By Hallie Baron
Sofia
Bulgaria
Photo gallery
When you stand in the center of Sofia, it™s hard to imagine back almost 3,000 years ago to when the Thracians first came to this part of the world. Followed by the Romans, the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires and then the Communists, the city is certainly rich with history. Today, more than two decades after the fall of Communism, Sofia is emerging as a city steeped in culture and history but filled with new, creative energy. 

Conveniently served by Sofia Airport (SOF, sometimes also called Letishte Sofia-Vrazhdebna), the city center is only 5 km (3.1 miles) to the east. With more than 3.5 million people passing through SOF each year, EscapeWizard.com can make your travels to Sofia -- simply click here (www.escapewizard.com/flight.php) to book your flights and enjoy our great low airfares.

Sofia is not a large city, and most of its main sights are located within the small city center. Fortunately, there are a number of hotels offering all the modern amenities you need plus easy access to popular attractions. Let EscapeWizard.com help you find the perfect hotel to make your stay in Sofia a special one. Just click (www.escapewizard.com/hotels.php?flag=htl) and select your preferred lodging.

As a testament to the history of this city, three of the world™s key religions are represented within a few blocks of each other: The Sofia Synagogue (the largest in all of Southeastern Europe), the Banya Bashi Mosque (built in 1576 and today the only functioning mosque in Sofia) and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church of St. Nedelya (whose location has seen centuries of political and religious change and upheaval). But there™s much more to see, and EscapeWizard.com doesn™t want you to miss a thing. We recommend the gold-domed Alexander Nevski Cathedral, the early-20th-century Central Mineral Baths (closed but beautiful even from the outside), the National Theatre Ivan Vazov (which faces the popular Sofia City Garden), St Alexander Nevski Memorial Church (one of Sofia™s primary tourist attractions) and the National Art Gallery (filled with Communist-era and Bulgarian art). And if you still have energy, don™t miss the National Archeological Museum (which features artifacts dating all the way back to the Thracians) and the Serdika subway underpass, where recently unearthed relics of ancient Sofia are being put on display as part of a subterranean archaeological complex.

Sofia also offers great shopping opportunities. Bulgarians are known for their lace, embroidery, wood carving and pottery, all of which make wonderful mementos of your visit to Sofia. EscapeWizard.com recommends the outdoor Zhenski Pazar (Ladies™ Market) as well as the neo-Renaissance-style Central Hall to find these and other handicrafts. Beware the pickpockets wherever you go, however!

At the end of a long day of sightseeing in Sofia, there™s nothing quite as refreshing as taking a rest in one of the many cafes around the city. If the weather is nice, EscapeWizard.com recommends an outdoor café where you can watch the people go by. The beverages of choice range from strong tea or espresso “ no drip coffee here! “ to local beer, excellent Bulgaria wine (Bulgaria is part of the world™s earliest wine making region) or even rakia, the strong national liquor made from fermented plums.

And once you™ve rested up, it™ll be time to think about dinner. At EscapeWizard.com, we know that sampling a country™s unique cuisine adds a whole layer of excitement to traveling, and Sofia will not disappoint!  Influenced by Turkey and Greece on one hand and Western Europe on the other, the foods range from the ever-present œshopska salad “ a chopped salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and the Bulgarian version of feta (called œsirene) -- to œkebapche meatballs made of lamb. Good restaurants are on every street and many offer menus printed both in Bulgarian and in English.

So if you™re looking for a European destination that is exotic and familiar at the same time “ and not overrun by mobs of tourists “ visit Sofia. Its rich history, culture, delicious wines and food and beautiful surroundings make it a great destination.

Book your trip with EscapeWizard.com and see what makes this such a special place!