matter how much research you do, first day is always going to be a bit confusing. The best and easiest way to get yourself into a stream of a town is by joining a free walking tour. They'll give you a brief insight on both the city and the culture, tell you about all the main buildings you past, so you'd at least know what you're looking at, they're lead by young and enthusiastic volunteers, who usually ad a lot of jokes and make the whole tour a really fun experience. And you're also not obligated to pay anything, but giving 5€ for 10€ for few hours of education and entertaining are usually well deserved. These days you can find free tours in all major cities and also based on different thematics, and so they have one in Sofia as well. I've joined Free Sofia Tour, a walking tour around city center and it's most important historical buildings. Starting at Palace of justice and finishing at probably city's most famous architecture, Alexander Nevsky cathedral.
Alexander Nevsky cathedral
Sveta Nedelya church
In this two hours, with amazing guide and enlightened with history fact game, we've passed by Sveta Nedelya church, History museum (former public bath)Banya Bashi MosqueCentral Department StoreFormer Communist Party Headquarters, Rotunda of Saint GeorgeNational theatre 'Ivan Vazov', National art galleryRussian ChurchSt. Cyril and Methodius national library, Sofia universityNational Assembly (Parliament) and many more.
Banya Bashi Mosque

Former Communist Party Headquarters


Rotunda of Saint George


Russian Church

National theatre 'Ivan Vazov'
St. Cyril and Methodius national library
Sofia university





After the tour, I've continued discovering city on my own. Still caught in spirit of old times, the whole center is full of green spots and beautiful parks, like Knez Heska garden with a tall monument to the Soviet army, or Park Borisova Gradina with beautiful lake Ariana.




monument to the Soviet army





I've decided to spend my afternoon even more engaged into history and culture, so I visited the museums.
former Royal palace
Starting with national gallery and ethnographic museum, that are placed in former Royal palace, created after Bulgaria’s proclamation of independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878 by Bulgaria’s first monarch Prince Alexander I Battenberg. Since beginning of Sofia as a settlement dates back more than 6000 years, museum presents items from Tracian antic times, when city was recognised as Serdica, to middle age, Otoman empire and liberated days under communist rule.




Another central museum to visit is history museum, created in a building of city's public mineral baths. There are several mineral springs in the city, and public baths with hot water existed in the area since before the 16th century. At the site of the building there's also a public fountain, where you can try this mineral water.


history museum


Across the street from the park you're able to find the central market, more then 100 years old interesting architecture, that covers variety of shops and dinning places in bright and enjoyable atmosphere. Finally getting myself a proper meal here, it was a perfect closure to a very fulfilled day.
See the day



Day 3: on a day trip

Not far from the busy capital, there are many more amazing historical and natural sights worth visiting. Not to miss out, I signed myself up to a day trip, taking me to Boyana church and Rila monastery.There are many different agencies taking you to a tour directly from the city center, the most convenient for me at the time was with Traventuria agency, that offers many more interesting trips.



Meeting right behind Alexander Nevsky cathedral in the morning, after picturesque drive trough capital and suburbs, we arrived to medieval building under UNESCO's heritage. Set up in beautiful natural surrounding, origins of Boyana church date back to late 10th century. It is created of tree sections from 3 different eras, starting with east cross-vault from 10th century, family tomb and chapel from 13th century and final, 19th century part, build by the local community. 
Multiple layered structure, as seen on the outside of the church

the oldest, eastern side


This leads to variety in used material, architecture and exterior, as well as frescoes, that were added trough all the centuries in several layers. From the first ones there are only small fragments still preserved, while we can still enjoy later created portraits of evangelists, saints, angels and saint Nicholas, created by unknown team of so called Boyana Masters.


