Sofia is one of the closest weekend getaway destinations to Turkey. It is ideal for getting away from Istanbul and seeing a new country. Bus services from Istanbul make transportation even easier. It is possible to be in Sofia in about 8 hours including border crossing. Get on the bus in the evening and be in Sofia early in the morning.
- Lion Bridge
- Sofia Synagogue
- Banyabasi Mosque
- Statue of St. Sofia
- St. George Church
- Sofia Archaeological Museum
- National Art Gallery
- Ivan Vazov National Theater
- Monument to Tsar Liberator
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
- Military History Museum
- Museum of Earth and Man
- When to visit Sofia?
- How many days to visit Sofia and how many days to stay?
Transportation to Sofia, Bulgaria is quite easy. Many bus companies departing from Alibeyköy or Esenler Bus Terminal organize regular flights to Bulgaria. You can start your journey on Friday evening and be in Sofia at an ideal time in the morning. It is also possible to fly to Sofia, but bus prices are much more affordable. We preferred Metro Turizm for this trip and it cost 145 TL per person round trip. We set off at 23:00. When you arrive at Kapıkule at 01:00, you wait for at least 1 hour if there is no queue. There are passport procedures, luggage searches, etc. and these procedures get longer when there is a bus full of people. If you don’t have a residence permit, you need to buy your exit stamp (15 TL) from one of the counters. Of course, this happens on the Turkish side. As we enter the Bulgarian borders by bus, we go through one more check and we get on the bus and arrive in Sofia around 07:30.
Leva is the currency in Bulgaria. Leva corresponding to 1 TL is around 1.90. You can carry Euros with you and convert them to Leva in Sofia. This is the most convenient way, but it is recommended to use the exchange offices in the city instead of the ones at the bus station. The official language of Bulgaria is Bulgarian and the alphabet is the Cyrillic alphabet used in the former Soviet territories and Russia. For this reason, reading the signs, billboards or any text does not make sense most of the time because we do not know the Cyrillic alphabet.
To give a brief information about Sofia; when you arrive in Sofia, you may feel like you are back in the 90s or Soviet times. It has a cold atmosphere both in terms of weather and style. Now let’s take a closer look at what to see and do in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. When you get off at the bus station on the north side of the city, the first thing we should do is spend some time. If you find an open place, you can have something to eat and drink, if not, you can wander the streets. If you go by our time, you probably won’t find any. We have to wait for people to wake up and open their shops. When the clocks return to normal, we head to Lion’s Bridge, the starting point of our route.
The Lions’ Bridge, also known as Lavov Most, is located over the Vladaya River. The bridge takes its name from the four bronze statues of lions at each end of the bridge. The Bridge of Lions is located very close to the metro station it is named after.
Let’s turn right at the bridge and walk along the edge of the river. Turn left at the 2nd bridge. On Opalchenska Street, after crossing Sv. Sveti Cyril Methodly street, on the left side is the National Polytechnic Museum. The National Polytechnic Museum is a museum opened to show how many of the tools used today were used in the past. The museum, which explains technical processes and how the tools work, may be of interest to visitors who are interested in such areas.
After the museum, we head to the synagogue closest to us. Sofia Synagogue, the largest synagogue in the Balkans and the 3rd largest synagogue in Europe, was built in 1909. It is said that the mosaics used in its interior design are also wonderful. We couldn’t enter the synagogue because it is closed on Saturdays. It can be visited between 09:00 – 16:00 on weekdays and between 10:00 – 14:00 on Sundays.
We go out on the main street and come across a mosque built during the Ottoman period. The architect of the Banyabaşı (Banya Bashi) Mosque is Mimar Sinan, whom we know very well. The mosque, also known as Kadı Seyfullah Efendi Mosque, is located on Maria Luisa Street, the biggest street of the capital Sofia. It is impossible not to see it when you go up the street. Before the Ottomans left Bulgaria, there were more than 50 mosques, but today only one mosque is still standing and open for worship.
Opposite the mosque there is also a hammam. During the Ottoman period, the bath was destroyed, but in 1913 the present bath was rebuilt on the ruins.
In front of the large shopping mall next to the mosque are structures unearthed during archaeological excavations and found to date back to the Roman period. Next to the area, which is part of a large complex, is a church built in the 14th century. The Church of St. Petka is dedicated to St. Petka, a saint who lived in the 11th century.
Statue of St. Sofia
After the Roman ruins, on the corner of St. Nedelya Square on Nezavisimost Street, there is a statue with a tall column. The 22 meter high statue was commissioned and erected in 2000 by sculptor Georgi Chapkanov. The word Sofia, which we are familiar with from Hagia Sophia, means wisdom. St. Sofia has elements to support this wisdom. In her left hand she holds an owl, the symbol of wisdom, and in her right hand she holds a laurel crown, a symbol of success and victory used by the Greeks and Romans. There used to be a statue of Lenin where the statue stands, and the square was known as Lenin Square.
St. George Church
On the way from the TZUM Shopping Center towards the Communist Party House, there is a church on the inside of the buildings on the right. The church is the oldest building in Sofia. Built during the Roman period, the church was restored and used as a mosque during the Ottoman period. The church is not visible from the road, you need to reach the inside of the building on the right. When you get there, you can enter the church for free.
Sofia Archaeological Museum
Next to the Rotunda Church is the Grand Mosque, one of the oldest buildings in Sofia. Built by Mehmed II during the Ottoman period, the Great Mosque today serves as an Archaeological Museum with very rich collections.
