The itinerary 3 days in Sofia ( 72 hours in Sofia) will show you the best of the city plus some interesting museums
The city is full of delightful surprises, from the yellow brick roads in its historic center to the partially exposed, 1,800-year-old Roman city that lies beneath. You can enjoy a 60-minute Bulgarian rose massage in the ruins of a 3rd-century coliseum for about $55, or take in an outdoor opera performance for less than $10. There’s hiking and skiing on 7,500-foot Vitosha Mountain, the highest of the peaks surrounding the capital. Within the city are dozens of lovely parks, where on any given day you might happen across tango dancers perfecting their moves or old men contemplating a chess board.
3 days in Sofia ( 72 hours in Sofia) itinerary map
Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski
This magnificent eastern Orthodox cathedral is one of the largest in the world. Its most striking feature is its great, gold-plated dome that’s 45 metres high. The architecture is neo-Byzantine – it was built only in the early 20th century in memory of the 200,000 Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian and Bulgarian soldiers, who died in the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–1878.
Inside, it’s vast size can hold 10000 people. The interior is lavishly decorated with marbles of many colors, great mural paintings, and 82 icons. In the crypt of the church there are many iconic religious art paintings. A church as great as this usually has a relic – this one has what seems to be Alexander Nevsky’s rib.
Saint Sofia Church
Though overshadowed in size by the nearby Alexander Nevski church, the Saint Sophia church is far more important to the city’s history. It was built in the 6th century on the site of some even older churches, and an ancient necropolis. During its hay-days in the 14th century, the church’s fame was so great that it conferred it’s own name to the city – the city of Serdika became the city of Sophia! It’s suffered some serious damage though – its famed wall paintings and some of its floor mosaics were destroyed by the Ottomans, and it’s minaret by a number of 19th century earthquakes.
National Museum Of Natural History
This museum really went all out – 400 mammals, 1200 birds, hundreds of thousands of insects and 25% of the world’s mineral species. There’s also a hall dedicated to reptiles and amphibians, another to fishes, yet another to palaeontology (fossils), and a last one to plants. All told there are 16 exhibitions halls covering floor floors, and if this is your kind of fun, the museum can easily keep you occupied the entire day. The mammal exhibition seems to be the most popular, but don’t let that put you off the rest. The whole thing is beautifully presented and the staff is very helpful. Kids will love it
Saint Nikolas Russian Church
This is one of the prettiest Russian churches – a white building of green roofs and golden domes. Built between 1907-1914, the church is famed for its walled paintings by Russian artists – murals in reds and greens and golds. Even more famous though, is the Archbishop Seraphim Sabolev’s remains in crypt. The Archbishop was thought by many to be miracle worker, and even today, people visit the church to leave letters near his grave, in the believe he will help them. He was never canonised, yet still he’s worshipped as a saint.
Ethnographic Institute With Museum
The museum is famous for its collection of pastoral woodcarving from the 19th and 20th centuries. Most of these are household items, but you’ll also find musical instruments, furniture and decoratives. There is a lovely embroidery collection with a significant folkloric influence. Most of the museum focuses on describing Bulgarian traditional life, during weekdays and weekends.
Day 1 ends at05:05 pm
When this church’s was first built in the 11th century at the foot of Mt Vitosha, no one could have predicted how important it would become. At that time, only the eastern building stood. Later, when a two story structure was erected next to it in the 13th century. It’s walls were painted with frescoes – these are now some of the most important Eastern European medieval paintings existing, a collection of 80 images of 249 human figures. The final section of the church was built in the 19th century.
There’s two ways to get up to the falls – steep or gentle. Steep is the shorter, scarier route, and takes about 1 hour to do. Gentle takes anywhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours. The hike, which begins a little way up from Boyana church, is practically as much of an attraction as the waterfall itself. You won’t get lost – there are a lot of signs to show you the way. It’s one of the best ways to get familiar with Bulgarian natural beauty.
This is an intriguing attraction. It’s basically a public park, with all the usual strolling, picnicking, relaxing and people watching appeals. The twist is that it’s dedicated to world peace and to the world’s children. The great central monument has a sculpture of doves, and a collection of bells from around the world. The idea is to go each bell and ring it. The area is getting a little run down though, and there’s evidence of vandalism.
