There is a Yellow Brick Road in Sofia. Really. The bricks were a wedding gift to a Bulgarian Tsar from an Austro-Hungarian Emperor and they line a road that runs through the administrative centre of the Bulgarian capital, near most of the tourist landmarks.
One of the most important landmarks is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This enormous neo-Byzantine church (it is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world), all green and gold domes, was built in memory of the Russian soldiers who died wresting Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in 1878.
Between Turkish and Russian influences (Bulgaria was a contented Soviet state for 50 years) and a dash of European Union “connectedness” (since 2007), Sofia is a fascinating place to visit.
At about 7,000 years old, it is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Long before there were cheap flights to Sofia, the Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Macedonians and Turks all flocked there for its life-giving mineral springs – there are seven independent springs in the city. It’s no exaggeration to say that this stylish city is one of the jewels of Eastern Europe.
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Summers are balmy with temperatures usually in the low-20s (Celsius) and low humidity, although July and August can reach the high-20s. Winters are cold with below freezing temperatures December through February.Rain is typical any month of the year, especially in April and May. In winter, Sofia gets snow instead, most of it falling from December to February.
Sofia is busy in summer and winter, mostly with visitors on their way to the Black Sea resorts or hiking trails in summer and the ski slopes in winter. In June the city hosts the popular Sofia Music Week and cheap flights to Sofia may be harder to come by.
A party town, the nightlife is exuberant around the clock and year-round. The clubs also host varied and eclectic performances from traditional Bulgarian music to punk, reggae, and metal.
Winter is when you are less likely to find tourists lingering in the city, but if you do not mind the cold and snow, Sofia has a wealth of museums, galleries, and cultural entertainment.
Sofia’s public transport network of buses, trolleys and trams reaches all corners of the city from early morning to late evening. Buy tickets from street kiosks. Fares are cheap, but one-day and multiple-day tickets will save you even more money. The metro doesn’t hit tourist attractions or hotels. Be prepared and travel with a map, and don’t be afraid to ask locals for help. Despite public transit system’s extensive coverage, stops aren’t well-marked and contain little if any information. For a bit more money, you can travel in a private minibus, which is faster than a regular bus. Don’t worry about buying tickets ahead of time, just pay the driver when you board. Calling for a taxi can get lost in translation. Most dispatches don’t speak English, but the fares are reasonable as long as you’re not overcharged. Make sure the meter is running and know where you’re going. Drivers expect you to know where you’re going and often need you to give directions.
Don’t drive in Sofia. With public transport and taxis available, battling the horrible traffic isn’t worth it.