Bulgaria represents a pretty fascinating intersection between the cultures of the several empires that have conquered this Balkan country over the centuries. From Ancient Rome to the Ottoman Empire and the USSR, a great many hegemonies have made their mark on this Eastern European country, and nowhere is this more evident than in its capital of Sofia.
We count down the 5 best things to do in this fascinating capital.
St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral
The second-largest cathedral in the Balkans, the St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral was built in the late 19th century as a sort of Christian ‘fuck you’ to the withdrawing Ottoman Empire. The Cathedral can seat 10,000 parishioners, and its spectacular exterior is nicely complemented by the beautiful icons and murals inside the building.
Bitaka Flea Market
The vendors are not necessarily the nicest or the most eager to sell their wares, but for the history buff Sofia’s street markets are a treasure trove. Pick through Nazi and Soviet memorabilia, buy Eastern Orthodox icons or simply browse the wealth of souvenirs and do your best to separate the wheat from the chaff. Want a Nazi passport? This is the place to find one, but do your best to make sure it’s the real thing first.
St. George Rotunda
The oldest building in Sofia is one that speaks to the rich mélange of cultures that have influenced this ancient capital. Built back in the fourth century, the church was converted to a mosque by the invading Ottomans in the sixteenth century, who painted over the frescoes. These were restored in the 1990s, and outside the simple redbrick building are the remains of an Ancient Roman street.
Communist walking tour
The Romans and the Ottomans weren’t the only foreigners to leave their mark on Sofia; Bulgaria was also part of the USSR, and this is reflected in a great many things from their continued use of the Cyrillic alphabet to Sofia’s rich history of communist iconography and architecture. This tour, starting in front of the Palace of Justice, will take you to several landmarks built under communist rule in Bulgaria, from the former headquarters of the secret police to the Soviet Army Monument.
75 Kozloduy Street, 1202 Sofia Centre
Honestly one of the finest meals you’ll ever have. Take a huge, huge skewer of lamb and add chilli paste, broad bean salad and a generous helping of greens, and you’ve gotan absolutely fantastic repast. Wash it down with Bulgarian beer and a glass or two of the national tipple, rakia, and you’re guaranteed not to be disappointed.