Bulgaria’s capital, an essential stop off on any eastern European tour, has plenty to shout about, sitting as it does perfectly in amongst the mountains and being home to more than 7000 years of traceable history. Bulgaria revolves almost entirely around this striking city. All roads seem to lead here, and Sofia replays its country’s faith several fold, with exiting attractions, dramatic landscapes and culture galore.
Mineral springs play a key role in Sofia’s history: there are seven of them spread across the heart of the city, with each playing an important role in enticing people of ancient times to start a large town on this spot. There are historic sights spread through eons of time, varying from the clunky, memorable architecture of the Alexander Nevski Cathedral (gold domed and built in honor of the local war dead in the early 20th century) to the 5th century St. Sofia Church, which features an ancient mosaic and lends its name to the city itself. There’s also an abundance of monuments, museums and galleries that, if you’re into your city culture, could easily occupy day upon day of exploration.
There’s an aggressive undertone to Sofia, too, though. Confrontation on the street is far from rare, particularly when it comes to the city’s two football clubs on match day, or late at night when several drinks have been had. Caution is always the best option, when in doubt walk away. Several exchange locations have been caught out swindling tourists, too.
With so many ancient and alluring attractions, though, the rough side to Sofia is by no means enough of a reason to give it a miss, while day trips like Vitosha (an impressive and affordable nearby ski resort) and the abundance of nearby monasteries offering great city escapism.
You can’t claim to have seen Bulgaria without dropping in on Sofia, which is central to so much of the countries history, and even still holds a certain communist-influenced allure. It’s also the perfect spot to launch a more thorough tour, and as culturally heavy as anywhere in eastern Europe.