City Orientation Walk, Sofia (Self Guided)

Sofia is considered one of Europe's oldest cities, with a history going back more than 7,000 years. It's also Bulgaria's cultural, economic, and educational epicenter. This fascinating city is rich in historical and architectural sights as well as many other attractions. Take this walk to visit the biggest and best attractions in Sofia.
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City Orientation Walk Map

Guide Name: City Orientation Walk
Guide Location: Bulgaria » Sofia (See other walking tours in Sofia)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 km
Author: stacey
1
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

1) Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (must see)

The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral in Sofia. Built in Neo-Byzantine style, it serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria and is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world, as well as one of Sofia's symbols and primary tourist attractions. The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia occupies an area of 3,170 square metres (34,100 sq ft) and can hold 10,000 people inside. It is the second biggest cathedral located on the Balkan Peninsula after the Cathedral of Saint Sava in Belgrade.

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a cross-domed basilica featuring an emphasized central dome. The cathedral's gold-plated dome is 45 m high (148 ft), with the bell tower reaching 53 metres (174 ft). The temple has 12 bells with total weight of 23 tons, the heaviest weighing 12 tons and the lightest 10 kilograms (22 lb). The interior is decorated with Italian marble in various colours, Brazilian onyx, alabaster, and other luxurious materials. The central dome has the Lord's Prayer inscribed around it, with thin gold letters.

"(The above description is based on Wikipedia under Creative Common License)"
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
Saint Sofia Church

2) Saint Sofia Church (must see)

The Hagia Sophia Church is the second oldest church in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, dating to the 6th century. In the 14th century, the church gave its name to the city, previously known as Sredets (Средец).

The Hagia Sophia Church is now one of the most valuable pieces of Early architecture in Southeastern Europe. The present building is a cross basilica with three altars. The floor of the church is covered with complex Early Christian ornamental or flora and fauna-themed mosaics. The Hagia Sophia Church stands in the middle of an ancient necropolis and many tombs have been unearthed both under and near the church. Some of the tombs even feature frescoes.

Because St. Sophia represents divine wisdom rather than a historical saint, icons within the church depict Sophia as a woman standing above three other women representing faith, hope, and love. The church also displays icons of historical saints, including St. George and St. Vladimir.

"(The above description is based on Wikipedia under Creative Common License)"
Sight description based on wikipedia
3
Rafaela Gallery

3) Rafaela Gallery

Rafaela Gallery has a large collection of Bulgarian Orthodox and foreign icons. The gallery was opened in 1996. The gallery is situated in downtown Sofia near the National Opera house.
4
National Opera and Ballet

4) National Opera and Ballet (must see)

The National Opera and Ballet is a national cultural institution in Bulgaria that covers opera and ballet. It is based in an imposing building in Sofia. The first opera company in Bulgaria was founded in 1890 as part of the Capital Opera and Drama Company. The two sections split in 1891 to form the Salza i Smyah theatrical company and the Capital Bulgarian Opera. It was, however, disbanded the next year due to lack of government funding and financial difficulties.

The Bulgarian Opera Society was established in 1908 and staged its first test performance. The first full opera was performed in 1909 — Pagliacci by Leoncavallo. As the company evolved under the ensemble system and style, the permanent troupe of soloists, choir, orchestra, ballet, technical and production teams produced up to 10 opera and ballet premieres a year, in addition to concert programs. 20th Century performers such as Nicolai Ghiaurov, Nicola Ghiuselev, and Ghena Dimitrova began their careers within the structure of the National Opera, as did later singers such as Irena Petkova. The National Opera and Ballet's building was designed in 1921 and built for the most part between 1947 and its opening in 1953.

"(The above description is based on Wikipedia under Creative Common License)"
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
The Russian Church

5) The Russian Church (must see)

The Russian Church, officially known as the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker, is a Russian Orthodox church in central Sofia, situated on Tsar Osvoboditel (Tsar the Liberator) Boulevard. It was built on the site of the Saray Mosque destroyed in 1882 upon the liberation of Bulgaria by the Russian forces from the Ottoman Empire. Initially, this was an official church of the Russian Embassy located nearby and served the Russian community in Sofia, named, according to the tradition for diplomatic churches, after the patron saint of the Russian Emperor of at that period, Nicholas II. It was designed by Russian architect Mikhail Preobrazhenski in the Russian Revival Style, with the decoration inspired by Muscovite Russian churches of the 17th century. The interior murals were painted by a team of artists led by Vasily Perminov, who also painted those in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in St. Petersburg. The five domes were coated with gold, and the bells were donated by Emperor Nicholas II. The construction began in 1907 and the church was consecrated in 1914. It remained open after the Russian Revolution of 1917 as well as throughout the Communist period in Bulgaria (1944–1989), although priests and church-goers were carefully watched by the State Security police. The crypt housing the remains of Saint Archbishop Seraphim is located beneath the church's main floor. Dozens of people still visit the grave of the archbishop, who died in 1950, praying and leaving notes asking for wishes to be granted.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Ethnographic Museum

