Back in 2018, I had a 5-hour layover at the airport in Sofia before my flight to Athens. We didn’t have enough time to visit the city back then but I vowed to return one day. So when looking into visiting Athens again this January, I decided to prolong that layover. I turned it into a long weekend and spent three days discovering Sofia.

soviet architecture in sofia bulgaria

Often overlooked in favor of more popular destinations, I found myself delighted during those few days in Sofia. The city is diverse but ultimately exudes Eastern European charm. Certain corners would recall Croatian cities for me. In a way, Sofia felt foreign and new yet a bit familiar.

After an afternoon of getting a first glimpse of the city, I decided to get up early the following morning. The image of a frosty pastel sunrise over Sofia will be forever etched in my mind. Especially as I walked toward the magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This imposing edifice is one of the largest Christian church buildings in the world. To be more specific, it’s a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral and one of Sofia’s most famous landmarks.

alexander nevsky cathedral in sofia bulgaria

It’s a place you must visit when in Sofia. As impressive as its exterior is, the interior is just mystifying. Enigmatic and dark, it shines with marble, alabaster, gold, and other luxurious materials. The palatial chandeliers light up the gorgeous interior. I couldn’t stop marveling at all the details of this awe-inspiring place.

During those three days in Sofia, I dined at three different restaurants. Without hesitation, I would revisit all of them because they delighted me but Made in Blue will forever be my favorite. I wrote a separate blog post about them so you can head over there to learn more!

There are a handful of places that you have to see when visiting Sofia. For example, the Ivan Vazov National Theater and the National Palace of Culture. Two contrasting buildings that perfectly represent the blend of architectural styles in this city.

The church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker is one of many churches in Sofia. I loved how scenic it looked and the surrounding buildings were eye-catching too. Near the town hall, you’ll spot the Sveta Nedelya church, and don’t miss the slightly hidden St. George Rotunda church! Considered to be the oldest building in Sofia, it dates back to the 4th century and is hiding in a modern courtyard.

st george rotonda church in sofia

Museums to visit in Sofia

On one of those three days in Sofia, the rain just wouldn’t let down. So I did what I always do when it rains during my travels, I dedicated that day to museums. I started with the National Bulgarian Archeological Museum. It was delightful to discover its many enchanting artifacts and the beautiful space that houses them.

I ended the day at the Regional History Museum, which is situated inside Central Mineral Bathhouse. This is the museum that I would insist everyone visit while in Sofia. There’s no better place to learn more about the city and the history of Bulgaria. The fact that the interior itself is beautiful is only a plus!

My best advice when visiting Sofia would be to walk and walk. On that first morning when I woke up for the sunrise, I ended up doing a 17 km walk. Two hours later, I was outside again because there was more to see. There’s nothing I love more than walking down every possible street in a new city, always trying to spot something new. While I had an itinerary for Sofia, it wasn’t as extensive as they often are for other European cities. So whenever I was headed somewhere, I made sure to take a different path.

The Vitosha mountain hovers over the city and looks most ravishing when the setting sun paints it in colors. In fact, Vitosha boulevard is always brimming with people, like a main artery of the city. Aside from the busy streets, I made sure to venture out farther to residential neighborhoods. I found a few hidden gems over there, like gorgeous abandoned houses and unique buildings.

vitosha mountain in sofia at sunset

You will find churches scattered all throughout the city, as well as museums and other traces of history. The Sofia synagogue charmed me away with its Moorish revival architecture. Also, I was ecstatic upon finding a few examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Sofia, my forever favorite style.

synagogue in sofia
art nouveau building in sofia bulgaria

Oddly enough, the cold weather did nothing to my eager and curious mood. Normally, I don’t travel during January because I prefer other seasons for my endless walks through cities. However, Sofia was clearly an exception and I wanted to discover it as much as possible. There’s just something about this underrated European capital. I can see myself returning here during spring and seeing the city come alive with colors. While still beautiful but in an understated way, Sofia in January felt like a slightly veiled version of a city. Like its full potential was being shrouded from me by the winter winds.

On my last morning in Sofia, I made a quick metro stop while on my way to the airport. Years ago, I saw a photo of the Joliot-Curie station mentioned as one of those accidentally Wes Anderson places. And rightfully so because I can see it as a background in one of his movies!

wes anderson metro station in sofia bulgaria

Overall, Sofia is a lively and compelling city. Roman ruins in the middle of the city next to Soviet architecture and Byzantine churches. Grandiose theaters and universities clash with dilapidated but charming houses. A wonderful melting pot of history, Sofia should be on everyone’s radar. I have a feeling life might lead me back to this country. Under sunnier skies and exploring more than its lovely capital!

boulevard in sofia bulgaria
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Brigita Soldo

Travel Photographer · Creative Content Creator · Vintage & Sustainable Fashion Advocate

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