Road Orient Express – What to See in Sofia?
Welcome to Road Orient Express – Planning and executing road trip along the Turkish Black Sea Coast and more
Road Orient Express has been my dream for many years. For many decades actually. It is time to hit the road and go through the whole planning and execution. Do you think that’s going to deliver on my high expectations? We’ll be able to find out together. Starting point for this rather long road trip is Belgrade. The capital of Serbia is well-known and quite a popular tourist destination itself. More about Belgrade will be coming soon. Belgrade is an excellent spot to have as a base if you are a modern nomad. More about that is coming.
Sofia – the capital city of Bulgaria, is our first planned stop. Some decades ago, I used to drive by Sofia on my way to Istanbul without stopping. These were the days of socialist Bulgaria. I have made a quick dash to Istanbul and back with a different purpose. In short, Istanbul was then (and still is now) a great place to do shopping. For yourself and for reselling to others. That was my second income source at the time.
Originally I planned to drive straight to Istanbul without stopping in Sofia. However, I realised I was not as young as in those days. I am glad I changed my mind. Sofia proved to be a place worth seeing. So, what is there to see in Sofia?
General information about visiting Sofia by road from Belgrade
If you use Google Maps for planning this trip, there would be two possible routes between Belgrade and Sofia. Frankly, I don’t know how many people use the alternative one. Only a few are doing it. By the main road E-75, there is just under 400 km from Belgrade to Sofia. The road is very good, and Google’s predicted time of travel (five hours and six minutes) is quite reasonable. The most significant unknown factor regarding travel time is the time you will have to wait at the border crossing. Budget for paying road toll. It is worth it.
General information about Sofia – Weather conditions – Planning When to visit the Bulgarian capital
Sofia has a humid continental climate with wet summers and cold winters. The most pleasant months to visit Sofia are May, June and September. These months are warm enough to enjoy the parks and outdoor cafes. You might try to time your visit with festivities such as Orthodox Easter, Liberation Day ( 3 March) or St George’s Day (6 May).
Nestled in the Sofia Valley at an altitude of 552m (1,812ft) and surrounded by mountains, the city usually enjoys pleasant summer months (June to August). August can be a month of high rainfall – it varies from year to year.
Autumn (September to November) is mainly dry before heading into chilly winter (December to February) with temperatures around the freezing point with plenty of snowfall.
Sofia is a city that is often overlooked. It might be understandable at first sight of Bulgaria’s capital city. Sofia is not beautiful. Its few architectural gems are often hidden by functional communist-era housing blocks connected by a drab, sometimes crumbling pavement. However, this does not mean that Sofia isn’t worth visiting. Planning a few days for a Sofia itinerary is a choice you will not regret. I understand that Sofia is not the target destination, but it is worth stopping if you are in transit (as we are).
How long should you stay?
I think you should stay two nights in Sofia. That would give you at least one full day for city tours. I must admit to disliking rushing through a busy and very ambitious schedule for visiting too many places. Holidays are for enjoyment and relaxation rather than following a very ambitious bucket list. One thing is for sure; you will only manage to see some places that might be worth seeing. Such is life.
Our plan was straightforward – arriving in Sofia by mid-afternoon, settling down in the hotel and taking it easy for the rest of the day. The following day is designated for city tours. Finally, the plan is to leave Sofia the next day after breakfast. Nice and easy. How do you like planning your days when travelling?
Central Sofia Sites worth seeing – Road Orient Express
You can begin your Sofia itinerary at Serdika Metro Station. Serdika has a lot more to offer than just a metro line.
Serdika, the ancient name for Sofia, sits at the historical centre of the Bulgarian capital and in the metro station. Here you can see the ancient remains of the former city. Seeing these ruins truly puts into context just how old Sofia is and how long humans have lived in the town.
Another sight near Serdika Station would be the Church of St George Rotunda. It is a 4th-century church that sits among the ruins. It is still in operation today.
After marvelling at the ruins of Serdika, walk only about 100 metres to the Sveta Nedelya Church. This Eastern Orthodox church is one of the most important in Bulgaria and is defined by its incredible architecture.
The Church is located in Sveta Nedelya Square which is considered to be the geographical centre of Sofia and therefore has been a historical crossroads of the city for hundreds of years.
Sveta Nedelya Church was initially constructed in the 10th century. It has been reconstructed twice, once in 1867, where it took on the look it has today, and once more in 1933, after it was nearly destroyed in a bombing meant to assassinate the reigning tsar of Bulgaria. The attack remains the most deadly in Bulgarian history, with more than 150 innocent people killed.
Close to Serdika Station and the Sveta Nedelya Church is the Sofia History Museum. Located in what used to be the central bathhouse of the city, the building now houses relics and history from the city from its ancient past until 1944.
Around a 5 to 10-minute walk from the mineral baths and the Museum of Sofia lies the National Theatre. Named for who is arguably Bulgaria’s most famous author and playwright, the Ivan Vasov Theatre is one of Sofia’s most famous and beautiful monuments.
End your tour of Sofia’s most famous monuments at perhaps the most iconic structure in the Bulgarian capital: the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.