Nestled beneath the stunning heights of Vitosha mountain, Sofia is a dynamic city that combines ancient history with outdoor adventure and a vibrant nightlife. The capital and largest city of Bulgaria, Sofia is also one of the oldest cities in Europe. Founded 2,500 years ago, the city is a treasure trove of artefacts covering the entire span of its long history, which can be seen displayed in museums such as the Archaeological Museum. History buffs will also be inspired by the city's numerous ancient churches and historical monuments dotted throughout the city.
Despite its long history, Sofia has a modern, vibrant atmosphere. Visitors can stroll down the cobblestone boulevards and enjoy the appealing displays in boutique shop windows or take a break in one of the numerous cafés. The city is renowned for its music scene and has several excellent concert venues. Whatever your musical tastes, whether it's an outdoor opera performance or a rock concert, there is something for everyone. The Music Week's International Festival in May and June is not to be missed for lovers of classical, jazz and folk music.
Sofia also has plenty of options for outdoor enthusiasts. Vitosha Mountain offers year-round activities, from skiing in winter to hiking in the other seasons. Hikers have a wide choice of paths, with challenging uphill climbs or leisurely walks on the plateau. It is possible to reach the very summit of the mountain either on foot or via a chair lift, where travellers are rewarded with stunning views of the city and surrounding countryside. A great way to relax after a hike is by visiting one of the city's spa resorts, where visitors can enjoy the health benefits of mineral springs in a peaceful setting.
Things to Do
Sofia is an exciting city to visit at any time of the year, with a diverse choice of activities. From museums to outdoor activities and fine dining, Sofia has something for every visitor.
Step back in time
The Archaeological Museum is Bulgaria's oldest museum. The building itself, which was originally a mosque, is a masterpiece of 15th-century architecture. The mosque provides an impressive setting for a wealth of ancient and medieval artefacts, including the original floor mosaic from St Sofia Church and a Thracian gold burial mask dating from the 4th century BC. For a look at Bulgaria's more recent history, the Museum of Socialist Art showcases art from the Socialist period between 1944 and 1989. The museum grounds hold a large sculpture park where visitors can see a giant statue of Lenin, which once stood in the centre of the city, as well as sculptures depicting the ideals of the Socialist era.
A Spectacular View
The most iconic building in Bulgaria is the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral. Named after a Russian warrior-prince from the 13th century, the cathedral took 30 years to build and was finished in 1912. It was built to commemorate the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for the independence of Bulgaria from Turkish rule. The awe-inspiring sight of the cathedral's golden domes against the backdrop of Vitosha mountain is a view that must be seen whilst in Sofia.
Overlooking the city, the majestic Vitosha Mountain offers outdoor activities for every season. In the winter, travellers can visit the Aleko ski resort. In summer, Vitosha's high slopes offer a welcome reprieve from the heat. There are many hiking trails and the option of a chair lift up to the highest peak, standing at 2,290 metres and known as the Black Peak. If mountain hiking sounds strenuous, there are also more leisurely walks on the plateau offering breath-taking panoramic views of the area.
Whatever the time of day, The Corso Centre's three levels aim to cater for all tastes. The ground level, known as Corso Street, offers mouth-watering desserts and a delicious breakfast menu. On the next level is the Corso Bar, where travellers can relax in the closed-in terrace that features a lovely winter garden and sample wines from all parts of the world. On the top floor is the Corso Restaurant, where tasty dishes with seasonal ingredients can be enjoyed while taking in views of the city from the restaurant's floor-to-ceiling windows.
Time to Relax
Sofia boasts many spa centres where footsore sightseers can relax and unwind. For those willing to leave the city centre, the hot springs at Bankya can be found just 10 km to the west of Sofia and are easily accessed from the city centre. There, visitors can enjoy peaceful surroundings whilst soaking in the healing waters of Bankya's renowned mineral springs.
Calendar of Events
Sofia hosts a variety of festivals throughout the warm months of the year. As a city famed for its music scene, it is the perfect place for music lovers of all genres. If music is not your thing, the first festival on the list is a must for any visitor to the city in the month of May.
Sofia Restaurant Week. This May festival celebrates the culinary diversity of Bulgaria's capital city. Around 25 restaurants take part, offering discounted menus with 3-course meals for the duration of the festival. Participating restaurants are carefully chosen for the quality of their menus, service and customer experience. It is a perfect opportunity to discover the city's best restaurants.
Sofia Music Weeks International Festival. Bulgaria's biggest music festival takes place in May and June and runs for eight weeks. As a member of the European Festivals Association, it attracts classical, jazz and folk musicians, composers and dancers from all over Europe and beyond.
International Folklore Festival Vitosha. This annual festival takes place in July and August and celebrates the diverse cultures of Bulgaria and surrounding countries. Performers wear traditional costumes and delight their audiences with authentic music and dances on open-air stages.
ON Fest. A popular urban youth festival, which began in 2011, celebrates the art, music, games and sports of the urban scene. It takes place at the end of September and is held at the EXPO Centre, where visitors can watch graffiti art competitions as well as attend dance and music parties.