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Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria. It is also the biggest city in the country with about 1.4 million citizens (including suburbs). Today, Sofia is a dynamic Eastern European capital, distinguished by its unique combination of European and Communist-style architecture as well as many beautiful orthodox churches. Furthermore, it claims to be one of the few European capitals with beautiful scenery and a developed ski-resort so close to it - the Vitosha mountain.
Sofia was founded 2,500 years ago. Over the centuries, it has been given several names - Serdica , Sredetz and the remains of the old cities can still be viewed today. Because of its strategic location in the middle of Balkans for a while it had been selected for a new capital of the Roman Empire. Near Sofia is the Boyana church, one of the most valuable memorials of Bulgarian and European culture. The church has frescoes, acclaimed by specialists as “the best examples of Eastern medieval art during its twelve century history”.
The decline of Sofia during the Turkish Ottoman Empire was followed by the rejuvenation after the Russian liberation in 1878, when Sofia was chosen as the capital of Bulgaria at the First National Constituent Assembly, and followed by a brisk and straight-forward period of construction.
Sofia has a humid continental climate with an average annual temperature of 10.2 °C (50.4 °F).
Winters are cold and snowy. In the coldest days temperatures can drop as low as -15°C or even lower, most notably in January. Foggy conditions are frequent, especially in the beginning of the season. On average, Sofia receives a total snowfall of 90 cm (35.5 in) and around 60 days with snow cover.
Summers are warm and sunny. In summer, Sofia generally remains slightly cooler than other parts of Bulgaria, due to its higher altitude. However, the city is also subjected to heat waves with high temperatures reaching or exceeding 35°C in the hottest days, particularly in July and August.
Springs and autumns in Sofia are short with variable and dynamic weather.
The city receives an average annual precipitation of 591 mm (23.27 in), reaching its peak in the beginning of the summer when thunderstorms are common.
Sofia Airport (Летище София) (IATA: SOF) is 9 km east of the city center. It is the busiest airport in Bulgaria, with annual passenger traffic of approximately 4 million.
Over 20 airlines operate service to/from Sofia, with direct flights to/from Athens, Paris, Vienna, London, Rome, Amsterdam, Munich, Warsaw and other European cities.
Along with traditional carriers, some low-cost companies traveling to Bulgaria are EasyJet (to/from London-Gatwick, Madrid, Manchester) and Wizz Air (to/from Paris-Beauvais, Barcelona, Brussels-Charleroi, Dortmund, Dubai, Eindhoven, London-Luton, Milan-Bergamo, Rome-Fiumicino, Valencia). Bulgaria Air, the national carrier operates service to/from Alicante, Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Beirut, Berlin - Tegel, Brussels, Bucharest - Otopeni, Frankfurt, Istanbul - Atatürk, Kiev - Boryspil, Larnaca, London - Gatwick, London - Heathrow, Madrid, Málaga, Manchester, Moscow - Sheremetyevo, Palma de Mallorca, Paphos, Paris - Charles de Gaulle, Rome - Fiumicino, Skopje, Tel Aviv, Tirana, Tripoli, Valencia, Vienna, Zürich.
Sofia Central Bus Station (Centralna Avtogara/Централна автогара) is in the north part of the city centre and is within walking distance to the central attractions. Schedules and fares are available in Bulgarian online.
Eurolines Bulgaria is the largest operator of international buses to/from Bulgaria. Buses operate to/from Belgrade (5 hours, €23) and other cities in Serbia, Vienna (15.5 hours, €59) and other cities in Austria, Paris (36 hours, €120) and other cities in France, Berlin (28 hours, €110) and other cities in Germany, Budapest (11-13 hours, €48), and Prague (21 hours, €63).
MATPU 96 is the largest operator of buses in Bulgaria. The schedule is available in Bulgarian online. Buses operate several times per day to/from Skopje (5.5 hours, €15).
International trains provide a large number of routes to Sofia, arriving from such places as Kiev, Istanbul, Vienna, Belgrade, Bucharest, Moscow and other common cities.
Trains from Istanbul are temporarily under renovation and thus, will not be made available until the end of 2013. Check with the latest news on trains from Istanbul, into mainland Europe, including Sofia.
The primary trains from Bucharest to Sofia, and back, run twice daily through the border cities of Giurgiu and Ruse. For example, recent trains are scheduled from Bucharest to Sofia in the daytime departing 12:16/arriving 21:33 and a night train departing 20:04/arriving 06:00. From Sofia to Bucharest there are also two trains: a) Sofia 07:45 - Bucharest 17:19 and b) Sofia 19:30 - Bucharest 05:44. One way ticket is 140 Romanian Leu. Discounts are available for under 25s. Passport control and customs takes place in Giurgiu (RO) and Ruse (BG), approximately mid-trip. Check local train stations for more up to date information.
Trains to Greece were stopped but in 10th May 2014 they start again. There is one train from Sofia to Thessaloniki and vice versa each day. One way tickets cost €16.80, return tickets cost €33.60. Train towards Sofia departs from Thessaloniki at 06:55 and arrives at 13:45, train to Thessaloniki departs from Sofia at 15:30 and arrives at 22:22.
