Founded thousands of years ago and located in the western part of the country, Sofia is Bulgaria’s capital and its largest city with a population of over 1,250,000. Today, the city continues to develop as the country’s cultural and economic centre.
The city is located at a strategic crossroads. The route from Western Europe to Istanbul passes through Sofia via Beograd and Skopje, then through Plovdiv to Turkey. Sofia also connects The Near East and The Middle East, lying between the banks of The Danube and the shores of The White Sea on the one hand, and between The Black Sea and The Adriatic on the other.
Like every big city, Sofia has something for every taste. There are a large amount of luxury hotels, including those that are part of international hotel chains. There is also a wide variety of hostels and smaller family guesthouses. There are a multitude of discotheques, restaurants, bars, piano bars, folk clubs, taverns, soda fountains, fast food outlets and many other kinds of entertainment.
Sofia and the immediate vicinity also boast a great many spa complexes. The hot springs at Bankya, a nearby resort offer wonderful facilities for rest, recreation, and wellness. There are ten spa centres within the capital’s city limits offering peace and relaxation, along with therapeutic and beauty treatments.
Sofia is also home to Bulgaria’s most prestigious and larges educational institutions – universities, colleges, and middle schools that offer solidly-grounded, up-to-date instruction in such disciplines as Architecture, Medicine, The Humanities, Engineering, Music and Choreography, and Fine Arts.
Near Sofia, in the Vitosha, Lozen, and Stara Planina (Central Balkan) Mountains, over the centuries so many monasteries have been founded that they came to be known as Sofia’s Holy Mountains. They can be considered as a single complex, and played an important role in preserving the Bulgarian spiritual heritage during the centuries of Ottoman occupation. Still standing are The Dragalevski, Lozen, Germanski, Kremikovski, Cherepishki, and Osenovlashki Monasteries, among others.
Opportunities for sport and recreation in the capital are many and varied – outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, modern gymnasiums and sports halls, and parks. The city’s stadiums draw thousands of fans for matches between major football teams. Sofia’s parks are a favourite place for rest and recreation. Borisov Park is right in the centre of the city, and South Park is next to the National Palace of Culture. There are two golf courses within an hour’s drive of the city, in the city of Ihtiman and the village of Ravno Polye, both offering excellent facilities to play and practice this sport that is becoming more and more popular in Bulgaria.
The city’s average altitude is 550 meters above sea level, the climate is moderate and continental, characterized by cold winters and relatively cool summers. The average temperature in January is 1 degree below zero Centigrade, and the average July temperature is 20 degrees Centigrade.
There are two ski centres on Mount Vitosha to accommodate visitors to this very popular sports destination. They are Aleko and Konyarnika. Aleko is at an altitude of 1,800 meters, and its slopes face north. It also has facilities for night skiing. The Konyarnika Center is 1,507 meters high. There are a total of 29 km of ski runs on Vitosha, and the longest is 5 km. The slopes are suitable for both experienced skiers beginners. During the winter, the ski resort on Mount Vitosha is a favourite with skiers and snowboarders alike, and during the summer it is a favourite place for hikers and picnickers. Mount Vitosha borders on The Vitosha Natural Park, which is the oldest nature reserve on the Balkan Peninsula. The species of flora in the park are particularly rich and varied. Ten of the peaks in the Vitosha Range are over 2,000 meters; the highest is Cherni Vrah (Black Peak), in the centre of the park, at 2,290 meters. Since Mount Vitosha is a preferred destination for the capital’s residents, its fields and paths are alive with nature lovers.
One of Sofia’s favourite spots for both visitors and residents is Vitosha Boulevard. Here there are shops carrying world-famous brands, and since it’s a pedestrian zone, it a very pleasant place for strolling and relaxation. In general, the capital is a shoppers delight, since Sofia is still one of the major crossroads on the Balkan Peninsula for trade of all kinds