Sofia 3 Day Itinerary

We went to Sofia as a weekend city break, spending two days in the city and a third day on an organised tour to Rila Monastery, stopping en route at Boyana Church. The Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is around 70 miles south of Sofia. It is quite spectacular, so I thoroughly recommend adding a day to your itinerary to go and see it.

Itinerary

Day 1Flight to Sofia
Arena di Serdica Boutique Hotel
Sveti Nikolai Russian Church
President’s Building
Aleksander Nevski Cathedral
Dinner at Happy Bar and Grill
Day 2Museum of Socialist Art
Borisova Gradina
Monument to the Soviet Army
National Palace of Culture
Saint Sofia Monument
Dinner at Hadjidraganovite kashti
Day 3Boyana Church
Rila Monastery
Dinner at Vitosha Street Bar & Dinner

Attractions

1Sveti Nikolai Russian Church
2President’s Building
3Alexksander Nevski Cathedral
4Museum of Socialist Art
5Borisova Gradina
6Monument to the Soviet Army
7National Palace of Culture
8Saint Sofia Monument
9Boyana Church
10Rila Monastery

Day 1

Flight to Sofia

The flight to Sofia is uneventful. We head for the metro station and after a few issues with the ticket machine, head into town for our hotel. It’s very hot, so we have booked a hotel with a pool and I am very much looking forward to a refreshing dip.

Sofia Airport
Sofia Airport

We reach our stop. I have checked the map and it looks pretty easy to reach the hotel; out of the station, turn left and it’s a few doors down. I failed to notice that the station is on a crossroads. With four exits. So we depart, turn left, look for our hotel. It’s not there. We realise our mistake, retrace our steps, and depart the station via a different exit. Same thing. And again. Fourth time lucky, we finally select the correct exit and reach our hotel. We are vey sweaty. The pool is sounding all the more inviting.

At reception, we are informed that there has been a burst pipe and an entire floor (ours) is out of bounds. So we are sent, by taxi, to a sister hotel.

Arena di Serdica Boutique Hotel

It’s not often that your hotel is actually a tourist attraction too. When builders started digging the foundations for the Arena di Serdica Boutique Hotel pool, they stumbled upon Roman remains. So the site was excavated and the hotel built over the top (sans pool).

Arena di Serdica Hotel Foyer
Arena di Serdica Hotel Foyer

It’s quite unique, staying in a hotel with its own Roman ruins. And it is a very nice hotel. Also, much more central than the one we’d booked. But I am still disappointed by the lack of a pool. And I’m not sure about the weird modern art draped across the ancient amphitheatre…

View from the hotel restaurant
View from the hotel restaurant

Sveti Nikolai Russian Church

After refreshments in a nearby bar (no pool, so we have to make do with a beer) we set forth for some sightseeing. First, the Sveti Nikolai Russian Church, set in pretty gardens, with its glistening golden onion domes.

Sveti Nikolai Russian Church
Sveti Nikolai Russian Church


President’s Building

Building wise, there’s not much to see at the President‘s Building; security is tight and you can’t get particularly close. But it’s definitely worth coming here on the hour, to see the Changing of the Guard. It’s like military theatre.

Presidency Changing of the Guards
Presidency Changing of the Guards


Aleksander Nevski Cathedral

The number one tourist destination in Sofia is, of course, the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral. This enormous 19th century cathedral is synonymous with the city of Sofia and is quite a sight on a sunny day with the light reflecting off its many domes.

Alexkander Nevski Cathedral
Aleksander Nevski Cathedral


Dinner at Happy Bar and Grill

We usually try to and eat authentic local food on our travels, but it’s been a long, hot day so we just plonk ourselves down at the nearest eatery and end up drinking sangria and eating chips at the Happy Bar and Grill.

Happy Bar and Grill
Happy Bar Sangria

Day 2

Museum of Socialist Art

Way back when, I studied East European Studies at university and love a bit of socialist realist art. So our first full day in Sofia entails a metro ride out to the suburbs and the fascinating Museum of Socialist Art.

Museum of Socialist Art
Museum of Socialist Art

The museum is not the easiest place to find; technically, only a ten minute walk from the G M Dimitrov metro station, but again we are confused by the number of exits. In amongst a range of modern office buildings, we finally, we spot an enormous red star which indicates we have located the musuem.

Museum of Socialist Art
Museum of Socialist Art

After the fall of communism in Bulgaria, officials wondered what to do with various sculptures and art work which depicted communist ideals which were in evidence across the city. The answer was to take it all down and dump it in a garden; the Museum of Socialist Art.

Museum of Socialist Art
Museum of Socialist Art

Here, you can wander round the garden full of Lenin busts, red stars and all manner of other sculptures. There’s also an art gallery. This is my idea of the perfect way to spend a morning.

