Bulgaria’s pleasingly laid-back capital, Sofia is often overlooked by tourists heading straight to the coast or the ski resorts, but they’re missing something special. It’s no grand metropolis, true, but it’s a largely modern, youthful city, while its old east-meets-west atmosphere is still very much evident, with a scattering of onion-domed churches, Ottoman mosques and stubborn Red Army monuments sharing the skyline with vast shopping malls and glassy five-star hotels.
Sofia’s grey, blocky civic architecture lends a lingering Soviet tinge to the place, but it’s also a surprisingly green city. Vast parks and manicured gardens offer welcome respite from the busy city streets, and the ski slopes and hiking trails of mighty Mt Vitosha are just a short bus ride from the city centre. Home to many of Bulgaria’s finest museums, galleries, restaurants and entertainment venues, Sofia may persuade you to stick around and explore further.
Sofia is the second oldest city in Europe, founded 7,000 years ago by the Thracian tribe Serdi. Later, Sofia was the capital of the Roman province of Inner Dacia in 29 A.D. Through the ages, the city played role as an important trading center in the Byzantine and Bulgarian Empires. Under Ottoman rule, Sofia was the center of Rumelia province. Sofia became the capital of restored Bulgaria in 1879, with a population of only 20,000.
We took a highly recommendable free tour which takes you on a nice trip pass all of the major points of interest: The Parliament, The St. Alexander Nevsky Patriarchal Cathedral, the National Theatre, St Sofia Church, Sofia’s oldest building ‐ St George Rotunda (from the 3rd C), The houses of the Council of Ministers, the Presidency and the former communist party headquarters, the ruins of the ancient city of Serdika (dating from the 5th‐6th C) and many more (full list of items on the Sofia Free Tour website).