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Welcome to Sofia


Located in the Sofia Valley, the capital city of Bulgaria lies at the foot of the Vitosha and Lyulin Mountains, and is the centre of the country's political, business and cultural life.

Founded over 7,000 years ago around numerous hot and cold mineral springs, which are still available today, Sofia has flourished and declined around a variety of civilisations. It is one of the oldest settlements in Europe and numerous archaeological, cultural and historical monuments from its rich Thracian, Byzantine, Roman, Slav and Turkish history have been preserved among the modern edifices, the blend of the new and the old lending a charming quality to the capital.

Despite its modern, cosmopolitan nature, Sofia has a laid back atmosphere and the proximity of Mount Vitosha, offering a myriad of recreational opportunities on the city's doorstep, adds to the relaxed feel of the city. Like any capital city, Sofia also has a wealth of museums and galleries, and boasts plenty of cultural entertainment.

Information & Facts


Sofia's climate is one of its main attributes. Situated on an open plain only 1804 feet (550m) above sea level and ringed in by the Balkan and Vitosha Mountains, summers days in Sofia are warm and sunny with temperatures occasionally soaring above 86ºF (30ºC). Winters are cold and snowy. December and January are the coldest months and July and August are the hottest months. The capital receives 25.6 inches (650mm) a year with most rain falling in the summer months.

Eating Out

Eating out in Sofia is a varied experience, with many different options available. Although you'll be able to find world cuisines like Indian, Italian and Asian, the food at local restaurants tends to be of a higher quality. There are a number of restaurants clustered around the city centre, so if you're not sure what you want you can walk around until you find something.

Meals in Sofia traditionally start with a salad and glass of plum brandy. From there you can try delicious local dishes like Tarator, a cold soup made from small cut cucumbers, yoghurt, cold water, salt, garlic and fennel; cavarma, a hearty pork and vegetable casserole; or Kiopolu, a salad made from vegetables that have been baked, mashed, then fried. Local desserts include many kinds of baked and fried pastries, like Tikvenik, a baked dessert made from phyllo pastry filled with grated pumpkin, cinnamon, walnuts, and sugar.

Waiters are usually paid a 15-20% tip for good service, which is left in cash. Most restaurants will accept credit cards, though.

Getting Around

The centre of Sofia is easily accessible by public transport, which includes buses, trams and trolleybuses. Buses run from 5am until midnight and until 1am for trams. Single trip tickets can be purchased before boarding as well as on the vehicle and must be punched once aboard. It is not practical to travel into or around the city centre by car as parking spaces are limited and traffic can be a problem. Taxis are cheap and easily available. Tariffs are shown on the vehicle window.

Bulgarian is the official language, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet, but English, German and French is spoken in resorts, hotels and restaurants.

The official currency is the Lev (BGN), which is divided into 100 stotinki. The Lev is tied to the Euro at a fixed rate of EUR1 = 1.955 lev. Bulgaria has strict currency regulations. If you enter Bulgaria with cash of any currency amounting to the equivalent of 8,000 leva or more, you must declare it to customs officials. Foreign currency may be exchanged in banks, hotels or at one of the numerous bureaux de change, however due to a common practice of misleading rates of exchange it is better to go to banks or hotels to change money. A receipt called a bordereauxis issued when exchanging currency, indicating the amount that will be given, and it must be kept until departure. Not all banks accept travellers cheques and those that do usually charge a 5% commission. Major international credit cards are increasingly becoming accepted by tourist hotels, upmarket shops and restaurants, travel agents and car rental agents, but Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. There are ATMs in the main cities and at Black Sea resorts.


Sofia's vibrant nightlife is known for being a 24-hour experience, and there are a range of options, including nightclubs, bars, pubs, and mehani, a type of traditional tavern serving meze-style Bulgarian food, with local music. There is a large concentration of restaurants, clubs and cafes in Vitosha and Rakovski streets, including restaurant and bar Motto, and the restaurant Vodenitzata, which features live Bulgarian folk music in an old mill in the Dragalevtzi district.

The bars and cafes stay open until about midnight, which is when the clubs take over, carrying on until 5 or 6am. The clubs in Sofia play a mixture of house, pop, and rock. For a taste of chalga, a mixture of Turkish pop and gypsy dance, try Avenue Atanas in Studentski Grad, or Cabaret in Hristo Belchev Street. Pri Kmeta is a bar and microbrewery that features regular live music, and Swingin' Hall has a line-up of local and international music on most nights.

There are a range of other cultural experiences in Sofia, including the local and European productions at the National Opera House, dramatic performances at the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, Bulgarian and art-house films at the Dom Na Kinoto Theatre, and Bulgaria Hall, which is home to the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra.

Public transport in Sofia comes to a halt from 1am to 5am, so you'll need to take taxis when out late. Walking at night is not recommended.


Shopping in Sofia offers a variety of options ranging from upscale boutiques and shopping malls and their high-end designer wares to bustling street markets and bazaars with buskers, jumble sales and uniquely Bulgarian patrons.

Popular Sofia souvenirs include Bulgarian embroidery, dolls in traditional costumes, and local instruments such as shepherd's pipes (kaval), ocarinas, and tamboura. You can also get beautiful wool carpets (called kilims) from the weaving town of Chiprovtsi. Tchu kilim (Carpet House) has a wide selection of these rugs, while the well-known Pretty Things Shop in Krakra Street offers charming Sofia mementos like dolls and quilts handmade in their workshop.

