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Sofia – the vibrant European capital on your To-do list

Bulgaria’s biggest city is one of Europe’s most compact and walkable capitals. Sofia’s special charm is in its young and dynamic vibe, like a city waking up after decades of slumber, and becoming a confident and cosmopolitan European capital. The old east-meets-west feel is still here, with a scattering of onion-domed churches, Ottoman mosques and Red Army monuments topped with air-punching Soviet soldiers, but these days they share the skyline with glitzy shopping malls, five-star hotels and the best bars and clubs the country has to offer.
Sofia is the cultural heart of Bulgaria with plenty to keep you busy for several days or more. Museums, art galleries, theatres, fine restaurants, they’re all here. Sofia is also a green city, with huge swaths of parkland within the city boundaries and the ski slopes and hiking trails of the mighty Vitosha Mountain right on the doorstep.
While walking around the city centre make sure you see the sedate changing of the guard at the Presidency. For stunning views over the city take the cable car up to the Vitosha Mountain. Take a picnic with you made up of a mouth-watering selection of bread and cheeses from the Central Market. Try the local wine, enjoy live traditional music in restaurants in restored mansions and take in a concert at the mammoth Soviet-era National Palace of Culture.
If you are eager to learn more about the history and the cultural development of the city there are some landmarks you should not miss. The first thing to catch your eye while walking in the heart of the city will undoubtedly be the imposing gilded dome of the St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral - a spectacular building that has become one of the capital’s symbols. Named after a Russian tsar it is a typical example of a Russian church from the 19th century. The Crypt below the cathedral houses 300 permanent exhibits depicting Orthodox religious art from its origins in the Middle Ages until the National Revival period.
Another impressive religious building is the St.George Rotunda, which is part of a large archaeological complex distinguishing with its rare Roman architectural features.
The St. Sofia church, nearby the St.Alexander Nevski Cathedral, is the oldest Eastern Orthodox Church in Sofia. The archaic sanctuary gave its name to the capital back in the 14th century. It does have an interesting story to tell - under Ottoman rule it was turned into a mosque, but when the minaret was destroyed in an earthquake in 1818 and a second one some 40 years later killed the Imam’s two sons, it was abandoned and restored as a an Orthodox church again.
Along Vassil Levski Blvd. are two impressive educational institutions. The Cyril and Methodius National Library, adorned by a monument of the two holy brothers directly in front of the main entrance, is where the oldest and most precious scripts and artifacts from the very beginning of the Bulgarian language are kept.
The Sofia University housed in a Baroque-style building from the 1920’s is the oldest and most respected post-graduate institution in Bulgaria. The two large sculptures on both sides of the main entrance depict the brothers Evlogi and Hristo Georgiev, who donated the land and funds for the building.

These are just few of the Sofia’s highlights that you should not miss if you would like to understand the city’s culture and centuries-old history. Of course, there is much more to add to Sofia’s authentic vibe. Here are some suggestions for walking tour routes in the city centre, which cover most of Sofia’s significant landmarks:

Sofia Highlights Tour Route 1:
1. The Tsar Osvoboditel monument
2. The Parliament
3. The St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
4. The Crypt in St.Alexander Nevski Cathedral
5. The Monument of the Unknown Soldier
6. The St. Sofia Church
7. The National Opera
8. The Vassil Levski Memorial
9. The National Gallery of Foreign Art
10. The National Library “St. Cyril and Methodius”
11. The Sofia University

Sofia Highlights Tour Route 2:
1. The St. Nedelya Church
2.The St George Rotunda
3.The St.Petka Samardzhiiska Church
4. TZUM ( The oldest shopping centre in Sofia)
5. The St.Sofia Statue
6. The Central Thermal Baths
7. The Mosque
8. The covered market “Halite”
9. The Synagogue
10. Pirotska Street
11. The Women’s Market
12. The Lion’s Bridge

Sofia Highlights Tour Route 3:
1.The former Tsar’s Palace
2. The Russian Church
3. The Military Club
4. The Ivan Vazov National Theatre
5. The City Garden
6. The City Gallery
7. The Archaeological Museum

Our selection of one-day trips from Sofia listed below, includes various opportunities for those who have decided to spare some more time to explore the picturesque Bulgarian countryside:

Ideas for one-day trips from Sofia:

A one-day trip to Vitosha Mountain
Rising south from the city of Sofia Vitosha Mountain has always been the capital’s “natural guard „and a has played in important part in the Sofians’lives as a favorite place for  skiing, hiking and relaxing weekends in the open. The protected area within The Vitosha National Park features various walking and biking trails to a myriad of rock phenomena, waterfalls and huts. The seat-lift takes the eager ones to the top of the Vitosha Mountain from where a marvelous panoramic view of the capital displays.
Our one-day trip will start from the National History museum situated at the foot of the Vitosha Mountain. The pearls in the museum exhibitions’ crown are the world-famous golden treasures from Panaqyurishte and the Thracian silver from Rogozen. Apart from them the museum displays about  22000 artifacts showing the development of the social, cultural and political life in Bulgaria, among them the newly-found Thracian treasures discovered in  2005, silver and bronze jewelry dating back to the Bronze age, and fine samples of early Bulgarian religious art.
After the visit of the museum we will take some time for a delicious lunch in a local restaurant.
In the afternoon we will visit  the Boyana Church and the Dragalevtsi Monastery, which date back to the mid 14th century. Included on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage List, the Boyana Church is considered one of Bulgaria’s most significant historical treasures. The church was built in three stages (11th, 13th and 19th century) and the frescoes dating back to1259 are considered an extraordinary example of realistic Medieval art, since the realism in art appeared  about one hundred years later during the Italian Renaissance.
Our trip will finish with a refreshing one - hour walk to the Boyana Fatwerfall ( 30m) situated in a picturesque area near the Boyana church.  Before we drive back to the city centre we will drop by to the the Golden Bridges (Zlatni Mostove) area in the Vitosha mountain and take some photos of the incredible Stone River (Morenite).
The tour includes the services of a qualified guide, lunch and transportation with a modern mini-bus or a car.

