Sofia

The remains of Neolithic settlements show that the area has been inhabited since ancient times. The town's first recorded name was Serdica, after the Thracian tribe of Serdi, who settled here in the 7th Century BC. The Byzantines called it Triaditsa, meaning ‘central,’ and the Slavs referred to it as Sredets. Finally, it received the name of St Sophia, who became its patron saint. Contemporary Sofia commemorates its patron with a statue standing in a place once occupied by a monument to Lenin, and by the beautiful Basilica of St Sofia.

Throughout the ages, Sofia's strategic location and mineral springs made it an important stronghold for people who controlled the area, such as Romans, Byzantines and Turks. After the country's liberation from Ottoman domination at the end of the 19th Century, Sofia was proclaimed Bulgaria's capital. The continuous shifting of cultural and political influences is clearly visible in the modern appearance of the Bulgarian capital.

The city centre is best seen on foot. It’ll take you about an hour and a half to cover the Yellow Walkway, running across the centre between all of the noteworthy sights. It begins in the administrative district, where the Presidency, Council of Ministers and National Bank rise right next to the 4th-century Rotunda of St. George, the ruins of Serdica and the impressive St. Nedelya Church, and continues towards the National Theatre, which sits within a beautiful park with a large fountain and the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas.

Nearby stands the impressively refurbished building of the Bulgarian Parliament, the one-time headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Finally, there’s the city's symbol: the golden-domed Cathedral of Alexander Nevski, with a crypt holding the richest collection of icons in the Balkans. The topography of Sofia reflects the city’s extraordinary spirit of religious tolerance. The St. Nedelya Church, Banya Bashi Mosque and Synagogue are all located within a few hundred metres from each other

On the outskirts of Sofia, there are two sites that shouldn’t be missed: the rich collection of the National History Museum, where Bulgaria’s most remarkable treasures are kept, and the Boyana Church. Small and unimpressive on the outside, inside it holds excellent realistic frescoes produced over two centuries before the Italian Renaissance. Great efforts have been made to preserve the precious frescoes, and the site is under UNESCO protection.

The Bulgarian capital offers plenty of affordable accommodation in various types of venues, from 2 to 5 stars, and all leading hotel chains. Sofianites like to eat out, so dozens of restaurants offer food for all possible tastes. Foreigners are often attracted to those offering traditional Bulgarian cuisine and folklore shows with traditional songs, and very often performances by fire-dancers.

Sofia is an excellent starting point for day tours to attractive sites such as the Rila Monastery and the museum towns of Koprivshtitsa and Melnik. Nearby Mount Vitosha is the locals’ favourite escape from the city to the green tranquility of nature.