Sense Hotel Rooftop Bar
Under starry skies with a fancy cocktail in your hand is the best way to spend your evening in Bulgaria. Stylish but not stuffy, as they say. This terrace bar is serves great drinks and food. It’s right beside the university, and has lovely views of the Aleksandar Nevski cathedral and the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria. Everyone smoke up here though. You can also get a hookah water pipe.
Day 2 ends at08:02 pm
This is Bulgaria’s most prestigious opera theatre. While the institution was founded in the 19th century, this particular building wasn’t built until 1953. Locals frequently attend the shows, which have an extremely high production quality. Productions of Wagner operas are particularly popular. Prices for the shows art generally cheap, about BGN 8 (EUR 4). That’s why it’s nearly always full. The building is lavishly decorated inside, and is worth checking out even if you’re not catching a show.
Statue Of Tsar Alexander I I
The Russian Tsar Alexander II and his troops liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in 1876 after centuries of rule. The grateful country consequently had a statue built in his honor. The 14 metre high sculpture is bronze and neo-classical with a massive Neo-Renaissance cornice. It’s a favourite place for tourists to get their pic clicked.
Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church
This church, built in 1528, was originally a mosque with an ominous name – the Black Mosque – thus called for it’s minarets which were tiled in black marble. Later, it was used as an arms depot, and then as a prison. Today, it’s just another Sofia’s many pretty churches, with a nice exterior garden. It’s main highlight is the a gilded iconostasis with icons painted by Anton Mitov. A former Bulgarian prime minister, Petko Stoichev Karavelov, is buried in these grounds along with his wife. The street outside the church is one of the liveliest. There are a lot of benches in the park, and vendors from whom you can buy snacks.
Petko and Pencho Slaveykov were a father-son duo of Bulgarian writers. This square is named after them, and you’ll see a sculpture of the pair on of the benches. It’s the most popular square in Sofia. Historically, it’s been in use since 1515, when there was just a mosque, two police stations and a coffee-house here.
Since 1990, the square has become a very popular spot for booksellers; perusing the stalls here is the favourite activity of locals and tourists alike. Do buy some – the books are very cheap. This is also one of the best places to find English translations of important Bulgarian literature. The people watching, naturally, is fantastic.
Vitosha Boulevard is Sofia’s fashion shopping street. You’ll get practically every major brand there; it’s one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world. Happily, the area is mostly pedestrianized. A number of Sofia’s best looking buildings – The Sofia Court of Justice and Sveta Nedelya Orthodox Church – beautify the street. With all the bars and restaurants and boutiques there, even if you’re not in a mind to shop, the boulevard is an excellent place to people watch.
Saint Nedelja Church
This church is supposedly at the very center of Sofia – it lies directly on the ancient crossroads of Serdika. The architecture is typically neo-Byzantine, and it’s painted on the inside with frescoes by some of Bulgaria’s master-painters. It has two major icons. The first is a tapestry of the Resurrection, given to the church by an unknown woman. The other is the relics of canonised Serbian king Stephen Milutin. Also check out the beautifully carved wooden iconostasis from 1865.
Banja Bashi Mosque
The red-brick mosque has a strange name – ‘Many Baths’. That’s because it’s actually built over a system of thermal spas. If you’re looking for it, you’ll even see the steam rising from the vents in the ground around the mosque. Built in the 1576, the mosque is the last remnant of the Ottoman Empire that rule Sofia, and is in active use by the City’s Muslim population. The ceramic work on the walls of the mosque is very intricate.
Central Market Hall
This covered market, more than a century old, is one of the city’s favourite shopping destinations. On the ground floor, you’ll mostly find bread and pastries, olives, nuts and sweets and rose oil products, souvenirs. The food stalls are mostly family run, and the cuisine is nicely authentic Bulgarian. On the upper floors, jewellery and clothing. But there’s an underground floor too – fast food restaurant, offices and some ancient ruins. Hey, no one said you can’t mix and match!
Day ends at 05:00 pm