After some more than 100 km ride trough Bulgarian countryside, we've arrived to our second destination, orthodox monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila

Placed inside beautiful natural park in Rila mountains, monastery was as well founded in 10th century and reerected again in 14th century by feudal lord Hrelya, after whom is also named the only remaining part from that period, the tower of Hrelya, while rest of the buildings were destroyed by Ottoman empire. Tower stands on the inner yard, together with the main church, that immediately catches one's eyes with it's colourful frescoes and wood carving. 
Monastery also holds great credits for nursing Bulgarian culture, by conserving language in times of foreign rules and hiding Bulgarian revolutionaries. 
The complex stayed in use until the present days, as museum, library with numerous historical manuscripts and housing for  monks.
I certainly got immediately astonished by the amazing, colourful architecture at it's inner yard, and here, I also got a chance to try my first traditional Bulgarian food, mekica, doughnut-styled deep fried pastry made with yogurt. 





See the day




Day 4: going to Vitoša mountain


As much as it is popular in summer time, Sofia also offers a perfect place for a winter vacation, turning it's one-bus-ride and one-cable-car away Vitoša mountain into idyllic skiing resort. At 2.290 m high it offers spectacular views over the capital, that are no less beautiful at any other given time of the year. With this promise on my mind, it became goal of my 4th day.


In theory, this is really easy achievable. Sofia's public transport is well organised and it's easy to find information and map of different routes online. However, on the day of my travel, there were some construction works going on on the road and my bus' route was relocated to for me unknown location. Luckily, I was still able to find it with the help of some very friendly locals, and even got my first Bulgarian lunch while waiting for it.

I finally managed to arrive to the mountain's base in the mid afternoon, just to realise in this season cable car is only operating on Saturdays and Sundays. So if you decide to try similar adventure and are not ready to hike to the top, I would certainly recommend you checking out schedule at the tourist agency. Although I wasn't able to see over the whole valley, even base of the mountain offered some nice views. 

Upon my successful arrival back to the city center, I've decided to visit National palace of culture, Bulgaria's largest conference and exhibition center, and it's beautiful park. The last spreads over about half of kilometer and is decorated with some spectacular fountains and floral patterns.




See the day



Day 5: Sofia's last perks



I've started my day with newly discovered but already favorited cake shop Tita Cakes. Located short walking distance from my apartment, it was a perfect place for my breakfast (at 12 pm). If I first fell in love with their amazing vintage decor, I can say that their cakes and sweets are non less tasty as are they beautiful, while cute serving fits right into atmosphere. 

Backed up with amazing treats, I've headed to National museum of military history. It features amazing collections of military vehicles as tanks, planes and helicopters outdoor, and military equipment indoor, where you can find all sorts of weapons, uniforms, rewards and much more from different era, not just from Bulgarian, but from width European ground. The place certainly struck me at the first sight and it's openness and friendliness of the staff just ad up to a very exciting experience.


 

I've spend my last few hours in Sofia taking one last walk around the city center. I've visited Temple of Saint Sofia, which actually gave name to the city. Beside crashing a wedding, under the church you'll find amazing interlace of tombs and corridors, that can really take you back in time, to Roman Bulgaria before 6th century.
Saint Sofia with Tomb of the unknown soldier
Another interesting place, definitely worth peeking in is also Central department store, shortly known as TZUM. Opened in 1956, it became one of the most popular places in capital, that under the same roof offered clothes, accessories and cosmetics of world's brands and also, with first escalators in country, fun attraction for the children. Today center is sadly left with only few stores, but is still worth a quick walk trough to admire amazing architecture from it's formal glory.

Amazing chandeliers and stained glass
So came the time for me to head to the airport. After collecting my small piece of luggage from Central train station, where I've stored it over the day, I took my last metro ride and got to the terminal 2. As my flight was going from the terminal 1, I had to look for another ride there. There are free shuttle busses connecting both terminals, but were not driving very often at this late evening time, so I shared a very affordable taxi ride with some other travellers to arrive on my destination in time. I had a chance to once more enjoy night view over the city, this time saying goodbye.
See the day

Comments

  1. I've never but it looks to be a city full of history!
    Pam xo/ Pam Scalfi♥

    ReplyDelete
  2. i can see there's a lot of places to visit in this city.
    The Glossychic

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love the history of the older cities in Europe, those are place I want to visit the most... xox... I also think it is great to see a place with someone else but if you can wonder around on your own, you can see places you may never have seen xox

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