Travel advice blog. Tours in Bulgaria, Bulgarian culture and tradition.
Sofia - capital of Bulgaria
Sofia is a wonderful ancient city located at the foot of Vitosha Mountain. The place has been inhabited for 6 thousand years, so here you can see monuments dating back from each era of the history of mankind – from a Neolithic settlement to contemporary statues.
Take a walk around Sofia and discover the diverse charm of the city which has had different names over the years. In the 1 st century BC, the Thracians settled near the thermal springs located here and named the city Serdonpolis, and later - Serdica. In the 6th century, the Byzantines took over this territory and gave it a new name: Triaditsa. In the 9th century, the city was conquered by the Bulgarians and received its Slavic name Sredets. It was not until the 14th century that people started calling it by the name of Sofia, after the name of the St. Sophia church which rises in front of the east gate of the city.
Here are some of the historical and cultural landmarks of Sofia which you can visit during your individual tour with the help of our Audio Guide.
ST. SOFIA CHURCH
Entering the St. Sophia Church is an extremely exciting experience. According to the legend, it is the work of the diseased Princess Sophia who built it as a sign of gratitude to God for her miraculous healing. The original temple was probably constructed in the 4th century, but it was destroyed and rebuilt three times. It has also functioned as a mosque for quite a while. Today’s church was restored in the early 20th century. Inside you can see beautiful murals, and the original floor mosaic is being kept at the Archeological Museum.
ANCIENT SERDICA ARCHAEOLOGICAL COMPLEX
If you want to travel back with a time machine, you should see the remains of the ancient Roman city of Serdica, inhabited by the Thracian Serdi in the 4th -5th century. The complex was opened in 2012 in the very center of Sofia and after the excavations tourists can see fragments of streets, an early Christian Basilica, buildings with mosaic floors, bathrooms, sewerage. Today, it is an impressive open-air museum with a glass roof and an area of 9,000 square meters.
ST GEORGE ROTUNDA
The St. George rotunda is the oldest Eastern Orthodox church, dating all the way back to the early 4th century. It was built by the Romans in the city called Serdica at the time – the favorite city of Emperor Constantine the Great. Today, it is located in the center of Sofia near the Presidency and is a cultural heritage site under the protection of UNESCO. Worship services in old Church Slavonic language are held here every day, accompanied by classical Eastern church chants.
ST ALEXANDER NEVSKI CATHEDRAL
The beautiful golden domes of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral can be seen from afar and make it one of the iconic landmarks of the Bulgarian capital. Тhis is the second largest Christian cathedral in the Balkans (after St. Sava in Belgrade). The cathedral was built between 1904 and 1912 in memory of the Russian soldiers who died in the battles for the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. You can enter inside, view the wonderful murals and even attend a service.
Be sure to visit other historical sites of Sofia, such as the National Archeological Museum, the National History Museum (one of the largest in the Balkans), the National Palace of Culture, the Sofia Synagogue, the Boyana Church. While touring Sofia, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the lovely architecture and numerous statues in the city, drink a cup of coffee in front of the National Palace of Culture, go shopping in luxurious stores and boutiques, visit avantgarde bars, restaurants and nightclubs. By all means visit the largest Bulgarian Christian monastery – the Rila Monastery located only 100 km away from the capital. Your personal Audio Guide will show you around and tell you more about it.
Plovdiv – The oldest continually inhabited city in Europe
Only 150 km from the capital Sofia, you will find Plovdiv – the oldest continually inhabited European city and the sixth oldest one in the world. Just like Jericho, Byblos, Aleppo, Damascus, Susa, Fayyam and Sidon, Plovdiv has never stopped breathing since the ancient times when it was born.
Historians believe that the first inhabitants settled here 4,000 years BC, but according to some of them, there was a settlement here 2,000 years earlier. For comparison, Greek Athens appeared in the world only 3,000 years BC. Therefore, it is not surprising at all that among the historical landmarks of Plovdiv you can see the remains of ancient Thrace, the Roman Empire, the Bulgarian kingdoms, the Ottoman Empire and the Middle ages.
Evmolpia, Trimontium, Puldin, Philippopolis, Plovdiv – in its long history, the city has had many names. One of them it received from Philip of Macedon himself. Alexander the Great’s father conquered the city in 342 BC and was so astonished by it that he gave it his own name.
The list of must-see attractions in Plovdiv includes the extremely well-preserved Ancient Theater from the 2nd century, which is still used as a stage for theater, dance and music events. Take a look at the open excavations at the Philippopolis Forum where debates and celebrations used to take place – at the same spot where the city center is located to this day. Nearby you can also see the Roman stadium from the 2nd century, modeled on the Delphic one, as well as the huge Jumayya Mosque from the 14th-15th century. Take a walk along the cobbled streets of the Old Town, an architectural and historical reserve which preserves its original houses built during the Renaissance (18th – 19th century).
Of course, this is not all, but during your tour of Plovdiv Audio Guide will also tell you how to get to other exceptional places and share their history with you.
Only 20 km south of Plovdiv are the remains of the medieval Assen’s fortress. It rises high above the gateway to the Rhodope Mountains and offers not only a feeling of immersion in the past, but also an incredible view of the valley. It was built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian the Great in the 4th century, but throughout the years it was conquered and used by crusaders, Byzantines, Bulgarians, Ottomans. Today it is named after the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen II who restored it in the 13th century and used it in his battles against Byzantium. It is amazing how the church remained completely preserved amidst the ruins and still rises above the nearby town of Asenovgrad.
Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom
Veliko Tarnovo is one of the most special cities in the history of Bulgaria. For three centuries (between the 12th and 14th century) it was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom and this can be seen and felt at every corner of the city.