Sofia also has a number if interesting outdoor street markets worth a visit. Many are focused predominantly on fresh produce and household goods for locals, but the market next to Alexander Nevski Cathedral has a variety of old weapons, jewellery, music instruments, medal, coins and more.

Be aware when buying clothes in Sofia that Bulgarian sizes are smaller than European ones.

Many shops in Sofia will only accept cash or local debit cards, while you can use a credit card in international stores. The prices displayed generally include the 20% value-added tax, which can be refunded when you leave Bulgaria.

Opening hours for stores in Sofia are usually from around 9am to 6 or 7pm Monday to Saturday. Not all shops are open on Sundays.


Sightseeing in Sofia is an exaggeration of the old and new, as the ancient culture of the Thracians, Byzantines, Romans, Slavs meet with the mad rush to modernisation that occurred when the Iron Curtain fell. Thus you'll see a mixture of buildings that will delight any architecture lover, including the multi-domed Byzantine Alexandar Nevski Memorial Church, the medieval art of the Boyana Church (a UNESCO world heritage site), and the Kremlin-like Russian Church of St. Nicholas.

Like any capital city, Sofia's attractions include a wealth of museums and galleries, including the National Historical Museum, the mineralogical-focused Museum of Earth and Men, the Bulgarian National Gallery of Arts, the Ethnographical Museum, and the Sofia City Art Gallery.

There are plenty of other things to see and do in Sofia as well, including visiting the Sofia Zoological Garden, which houses over a thousand animals; the Sofia City Garden with its cafes, playgrounds and fountains; and the famous Turkish Mineral Baths.

Many interesting buildings and sights in Sofia have signs with a phone number on them. If you call this number you can listen to a three-minute recording telling you about the attraction. You can also browse Zhenski Pazar or 'women's market', which is open to both men and women and offers fresh food, flowers and basic goods. Though there aren't many souvenirs there, it's worth the trip for the bustling atmosphere. Another busy market is the Tsentralni Hali (Central Food Halls), which are housed in an ancient Roman marketplace with archaeological finds on display along with the fresh food, coffee, wine and other treats.

Sofia is a relatively safe city in which to sightsee. Violent crime is rare, but pick pocketing is common in the city centre, as with all large metropolises.

Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).

One of the finest examples of 20th-century architecture in Sofia and one of the symbols of the city, the magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was built between 1882 and 1912 to honour the Russian soldiers who died fighting to liberate Bulgaria from Turkish rule in the war of 1878 under Tsar Alexander II. The famous religious monument is situated on the tree-lined square of the same name, which also contains the Monument of the Unknown Soldier with its eternal flame. The impressive five-nave basilica houses an interior just as splendid, with mosaics, stained glass windows, marble and woodcarvings as well as frescoes that cover the walls and domes. The underground crypt houses the Icon Museum featuring icon paintings from across the country that represents masterpieces ranging from the 9th to the 18th century.

The Boyana Church complex - located on the outskirts of Sofia - is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, and one of Bulgaria's most important tourist attractions. The first of the three buildings that make up the Boyana Church complex was built in the 10th century, but it is the second building - built in the 13th century - that is the obvious tourist draw card. Containing frescoes painted in 1259 - 89 scenes in total, including 240 human images - the second Boyana Church building is nothing less than the site of the most important collection of medieval eastern European art in the world. The paintings, which conform to a Byzantine aesthetic, yet possess a unique spiritual vitality, are almost perfectly preserved - and offer visitors a rare insight into the long, proud history of Bulgarian art and culture.

The National Ethnographic Museum in downtown Sofia has one of the richest collections of cultural artefacts on the Balkan Peninsula, representing the traditions, arts, crafts and lifestyle of the Bulgarian people from the 17th to the 20th century. The museum contains a wealth of exhibits from around the country, amounting to over 50,000 items including national costumes, jewellery, art works and musical instruments. It is also a popular cultural and educational centre. A craft shop sells crafts and other traditional Bulgarian items from all over Bulgaria.

The rotunda church of St George is considered to be the oldest building in Sofia, dating back to the 4th century, and is situated amid the remains of the ancient Roman town of Serdica. The St George Rotunda is famous for its exquisite architecture and layers of medieval frescoes that were discovered under a covering of plaster. The church currently functions as a museum and the magnificent dome is protected by UNESCO.

The St. Sofia Church is the oldest Eastern Orthodox church in the city, dating from the 4th to 6th century, and is regarded as one of the most significant examples of early Christian architecture in the Balkans. In the 14th century the church gave its name to the city of Sofia, meaning 'holy wisdom'. During the Turkish rule the church was converted into a mosque, but was abandoned after two successive earthquakes destroyed one of the minarets almost 30 years later, and it was again converted into an orthodox church. Local legends credit St Sofia's miraculous powers for its protection over the centuries, surviving occupations and natural disasters to remain as a spiritual inspiration to the city.

Rising above the capital city of Sofia, Vitosha Mountain is one of the symbols of the capital and is the most visited mountain in Bulgaria. Starting from where the suburbs end, the whole mountain has been designated a national park, the oldest in the Balkans, and is home to deer, bear, wild boar, fox and a variety of rare birds. Vitosha is known for its 'stone rivers', or moraines, piles of huge rounded granite boulders carried and deposited by glaciers thousands of years ago, as well as for its curative mineral springs. It is popular during any season and the well-known resort of Aleko is the most established winter ski resort in the area, offering modern hotels and ski facilities within easy reach of the capital.

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