Bulgaria’s capital, its biggest city, and another of Europe’s oldest cities, Sofia, with a population of 1,250,000, is often overlooked by foreign visitors who make a beeline for the beach or mountains, yet it’s a fascinating place. It’s very much an Eastern European city, with broad tree-lined boulevards, sprawling squares and public gardens, Communist-era statues and war memorials, magnificent Orthodox churches like the gold-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and Ottoman era-mosques. Sofia has an abundance of alfresco cafes, ice-creameries, low-lit bars, rowdy pubs, traditional restaurants where you can wash down hearty dishes with Bulgarian wine, and countless band venues and dance clubs. The myriad museums, art galleries, concert halls, and cultural activities also make a visit interesting.
There a handful of sights on the outskirts, like the Museum of Socialist Art and sculpture park, containing Communist Art produced from 1944 to 1989; the UNESCO World Heritage-listed medieval Boyana Church, decorated with frescoes and icons, in the foothills of Vitosha Mountain; and the National History Museum in the residence of former Communist leader, Todor Zhivkov, which has a medieval skeleton of a ‘vampire’, complete with iron stake in its heart. Aside from these, most sights are in the compact city centre.