Tsarevets and Trapezitsa
On the hill of Tsarevets, you can still walk around the main city fortress. The Patriarchal Cathedral is preserved, as well as the remains of the royal palace which will bring you a sense of the life in the Middle Ages. You should stay in the city for one evening, when an impressive audio-light show called “Tsarevets Tarnov – sound and light” is projected over the palace.
The second city hill, Trapezitsa, also preserves excavations from a royal palace neighborhood.
The Samovod Bazaar
In another part of the city, you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the 19th and 20th century. In this ethnographic complex full of old houses and shops, craft workshops and cobbled streets, you will find lots of museums, get handmade souvenirs or paintings from the numerous art galleries.
The Assenevtsi Monument
An astounding place in the city is the monument of the Assenevtsi kings constructed in 1985 in honor of four kings of the Asen dynasty – Asen, Peter, Kaloyan and Ivan Asen II. The place is a locals’ favourite for meetings and walks, and on the nearby Stambolov Bridge (as well as on the Vladishki Bridge between Tsarevets and Trapezitzsa) lovers hang padlocks and believe that this will keep their relationship long and strong.
Nicopolis ad Istrum
While you are here, be sure to visit Nicopolis ad Istrum – an ancient Roman city 20 km from Veliko Tarnovo. Nicopolis ad Istrum was founded in 102 by Emperor Trojan in honor of the victory over the Dacians. This will make your tourist visit to Veliko Tarnovo even more complete and enjoyable. And don’t forget to listen to the conversations you carry in your pocket with your Audio Guide.
Nessebar – the ancient settlement of Thracian fishermen
Nessebar is one of the oldest cities in Bulgaria. It is located on the Black Sea coast, 30 km from Bourgas. It was built by the Thracians in the Bronze Age, between 275-225 BC, and its first known name was Melsambria, the “city of Melsas” (probably the founder). According to scientists, this is the hometown of the legendary Aesop whose fables we know to this day. In time it passed under the rule of ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Bulgarian kingdoms, the Ottoman Empire. It was the Slavs who gave it the name Nessebar.
To immerse yourself in the past of the city, you should visit the historical sights of Nessebar – the agora, the St. Spas and St. Stephen churches turned into museum sites, the Ethnographic exposition in the Moskoyani House.
Also be sure to take a walk around the old town, along the narrow cobbled streets you will see wooden houses from the 19th and early 20th century. Many artists and craftsmen work here, there are some cozy taverns and restaurants offering local and seafood specialties.
The city is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Sozopol – The oldest town on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast
Sozopol is located 38 km south of Bourgas, on the Black Sea coast. The first settlers on the territory of Sozopol were fishermen, farmers, cattle breeders and metallurgists who came here at the end of the 5th millennium BC, during the Early Bronze Age. They mined ore from the nearby Medni Rid (Copper hill) mine and traded in bronze. Gradually, the town became richer and more popular due to the high level of artistry shown by the local craftsmen.
Along the well-preserved antique streets of Old Sozopol, you can still feel the atmosphere of the early times. You can walk along the restored South Fortress Wall which rises above the sea, see the Watchtower, toss a coin in the Ancient Well and make a wish. The medieval church of the Holy Virgin, partially dug into the ground, will tell you about the life of the Bulgarians during the Ottoman Empire rule. Remains of ancient buildings and streets are all over the town, and the Ethnographic and Archeological Museums will show you some interesting artifacts. Be sure to turn on your Audio Guide which will lead you and tell you interesting stories and facts. Also, you should visit some of the great restaurants on the beach or come during the Apollonia Arts Festival which takes place every year in early September.
Balchik and the Palace of the Romanian Queen
Balchik is one of the northernmost towns on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. This beautiful and cozy town built on the hillsides of the mountain above the sea was a favorite place of Maria, the Romanian Queen and Princess of Edinburgh who ruled over it in the early 20th century. On one of the panoramic hillsides near the city, she built a residence where she could hide from the world and her unfaithful husband. Italian architects created for her a unique complex of 46 buildings with one-of-a-kind harmony between oriental and Balkan motifs – the main building of the Palace with a tower and stone columns, a wine cellar, villas, gardens, alcoves, a spring with clean water and even a chapel. There is also an extremely beautiful Botanical Garden – the second most diverse in Europe after the one in Monaco, with over 3000 rare and exotic species of plants, more than 200 tree species, many flowers and a unique collection of 250 species of cacti.
Arbanassi - museum village and architectural reserve
Arbanassi is a museum village, an architectural reserve where now the visitors can see the works of the Bulgarian merchants and craftsmen in the past. The decorations of the houses and churches, and the frescoes and icons attract a lot of visitors. In the Archaeological museum in Arbanassi are displayed items from the authentic houses. The authentic village and the view of the Balkan Mountains and Veliko Tarnovomake Arbanassi a favorite tourist destination both for Bulgarian and foreign tourists. The beautiful nature and tranquility of Arbanassi, the authentic houses and the hospitality of the local people make the village a place where tourists can take a break from the noisy crowded cities and have a relaxing weekend.
Veliki Preslav - National Historical Archaeological Reserve
Veliki Preslav National Historical Archaeological Reserve, the so-called Great Preslav, is situated on the river banks of Golyama Kamchia River, 3 km from Pliska historical reserve. The ruins of the Old Bulgarian capital Veliki Preslav (893-972) reveal remains of a great city at the time that rivaled the Byzantine capital Constantinople. Now the reserve displays masterpieces among which are the icon of St. Theodore, the Golden Treasure of Preslav and the Ceramic Iconostasis of the Palace Monastery. Visitors can see the unique collection of lead stamps – the biggest in the world and the collection of epigraphical records which are evidence that Great Preslav was an important administrative and educational center in the past.