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Book a flight to Sofia and you'll discover there is more to Bulgaria's capital city than meets the eye. Home to 1.4 million inhabitants, here you will also find Mount Vitosha, one of the country's most popular ski resorts. This compact city's size belies its unique charm – a fascinating blend of east-meets-west.
Communist and European architecture sit side by side, from Ottoman mosques to Red Army monuments and five-star hotels. Sofia's culture, outdoor activities and shopping malls keep visitors coming back for more. You can fly to Sofia with Qatar Airways – visit during the summer months when temperatures average around 26 degrees centigrade.
On your trip to Sofia, hop on the city's subway system to explore the main sights. One of Europe's oldest cities, Sofia is renowned for its mineral water springs, one of which can be seen in the square behind the Banya Bashi mosque. The Viennese style Royal Palace, once the headquarters of the Ottoman police force, is today home to the Ethnographical Museum and National Art Gallery.
From here, it's up to you whether you want to visit the Ivan Vazov House Museum, commemorating the life of Bulgaria's most famous author. Or head for the city's many other museums and galleries, such as the National Museum of History, filled with artefacts from Bulgarian history. The Archaeological Museum and the National Art Gallery are also worth visiting.
People watching is a popular pastime here, so find a trendy café, order a coffee and watch the citizens of Sofia go about their day. When you travel to Sofia, a free sightseeing walking tour is one of the best ways to see the city's sights, with an English-speaking guide. Or hop on a bike tour to visit some of the surrounding countryside.
The area surrounding Sofia is a great spot for outdoors enthusiasts. Take a day trip to Rila Monastery, or go hiking or skiing at Mount Vitosha.
Bulgarian cuisine is usually very hearty, consisting of steamed or oven-baked meat, fish or rich stews. Look out for local specialities such as Tarator, a cold yoghurt and cucumber soup, Turshia, pickled vegetables and Kebapche, which is grilled, spiced minced meat. Bulgarians love their desserts and a trip to a local bakery may present the opportunity for you to try Garash cake (ground walnut cake with chocolate icing) – highly recommended.
Traditional Bulgarian bakeries are generally a better option for lunch than many fast food restaurants. Most bakeries offer a range of pastries as well as katma, filled sweet or savoury pancakes.
You'll find no shortage of international cuisine in the city, but for a real flavour of Sofia do as the locals do and head for one of the city's soup restaurants. It's not unusual to find menus filled with traditional Bulgarian soups and soup restaurants offering stunning views over the rooftops of the city.
Traditional Bulgarian souvenirs are a highlight of any trip to Sofia – head for the Ethnographic Museum shop or the stalls in Alexander Nevski Square. For designer goods, Vitosha Boulevard, Sofia's main shopping street is the place to be.
The city has plenty of markets of varying quality. Zhenski Pazar, Sofia's largest open-air market, is filled with bargains. Malashevtsi Market, the best flea market in the city, is open on the weekends and a great spot to find antiques and curios.
For international brands, clothing and accessories, head for The Mall of Sofia, Paradise Mall, Mall Bulgaria or City Centre Sofia. You'll find most malls also have food courts serving international cuisine.
Flights to Sofia with Qatar Airways arrive at Sofia Airport, Bulgaria's busiest airport, located in the East of the city.
Visa restrictions for entry into the country will depend on your country of origin, length of stay and whether your trip is for business or pleasure. So before you fly to Sofia please check the visa and passport requirements.
Currency: Bulgarian Lev (BGN)
Voltage: 230 V 50 Hz
Plugs: Type C / F
International dialing code: +359