Sage green domes atop Sofia's cathedral hint at the city's Ottoman past. Sober Soviet blocks set the scene for a festive, open-air antiques market. Alternately opulent and severe, the Bulgarian capital tells its dramatic history in its architecture, museums, restaurants, and theater.
Walk along the tree-lined avenue around Sofia’s iconic St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and haggle for Soviet-era trinkets, military memorabilia, amateur art, vintage lace, and so much more at the Alexander Nevsky Flea Market. Don’t miss the cathedral itself, either, the largest in the Balkans and home to an impressive art collection.
An icon of Ottoman architecture in the heart of Sofia, Banya Bashi Mosque was designed in the 16th century by Mimar Sinan, the chief architect for Suleiman the Magnificent, who also designed Selim Mosque in Edirne and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Sofia’s only working mosque, this ornate landmark tells stories of just one of the city’s many historic incarnations.
Towering over the city, Mount Vitosha is one of Sofia’s most recognizable symbols – and a popular spot for outdoor excursions. In winter, ski and snowboard on its slopes; in summer, hike and mountain bike up dirt tracks. No matter the season, the mountain guarantees panoramic views of the city below.
Amidst all the Brutalist Soviet architecture, it’s hard to miss Sofia’s Communist past, but the relatively new Museum of Socialist Art offers an opportunity to delve further into the artistic culture of the period. In addition to displaying Bulgarian art made between the years of 1944 and 1989, the museum includes a sculpture garden filled with the likenesses of Soviet leaders.
Once the home of Bulgarian sculptor Andrey Nikolov, this 1920s Italianate mansion now hosts theater and dance performances, film screenings, art exhibitions, and compelling symposiums on contemporary politics. Small galleries with crimson walls and blond wood floors are named for Nikolov, and display a collection of the celebrated artist's marble busts and limestone statues.
Literally in the hotel’s backyard, so that some rooms even look out on it, this fourth-century Roman Church is the oldest building in Sofia. Surrounded by an important archaeological site that includes remnants of both a Roman palace and the early Thracian settlement known as Serdica, the simple clay-and-brick church is filled with impressive medieval frescoes.
Formerly known as Preslav, Stardust restaurant has a storied past, serving as a meeting point for heads of state from Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon.Learn More
A handful of west-facing suites look out on the domed medieval Sveta Nedelya Church, one of the city's most elegant, which lies on the ancient crossroads of the city of Serdica.Learn More
While Soviet architecture is often thought of as Brutalist, the Sofia Hotel Balkan is an impressive example of 1950s Soviet style, an ornate Italianate monument of soaring columns, marble floors, elegant arches.Learn More