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Book a flight to Sofia with Qatar Airways and you'll discover there is more to Bulgaria's capital than meets the eye.
A deep current of history runs through Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. Its compact size belies its unique charm – a fascinating blend of east and west. Anywhere you go in this city, you’ll find remnants of its rich, and often complicated, colonial past. Communist and European architecture sit alongside Ottoman mosques, neo-Byzantine buildings and the ruins of Roman settlements.
Sofia is a thriving metropolis that offers visitors a terrific mix of outdoor and indoor activities. Go skiing on Mount Vitosha or scour flea markets in the Antiques Market; alternatively, you can see the city’s old-world treasures in its museums and galleries.
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 now home to the Ethnographical Museum and National Art Gallery.
From here, you can visit the Ivan Vazov House Museum, which commemorates the life of Bulgaria's most famous author, or explore other museums and galleries. Don’t miss the National History Museum, home to a fascinating collection of artefacts dating to 4000 BC, such as Thracian gold and silver wares. The Archaeological Museum and the National Art Gallery are also worth visiting.
One of Sofia’s most iconic landmarks is the gold-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, an Orthodox church built in Byzantine Revival style.
Mount Vitosha, the oldest national park in the Balkan Range, has come to symbolise Sofia. Accessible by public transport, taxi or car, it is a year-round destination with 10 peaks to explore. During summer, it’s an ideal spot for picnics, hiking or trekking, and in winter, it is popular among skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts.
Sofia also has plenty of urban green spaces, including the Borrisova Garden, which offers family-friendly activities such as boat-riding on Lake Ariana. If you’ve had enough walking, then sit down and have a cup of coffee. The city has a thriving café culture and many of the local establishments have homey vibes and outdoor seating areas optimised for people-watching.
When you travel to Sofia, a free, sightseeing walking tour, with an English-speaking guide, is one of the best ways to see the city's sights. You can also hop on a bike tour to visit some of the surrounding countryside.
Bulgarian cuisine is usually very hearty, consisting of steamed or oven-baked meat, fish, or rich stews. Try some of the local specialities such as tarator (a cold yoghurt and cucumber soup), turshia (pickled vegetables), and kebapche (grilled, spiced mince-meat). Bulgarians love their desserts, and a trip to a local bakery will allow 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 (a kind of crepe with sweet or savoury filling).
You'll find no shortage of international cuisine as well, 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 some restaurants offer stunning views over the rooftops of the city.
Traditional Bulgarian souvenirs are a highlight of any trip to Sofia – head for the National Ethnographic Museum Shop or the stalls in the Antiques Market on Alexander Nevsky Square. For designer goods, Vitosha Boulevard, the city’s main shopping street, is the place to be.
Sofia also has plenty of markets that offer a wide retail selection. Zhenski Pazar is an open-air market filled with bargains, while Malashevtsi Market or Bitaka is the city’s largest flea market. Bitaka is open on 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. Most malls also have food courts serving international cuisine.
Essential facts about Sofia
Enjoy a hassle-free journey with all the information you need to know before your trip