One-day trip to the Rila Monastery
As one of the most important centers of the Orthodox religion  in Bulgaria, the Rila Monastery attracts numerous visitors all year round. It is also the most beautiful example of religious architecture within the country with frescoes created by the most renowned artists of the National Revival period. Situated within two hours drive from the capital, in the heart of the highest mountain on the Balkan Penisula,  the magnificent Rila, the sanctuary is wrapped up by legends and myths.
We will visit the monastery museum which houses  amazing religious painting frescoes, paintings, icons. The highlight of the museum is the remarkable double-sided wooden cross carved by the monk Raphael from a single piece of wood and depicting 104 miniature religious scenes which include 650 figures! The Hrelyo Tower from the 14th century and the five-domed Blessed Virgin Church are the other ‘must visit’ places in the monastery complex. For lunch in the monastery surroundings, we will have the chance to wash down some local mountain trout with delicious sparkling wines from the region.Before we head back to Sofia, we will take a scenic walk to the last resting place of St.Ivan Rilski, the founder of the monastery and hear the story about his extraordinary life.
The tour includes the services of a qualified guide, lunch and transportation with a modern mini-bus or a car.

Plovdiv – the ancient city on three hills
Picturesquely situated on three hills in the heart of the Thracian valley, Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria. It lies within 1, 5 h drive from the capital. The crucial transport location on the ancient crossroads has stimulated strong cultural influences from many civilizations, yet the city managed to maintain its unique cultural identity. As ancient as cities like Rome, Athens, Carthage and Constantinople, Plovdiv preserves the eternal values of its six-millennia-long history.
All year round it fascinates with its romantic atmosphere and dynamic vibe. We will take a stroll in the beautiful Old town of Plovdiv renowned for its authentic museum-houses from the National Revival period, the tiny art galleries and inviting wine cellars and taverns. We will visit the Balabanov house-museum as affine example of an aristocratic Bulgarian Revival period house. A highlight of our walk through the Old Town will be the Ancient Roman theatre dating back to 2nd century AD, majestically rising above the city. During the summer months the theatre hosts high-scale open-air opera performances and classical concerts.
Our lunch today will take place at a Renaissance style restaurant and will feature traditional Bulgarian dishes and local wines. In the afternoon we will visit the Archaeological museum that houses amazing collections of exhibits from various historical periods. Here we will have the chance  to see the golden treasure from Panagyurishte which dates back to 4th-3rd centuries BC.Then it will be time for us to leave Plovdiv. On our way back, we can make a stop to visit Bachkovo monastery, the second in size and importance monastery in our country situated nearby Plovdiv in the mystic Rhodope Mountain.
The tour includes the services of a qualified guide, lunch and transportation with a modern mini-bus or a car.

One day trip to the museum-town of Koprivshtitsa
Koprivshtitsa is one of the few thoroughly preserved architectural Bulgarian museum-towns from the Revival Period. It boasts a great number of houses restored to their original appearance. A unique collection of ethnographical treasures, old weapons, National Revival works of art, fine fretwork, household weaves and embroidery, national costumes and typical Bulgarian jewellery have also been preserved and are today featured in the colourful museum-houses exhibitions.
Koprivshtitsa enchants with its authentic atmosphere and cozy feel. We will explore the greatest wealth of this charming Bulgarian mountain town -  its Revival Period houses-museums. We will visit The Oslekov, Kableshkov and Lyutov houses - the most beautiful examples of the town’s original National Revival architectural heritage. Koprivstutsa is the birthplace of  two of Bulgaria’s most respected writers – Lyuben Karavelov and Dimcho Debelyanov. We will visit former homes and learn about their lives and work. We will not miss dropping by the Assumption Church (Uspenie Borgorodichno Church), which is impressive with its intricate wood-carved iconostasis and icons painted by the renowned Bulgarian painter Zakhari Zograph.
For lunch we will enjoy some local specialties washed down witha selection of Bulgarian red and white wines. In the afternoon we will have some free time to unwind, realx and take in the town’s atmosphere on our own.  After discussing our impressions over an aromatic cup of coffee in a traditional coffee house, we will had back to Sofia. We are convinced that after today you will agree with us that Koprivshtitsa may be a name difficult to pronounce, but is not easily forget.
The tour includes the services of a qualified guide, lunch and transportation with a modern mini-bus or a car.

If you like the suggested program, ideas, services and this is really your kind of holiday please send us your request for further details! We will be happy to answer any questions you may have and give you our professional advice. Thank you!

Highlights

  • Explore one of the youngest European capitals, yet unknown and totally off-the beaten track! Let Sofia fascinate you with its vibrant urban atmosphere, unmistakable east-meets-west feel, huge cultural heritage and dazzling rhythm of life!

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What Is Included

  • 2 nights 4 - star hotel accommodation on a twin-share or double basis in a standard room
  • 2 Breakfasts
  • Walking sightseeing tour of Sofia with a professional guide in the requested language
  • All local taxes
  • The prices are quoted in €, per person
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