Sofia Things to Do Tips by mindcrime
Sofia Things to Do: 515 reviews and 999 photos
Central Sofia Synagogue
Central Sofia Synagogue (Tsentralna Sofiiska Sinagoga) is one of the biggest synagogues in Europe, actually the second largest Sephardic (spanish-jewish) synagogue in Europe. Most of the jewish that came to Bulgaria during the 15th century when they were expelled from christian Spain, and accepted in ottoman empire. In 20th century they were a respected part of Sofia, 1 out of 5 citizen of Sofia before WWII was a jew.
The impressive building in Moorish style was built in 1909 with a capacity of 1300 people! The history of jewish people is very interesting because although Bulgaria was part of the Axis during WWII when Germany demanded the transfer of jewish people to concentration camps there were many politicians and even the orthodox church that was against that and they supported diversity in their own country. Many deported to the countryside and hopefully for them the synagogue wasn’t destroyed but it was partly bombed during the war. After the war communist state was against any religion so many jews moved to Isreal. In our days there are about 2000 jews in Sofia.
The interior was nice anyway with some geometric patterns in bright colors but the most impressive thing was the huge brass chandelier that was made of brass in Vienna and has a weight of 1,700 kilos (it’s 19.20 meter high). The 1170 seats are divided into the stalls (men) and the balcony (women), not fair I know but the acoustics are great from every corner :)
There is a small praying room (pic 4) on the right door as you come into the synagogue, I guess the people feel more comfortable there.
The small jewish museum (walk at the back side of the yard and go up the stairs) goes through the story of jewish people in Bulgaria although the man at the main gate (not a jewish but a Christian) told me much more than the lady in the museum! There are photos, documents etc
The entrance fee for the synagoge is 2 leva +2leva for the Museum.
It’s usually open mon-fri 9.00-17.00 (Saturdays till 13.00)
Address: 16 Exarch Yossif Ulica
Directions: At the back side of the central market
central market facade
I love visiting open air markets in every city but in late February with freezing temperatures and snow all over it was much better to visit the Central Market of Sofia.
In Central Market (Tsentralni Hali) not only we had the chance to drink a coffee and have lunch there but we were surprised of the building itself, the numerous smalls stores (most of the selling food, bread, fruits, vegetables, olives, meat, cheese, some jewelry, wine and other spirits, a farmacy etc) that turn the market into a small mall :)
There is an expensive café on the main floor but also some very cheap options on the upper floor where there is a large seating area. The place was full of locals coming and go, I always love these places no matter it was hard to order my soup because no one seemed to speak English there :)
The market was built in 1909, with an art nouveau façade and a small tower with three clocks. The original mechanism of the clock can still be seen inside the market (walk inside and go to the end of the main floor), it’s beautiful old clock (pic 3)
If you go underground you’ll some more fast food options, a hairdresser but also relics from ancient Serdika!
It’s open 7.00-22.00
Address: Boulevard Mariya Luiza 28
Banya Bashi mosque
Banja Basi Mosque was built in 1576 during the ottoman period so no surprise it’s located opposite the Sofia Mineral Public Baths.
It’s the only religious place for muslims in Sofia. We didn’t go inside but we liked the red minaret and the general honey color of this beautifully designed building. Rumors say (many guide books too) that the famous ottoman architecture Mimar Sinan that built Suleymaniye mosque in Istanbul built this one too. Of course there’s no comparison with the impressive mosque in Istanbul.
Address: Maria Louiza Boulevard at Triyaditsa Str.
Directions: Between the Public Baths and the Central Market, next to the TsUM department store. 2’ walk from Serdika station
Sofia area was famous for its mineral springs so it’s no surprise they had public baths since 16th century.
Sofia public Mineral Baths (Sofiyska gradska mineralna banya ) was built in 1908 on the same spot where the former Turkish baths were. Although the main style is Vienna Secession the architects used a lot of byzantine religious elements for decoration, the three domes and the art nouveau tiles gives makes it looks nice.
The baths opened to the public in 1913 and operated non stop (although it was bombed during WWII) until 1986 when they realized that the roof was ready to collapse.
It was closed to visitors when we went there (it seemed under renovation) so I couldnt check the interior. From what I know it will turn into a museum. By the way we noticed many locals with filling bottles with mineral water from the taps next to the building.
Address: On the center
Directions: 2’ walk from Serdika station, 1’ from Central Market
I cant remember why we decided from the city center down to NDK, the truth is that it was very cold that morning, there was still snow on the pavements but it was nice to see the city in action, locals going to work and we had the chance to check some small stores on the way etc
When we arrived at NDK (national palace of culture) we realized that it is a huge ugly building in hexagon shape(pic 1). It was built in 1981 by concrete and glass, covering an area of 123,000 square meters in total. It was created to celebrate 1300 years of Bulgaria existence. People come here for big concerts (the central hall has a capacity of 5000 people) but also for congresses, exhibitions, trade fairs etc We just went to drink coffee at one of the cafes because we were desperate for a warm place after walking doe about an hour in the cold.
There is a park in front NDK, it was covered by snow of course so it was hard to enjoy it, there are some monuments here and there, we saw some fountains that I guess must e look nicer in warmer months when you can choose one of the open air eateries and cafes or just relax at one of the numerous benches. So we decided to walk next to it on Vitosha avenue (the most interesting avenue if you are into shopping by the way) going back to the centre.
Address: 1 Bulgaria sq. Sofia 1414
Directions: From city center walk down Vitosha avenue. If you are near the Cathedral walk down boulevard Vasil Levski
We decided to walk down bulevard Vasil Levski until we reach NDK. On our right hand we saw a small structure that is a mausoleum (pics 1-2).
