Sofia is Bulgaria’s capital and its largest city. Founded thousands of years ago, today the city continues to develop as the country’s cultural and economic center. At present, the city has a population of 1,250,000.
Sofia is located in the western part of the country, on The Sofia Plain and on the lower slopes of Mount Vitosha. The city’s average altitude is 550 meters above sea level, the climate is moderate and continental, characterized by cold winters and relatively cool summers
Three freeways begin in Sofia: Trakia, Lyulin, and Hemus. The Sofia Airport provides travelers with convenient connections to all major European cities, and from the central train station and bus station passengers can reach every destination in the country.
Sofia preserves many valuable monuments to its long and storied past. Visitors exploring the city’s streets can see remnants of The Eastern Gate from the days when Sofia was Serdika and Sredets, dating from the 2nd-4th centuries CE. These remains are exhibited in the underpass connecting the Presidential Palace and The Ministerial Council, surrounded by shops selling traditional Bulgarian souvenirs and rosewater.
The Saint Sofia Basilica, founded during the reign of Justinian (reign 527-565), is one of the oldest churches in the capital. It was the city’s major church during the Middle Ages, and under the Ottomans it was used as a mosque. Very close to Saint Sofia is The Memorial Church Saint Alexander Nevsky, now one of the city’s most recognizable symbols. This church was built in 1912, and was designed by the Russian architect Alexander Pomerantsev. Directly across from the church is The National Gallery of Art, which often exhibits works by world-famous artists.
The oldest church in Sofia is the Saint George Rotunda. It is thought that the church was built in the 6th century, during the reign of Constantine the Great. In the rotunda’s immediate proximity, in the underpass leading to the Serdika metro station, is The Saint.
Petka Samardzhiyska Church, built in the 11th century. Another Christian monument in the region is the Saint Joseph Catholic Cathedral. While walking in the area, visitors will also see the Banya Bashi Mosque, built in the 16th century. Not far from the mosque is a synagogue, which houses a museum. Adjacent to this church is the Theological Seminary, which houses The National Historical and Archeological Museum. Other points of interest in the city include The Lion Bridge, The Eagle Bridge, The Russian Monument, and the monument to Vasil Levski (a Bulgarian revolutionary hero who gave has life in the struggle to free Bulgaria from the Ottomans in the 19th century).
In the midst of the city’s religious landmarks, directly across from The Presidential Palace, is The National Archeological Museum, which has in its collection some of the most valuable treasures discovered in Bulgaria.
On the lower slopes of Mount Vitosha, in the Boyana District, is located The National Museum of History, with its collection from prehistoric times to the present day. The museum has one of the largest collections anywhere, with over 700,000 items of cultural importance.
There are two ski centers on Mount Vitosha to accommodate visitors to this very popular sports destination. They are Aleko and Konyarnika. Aleko is at an altitude of 1,800 meters, and its slopes face north. It also has facilities for night skiing. The Konyarnika Center is 1,507 meters high. There are a total of 29 km of ski runs on Vitosha, and the longest is 5 km. The maximum vertical dro is 780 meters. The slopes are suitable for both experienced skiers beginners.
Like every big city, Sofia has something for every taste. There are a great many luxury hotels, including those that are part of international hotel chains. There is also a wide variety of hostels and smaller family guesthouses. There are a multitude of discotheques, restaurants, bars, piano bars, folk clubs, taverns, soda fountains, fast food outlets and many other kinds of entertainment.
Sofia and the immediate vicinity also boast a great many spa complexes. The hot springs at Bankya, a nearby resort offer wonderful facilities for rest, recreation, and wellness. There are ten spa centers within the capital’s city limits offering peace and relaxation, along with therapeutic and beauty treatments.
The city’s annual celebration is observed on September 17, in honor of the martyrdom of Saint Sofia and her three daughters Vyara (Faith), Nadezhda (Hope), and Lyubov (Love).