Museum of Socialist Art
Museum of Socialist Art


Borisova Gradina

We return to the metro and head a couple of stops back towards town for the next on the list on this morning’s socialist sculpture extravaganza. This one is located in the Borisova Gradina, a large area of parkland, with plenty of gardens and statues as well as various cafes and bars for refreshments along the way.

Beers at Borisova Gradina
Beers at Borisova Gradina

Our ultimate goal isn’t signposted, or maintained, but we finally find it behind the trees covered in graffiti; The Mound of Brotherhood.

The Mound of Brotherhood
The Mound of Brotherhood

The mound is home to a 42 metre obelisk flanked by two more gun toting communists.

The Mound of Brotherhood
The Mound of Brotherhood
The Mound of Brotherhood


Monument to the Soviet Army

One final stop as we head back into town, in search of yet more socialist art; this one remains in situ as it is a war memorial; the Monument to the Soviet Army. This WW2 war memorial with a gun toting Russian soldier atop a column surrounded by scenes of struggling peasants is classic socialist realism. Call me weird, but I love this stuff.

Monument to the Soviet Army
Monument to the Soviet Army

On occasions, it has been the subject of some, let’s say paint attacks. My favourite is this Popart makeover, when the soldiers were painted to resemble various American characters, such as Superman, Ronald McDonald and The Joker.

Monument to the Soviet Army Popart makeover


Saint Sofia Monument

Our first stop is the Saint Sofia monument which stands on a column on a traffic island. This statue of Saint Sofia, after whom the city is named, sits on a 24 metre column. She replaces the previous occupant, Lenin. It’s quite difficult to photograph the statue as (1) it’s very sunny and (2) I don’t want to get run over.

Saint Sofia Monument
Saint Sofia Monument


National Palace of Culture

Onward to another icon of the communist era; the National Palace of Culture. This octagonal (in my opinion) concrete monstrosity, built in the 80s, houses a concert hall, conference centre and cafes. It is reached via a fountain lined park; Ploshtad Bulgaria.

National Palace of Culture
National Palace of Culture


Dinner at Hadjidraganovite kashti

It’s been a long day with a lot of walking. Time to go in search of sustenance. We have chose a restaurant offering Bulgarian food and entertainment.

Dinner at Hadjidraganovite kashti
Dinner at Hadjidraganovite kashti

It’s a bit kitsch, with wooden menus, staff in national dress and live folk music. But it is an entertaining evening. With very good food.

Band at Hadjidraganovite kashti
Band at Hadjidraganovite kashti

Day 3

I don’t usually opt for organised tours, but today we are heading 70 miles south of Sofia to Rila Monastery, and I don’t fancy doing that on public transport. So, we opt for a guided tour. We reach the meeting point in plenty of time. Which wasn’t necessary, as it seems like an absolute age before everybody is present and we’re ready to depart.

Boyana Church

First stop, on the outskirts of the capital, is Boyana Church. This tiny 13th century church is famous for its muralled walls. Only 8 people are allowed in at a time, so it takes a while before our entire group has been into the church, despite the 10 minute time limit. Also, photography isn’t allowed. It always makes me grumpy when I’m not allowed to take photos.

Boyana Church
Boyana Church

Eventually, weset forth once again for Rila. Next, a pit stop at a service station. Again, it takes a while before everyone is ready to depart. I am very much reminded of why I don’t usually do organised tours.


Rila Monastery

Finally, four hours after departing Sofia, we reach our destination. Despite the onset of a bout of tour group grumpiness, I have to admit it spectacular. Both the building and the location. The 10th century monastery sits next to a river nestled at the foot of the Rila Mountains.

Rila Monastery
Rila Monastery

The courtyard reminds me of an inside out wedding cake with its tiered arches.

Rila Monastery
Rila Monastery

The walls are covered in ornate murals.

Rila Monastery
Rila Monastery

It is possible to wander around much of the monastery (there are monks resident here) and there is also a museum housing religious artefacts.

Rila Monastery toilets
Rila Monastery toilets

Allotted time up, we depart once more for Sofia. Just time for a quick trip to the loo before we go. Not the best toilets I’ve ever frequented.


Dinner at Vitosha Street Bar & Dinner

We finally make it back to Sofia. Having spent so much of the day in a bus, we find a restaurant with outdoor seating to enjoy the warm summer’s evening and eat (and drink) plenty of Bulgarian produce.

Vitosha Street Bar and Dinner
Vitosha Street Bar and Dinner – Bar
Vitosha Street Bar and Dinner
Vitosha Street Bar and Dinner – Dinner

Trip taken: June 2016

Updated: September 2022

Author: Jane's Midlife Journey

Stopped work, started travelling. Sometimes I run - combining the two with some parkrun tourism.

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