The city of Sofia is Bulgaria’s capital and the country’s largest city. It is located in western Bulgaria, just sixty kilometers from the Serbian border. The country’s largest international airport is here, connecting Bulgaria with the rest of the world. You can reach any place in Bulgaria from Sofia thanks to a highly-developed network of air, rail and road transportation.
The city is one of the oldest in this part of Europe. Because of its thermal springs, Sofia was settled by Thracian tribes. In the first century A.D., the Romans came to power and turned the settlement into a flourishing city that they called Ulpia Serdika. The Roman emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) said, “Serdika is my Rome”.
During the 9th century, the city then known as Sredets, became part of the Bulgarian Empire. At the end of the 14th century, Sredets took the name of its most symbolic and important temple, the Saint Sofia Basilica. In the Sofia region, many Orthodox monasteries and churches were founded, and they came to be known collectively as Sofia’s Holy Mountain. In 1382, the city was overrun by the Ottomans. It was liberated on January 4, 1878 and on April 3, 1879 was declared the capital of the liberated Bulgarian nation.
Thanks to its long history, Sofia has many historical monuments. Among them are the exposed remains of an ancient fortress, the oldest church in the city, the rotunda dedicated to Saint George; the church that long served as the city’s symbol, Saint Sofia; and the church at Boyana, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because of its unique frescoes. The largest Orthodox church in Bulgaria, the cathedral-monument Alexander Nevsky, is now considered by many to be the city’s symbol. Here you may view unique examples of Christian iconography. Another popular monument is the Saint Nicolas Russian Orthodox Church. In the center of the city, four churches serving four different religions – Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Judaism and Islam – are located very close to each other. The Saint Joseph Synagogue is the largest Sephardic (Iberian Jewish) synagogue in Europe. Sofia preserves many treasures from its history stretching over thousands of years, and there are many museums here. The National Historical Museum, which is located in the Boyana quarter, is an excellent introduction to Bulgarian history. Here you can see a number of world-famous Thracian treasures. The National Archaeological Museum, in the city near the Presidential Palace, also houses many priceless artifacts. Not far from this museum is the Museum of National History, where you can appreciate the country’s rich natural diversity. The building next door, which was formerly the Tsar’s palace, is now the home of the Bulgarian Museum of ethnography and Fine Arts. In addition, there are many other museums, One of the most interesting museums is the National Polytechnic Museum, housing many interesting exhibitions related to Bulgarian scientific discoveries. There are also the Military History Museum, the Museum of Anthropology, and the “Earth and its People” Museum, housing 1,523 of the 4,200 known minerals.
The building that houses the largest theater in Bulgaria, the National Theater “Ivan Vazov”, is an undoubted architectural masterpiece. In the city center, on and around Slaveikov Square, is a book bazaar that is one-of-a-kind, offering both new books and valuable antique editions.
Sofia is a modern and forward-looking city that offers visitors many attractions and recreational possibilities. It is the location of one of the largest trade centers in Eastern Europe, with a wide range of boutiques selling world-famous brands. The many modern movie theaters, dramatic theaters offering innovative plays, opera, ballet, and galleries all contribute to the city’s cultural ambience. The city’s cultural calendar is filled with festivals and exhibitions.
For people who enjoy night life, there are many options such as clubs, discotheques, bars and restaurants. Visitors have their choice of the entire range of accommodations, including hotels, motels, hostels, and rental apartments.
Towering above Sofia is the mountain Vitosha, one of the city’s most attractive destinations for hiking and ecotourism. Here there are also excellent facilities for winter sport. The proximity of these facilities is a real bonus to those who like to enjoy sports without travelling a long distance from the city. Buses run regularly to lifts that transport skiers to the ski area. Other sports facilities that the city offers visitors include football pitches, tennis courts, multi-functional sports halls, and ice rinks.
Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria. It is located in southern Bulgaria, 120 km southeast of Sofia. A freeway connects the two cities. There is an international airport in Plovdiv providing air service to a number of European countries mainly in the winter. The oldest city in what is now Plovdiv was the Thracian city Evmolpia. In the 4th century BC Evmolpia was conquered by Philip of Macedonia, Alexander’s father. In his honor, the city was renamed Phillipopolis. In the 1st century A.D., Phillipopolis fell under the control of the Roman Empire. Many architectural monuments remain from the Roman period, when the city was known as Trimontium – the Roman stadium, the Classical Amphitheater, cobbled streets, fortress walls, buildings, a system of aqueducts, and canals.
In the first half of the 9th century, the city became part of the newly formed Bulgarian state. The Ottoman Empire annexed the beautiful medieval city in 1364, and for more than five centuries Plovdiv became a typical oriental city with many bazaars and mosques. Once again, the city’s name was changed to Philibe.
Some of the city’s most impressive architectural monuments date back to the time of the Bulgarian Revival in the 18th and 19th centuries. At that time, enterprising Bulgarian merchants traded with the whole world and travelled extensively. To demonstrate their success, they built beautiful houses with many ornaments and decorations.
After Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottoman Dominion in 1878, Plovdiv gradually became a modern European city, while maintaining its cosmopolitan diversity. To this day Plovdiv is known as a tolerant place where diverse ethnic and religious groups can live together peacefully – Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Jews, Islamic believers, Armenians, and others.
These days Plovdiv is one of Bulgaria’s favorite tourist destinations. There are many monuments and attractions from all of the city’s historical epochs, a rich cultural calendar, and an international trade fair held twice a year.
If you decide to enjoy the city’s attractions, it would be wise to set aside more than a day and to plan your trip with the city’s tourist information center. There they will give you an itinerary and other useful information, and if you like you can take a guided tour in one of several languages.
Some of Plovdiv’s attractions are not to be missed, such as the Old Town and Classical Amphitheater, the exceptional houses from the Bulgarian Revival period, the cobbled streets with their small antique stores, the Roman Stadium, and the Roman Forum.
The city has a number of museums – a history museum, an archeological museum, an ethnographic museum, a museum of natural history, and a museum of fine arts. There is also an excellent dramatic theater. On the outskirts of the city, very near the airport, is another interesting museum, dedicated to the history of Bulgarian aviation.
Other than cultural attractions, the city offers many facilities for sport and recreation. There is a rowing canal on the city’s outskirts that conforms to international Olympic standards. Plovdiv also rivals Sofia when it comes to the number and variety of its clubs, discotheques, shops and restaurants. The city also has a very wide range of hotels and other accommodations.
Varna is the third largest city in Bulgaria. It is located on the Black Sea coast, roughly 450 km from Sofia. Varna is the largest city on the Black Sea and therefore is also known as the “Maritime Capital of Bulgaria”.
Varna has one of the country’s largest international airports, connecting the city with many European countries. During the summer months the airport welcomes many tourist charter flights for those who choose a summer seaside holiday in Bulgaria.
Varna has a history stretching back thousands of years. The city was founded during the 6th century B.C. and given the name Odesos, but there is evidence that the region was inhabited thousands of years before that. The oldest worked gold in the world was discovered there, known as the Varna Necropolis Treasure. This artifact dates back to five centuries BC. During the 1st century A.D., Varna became part of the Roman Empire. Many of the city’s architectural monuments date back to that era. During the Middle Ages, the city was an important cultural and economical center, and one of the Black Sea’s most important ports.
Today the city is one of the most popular of Bulgaria’s tourist destinations, not only because of its location by the sea and proximity to famed seaside resorts. It is also popular for its many attractions and rich cultural calendar. Among the most interesting places in the city are the Archeological Museum, the remains of the Roman Public Baths, the Naval Museum, the Aquarium, the Delphinarium (dolphin aquarium), the university’s botanical gardens, and the Sea Garden. Varna hosts one of Bulgaria’s largest and most important cultural events – the “Varna Summer” international theater festival, as well as an annual ethnographic festival, the “Varna Summer, the Varna International Folk Festival, and the international “Love is Madness” Film Festival, among others.
North of Varna, near the towns of Balchik and Kavarna, are three of the most recently built golf courses in Europe, offering wonderful opportunities for sport and luxurious accommodations.
