Bulgaria is such an interesting place to visit. Established in 681AD, it is the oldest European country. It is the birthplace of Spartacus and is known for having the best yogurt in the world thanks to the bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus that is only found in the Bulgarian air.
Apart from Scotland and Ireland, Bulgaria is the only other nation in the world that uses bagpipes. The locals shake their heads horizontally to say ‘yes’ and nod up and down to mean ‘no’. They also have the largest IMAX 3D cinema in the world.
Founded in 7000BC by the Thracian tribes, the capital city Sofia was occupied and ruled by superpowers such as the Ottomans and the Romans. Evidence of previous Roman times can be found throughout the city. With beautiful landmarks, amazing history and a mountain in the city, Sofia has a lot to offer.
Marvel at Sofia’s stunning architecture
Known as one of the most memorable buildings in the world, St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral will blow you away as the second largest cathedral in the Balkan region. Dating back to the 1880’s, this massive building is dedicated to Russian soldiers who lost their lives when the Ottomans were overthrown.
Experience the mountain within a city
Vitosha Mountain is the backdrop that paints Sofia city’s landscape. Although appearing dome shaped at first sight, Vitosha mountain actually consists of several denudation plateaus that cover an area 19km long and 17km wide.
You can get to the highest point known as Cherni Vrah or “Black Peak” (that is 2,290 meters) and enjoy breathtaking views of the city during spring and summer. There is a well-built infrastructure of alleys and paths that are over 300km in total length. The mountain has excellent conditions for rock and ice climbing, paragliding, mountain biking and trekking.
During the winter, four chair lifts will take you up the mountain for a day of skiing, snow kiting, kite winging and snowboarding. There are also numerous hotels and chalets for those who would like to spend the night.
Take a hike to a waterfall
For the adventurous ones, you could take a guided hike up to Boyana Waterfall, considered the largest waterfall in Vitosha Mountain that gracefully splashes water from a height of 20 meters.
The waterfalls are a short drive from the city and you can also get there using
Bus 64 that leads you to the photogenic Church of Boyana. There are two main trails to the waterfalls – one is a 1 1/2 hour trek and the other takes about 2 hours. Dogs are definitely welcome on the waterfall trails.
Spend the day at South Park
South Park is a lusciously green patch of land created as an extension of Vitosha Mountain that boasts its different terrains, including untouched forests, stunning mountain views, several manmade lakes and specially designed open areas. This park is perfect for people of all ages as it has several playgrounds, benches, gazebos, extreme biking trails, restaurants and cafes. The kids can have a blast on trampolines, bumper cars and inflatable slide castles.
Embrace the ancient world of the Romans
Just above the Serdika metro station are mind-blowing remains of an ancient Roman city with fragments of eight streets, an early Christian basilica, baths and houses dating from the 4th to 6th centuries. This partially buried historical site is located under a glass dome at the city square between the Council of the Ministers and the Presidency.
Indulge in Bulgarian cuisine
For the foodies in the house, you can get a free food tour by Balkan Bites. You get to pamper your taste buds with Bulgarian cuisine, trying out typical dishes and learning about the history and preparation of different local delicacies. You will be taken to four completely different food venues as well as three unique markets. If you are up for it, you can mingle with fellow travelers on an action-packed pub crawl, hitting five different locations where the locals hang out.
Discover a hidden paradise
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and spend an afternoon wandering around Borisova Gradina or Boris’ Gardens. Hidden right in the city is Sofia University Botanic Garden that has its entrance through a small flower shop. The Military Academy Park was opened to the public in 2011 and now regular visitors can enjoy the peace and tranquility of one of the quietest parks in the city.
Appreciate fresco murals
Consisting of three buildings, the medieval Boyana Church peaks out from the tall softwood trees and has been named a UNESCO heritage site. Built in three stages between the 10th and 19th Centuries, this hidden architectural gem has about 240 historical and biblical figures painted in its fabulous interior. It is one of the best-preserved monuments of eastern European original art forms.
Get a trinket at the flea market
When looking for weird or unusual gifts and souvenirs, you can’t go wrong with the Bitaka flea market, also known as Malashevtsi Mall. Fully stocked in second hand and sometimes, third hand things, you can find everything from worn out military clothes to chaotically piled books, pirated CD’s, silverware, vintage telephones – you name it, they’ve probably got it. Vendors line up their wares on the rugs on the floor for customers to purchase. The market is however only open on weekends.
Receive a blessing at an ancient church
St. George Rotunda Church is the oldest building in modern Sofia and was built back in the 4th century. The red brick, cylindrical domed structure is built on a square base and is home to five layers of partially preserved frescoes on the walls. The building is part of a larger archaeological complex featuring a section of a Roman street with preserved drainage and some smaller buildings.
The church has remained intact, right in the middle of the city and has seen almost 1,700 years of development around it. There are daily worship services held here for believers and tourists.
Sofia – The modern Ottoman / Roman playground
From incredible architecture, to beautiful nature trails, a rich cultural history that spans for centuries, forgotten art techniques, bustling markets, great restaurants and eateries, Sofia is definitely a stunning city that has something for everyone.