Sofia is the capital city of Bulgaria. It’s also the ancient Roman city of Serdica. Things to do in Sofia include;
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral + Underground Crypt
- Saint Sofia Church + Underground
- Boyana Church (UNESCO Site)
- Vitosha Boulevard (Shopping)
- Sofia Central Mineral Baths
- Ancient Roman city of Serdica
- Amphitheater of Serdica
- Yellow Brick Road of Sofia
- Day Trip to Rila Monastery (UNESCO Site)
- Communist Era Buildings + KFC / Dunkin Donuts Building
- CSKA Sofia Stadium and Vasil Levski National Stadium
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
For me, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is one of the most Instagram worthy buildings in Europe. For this reason, it’s worth visiting at different times of the day to photograph it. Check out my Instagram pictures at sunset, with the yellow brick road, as well as with a taxi passing. Alternatively, you can photograph it with the zebra crossing as a leading line, or from further away with other historic buildings in the shot. An interesting shot you can take is from the Vasil Levski National Stadium as there’s a Johnnie Walker ‘Keep Walking’ advertisement you can include in the frame! Moreover, the Alexander Nevsky was completed in 1912 after 30 years of construction and is one of the largest churches in the world.
Did you know, there’s also a Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Underground Crypt
I’ve mentioned the beautiful cathedral but did you know you could visit the underground crypt? Although entry to the church is free, there is a small fee to enter the crypt. As a result, it’s likely to be empty, as a matter of fact, when I visited I was alone in the underground crypt! The crypt houses the largest collection of Orthodox icons in the world therefore icons you will see!
Saint Sofia Church – The Best Sofia Underground
For me, Saint Sofia Church has the best underground in Sofia and part of Serdica Necropolis. As a matter of fact, there’s an area in front of the church where you can peer down into the underground before entering. However, you enter the underground from inside the church. There’s a small fee to enter which keeps the number of people inside down. Once inside, there are several tombs and even some small churches over 4 underground levels.
The official name for the Russian church is St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker. An interesting fact about this church is that it’s built on the location of a former Ottoman mosque. The Russians destroyed the mosque when they liberated Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire in 1882. A few decades later they replaced it with this picturesque Russian church. A good reason to enter this church is to visit the underground crypt.
Boyana Church (UNESCO Site)
Boyana Church is the only UNESCO site in Sofia. The small village of Boyana is in fact a suburb of the Bulgarian capital. As well as being able to visit the church, there are wonderful panoramic views of the city. Inside are several historic frescoes but photos are forbidden. When I say forbidden, your every step is watched by security! I visited Boyana Church as part of a day trip to Rila Monastery.
Banya Bashi Mosque
Of course, Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, therefore there are landmarks from this period. Built in 1566, the Banya Bashi Mosque is the most significant building from this period. But, there’s something else significant about this mosque. It’s the only mosque in the world to be built on natural thermal spas. For this reason, you can see steam rises from vents in the lower part of the building. For photographers, this could make an excellent long exposure shot in low light.
Sofia Central Mineral Baths
Budapest, Hungary is famous for natural thermal spas in the city but did you know Sofia also has this phenomenon? Unfortunately, the complex no longer houses baths. If however, you had visited during the Ottoman period you could have enjoyed a Turkish bath.
Statue of Saint Sofia
Did you ever wonder, why is this city called Sofia? It is named after Saint Sofia and there is a 20 meter high statue of her in the city center. This statue replaced a statue of Lenin in 2000. Sofia is Greek for wisdom, for this reason she is holding a wise owl.
Church of St George Rotunda
The most famous hotel in Sofia is the Sofia Hotel Balkan. If you are looking for the luxury experience in the best location, I recommend you stay here. The Church of St George Retonda is located right behind this hotel. It’s not only the oldest church in Sofia but also the oldest building in Sofia. For aerial views of the Church of St George Retonda as well as St Sofia Statue, Serdica Complex, St Nedelya church, Vitosha Boulevard and St Petka of the Saddlers, I recommend you choose the Sofia Hotel Balkan.
St Nedelya Church
The St Nedelya Church is a medieval church in the center of Sofia. It’s most commonly known as the church which was attacked. In 1925 the roof was blown up by the Bulgarian Communist Party during a funeral. As a result several people were killed, mainly highly ranked military and politicians.
Vitosha Boulevard is the main shopping street of Sofia. It is to Sofia landmarks what Oxford street is to the London landmarks, or what the Grand Canal is to Venice landmarks. Of course, the street is full of high street shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. Additionally, it offers quite spectacular views too. At one end is the picturesque St Nedelya Church, while the other is a view of Vitosha mountain.
Church of St Petka of the Saddlers
The Church of St Petka of the Saddlers has one of the most unique positions of any church I have ever seen. I would describe it as being located on an island above both the modern Serdica underground station and the historic Roman Serdica complex. Inside the church are several paintings as well as a crypt. It’s unlikely to be open when you visit but don’t be disappointed, it’s much better photographed from the outside.
Largo are the former houses of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Nowadays however, they are used by the National Assembly of Bulgaria. As you walk through this part of Sofia, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the historic Soviet Union. As a matter of fact, you can see a Soviet Union symbol inscribed in the center of the building. Someone did a terrible job of removing it!
Bulgarian National Assembly Building – Things to do in Sofia
The Bulgarian National Assembly building is the Bulgarian equivalent of the Houses of Parliament in London or the Capitol Building in Washington DC. It’s amazing how close you can get to this building, you can walk right up to the front door. It’s built in Neo-Renaissance style and due to its small size, many offices are in the nearby Largo.