Access to Bulgaria's Capital is via several entry points:
1. From the North & South via E79/A6 2. From the East - via Thrace Highway E80/A1-A3 or from the old road paralelling the E80 Highway - Zlatitza - Pirdop - Pazardzhik route. 3. From the West - via A1/E80 Liking the city and the Bulgarian-Serbian Border point of Kalotina.
A1 connects Sofia to Burgas on the Black Sea.
A2 is planned to be from Sofia to Varna and as of July, 2013 it ends at Yablanitsa and continues from Shumen to Varna.
A3 is planned to be from Varna to Burgas, but currently has only a few kilometers built.
A4 connects Sofia with Turkey. With the completion of Highway "Maritsa" this road is completed.
Streets have adequate tiled pavements, especially in the city centre. However, they are frequently uneven and potholed, and walking is further made difficult by parked cars, street vendors and cafes. Except for areas in the very centre, pavements rarely have slopes for wheelchair access or designated lanes for bicycle riders. Pedestrian crossings are numerous and are relatively respected by drivers. Use pedestrian underpasses to cross large intersections, though avoid ones in the suburbs as these are usually derelict.
Mini-buses (marshrutki) are relatively tourist unfriendly. They are numbered and their route is written on the window but only in Cyrillic. The big advantage is that they do not observe all traffic rules in rush hour and get you to your destination faster than public buses or taxis. They do not stop at bus stops unless you don't dive them a sign! They stop if you just wave a hand and usually are fast way to go somewhere without need to change the car. You pay to the driver when you get on the car. Prices are 1,50 leva (about 0,75 euro). To get off: when the minibus is close to your destination you need to tell the driver where and when you want to get off. Keep in mind that they run on certain main roads but in cases of congested traffic (like morning or evening) the drivers slightly alter the route and take side streets to skip the traffic jam.
Taxis in Sofia are yellow. Taxis can be caught on the streets or can be ordered by phone, they arrive fast and are reliable. A drive inside Sofia will rarely exceed 10lv and a trip from the airport to the city center between 8 lv and 15 lv. There are many companies offering taxi services, some of them are OK Supertrans taxi (973 2121), €1 Taxi, "962-22-26", Yellow Taxi (91119) and Radio CV Taxi (91263) with fares around 0,70 leva (0,35€) per kilometer. There is a small fee for calling a taxi to your address usually about 0,70 leva. Please check the phone number and the prices before you board, because there are some taxis trying to imitate the most popular ones, but having outrageous prices (up to 5,90 leva (3,00€) per kilometer by letting you believe that it is 0,59 leva) on them and usually hang around hotels, shopping malls and tourist spots picking on unsuspecting customers, its the top line for the per km fares and bottom line for time you need to look at. The general rule is that if a taxi driver comes to you and offers you a drive, never accept it because they will try to rip you off. For short rides in the city center where there are many one way streets sometimes it is better to walk to you destination than taking a taxi. Be clear about you destination and don't let them take you to the scenic route resulting in higher bill. They play this even to the locals so foreigners are particularly vulnerable. Also be aware that the taxi drivers may refuse to take you for short distances (like 1-2 kilometers) so in these cases you can negotiate a flat fare and the taxi driver won't use the meter.
Rent a Bike
Sofia is one of the greenest capitals in Europe, with the big park zones ideal for biking. Slow traffic in downtown is perfect for cycling. On a bike you will save time and will enjoy sport activity. Sofia also has the few bike paths around the downtown area and districts such as Mladost, Nadezhda, Hipodruma. Rent a bike () Bike rental operates from 10AM to about 8PM (April to November). Discover Sofia by bike map or joint to an experienced bike guide. Renting a bike in Sofia is relatively expensive: 15 Leva (7,5€) for a short period (three hours).
Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe and has ancient ruins throughout the city center.
In the administrative center of Sofia, the streets are covered with a specific yellow pavement. It was laid in the beginning of the 20th century and were a present to the Bulgarian Tsar Ferdinand for his wedding from the Austria-Hungarian royal family.
Sofia was founded because of the quality of its mineral waters. In the city, there are 7 independent mineral water springs. One of the springs is in the central area of the city and is accessible for everybody - cross the square behind the mosque, next to TSUM (the intersection of Iskar and Ekzarh Yosif streets).
Sofia Public Mineral Baths. It is an old building of interest, although it is in process of renovation at the moment.
Other places of worship
Banya Bashi Mosque. A rebuilt bathhouse, hence the name. Planned by master architect Sinan who also did the mosque in Edirne.
Sofia Synagogue. 09:00 to 16:30. One of the largest in Europe.
Amphitheatre of Serdica (Amphitheatre of Serdica), 4 Budapeshta Street (Located in the lobby of the Arena di Serdica Residence Hotel).
Battenberg Mausoleum. The mausoleum and final resting place of Prince Alexander I of Bulgaria, the first Head of State of modern Bulgaria. edit
Knyaz Battenberg's Palace, (Right in front of the city garden.).
Monument to Vasil Levski. It commemorates the hanging of Bulgarian national hero and major revolutionary figure Vasil Levski in the city on 18 February 1873.
