Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria and is located in the western part of the country, right at the foot of Vitosha Mountain.
I was off on another city break with somewhere new for me to explore. I don’t like to mess around and as soon as I got to the AirBnB I dumped my bags and was off.
I was staying near Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This is one of the largest Orthodox Cathedrals in the world and was the largest until 2000. Construction started in 1882 and was finished in 1989 and was constructed in the style of Neo-Byzantine.
It is absolutely stunning. The details of the churches structure are finessed well, and it is known as one of Sofia’s major landmarks and tourist hotspots.
Right by Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the monument of the Unknown Soldier to remember those lost in wars.
There was a large sculpture of a lion nearby (Not a part of), which had several tourists taking photos with it and reminded me of the Lions in Trafalgar Square when you used to be able to hop on top of for a picture.
So of course, I decided to take a candid shot 😉
I decided to go on a free walking tour with Free Sofia Tours to get some background on the history of Bulgaria and Sofia.
My next stop was the Russian Church (Church of St Nicholas the Miracle Maker), which was built in 1914 for the Russian embassy when they liberated Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire.
It has a similar style to those in St Petersburg and Moscow.
Sofia has many monuments scattered around the city, recognising war heroes and leaders during the communist era and some previous rulers throughout history.
I always enjoy wandering around a city to see what monuments and statues are on show and the history behind them (Usually it involves research post trip – nerd).
One of the major prominent monuments in Sofia is the Saint Sofia Monument (Statue of Sevata Sofia). This statue was erected in 2000 to replace a statue of Lenin (Interesting…) and is of the patron saint of the city, who is worshiped in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Parts of the city really demonstrate the styles of architecture during communist rule.
Here you see the Constitutional Court of Bulgaria on one side, and on the other is the president building and another the concert hall which has a hammer and sickle still on top.
One thing that was very common in the communist period was buildings being built around places of worship to hide the religion. Instead of completely eradicating it they hoped the people would forget about it. This is clear when you see the Church of St. George Rotunda, which is the oldest church in Sofia and is surrounded by the Soviet grey boring buildings.
Another iconic sight you can see within Sofia is the Amphitheatre of Serdica and the Sofia Ancient Serdica Archaeological Complex.
When the city commissioned underground railway stations to improve their public transportation system, they discovered these ancient roman ruins. After the Roman Empire fell all these ruins were built on top of and forgotten.
The Amphitheatre of Serdica shows what once was a place of gathering for people, but now is part of a hotel.
The Sofia Ancient Serdica Archaeological Complex is out in the open and preserved showing the domains of people living in the Roman period.
A layer above these Roman ruins, Sveta Petka was found in the 1950s. Also known as the Church of St Petka of the saddlers (Named after the saint of saddlers in the middle ages??? Even the internet couldn’t help me with this one), it is thought to be from the 16th century. It is a very small church – barely enough room for more than ten people to visit at a time – but contains mural paintings from the 14th, 15th, 17th and 19th centuries.
One thing our guide told us about Sofia is that it is a city that is accepting of all religious beliefs and the idea of religious harmony (Some places around the world should take notes!). This was due to Bulgaria being part of the Ottoman empire and then later as a country of Orthodox faith. This is clearly seen by how the Banya Bashi Mosque and St Kyriako Cathedral Church are a stone’s throw away from each other.
The next day it was time to venture (slightly) out of the city of Sophia. Just to the south of the city is Mount Vitosha. I met a tour guide at the front of Ivan Vazov, National and he took me and a few others up into the mountains for a hike around Mount Vitosha to see Boyana Waterfall.
I for once was smart and packed runners/trainers instead of hiking in Chelsea boots (They are still around to this day, going strong!).
The hike took us first to the Boyana Church. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was originally constructed in the 10th century by the Orthodox Church. Inside no photos were allowed as most of the walls are covered in beautiful fresco paintings.
The hike continued and from time to time I got some candid shots of me walking (dear lord) or posing looking off into the distance (adult me will regrets these!)
We finally made it to Boyana Waterfall, which was beautiful. There is something about waterfalls where I can just switch off and sit there listening to the water pound against the rocks and be at peace.
I look forward to visiting Iguazu Waterfall and Victoria Waterfall one day.
After a while and a packed lunch we made our way back down.
I enjoy these types of group activities as a solo traveller as you get to meet people from all over the world and make some great connections.
My final day consisted of an early morning stroll through the city again.
I also decided to venture into the National Archaeology Museum, which contains artefacts that were found in the excavation of Sofia’s Roman ruins.
That afternoon I decided to take part The Communist Tour, from Taken by 365: Culture & Communist Tours. They took us around different sections of the city, told us about the history of communism within Sofia, and shared stories of what people would have gone through behind the iron curtain in Bulgaria.
The Tour finished at Knyazheska Gardens, where you will find the Monument to the Soviet Army for liberating Bulgaria from Nazi Germany.
This monument is controversial as some believe they should keep it to pay homage to those that saved them from the axis-power in World War II, whilst others see it as a sign of a dark history under Soviet rule until the 1990s.
It is a spot with lots of political artwork, with the soldiers at the base of the monument being painted as Marvel superhero characters, Ukrainian flag colours, pink in honour of the Prague spring and red on the faces of the soldiers in protest against communism to remind the people of what they did to Bulgaria after the war.
It was a free walking tour and I highly recommend it to get a different understanding of communism.
Sofia was a blast and certainly a memorable travel experience. I have plans to venture out to other parts of Bulgaria in the future to see what the rest of the country has to offer.