Resting below the beautiful Vitosha Mountain, Sofia is a picturesque city that boasts a history that stretches back 7,000 years. With its vibrant cafe culture and immaculately kept parks, enchanting architecture and treasure-filled museum collections, Bulgaria’s capital city has something to delight every traveller. At Excedo Travel, we know planning an itinerary can seem overwhelming, so we have compiled for you our list of the landmarks you can’t afford to miss on your visit. Join us on our tour of Sofia’s most famous sights.
1. Sofia’s St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Undoubtedly one of Sofia’s most iconic landmarks, this enormous, neo-Byzantine cathedral was built as an expression of Bulgarian’s gratitude for the country’s liberation from Ottoman rule. Construction started in 1882, with the building finally being completed in 1912. Despite its age, the church remains among the 50 largest Christian churches in the world. For a sense of its size: the building’s central dome reaches 45 metres in height, and its largest bell weighs a mammoth 12 tons. Yet, as impressive as the building’s scale may be, the richness of the church’s interior is perhaps its most appealing quality. Decorated with Italian marble and Brazilian onyx, this is a cathedral whose mystery and beauty could rival that of any across Europe. Ornate carvings, radiant gilding, Venetian mosaics, royal thrones, and saintly relics––you will want to reserve ample time to discover all this landmark has to offer.
2. Borisova Gradina Park
Sofia’s oldest and largest public park is an essential stopping point for any traveller to the city. This park was landscaped by three dedicated gardeners over a period of 62 years; these gardeners worked tirelessly in an effort to honour the original vision for the park. The harmonious design and tranquillity of Borisova Gradina Park make it a wonderful hideaway from the bustle of the city. No matter which season you choose to visit, the park will have something to offer. The spring and summer months see the park host many events, such as musical concerts and outdoor cinema screenings. In Autumn, the colours of the leaves are dazzling and a contemplative stroll around the water-lily pond makes for a great breather between a Sofia city break’s other excursions. While temperatures can be very low in the winter months, the park remains popular with locals and we would recommend ice-skating on Ariana Lake. For those travellers who love escaping into nature and are planning an extended trip, we also recommend checking out our tailor-made hiking trips in Bulgaria.
3. The National History Museum
Sofia is home to many fine museums, but the National History Museum should be on every visitor’s must-do list. Providing a gigantic range of artefacts and exhibits, you will be taken on a journey through Bulgaria’s past, from prehistoric times to the 20th century. As of 2020, the museum has over 600,000 artefacts within its collections, with around 65,000 items being exhibited at any one time. Expertly curated, the museum consistently organises fascinating temporary exhibitions. The building itself is also noteworthy as it was once the residence of Bulgaria’s last communist ruler: Todor Zhivkov. The complex is situated in the shadow of the Vitosha Mountain and provides spectacular scenic views.
4. Vitosha Boulevard
There can be few city streets in the world that boast as breathtaking a view as Vitosha Boulevard. With the snow-capped mountain an ever-present reminder of Bulgaria’s natural beauty, on this pedestrianised strip you will be able to eat some of the best food the city has to offer, shop in the many designer boutiques and international fashion houses based here, and grab a drink when in need of refreshment. Recent renovations have added charming art-nouveau kiosks and street lamps to the street, harking back to a bygone era. It’s the perfect spot to soak up the atmosphere of the city and to watch the world go by as you enjoy a drink.
5. The Central Mineral Baths
This is one of Sofia’s architectural jewels and a superb place to take holiday pictures and relax. Sofia has been famous for its mineral springs for centuries and visitors from across the Balkans — and even further afield — would visit the city to benefit from the city’s health-giving spas. Sadly, the Central Mineral Baths are no longer a functioning spa and Turkish bath but a museum; however, there are plans to reopen one of its wings as a wellness center once again. Still, the site’s exquisite gardens and the stunning facade of the building provide travellers with an impressive location to sit and relax. For those who are particularly interested in the restorative powers of the waters, at each of the building’s corners there are small fountains which are fed by the natural hot springs below and guests are welcome to fill a paper cup and take a drink, a practice common among locals.
That brings to a close our round-up of some of Sofia’s most famous sites. We hope the information has been useful and that we’ve provided you with some inspiration for your trip to Sofia. If our Discover Sofia walking tour oder tailor-made tours in Bulgaria are of interest to you, or you have any questions for us, please feel free to contact us. Our team is made up of locals with years of experience in the travel industry, and we will always be delighted to help make your trip as memorable as possible.