Sofia, Bulgaria

Photo: Boby Dimitrov from Sofia, Bulgaria (Downtown Sofia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Boby Dimitrov from Sofia, Bulgaria (Downtown Sofia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Since you started traveling to Europe, you’ve been slowly making your way east across the continent. London, Paris, and Barcelona were your first stops. Berlin and Venice followed. Then you finally saw Prague and Budapest during your last trip. So what’s the next great city you’ll explore?

Sofia should be at the top of your list. The capital of Bulgaria sits in the Sofia Valley at the foot of Mount Vitosha. It was first settled by the Thracians in the 5th BC. The Byzantines, the Ottomans, the Turks, and the Soviets later claimed the Balkan country. But since joining the European Union in 2007, Bulgarians, particularly the people who live in Sofia, have been quick to shed their communist past.

The city is full of yellow cobblestone streets, green parks, and domed churches. Start in the Oborishte. The center of the city has grand Neo-Renaissance and Viennese architecture. Visit the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the largest orthodox churches in the world. The Neo-Byzantine church was built in the late 19th century in memory of the soldiers who died fighting for independence during the Russo-Turkish War. It’s known for its multi-domed roof and massive, dimly lit interior.

Photo: Gergana (Urbnastyle) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Gergana (Urbnastyle) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Stroll to the nearby Central Mineral Baths. The baths are fed from the seven mineral springs that flow into the city. The striped building recently reopened as a museum and exhibition center. Wander through the National Archaeological Museum. The former mosque is home to Roman and Medieval artifacts, including a 4th-century burial mask. See the monuments, including the Monument to the Soviet Army, the Monument to the Tsar Liberator, and the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. They’re sources of pride and inspiration to current protestors.

Walk through Borisova Gradina, the city’s oldest park. The green space is full of stadiums, statues, flowers, and Lake Ariana. Stop at a café along the edge of the park for an espresso. Watch the fashion-obsessed crowd walk by from your little table. Then find a small restaurant to eat soup for lunch. Try a cold soup made of yogurt, cucumbers, and walnuts or a hot soup with tripe.

After lunch, head to the Boyana Church on the outskirts of the city. The small Bulgarian Orthodox church, built in the 14th century, has beautiful gardens, extensive murals, and rare Medieval artwork. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mount Vitosha and its hiking and skiing trails loom in the background. From here you can continue into the mountains or on to the next great city. Bucharest isn’t that far away.

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