The city of Varna and its neighboring resorts offer an exceptionally wide range of hotels and other accommodations. The city’s restaurants, clubs, and fast foods outlets are also many and varied.
Burgas is the largest city in the southern part of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. It faces the sea and is 400 km away from Sofia. Like Varna city, Burgas is a vacation center. The city is surrounded by large and small seaside resorts. The Burgas International airport connects the city with many countries, and during the summer months it welcomes tourist charter flights.
Since it is a city with thousands of years of history, Burgas has many treasures and museums to house them. Some of the many interesting attractions are the Museum of History with its numerous exhibits, the lovely Sea Garden, the Casino Cultural Center, and the small bridge and adjoining park, which is a favorite place for walks.
Near Burgas there are several lakes and reserves that are of exceptional importance to ornithologists. The Via Pontica flyway passes over this region, which explains why there are so many different and interesting bird species.
Also near Burgas are some of Bulgaria’s most popular tourist destinations – Sunny Beach, Pomorie, Sozopol, and Nesebar. Both Sozopol and Nesebar are protected as UNESCO world heritage sites.
Burgas and the nearby resorts offer numerous hotels and other accommodations.
Veliko Tarnovo is one of the most beautiful and impressive Bulgarian cities. It is located in the center of Bulgaria, north of the Stara Planina, roughly 240 km from Sofia. This city is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, both for Bulgarians and for visitors from abroad. This is in part of the city’s many historical monuments dating back to the time when Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of Bulgaria.
In 1185, after almost two centuries of Byzantine rule, Bulgarians rose up and gained their independence. Tarnovgrad – today’s Veliko Tarnovo – was chosen as the capital of the new nation. Fortifications were erected, including fortress walls, and little by little the city became the largest cultural, administrative and economic center in Medieval Bulgaria. After the country fell to the Ottomans, Turnovo continued to be an important Ottoman city, and after Bulgaria was liberated from the Turks in 1878, the city was again the nation’s capital for a short time.
Today the city enjoys great interest among tourists because of its many museums and attractions. On the Tsarevets promontory are the remains of the ancient fortifications, and among them the Tsar’s palace, administrative buildings and a number of churches once stood. On the neighboring promontory of Trapezetsa remains of important medieval building have also been discovered. Archaeological research continues at these sites.
The city is famous for its many Bulgarian Orthodox churches. Among them the Forty Martyrs Church is particularly notable. Here is where the Bulgarian Tsars Kaloyan (1168-1207) and Ivan Asen (1218-1241) were buried. Also noteworthy are Saint Dimitar Church, Saints Peter and Pavel Church, and others.
The city has many museums housing numerous treasures relating to the country’s history. Most interesting are the Archaeological Museum, and the Revival and Constituent Assembly Museum, the Museum of Recent and Most Recent History, the Ethnographic Collection, and others.
On the city’s Gurko Street and at the Samovodska Charshiya (Bazaar) visitors can see many buildings constructed during the Bulgarian Revival period, such as the Sarafkina House, the House of the Monkeys, and others. The atmosphere of the Revival period still holds sway here – everywhere there are small shops and artisans who welcome clients, and antique stores that take visitors back to a time two centuries earlier.
A few kilometers from Tarnovo is the architectural reserve Arbanasi – a place that exerts a magnetic attraction, and another place where time seems to have stopped in the 18th century. To better appreciate the admirable old houses and remarkable architecture, the village’s many hotels and traditional Bulgarian taverns warmly welcome guests.
Not far from Tarnovo, remains of the Roman and early Byzantine city Nicopolis ad Istrum were discovered. The city was founded by the Emperor Trajan in 106 A.D.
Near Tarnovo are some of the largest and most important Bulgarian Orthodox monasteries – the Monastery of the Patriarchs, Preobrazhenski Monastery, Peter and Paul Monastery, among others.
One of the most popular attractions in Tarnovo is the Sound and Light show that illuminates the historical promontory of Tsarevets. Through the lightning effects and the dramatic music, spectators’ eyes are opened to the imperial past of the Old Capital.