We entered inside where a local informed us that it’s Prince Alexander Battenberg Mausoleum(Mavzoley na Batenberg).
Alexander of Battenberg (1857-1893, real name Alexander Joseph) was the first Prince of modern Bulgaria from 1879 till 1886. He retired and lived his last years in Graz where he died. His remains brought to Sofia and buried at this mausoleum that erected to his memory.
Address: Bulevard Vasil Levski
Directions: Opposite the park that houses the Monument to the Soviet Army
After taking photos of the Sofia University we crossed the Tsar Osvoboditel boulevard to check the park that is located near by. We couldn’t really enjoy the paths of the park because it was covered by snow and was kind of risky to walk on the slippery ice (pic 1) but at least we saw the main attraction of the park which is the Monument to the Soviet Army (Pametnik na Savetskata armia ).
The huge stone and iron monument (pic 2) was built in 1954 showing a soldier from Soviet Army accompanied by two Bulgarian people, a man and woman (pic 3).
At the bottom of the monument you can see sculptural compositions showing soldiers, nothing special if you check pic 4 but it looked much more interesting on june 2011 when the figures were painted to look like captain America, superman and other “heroes” from western world, a good/funny way to put a statement for sure. Click here to see the photo
In our days it’s just a popular meeting place, an area for skaters
Address: Orlov Most
Directions: On the center, near the University of Sofia
National Gallery for Foreign Arts
National Gallery for Foreign Art has a great art collection, most of the exhibits are donated by private collectors. The building was designed by Shwanberger and used to be the State Printing House that was bombed during WWII but restored. It opened to the public as a museum in 1985.
There are numerous halls with different themes, usually focusing on a specific world area, Indian paintings and sculptures, Japanese prints, Buddist art, African art, Western Europe sculptures and paintings etc I refused to pay the extra ticket (10 leva while the ticket itself is 6 leva!) for using my camera although it hurts my VT feelings :)
It’s open Wednesday to Monday 11.00-18.30
The entrance fee is 6leva + 10leva for taking pictures!!! If you want to use a videocamera you must add 80 leva!
Free entrance last Monday of the month
A few steps away from the National Gallery we walked on the icy path (pic 2) and we saw the University building Kliment Ohridski (pic 3), a beautiful building that dates from 1906 designed by french architect Breanson. We loved the impressive facade, there are 2 statues of Evlogi and Christo Georgiev the donators of the university. The locals seem very proud of it, our local friends pointed at it before anything else...
Address: 1, Alexander Nevski Square
Phone: +359 (2) 980 72 62
Aleksander Nevski Cathedral
St Aleksander Nevski Cathedral (Sveti Aleksandar Nevski) is the most popular church/site among the visitors. It’s a huge bulgarian orthodox cathedral, the second biggest in the Balkans after the one in Belgrade.
It was built in 1912 by russian architect Pomerantsev in neo-byzantine style, a typical cross-domed basilica that took 30 years to complete. The gold-plated dome goes up to 45 meters while the massive bell tower is 53 meters high. Impressive for sure, we took several photos from many angles before we decide to go inside...
Once inside we were impressed by the size (it has a capacity of 10,000 people) but we felt a bit dissapointed of the dark decoration (it has to do with the thousands of candles of course) which was hard to enjoy, not a chance to take a good picture anyway (which isnt allowed anyway).
The cathedral was created in honour of the russian soldiers that died during the Russo Turkish War (1877-78) that helped Bulgaria get liberated from the ottomans. The central altar is dedicated to St Aleksander Nevski (there’s a case with relics of him next to the altar), the patron saint of the Tsar Alexander II while other parts are named after Saints Cyril and Methodious (that created the cyrillic alphabet) and after St Boris (the man who brought christianity to Bulgaria)
There are numerous icons and frescoes made by several different artists. We didnt notice any locals inside so we didnt really “feel” the cathedral, we checked some details (for examble some huge chandeliers) and left the cathedral.
There is a small door on the left where you get into the crypt of the cathedral and houses a museum with bulgarian religious icons. There’s a small fee though for that because “it’s not a church here” as the man on the door clearly told us :)
Address: Al. Nevski Sq.
Directions: On the centre of Sofia
Phone: +359 2 988 17 04
Church of Sveta Sofia
Church of Sveta Sofia is the oldest eastern orthodox church in Sofia with a long and rich history. It was built in 6th century (probably during the reign of the byzantine emperor Justinian) on the site of earlier churches (from 4th century, remains of that mosaic can still be seen in the floor). It’s a typical byzantine basilica with red bricks. St Sofia gave the name to the city of Sofia (much later of course, in 14th century although Sredets was used also until 18th century).
The church was turned into a mosque during the ottoman empire and unfortunately the old frescoes were covered by plaster. Several damaged came with the earthquakes of 1818 and 1858 but after the liberation in 1878 an extensive restoration brought the church back and it is now used again by locals that used it for ceremonies (weddings, baptisms etc) although it’s very simple inside with only a few icons here and there.
Outside the main gate we noticed some old photos of the church (pic 3). There is a small store with icons, magnets and a book about the church.
The church is open daily 9.00-18.00
Right outside the church is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (pic 5) that was erected for the Bulgarian soldiers that died during WWI similar to those all over Europe. The difference here is the huge bronze lion that protects the tomb (pic 4)
Address: Alexander Nevsky Square
Directions: Opposite Aleksander Nevski cathedral
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