Alexandar Nevsky Cathedral
So, with the ski slopes of Bansko behind me, exactly what would the Bulgarian capital city have in store for a 1-day exploration? Well, judging by the city's less-than-enticing suburban area, nothing of any great attraction, but not being one to judge a book by its cover, just a short haunt around the city's central area will soon reveal the charms of the Bulgarian capital city. The choice of hotel for the 2-night stay was the commendable Dedeman Princess Sofia hotel, which scored highly on counts of location and range of facilities. Despite being endowed with a limited metro network, Sofia is probably best navigated on foot, and a decent enough city map will enable you to work your way around the city's highlights in just one full day.
National Assembly of Sofia
The main bulk of the city's prominent buildings and attractions are contained within one main area, and approached from the northern end of the city, the first two places of note you will encounter are the synagogue and the mosque, which functions as the city's mineral baths. Heading eastwards, and you will encounter the city's governmental buildings, to be confronted further east by the charms of Sofia's national theatre, and the Russian Church, in all its gold-tinged glory. The true centrepiece of Sofia, however, must surely be the iconic and nationally symbolic Alexander Nevsky cathedral, which must surely rate as Bulgaria's most photographed building. Further south lies the Soviet Army monument, which has enough in the way of intricate details to warrant a few photos and close inspection, but also doubles up as a spot where local skateboarders practice their moves on ramps and jumps.
Part of Soviet Army monument
Shopping facilities have clearly come pretty far in Sofia in recent years, and the pristine-looking Mall of Sofia illustrates that point expertly, with the less centrally-located Serdica mall looking even more complete and alluring to the consumerist-minded tourist. The main market hall too, appears to be something of a Sofia shopping institution, and its pristine and polished interior suggests that efforts have been made to put the place on a par with the more modern and less well-established shopping spots. The numerous reference points of key interest in and around Sofia qualify the city for occupying a place in the 'underrated European city' category, yet this is also subjective, and arguably, the occasional monstrosity of a monument which could well be interpreted as a 'blott on the Bulgarian landscape' is sought out, and for my money, the entire city is a slightly imperfect, but still highly enjoyable whole.
Typical Sofian street view
All in all, the trend in recent years has been to tag a short city break onto the end of a ski trip, and Sofia was as welcome an inclusion onto the ski itinerary as any previous ski trip in recent times. My advice is - be sure to try the local cuisine, shop around for those bargains, which are bound to cost more back home, and take time out to discover the Bulgarian character and national identity, and with all of that pencilled in, you could hardly fail to get the best out of this south-eastern European nation.