Bulgaria had been on our To Travel List for some time but it was always pushed back due to some other European city seeming more urgent (or getting better last-minute deals). But if we'd known just how much we'd end up loving our to visit to Bulgaria, we would have visited much sooner.
Bulgaria's capital city of Sofia is fast becoming a popular tourist destination as visitors venture further east to explore some lesser-known capital cities. And why not? Sofia offers delectable local cuisine, thousands of years of complex and surprising history coupled with remarkable sights, all within a relatively small city centre perfect for exploring over a weekend break.
Head to the centre of Communist architecture
First stop, head to the Largo, an area of Sofia where some of the finest examples of Communist-era architecture survives today and is quite something to behold. There are three buildings which comprise the Largo.
The first is the former headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party, translated literally as The Party House. The building once represented the might and strength of the Communist party ideals complete with its symbolic red star sitting atop the building but following democratic changes that symbolic star was removed by helicopter and now rests in the halls of the Museum of Socialist Art.
The second is the TZUM department store, first opened in 1957 and was the home of the first escalator in Bulgaria. The department store sold a variety of different goods and during the Communist years consumers would buy in bulk as they never knew when something would suddenly become unavailable.
The third is the Presidential Office, the building where the President of Bulgaria conducts his business, not where he lives. The building is guarded by two ceremonially dressed soldiers, similar to what you may have seen outside Buckingham Palace. The guards are the stoic protectors of the Presidential office so you are allowed to have your photos taken with them but don’t take the mickey otherwise you’ll have to deal with the guards who are protecting the guards (sitting in an inconspicuous hut to the side).
A Church Built By The Romans
Once you’ve taken in the grandeur of the Largo, head to the Church of St George Rotunda, located just around the corner from the Presidential Office. The oldest building in Sofia is hidden between the buildings erected during the Communist years in an effort to conceal its presence.
If you arrive early enough, you will have the church, the courtyard, and the streets to yourself providing excellent photo opportunities. The church itself was built in the 4th century making it over 1700 years old.
Surrounding the church are the Roman remains of the ancient city of Serdica – original Roman roads, columns, and building remains. You can take the stairs and literally walk on the same roads that the Romans did centuries ago. Incredible.
If you’re looking for a coffee fix then there’s a small coffee shop called Rotunda situated right next to the church so pop in, order a smooth double espresso, and head to the next stop; the Palace of Justice and join the Free Sofia Tour.
Ready to Explore With a Free Walking Tour?
If you’re a regular reader of Roaming Required then you know that one of our favourite things to do when exploring a new city is to do a free walking tour and Sofia was no exception. The Free Sofia Tour, part of the 365 Association, runs daily at 11am and 6pm on the steps of the Palace of Justice. They have been running for six years and from the sheer number of people wanting to join the tour, it’s obvious that they’re one of the most popular!