Destination: The Historic Capital City of Sofia in Bulgaria
Surrounded by sprawling parkland, Sofia lies at the foot of Mount Vitosha, which is a magnet for both skiers and summer hikers, writes the Birmingham Mail. Photo by Birmingham Mail
By Birmingham Mail
From Birmingham Airport it will take travelers 6 hours including a stop and 2,173 km to reach Vrazhdebna Airport in Sofia, Bulgaria.
It's famous for winter ski holidays but there's all-round appeal to be found in Sofia, the capital and largest city of Bulgaria.
Surrounded by sprawling parkland, Sofia lies at the foot of Mount Vitosha, which is a magnet for both skiers and summer hikers.
But with a history stretching over seven millennia, this is one of Europe's oldest cities with architecture to match.
So just take the tram to the old quarter and wander the cobblestone boulevards, browse charming boutiques and people-watch.
When the sun goes down, the nightlife becomes the star of the show – and with affordable prices that won't break the bank.
1. Alexander Nevski Church
The most impressive and most popular attraction in Sofia, this church was built as a memorial to the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died in the Russo-Turkish War of Liberation (1877-1878).
Although constructed in the early 20th century, the cathedral was built in the Byzantine style. One of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the world, it's a veritable wedding cake of green domes, arches and bell towers.
The tallest gold-plated dome stands 45 meters high and the cathedral has 12 bells weighing a total of 23 tons. There's also a museum with one of the largest collections of religious icons in Europe.
2. Mount Vitosha
Take a day trip out of the city to climb Vitosha. There are all manner of hiking trails to be followed, ranging from easy to tough, the latter best avoided unless you're a seasoned hill walker.
Look out for a map because not all the trails are well-marked, and sometimes you'll be peering anxiously through the trees to spot the little metal arrows that show the way forward.
But the forests, lakes and waterfalls make it all worthwhile and the views over Sofia are simply stunning.
3. Boyana Church
Located at the foot of Mount Vitosha, Bojana Church is reckoned to be 900 years old and houses the National Museum, which focuses on regional history, art and cultural artifacts.
It's the artwork inside that's the big attraction here, especially the spectacular murals. And, just think, these were painted 300 years before Leonardo Da Vinci was even born. Everyone visiting Sofia should see Boyana.
Time Zone: GMT + 2
Flights: Lufthansa, KLM, Air France and Turkish Airlines fly indirect from Birmingham Airport to Dubrovnik. Be warned some flights entail a lengthy wait at Paris, Munich and Amsterdam.
Best Months: Winter sports are a big attraction and it gets busy, although not as packed as Switzerland, Austria, Italy and France. Summer months offer good weather but the climate is kindest in May, June, September and October.
Visas Etc: Tourist visa required only if staying for more than 90 days.
Hotel Les Fleurs, Vitosha Boulevard 21
Expect to pay around £85 for a classic double room at this boutique hotel surrounded by entertainment venues and shops.
There are many attractions nearby, including the Church of St. George, Archaelogical Museum, Ivan Vazov National Theatre and Russian Church.
Also close by are National Palace of Culture and Alexander Nevski Cathedral.
Multilingual staff are available at the front desk 24/7 to ensure four-star service and assistance with tours and tickets.
Alabin Hotel Central, Alabin street, 22
It's clean, it's basic and it's comfortable. You can't ask for more when you're paying around £20 for a double room.
It's not bang in the centre of town but the bus and metro stops are close by so you can reach all the attractions.
Lebed, Pancharevo Lake
One of Bulgaria's best-loved restaurants, Lebed is sited romantically on the shore of Lake Pancharevo, about 15 minutes drive from the city.
There are gorgeous views through the panoramic windows, the cuisine earns rave reviews and service is polite but friendly.
Although it's relatively expensive for bargain Bulgaria, a chicken fillet with bacon and mozarella will set you back only around £7.
There's an Asian theme to the décor, which stretches through to some of the dishes, but by no means all, on the menu.
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