Yellow Brick Road of Sofia
Many people will have seen the movie, ‘Wizard of Oz‘ which is famous for the yellow brick road. Did you know there is a real life yellow brick road in Sofia? More importantly, why is there a yellow brick road in Sofia? The concept of this yellow brick road dates back to 1893 when Prince Ferdinand married Princess Marie-Louise. He wanted to make Sofia a majestic capital, like Vienna or Budapest. At this time, Sofia didn’t even have a paved road. In an attempt to contest Vienna and Budapest, yellow cobblestones were laid. As a result, today Sofia is a very Instagram worthy city. Not only are there majestic buildings but also a unique yellow brick road as a foreground.
Ancient Serdica Complex – Underground
Over the years, the huge city of Sofia has been built up over the ancient Roman city of Serdica. As time goes on, more and more parts of this ancient city are being discovered. In fact, the main underground station of Serdica is also a huge archaeological site. For this reason, Serdica station is one of the most memorable subway stations you’ll ever visit. The Serdica complex stretches all the way to Saint Sofia church.
Amphitheater of Serdica
The Amphitheater of Serdica is one of the most unique Roman Amphitheaters in the world. As a matter of fact it’s located in the lobby of a luxury hotel called the Arena Di Serdica. How did a hotel manage to get planning permission to build around a Roman Amphitheater? The truth is no-one knew this amphitheater existed until building work on the hotel began. Instead of scrapping the hotel, they decided to excavate the amphitheater and create a truly unique hotel. After all, the area is heavily built up so it would never be knocked down. Even if you’re not staying in the hotel, you’re welcome to visit the amphitheater.
National Palace of Culture
The National Palace of Culture is the largest exhibition center in south eastern Europe. It was completed in 1981 after 2 years of construction. As a matter of fact it was built to celebrate the 1300th anniversary of Bulgaria. The palace is surrounded by Bulgaria Square which is a beautiful park area with several underground restaurants. It’s definitely an Instagram spot in Sofia with the fountains leading up to the stunning palace. For the latest events, check out the National Palace of Culture website.
Photo with the Sofia Sign
No visit to Sofia is complete without a photo in front of the Sofia sign. There’s a Sofia sign next to the National Palace of Culture.
Communist Era Buildings
In certain parts of Sofia are several communist era buildings. During the communist era of Bulgaria several huge blocks of flats were erected. Today, they are often painted, as a result they make for interesting photos. Are you interested in photographing communist era Bulgarian flats? If so, you should take the metro to West Park station. Additionally, these buildings are located in various parts of the city, West Park is just one of many options.
KFC / Dunkin Donuts Communist Building
The reason I recommend West Park to photograph communist era buildings is because there is a truly unique one there. There’s a KFC / Dunkin Donuts sponsored block in this area. If you do fancy a KFC or a Dunkin Donuts after seeing the building, there is double restaurant adjacent to it!
CSKA Sofia Stadium
Sofia is home to the Bulgarian Army stadium, home of CSKA Sofia. It’s located in Borisova Park. CSKA Sofia are arguably the most successful Bulgarian team, both Berbatov and Stoichkov played here. You can take a free stadium tour, additionally, it’s free to visit the CSKA Sofia museum. Check out my visit to the CSKA Sofia Stadium and museum tour on my travel blog.
Vasil Levski National Stadium
When the Bulgaria national team play at home, they play at the Vasil Levski National Stadium. It’s located in the center of Sofia, adjacent to the CSKA Sofia stadium and also in Borisova Park. It’s the second largest stadium in Bulgaria after the abandoned stadium of Plovdiv. If there’s a Bulgarian team in the Champions League, they often play here as it’s a UEFA category 4 stadium. Furthermore, there’s a museum in the stadium, devoted to both football and athletics.
Monument to the Soviet Army – Knyazheska Garden
Knyazheska Garden is located opposite to Vasil Levski National Stadium. It’s main feature is the Monument to the Soviet Army. Adjacent to the park is the Eagles Bridge. Although a bridge with huge eagle sculptures sounds like an Instagrammable location, in reality, it’s a busy road. Nonetheless it’s still one of the things to do in Sofia.
Battenberg Mausoleum is adjacent to Knyazheska Garden. Inside is the tomb of Prince Alexander, the first head of state of modern Bulgaria. It’s free to enter and pay respect. Normally, it’s open for a short time each day.
Things to do in Sofia – Tram Spotting
Sofia is full of colorful trams. As you walk around the city you’ll see yellow, blue, orange, red and white trams. If you see colorful houses or an elegant building alongside tramlines. It’s worth waiting there a few moments for a tram to pass. A colorful tram can seriously enhance a picture of a Sofia landmark. In addition, the tram can block out any parked cars which may ruin an otherwise perfect image.
Day Trip to Rila Monastery (UNESCO Site)
Rila Monastery is a popular day trip from Sofia, in fact this day trip is one of the top things to do in Sofia. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site and you learn a lot about Bulgarian history on this day trip. Additionally, it’s often combined with a trip to the UNESCO Boyana church on the outskirts of Sofia. Read about a day trip to Rila Monastery on my travel blog.
How to get from Sofia to Plovdiv
To take the bus from Sofia to Plovdiv is incredibly easy. They leave to Plovdiv every 30 minutes to an hour from Sofia Central Bus Station. The journey takes from 1-2 hours depending on traffic. You buy your ticket from the Plovdiv counter and there’s no need to book in advance. If you do arrive and the bus is full, you won’t have long to wait for the next one. Enjoy your trip from Sofia to Plovdiv.
Plovdiv to Veliko Tarnovo