6) Ethnographic Museum (must see)

Initially opened in 1892 as a section of the National Museum, the Ethnographic Museum became a separate museum in its own right in 1906. The museum is currently housed in the luxurious surroundings of the city's Royal Palace.
7
National Art Gallery

7) National Art Gallery (must see)

The National Art Gallery is Bulgaria's national gallery and houses over 50,000 pieces of Bulgarian art. It is located on Battenberg Square in the capital city of Sofia, occupying most of the historic and imposing edifice of the former royal palace of Bulgaria, having been established in 1934 and moved to the palace in 1946, after the abolition of the monarchy.

The royal palace, a typical example of Second Empire architecture with chateauesque connotations, was constructed in two stages, the first lasting between 1880 and 1882 during the rule of Knyaz Alexander Battenberg, when Austro-Hungarian architects under Viktor Rumpelmayer worked on the building.

The National Art Gallery houses not only examples of contemporary and National Revival art, but also the country's largest collection of medieval paintings, including more than four thousand icons, a collection comparable in quality and number only to that of the Benaki Museum according to the director of the gallery, Boris Danailov.

Hours: 10.00 to 18.00, day off - Monday
Sight description based on wikipedia
8
Prince Alexander of Battenberg Square

8) Prince Alexander of Battenberg Square

Prince Alexander I Square, often called simply Battenberg Square is the largest square of Sofia. It is named after Alexander Joseph of Battenberg (Alexander I of Bulgaria), the first prince of modern Bulgaria, and is arguably the most suitable place in Sofia for major open-air concerts such as the concert series "Opera on the Square", demonstrations, parades and other large-scale events.

During the Communist rule of Bulgaria, the square had the name 9 September Square, as a coup on 9 September 1944 made the country a Communist state. It was the site of the Georgi Dimitrov Mausoleum from 1949 until 1999. Before 1944, the square was known as Tsar's Square because the former royal palace, now the National Art Gallery, is located there.

"(The above description is based on Wikipedia under Creative Common License)"
Sight description based on wikipedia
9
Ivan Vazov National Theater

9) Ivan Vazov National Theater (must see)

The Ivan Vazov National Theatre is Bulgaria's national theatre, as well as the oldest and most authoritative theatre in the country and one of the important landmarks of Sofia. It is located in the centre of the city, with the facade facing the City Garden. Founded in 1904 by the artists from the Salza i Smyah company, it was initially called simply the National Theatre, but before being named after the prominent writer Ivan Vazov it also bore the name of Krastyu Sarafov between 1952 and 1962. The theatre's Neoclassical building, designed by famous Viennese theatre architects Hermann Helmer and Ferdinand Fellner, was finished in 1906 and opened on 3 January 1907. The building was extensively damaged by a fire in 1923 during an anniversary celebration, but was reconstructed in 1929 by German architect Martin Dülfer.

The Ivan Vazov National Theatre has a well-equipped main stage with 750 seats, a smaller 120-seat stage and an additional 70-seat one on the fourth floor. The building's facade is depicted on the obverse of the Bulgarian 50 levs banknote, issued in 1999 and 2006. The theatre has been host to productions from notable theatre directors such as Lilia Abadjieva.

"(The above description is based on Wikipedia under Creative Common License)"
Sight description based on wikipedia
10
National Archaeological Museum

10) National Archaeological Museum (must see)

The National Archaeological Museum is an archaeological museum in the centre of Sofia. It occupies the building of the largest and oldest former Ottoman mosque in the city, Büyük camii ("Grand Mosque"), built from stone around 1474 under Mehmed II. The museum was established as a separate entity in 1893 as the National Museum directed by the Czech Václav Dobruský with its headquarters in the former mosque that previously housed the National Library between 1880 and 1893.

The museum was officially opened and inaugurated in 1905, as by then all archaeological exhibits previously kept all over the city were moved there, in the presence of Knyaz Ferdinand of Bulgaria and Minister of Enlightenment Ivan Shishmanov.

Several additional halls and administrative buildings of the museum were constructed in the following years, which continues to use the historic stone building of the old mosque despite the often unfavourable conditions, notably the humidity in the summer. The museum has five exhibition halls: Central Hall, Prehistory, Middle Ages, Treasure, and a special temporary exhibition. It is managed by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

"(The above description is based on Wikipedia under Creative Common License)"
Sight description based on wikipedia
11
Pirotska Street

11) Pirotska Street

Pirotska Street is a pedestrianized street near the TZUM which is famous for its many shops, cafes and hotels. You'll find a great variety of boutique stores on both sides of the street, with a distinct 1990s flavor to the selection.
12
Cathedral of St. Joseph

12) Cathedral of St. Joseph

The Cathedral of St Joseph is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Sofia. It is the co-cathedral of the Diocese of Sofia and Plovdiv, together with the Cathedral of St Louis in Plovdiv.