National Art Gallery
Bulgaria’s national gallery exhibits some 50,000 works of art by Bulgarian artists. Located in Sofia’s largest square, Prince Alexander I Square, the National Art Gallery was originally built by Victoria Angelova, Bulgaria’s first female architect, but was completely destroyed in the 1944 bombing and then rebuilt. In the garden of the museum there is a statue of Yordan Radichkov, a Bulgarian writer. He is a Nobel Prize winner and his works have been translated into many languages. We didn’t visit the National Art Gallery because it is an art gallery, but if you are particularly interested, it is worth a visit.
The Natural History Museum, located next to the art gallery, is a must-visit. With the richest collection of nature in Bulgaria, you can closely examine many creatures from wild animals, butterflies, insects, insects, bird species from all over the world, minerals and fossils. Be sure to visit if you love natural history.
Russian Church of St. Nicholas
The official church of the Russian community in Sofia, which survived Ottoman rule, is located just outside the Natural History Museum. It was built in 1914 on the ruins of the Palace Mosque built by the Ottomans but destroyed in 1882.
Ivan Vazov National Theater
One of the main sightseeing spots in Sofia is the National Theater, next to the City Park. Built in 1907, it is one of the most ornate buildings in Sofia. It is known as the Ivan Vazov National Theater because a play by Ivan Vazov was first performed here between 1950 and 1962. The theater has a capacity of about 1000 seats.
The theater building is located right next to the city park in Sofia. The park is a very peaceful place, decorated with many sculptures. It is full of musicians playing music, owners walking their dogs and people reading books on benches.
Monument to Tsar Liberator
Located in the center of Sofia, the Tsar Liberator Monument was erected in 1903 by the Italian sculptor Arnoldo Zocchi to honor the Russian Emperor Alexander II who liberated Bulgaria from the Ottoman occupation. It attracts attention with its majesty while walking around the city.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Of course, there is another building that attracts attention with its grandeur. The reason for its construction is similar to the Tsar Liberator Monument. Aleksandr Nevski Cathedral, the second largest cathedral in the Balkans after St. Sava Cathedral in Belgrade, is one of the symbols of Sofia. Completed in 1912, the cathedral was built in memory of the Russian soldiers who died in the Ottoman-Russian War of ’93. The cathedral is big enough to hold 10 thousand people and the entrance is free.
There are various buildings and sculptures around the church. The Monument to the Unknown Soldier in the form of a lion statue, the Hagia Sophia Church, which is similar to the church in Istanbul, and the statue of Cyril and Methodius, the founders of the Cyrillic alphabet, located in the Quadrat 500 art gallery are among the works worth seeing around Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
We leave the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and cross the park where the Soviet Monument is located and continue on the Eagle Bridge, the southern bridge of the city. Just like the Lion Bridge, the Eagle Bridge is decorated with eagle statues.
Military History Museum
The Museum of Military History is a museum where materials used in Sofia’s military history are exhibited. The garden of the museum can be visited for free. There are cannons, tanks, airplanes, missiles, military trucks, helicopters and motorized vehicles. It is also possible to go inside the museum, but for a fee. Inside the museum, military clothes, uniforms, photographs, documents and military equipment are on display.
Museum of Earth and Man
In the center of Sofia is one of the largest mineralogical museums in the world. Opened in 1987, the Museum of Earth and Man displays giant crystals, minerals and precious stones from Bulgaria in groups.
1 day Sofia tour ends with this museum. We tried to visit all the places to visit on the Sofia tour, but it is necessary to come back to Sofia and visit the surrounding areas. Sofia Zoo, history museums and various buildings outside the center of Sofia are on our list to visit later. You should also go skiing on Mount Vitosha in Sofia.
When to visit Sofia?
Sofia is located in the Balkans, where cold weather is a regular occurrence. As such, you need to dress well to avoid getting sick, especially in winter. Dress warmly, don’t catch cold. The average temperature can drop to -15 in the winter season, but in the hottest times of the year, such as July and August, it can reach up to 35 degrees Celsius. If you like winter sports like skiing, you can also go skiing in Bansko.
How many days to visit Sofia and how many days to stay?
Sofia is a city that can ideally be visited in 2 days. It is possible to stay overnight and visit all the must-see places in Sofia. For example, you can take a bus to Sofia for a weekend vacation.
There were two places we wanted to visit but couldn’t. One of them is Sofia Zoo. With over 1500 animal species, Sofia Zoo is one of the leading zoos in the Balkans. The other place we wanted to visit was Vitosha Mountain. Vitosha Mountain is skiable, so it has a great impact on winter tourism. In the summer season, it is a good trekking trail. Mount Vitosha is declared a national park and a cable car is used to climb it. To reach the cable cars from Simeonovo to Aleko Hut Station, you need to use bus line 122 or 123. If you are traveling with your personal car, you can park your car for a daily fee of 5Lv. It is also possible to get to Aleko by bus. For this, you should use line 66. You can also take your personal car. However, there can be a lot of traffic on weekends and you may have parking problems.
At the end of the day we plan to take a bus to Plovdiv, another city in Bulgaria, and stay there. From a platform near the bus station where we got off in the morning, we board the bus with the ticket we bought in the morning and depart for Plovdiv.
On your way to the bus station, you can take a long tour on Vitosha Street, the most famous street in the city. This street, which cuts across the city, is closed to vehicle traffic, just like Istanbul’s Istiklal Street. Even though Sofia is a member of the European Union, its standards are far below those of other EU countries. Especially the back streets are in terrible condition. It is as if they are never cleaned and there is confusion. If the EU knew the state of Sofia, it would kick it out of the group. But no matter what, there are some beautiful places to visit at least once.