Sofia at night
Most of Sofia's main sights are beautifully illuminated at night.
So a stroll in the darkness is highly recommended, especially when the weather during the day is grey as it was during our days in Sofia.
Among the well worth seeing buildings at night are first of all the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, but also the Saints Cyril and Methodius National Library, the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, the Russian Church as well as the building of the Central Military Club.
Sofia's city centre is...
Sofia's city centre is an eclectic mix of architectural styles, largely rebuilt after WWII bombings and complete with a yellow-brick boulevard. Like any other major capital city, Sofia has its problems, including drug-related crime and some of the world's nastiest drivers; however, the EU's 'beautiful Bulgaria' campaign is sprucing up historic buildings and energising old neighbourhoods. The city's compactnes and diversity make it a great place to get your bearings before heading off to discover the real Bulgaria.
The central train station is on the north side of the city centre. From the station, bulevard Marija Luiza runs south to Sveta Nedelya Cathedral, restored after a 1924 bomb attempt on Tsar Boris III in which 124 people (including most of the cabinet) were killed. The 14th-century church of St Petra Semerdjuska is nearby. The inconspicuous exterior gives no clue to the lovely frescoes in the dim, spooky nave. On the other side of the cathedral, near the National Museum of History, is Vitosha bulevard, the fashionable avenue of modern Sofia.
The eastern end of the city centre is dominated by the neo-Byzantine Alexander Nevski Church, a memorial to the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died in the fight for Bulgaria's independence. Ploschtad Batenberg to the east is dominated by the Georgi Dimitrov Mausoleum. Dimitrov was prime minister of Bulgaria from 1946 until he died in 1949. Until mid-1990, when his embalmed body was cremated, the public was allowed to file reverently past the deified figure while an honour guard looked on. Across ploschtad Batenberg to the north is the Former Party House, an oppressive Stalinist construction which was sacked and partially burned by demonstrators in 1990. It subsequently served as a cinema, bazaar and disco, but now government business is once more conducted here.
Mt Vitosha, the rounded mountain which looms just 8km south of Sofia, is a popular ski resort in winter, while in summer a chairlift operates for the benefit of sightseers. Vitosha is accessible by local bus, making it an extremely popular Sunday outing for the locals, so take the trip on another day if you can.
With the demise of communist-controlled tourism, it has become much easier to find a cheap place to stay in Sofia, although foreigners still pay up to 10 times more than Bulgarians. Your best bet is one of the new private hotels springing up around the city centre, or else try one of the private room agencies which organise single and double rooms with bathrooms in people's apartments. You'll find Bulgaria's most cosmopolitan cuisine in Sofia, though it also has the country's widest range of greasy American belly-glop. The best places to look out for are mehanas, tavern-style traditional restaurants, usually very cheap, and serving traditional Bulgarian food until late.
We tend to drink reasonably steadily but we also tend to carry it reasonably well. A small drink is a 50ml (note: big one in the West is 40ml) and a normal is 100ml. Men drink a few normal ;-) and even if you don't feel like getting plastered, get a 'normal' and nurse it all night (you don't have to finish it). ON the other hand, if you are pressured into the numbers game, after the first normal get small ones -- this will also give your BG opponent the false sense of security that they are leading in the game (while you'll be just waiting for the right moment)..... ;-)
Be careful with cocktails! The BG cocktail tradition is based on some combination of rakiya, vodka and mentovka (mint liquor). The names are descriptive: "Cloud", "Jump in the Grave", "People's fist". There are quite a few Russian borrowings such as "The bear is coming" (start with vodka, and add beer as you drink) and "The bear is going" (the other way round).
National Palace of Culture
The massive National Palace of Culture (Natsionalen dvorets na kulturata) was opened in 1981 and it is said to be the largest multifunctional complex in Southeastern Europe.
It is home to 13 concert halls of different sizes, more than 50 congress rooms and numerous offices.
The large park (pl. Bulgaria) around the building offers many oudoor cafes and was even used for a photo exhibition when we visited the site.
The National Palace of Culture can be found in the middle of the large park pl. Bulgaria, which is situated south of Sofia's city centre
Address: National Palace of Culture, bul. Bulgaria 1, Sofia
There are two fairs at NDK that might be interesting to the visitor. The Choose the Bulgarian/Made In Bulgaria fairs take place twice a year, in Spring and Winter. Next one coming, Nov.24 till Dec. 3, 2006. Floors 0 to 5 are filled with many stalls selling Bulgarian made goods, usually cheaper. Mostly clothes but also shoes, accessories, jewelry, cosmetics, gifts, etc. Gets crowded at times.
At the book fair, also held twice a year, the newest Bulgarian books can be found, sometimes presented by their authors. There are also some books in English, German, Spanish, French and Russian, also maps, calendars and CDs. Next book fairs: May 24-28, and Dec. 13-17, 2006.
In the underpass of NDK there are also numerous shops selling cheap clothes, including fakes, etc. There's also a post office and a railways office. Clothes (including good and cheap childrens' clothes), shoes, etc. Some goods are of very good quality, some arent'. Normally prices are slightly cheaper than at retail stores.