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Sights and Delights of Sofia

Sofia is an exciting and vibrant capital with much to offer in the way of culture and entertainment. The city centre contains some delightful and impressive architecture with some classic Eastern European and Stalinist examples like the National History Museum and the Ivan Vazov Theatre.

 

Sofia’s proximity to the beautiful Vitosha Mountain range with its developed ski facilities makes it one of the few capital cities, which can boast natural, panoramic views from its centre.

 

A Transformation

The city has undergone many positive changes to develop it into one of Europe’s most stylish capitals – the international film industry has flocked here to set up film studios and the now famous Vitosha Boulevard, Sofia’s equivalent to Fifth Avenue or the Champs Elysee is being redesigned to highlight the city’s retro 1930’s style.

The Municipality has added Art Nouveau kiosks, new green areas, water features and art Deco benches and street lighting.

Sofia is an easy city to tour on foot as it really is not that large, although its well developed public transport system is great for those who want to cover a lot of ground. There are regular buses and trams as well as private mini-buses known as "marshrutki". You can stop one of these private buses by just sticking your hand out and hailing it.

Sofia metro as of the 25 April 2012 has 16 stations and consists of over 20 km of lines, connecting the highly populated districts of Lyulin and Mladost. Further future expansion is still underway to improve transport connections within the city. Like all Bulgarian cities, taxis here are yellow and seem to be everywhere until you actually need one!

 

Museums and Galleries

Sofia is home to an abundance of museums and it is well worth taking time to see at least one of them.

The Archaeological Institute and Museum has a particularly interesting exhibition covering the early Christian period through to the Middle Ages.

It houses many local finds and treasures, which show the importance of the city and indeed Bulgaria throughout ancient times.

The Earth and Mankind Museum focuses on the country’s geological history with a large, diverse collection of rocks and minerals including some impressive and extremely large crystals. The National Museum of History shows over 650,000 exhibits from the 4th century AD through to the post war era and is one of the largest museums of its kind in the Balkan Peninsula, whilst the National Museum of Military History displays a wide range of weapons, military vehicles, uniforms and medals. Many of the exhibits are housed outdoors.

Art lovers will adore the wealth of art galleries in this city. The National Art Gallery is home to many exhibitions including one dedicated to sculptures and graphics. The Sofia Art Gallery stages exhibitions from Bulgarian and international artists and is possibly one of the city’s best loved galleries. If you prefer to see the works of some of Bulgaria’s Masters, then the Gallery of the Bulgarian Artists Union is the best place to visit, but if you are more interested in contemporary Bulgarian art, then the Irida Gallery is for you.

 

Churches and Places of Worship

Sofia is home to numerous churches and religious monuments, but by far the most popular is the stunning Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Not only is it the most significant landmark in the city, it is also one of the world’s largest Orthodox Churches. It also houses the largest collection of Orthodox icons in Europe and is easily recognized by its enormous size and gold plated dome.

Another noteworthy historical church is the 14th century Boyana Church. Not only is it a UNESCO site but it is full of some very well maintained Christian murals – many art historians claim that the frescoes in this church are amongst the world’s best examples of medieval art. St Nedlya Church also contains some impressive murals and iconostasis as well as 11 chiming bells that peel out over the city.

The Banya Bashi Mosque, Sofia’s only working mosque is a classic example of Ottoman architecture and culture – its large dome and minaret are particularly good examples of this. The Mosque was constructed over thermal mineral spas and it is possible to see the steam from the spas rising from outlets around the Mosque’s perimeter walls. Another interesting site is the Battenberg Mausoleum, which houses the remains of Prince Alexander I, who was the country’s first head of state in the 19th century. The mausoleum was closed during the Communist era, but reopened in 1991 and today contains many of the Prince’s personal possessions, which were donated by his wife back in 1937.