With a population of 1.2 million, Sofia is the 14th largest city in the European Union (Bulgaria joined in 2007). Sofia is also Europe’s second-oldest city, founded over 7000 years ago – who would have thought!
Sofia was a pretty big mystery to me and when I boarded the 5-and-a-half-hour bus from Skopje, Macedonia, I was unsure of what to expect. Upon arriving, it was easy to see that Bulgaria seemed a little more well-off and even more ‘westernized’ than its Balkan neighbours. McDonald’s, KFC and Dunkin Donuts re-appeared after weeks of fading from my consciousness.
Ultimately, I enjoyed my 3 day stay in Sofia. There are a lot of trees and green space throughout the city and it’s easy to navigate around the downtown area.
Apparently it’s the most polluted capital city in the European Union but I thought the air seemed a lot cleaner than it has during my previous stops (Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania and parts of Montenegro). Maybe I just didn’t make it to the more industrial sections of Sofia..
Anyways, here are some pictures I took of the city.
- This statue is called St. Sofia but it really has no bearing on the naming of Bulgaria’s capital. I only found it interesting because there used to be a massive statue of Lenin in this exact spot. It was replaced 10 years ago.
- This is the head building of the ‘triangle of communist power’. The communist party ruled Bulgaria for 45 years and they built 3 massive buildings in the main square. They still look huge to this day. It’s incredible to imagine how they looked 30-40 years ago!
- This church is 17 centuries old and is located directly behind the parliament building.
- Built in 1907 by Ivan Basov, this is the National Theatre of Sofia.
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the biggest in Bulgaria and second largest in the whole Balkan region.
A few other notes on Bulgaria:
- Bulgarians are the first group credited with creating the Cyrillic alphabet. However, as a traveller who is unable to read these foreign letters, I can’t say I’m all that grateful!
- During WWII, Bulgaria was one of only three countries allied with Nazi Germany to resist the slaughter of its Jewish population. (Denmark and Albania were the others) As the date grew near to deport the 50,000 Jews living in Bulgaria, there was massive public outcry. Demonstrations were held and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church even issued fake baptism certificates to its Jewish population! Eventually, Bulgaria publicly condemned the deportations and the German army was forced to comply because it was weakened by that time of the war (1943). Pretty amazing stuff.
In conclusion, I would recommend spending about 3 days in Sofia to get a good grasp of the city. There is a tour focusing on the communist times in Bulgaria and another one which allows you to experience some Bulgarian culture, from the food to how people used to dress etc. Enjoy!