The cathedral, rebuilt at its previous location after it was destroyed by the Allied bombing raids during World War II, was inaugurated on 21 May 2006 in the presence of Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church. The foundation stone of the new cathedral was laid personally by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Bulgaria in 2002.

The Cathedral of St Joseph has 350 seats and is capable of sheltering a total of about 1,000 people. It is 23 m long, 15 m wide and 19 m high, with the belfry reaching 33 m and having four electronic bells.

"(The above description is based on Wikipedia under Creative Common License)"
Sight description based on wikipedia
13
Church of St Petka of the Saddlers

13) Church of St Petka of the Saddlers (must see)

The Church of St Petka of the Saddlers is a medieval Bulgarian Orthodox church in Sofia. It is a small one-naved building partially dug into the ground located in the very centre of both the modern and the antique city, in the TZUM subway. The church features a semi-cylindrical vault, a hemispherical apse, and a crypt discovered during excavations after the Second World War. The walls are 1 m thick and made from brick and stone.

The church was first mentioned in the 16th century and was constructed at the place of a former Roman religious building. It is today a monument of culture known for its mural paintings from the 14th, 15th, 17th and 19th century depicting biblical scenes. The church is dedicated to St Petka, an 11th century Bulgarian saint. The Church of Saint Petka acquired its present name due to it being a patron of the saddlers in the Middle Ages, who performed their rituals in the church.

"(The above description is based on Wikipedia under Creative Common License)"
Sight description based on wikipedia
14
St. Nedelya Church

14) St. Nedelya Church (must see)

Holy Sunday Church is an Eastern Orthodox church in Sofia, a cathedral of the Sofia bishopric of the Bulgarian Patriarchate. Sveta Nedelya is a medieval church that has suffered destruction through the ages and has been reconstructed many times. The present building of the temple is among the landmarks of Sofia. It was designed by the famous Bulgarian architectural team Vasilyov-Tsol.

The history of the cathedral's earliest years is to a large extent unknown. It was probably built in the 10th century and had stone foundations and an otherwise wooden construction, remaining wooden until the middle of the 19th century, unlike most other churches in the city. A German traveller by the name of Stefan Gerlach visited Sofia in 1578 and mentioned the church. The origin of the name Sveta Nedelya is rather obscure. It can be translated as either "Holy Sunday", "Saint Nedelya", or even as "Saint Sunday", depending on which etymology is taken as the basis.

"(The above description is based on Wikipedia under Creative Common License)"
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Sofia, Bulgaria

Create Your Own Walk in Sofia

Create Your Own Walk in Sofia

Creating your own self-guided walk in Sofia is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Souvenir Shopping

Souvenir Shopping

It would be a pity to leave Sofia without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to Sofia, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.9 km
Levski Boulevard Walking Tour

Levski Boulevard Walking Tour

Levski Boulevard is the main street of Sofia, and is notable for its many landmarks and monuments. The street took its name from Vasil Levski, a national hero in Bulgaria. Take our tour to explore the top sights of Levski Boulevard.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 km
Famous Museums and Galleries Walk in Sofia

Famous Museums and Galleries Walk in Sofia

Sofia boasts a number of great museums that reflect Bulgaria's history, its cultural heritage and the way of life in the country. Take this walking tour to get a keen insight into Bulgarian history.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 km
Sofia Landmarks Walking Tour

Sofia Landmarks Walking Tour

As the capital of a former communist country, Sofia has a number of imposing monuments and landmarks that recall the long history of Bulgaria. Make sure that you will take this self guided walking tour to visit some of the most amazing and important attractions in Sofia.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.7 km
Religious Buildings Walking Tour in Sofia

Religious Buildings Walking Tour in Sofia

A predominantly Orthodox Christian city, Sofia has plenty of great churches and cathedrals from this tradition. But as well as Orthodox religious buildings, the city also has mosques and temples from other faiths. Take our tour to get a sense of the spiritual life of Bulgaria's capital.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 km
Yellow Paves Walking Tour in Sofia

Yellow Paves Walking Tour in Sofia

Yellow Paves is an area of Sofia where the roads are covered with yellow rocks - they were a present from the Austro-Hungarian rulers for the wedding of King Ferdinand I. Yellow Paves has since become one of the popular symbols of the capital - why not take our tour and visit the top attractions in the area.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.2 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip


Sofia Shopping: 15 Things To Memorize Bulgaria By

Sofia Shopping: 15 Things To Memorize Bulgaria By

Increasingly popular tourist destination in recent years, Bulgaria has opened up to the outer world, revealing colorful identity, manifested in rich craftsmanship, culinary and cultural traditions and history. The country's capital city Sofia is a lovely alloy of Eastern and Western European...

Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in Sofia for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Sofia has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Taking Care of Your Feet


To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Sofia, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device


Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.