Monument to the Tsar Liberator. Representing the power of freedom and across from it are the National Assembly and the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
Monument to the Unknown Soldier. Across from Alexander Nevsky cathedral; on the side of Hagia Sofia's Church.
Parks and gardens
Borisova Gradina (Boris Garden). The oldest and best known park in the city. Includes the Ariana Lake.
Yuzhen Park (South Park). Yes, and it's not the cartoon series. A nice park in the south-east part of the city, although a bit to crowded on weekends. Vibrant with open area cafes, entertainment for children and grown-ups, and a few ponds with ducks.
City Garden. It`s the oldest and most central public garden, in existence since 1872.
Sofia Zoo, 1 Sreburna Str. 09:00 to 17:00.
Orlov Most. It`s a bridge over the Perlovska River in the centre of Sofia
Lover's Bridge. It is called that way because young couples hang there. It is usually a place with various exhibitions - photo, picture, music and so on. Located between National Palace of Culture and Hotel Hilton, over Bulgaria bulevard.
Lion's Bridge, bulevard Slivnitsa, 1202 Sofia. Since 2014 the bridge is fully renovated and its old fame for being a dangerous place is now in the past. It has a beautiful lion sculptures (hence the name), flower garden, benches to seat, a tram line. There is a metro station next to it.
What to do
Swimming and spa
Sofia is crossed by a few tiny rivers that even the locals call (dirty) channels ("Kanala") because of their limited water capacity and pollution. In summer the heats hit 35C and there are a few outdoor swimming pools for you to chill. Despite the fact that Sofia sits on a number of hot mineral springs, the mineral baths & spa culture is not developed for its natural resources.
Happy Beach Viktoria, 12-14 Pencho Slaveykov Blvd (10 minutes walk from the 5 Corners intersection, 5 minutes walk from the stops of trolley 5, 8, tram 4, 5)). Small open air swimming pool. Its advantage is that it's right next to the city center. Happy is also a popular chain of restaurants so you can have a bite.
Maxi - Water World, 110 Simeonovsko Shose Blvd (Close to the ring road, getting there by public transport is complicated, bus 67, 102). Outdoor swimming pools, hotel, spa center (relax, sauna, hammam, massage)
Tsarsko Selo, Dragalevtsi district, 72 Ring Road (No public transport). Indoor and outdoor swimming pools, hotel, spa center (relax, sauna, hammam, massage, fitness). Restaurant with traditional Bulgarian decoration
Varadero, Levski G district, Poruchik Georgi Kuyumdzhiev Str. (behind Domko store) (The closest public transport stops are buses 78, 120 or trolley 1). Located in not particularly beautiful living district, it has an outdoor swimming pool, water slides for kids, restaurant, cafe
Liulin Beach, Liulin district, 30 Dzhavaharlal Neru Blvd (Metro stop Liulin, trolley 7, tram 8, buses 42,111). Located in the largest district of Sofia, it has 3 outdoor swimming pools, fitness center, sand area, volleyball and football playgrounds, bbq, pizza, fast food, cafeteria
Leda, 3 Shavarski Pat Str (Close to the zoo). Popular for its music night parties, the outdoor pool is also open during the day.
Close to Sofia
Korali, Sofia, Pancharevo (Technically this pool is not in the city. Pancharevo is rater a village close to the city). A place with natural mineral water (temperature of the spring: 49ºС) near Sofia. Spa (Hydro and aromatherapy, sauna, whirpool baths, turkish bath, massage, fitness). Restaurant. edit
Rudartsi, Pernik, Rudartsi Village (There is a mini bus from Sofia to the village). Mineral water. 3 outdoor swimming pools, snack bar, cafeteria.
The currency in Bulgaria is the Lev, plural Leva. You will also see the abbreviation lv. (лв.) or the ISO code - BGN. The currency exchange rate is fixed at 1 EUR = 1.95583 BGN. Exchange rate to any other currency (except for the EUR) is not fixed directly, but published by the Bulgarian National Bank  and is used for a benchmark in the exchange offices and banks.
Currency exchange offices and most banks offer a buy rate of 1.95 BGN and a sell rate of 1.96 BGN to 1 EUR. However, at the airport and train station the rates may differ substantially. During business days, it is strongly advisable to use banks for exchanging money. Although there are some really good exchange stalls giving you up to 1.955BGN/EUR, be aware of those who switch the digits giving you 1.59BGN/EUR. It's also possible to change money 24/7 in casinos where rate is good, but you are required to play even some. ATMs on all major credit card issuers (Visa, Mastercard, Amex, Diner's, etc.) are widely available, although you have to watch for your daily withdrawal limit imposed by your card-issuing bank. Credit cards are widely accepted, but in small souvenir stores or restaurants; you will definitely need to carry some cash.
Souvenirs can be bought many small shops in the subways in front of the old Party House and in the metro station at the Largo. The Ethnographic Museum has a small shop tightly crammed with souvenirs of all kinds from all over Bulgaria (on the right, just as you enter the main entrance). Antiques and souvenirs can also be found in Alexander Nevski square, in stalls just opposite the church.