St Georgi Church in central square.

Bulgaria //

Sofia

With its drab suburbs and distinct lack of charming old buildings Sofia (София) can appear an uninspiring place to first-time visitors. However, much has been done in recent years to revitalize the heart of the city, and once you’ve settled in and begun to explore, you’ll find it a surprisingly vibrant place, especially on fine days, when its lush public gardens and pavement cafés buzz with life. It also possesses the draw of verdant Mount Vitosha, just 8km to the south.

Sofia was founded by a Thracian tribe some three thousand years ago, and various Roman ruins attest to its zenith as a regional imperial capital in the fourth century AD. The Bulgars didn’t arrive on the scene until the ninth century, and with the notable exception of the thirteenth-century Boyana Church, their cultural monuments largely disappeared during the Turkish occupation (1396–1878), whose own legacy is visible solely in a couple of stately mosques. The finest architecture postdates Bulgaria’s liberation from the Turks: handsome public buildings and parks, and the magnificent Aleksandar Nevski Cathedral.

Most of Sofia’s sights are centrally located and within easy walking distance of each other. The pedestrianized Bulevard Vitosha forms the heart of the shopping district and leads north to the Church of Sveta Nedelya, from where bul. Tsar Osvoboditel passes the major public buildings, culminating with the grand Aleksandar Nevski Church.