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Best Place to Visit in Eastern Europe

Bulgaria’s capital Sofia is among the best place to visit in Eastern Europe. The country’s largest city with a population of over 1.4 million people, and consequently its major economic centre. It’s perfect location in the west of the country at the foot of the Vitosha Mountains in the Sofia Valley has meant that it is strategically placed to provide perfect access to Central Europe as well as the Adriatic and the Aegean Seas.


Indeed, the city’s location is picturesque; not only is it surrounded by majestic mountain ranges, several rivers cross through the region and it is renowned for its multitude of mineral springs, lakes and scenic artificial dams.


Sofia is home to the country’s leading international businesses and is attracting more investment and new names on a daily basis. It is also the country’s financial centre being home to the Bulgarian Stock Exchange as well as the Bulgarian National Bank and the Financial Supervisory Commission.


Trade, transport and construction make up the city’s leading commercial concerns, but easier access to the city has resulted in growing tourist numbers and inward investment in real estate has stimulated huge construction projects, which have seen both residential and commercial real estate increase, since 2003 the price of apartments in the city’s centre has tripled.



Sofia is easily accessible by air, bus, car or train. It has its own newly renovated international airport, which has seen healthy increases in air traffic over the last two years and greater air links to the rest of the country and leading international destinations. It lies 130 km northwest of Bulgaria’s second largest city, Plovdiv, 340 km and 380 km from the country’s major ports of Bourgas and Varna respectively and less than 200 km from neighbouring Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. Within the city transport links are very good – there is an extensive tram network as well as local buses and a mass of yellow cabs and more recently the extension of the city’s metro has made travel to the suburbs much easier.

Note : When taking taxis exercise caution and make sure you use a reliable firm, such as OK Supertrans. Before getting in take a quick look at the window, where the fares are marked and make sure the meter is running when you start off.


A Dip Back in Time

Sofia has a long and interesting history and is Europe’s second oldest city. It was founded seven thousand years ago and many ancient remains from its former settlements are still visible in the city today.

Over the centuries it has been known by many names – in Thracian times it was called Serdika after the Thracian tribe the Serdi, who inhabited the region and this name was still in use two centuries later when the city joined the Bulgarian State.

During Roman Rule the city flourished under the reign of Emperor Constantine because of its location between Constantinople and Belgrade. Whilst this route made the city an ideal trading point and business thrived, it was also under frequent attack from neighbouring enemies, particularly the Huns.

Under the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian, the city continued to prosper and was one of the Empire’s strategic strongholds.

With its annexation to the Bulgarian State, the influx of migrating Slavs led to its name change to the Slavic name of Sredets and it wasn’t until the 14th century that the name Sofia was adopted, probably after the Church of Sveta Sofia, which means Holy Wisdom, which still stands in the city today.

During Ottoman Rule the city declined in importance becoming little more than a market centre. Bar a few mosques little remains from this period of occupation, but following Bulgaria’s liberation 1879 Sofia was named the country’s capital city and after a brief period of rejuvenation and construction, a new emblem was chosen for the city by the City Council and it contained the maxim “It Grows but Does not Age”.

Sofia was chosen as the country’s capital in preference to Veliko Tarnovo because of its location and proximity to Macedonia, which was expected to become part of the new Bulgarian State.

During Communist Rule the city maintained its importance as the country’s key economic, academic and cultural centre. Stalinist buildings were constructed at a rapid pace including the austere looking Party House and numerous high rise blocks separated into newly named districts like Mladost (Youth), Druzhba (Friendship) and Nadezhda (Hope), years later these districts were to become the source of many social problems.

The post Communist period saw the decline of many of the city’s industrial heritage and by the early Nineties unemployment was rife and living conditions poor. By the turn of the millennium, Sofia’s fortunes were starting to change, the talk about possible EU membership stimulated foreign investment and by 2006 positive changes were beginning to take place to improve the city’s infrastructure with new pavements, office blocks and roads.


Eating, Drinking and Where to Stay

Sofia’s entertainment scene is second to none. There is a diverse club scene with many varied night clubs, live music venues, pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants.

Many leading international superstars have played in the city including Elton John, Iron Maiden, Kylie Minogue, Seal, Sting, Tom Jones, Jenifer Lopez, Lady Gaga and Bon Jovi. Chervilo and the Yalta Club are the city’s leading nightclubs and attract international DJ’s like Pete Tong and Tom Novy.

The city has a wealth of quality hotels including international brands Hilton, Sheraton and SAS Radisson. Many of its newer hotels focus on the growing business market – the Metropolitan, a modern building located five minutes from the airport boasts excellent conference facilities including a large business centre offering professional support. The Grand Hotel is one of the capital’s leaders and its Shades of Red restaurant may be about to hold the city’s first Michelin Star. The restaurant is known for its gourmet healthy dishes, which include seafood and plenty of organic produce.

Sofia offers much in the way of fine dining with a host of restaurants catering for all tastes and budgets. Checkpoint Charlie is well worth visiting as it is a shrine to the days of Communism and offers delicious fusion dishes to the sound of live jazz at the weekends. Another historic restaurant is the Antique Restaurant located in the loft of National Theatre. This place used to be a hang-out for actors but now it serves the general public with some mouthwatering cuisine.

If French cuisine is to your taste, then the Classic Gourmet Restaurant is well worth a visit. It has an extensive wine list and offers many classic French dishes in a stylish setting. Our personal selection includes Motto, a modern interior, usually full of Bulgarians and for the summer months a huge walled garden at the rear for outdoor dining and drinks. For those on a limited budget, Divaka, is excellent (there are two in Sofia), offering traditional food and incredible value for money prices.



If shopping is your thing then a stroll along Vitosha Boulevard is a must, lined on both sides with numerous shops selling pretty much everything. When your feet have had enough, then take a moment at any one of the pavement cafes for a coffee or a beer and watch the world pass you by.

The last 6 years have seen the rapid construction of nine large modern shopping malls (including numerous western food and drink chains plus H&M and Marks and Spencer) and many more are planned over the coming future. So Sofia really does have plenty to offer the visitor and really is among the best place to visit in Eastern Europe!