Sofia, Bulgaria – for guests and locals – the Royal Palace, National Theatre and City Garden

Тази статия може да я прочетете и на: Български

No matter where you come from, Sofia is impressive and beautiful travel destination. But it is most beautiful for the people who live there.

The summer is gone, together with the cheerful groups of young people drinking coffee or beer in the City Garden in front of National Theatre Sofia. The Garden with its green alleys and beautiful fountains is a place where hundreds of locals and visitors gather in the hot summer days and nights. The lawns become full of young people and kids are running over the fresh green grass. Everything looks alive, enthusiastic and optimistic. This is probably the most positive place in Sofia. In the park there is also a small public library and the alleys are often a scene of temporary exhibitions. Every time we come here, we feel younger and more cosmopolitan.

View ot the City Garden in Sofia

View ot the City Garden in Sofia

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Градската градина 42.695101, 23.325562

The City Garden is the oldest park in Sofia, established of 4 April 1878. Once it was called Alexandrovska garden.

 A great photo made by Stefan Surmabojov – Facebook / Web page 

If you have just arrived in Sofia and wonder where to start your walk, the City Garden is a perfect starting point. It will help you relax and get ready for a wonderful adventure through the streets and landmarks of this beautiful city, keeping memories and artifacts from 7000 years back in time. The City Garden is also in immediate vicinity with some of the main landmarks of Sofia – National Theatre and the former Royal Palace, now home of the National Arts Gallery and the National Ethnographic museum.

Ivan Vazov National Theatre – National Theatre Sofia

National Theatre Sofia

The National Theatre Sofia is more than a theatre. It is a museum telling the story of Bulgarian theatre for the past century. In the spacious foyer you will see pictures of famous Bulgarian actors, scenes from notable plays and tributes to Bulgarian art legends. However, entrance is not free and you can see the building from the inside only if you are attending a performance. No doubt, the National Theatre offers some of the highest quality performances in Bulgaria and most of the tickets are sold out months ahead. However, it is not impossible to find a ticket or two for the same day. So as soon as you don’t mind watching a Bulgarian-language performance, I would recommend you to attend one.

National Theatre Sofia

National Theatre Sofia

The building of the National Theatre Ivan Vazov is one of the most notable buildings in Sofia. It is a piece of art both from the outside and inside. The marvelous red building was erected between 1904 and 1907. The first performance took place on 3 January 1907. In 1923 the theatre was destroyed after a fire during performance. It was rebuilt in 1926-29. It is really impressive that most of the equipment that was mounted in 1929 is still functioning. 

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Народен театър \'Иван Вазов\' 42.694150, 23.326491

Feeling the spirit of the National Theatre Sofia

In the weekends the area is one of the favourite places for walks of local people and guests of the city. When the weather is nice, me and my family often go there, take a cup of coffee and enjoy the spirit. Sometimes we just sit on a bench and watch how a group of people are playing chess with some strange enthusiasm. At lunchtime we usually take a few steps away because we still have not discovered a really good place to eat in this area.

National Theatre Sofia

National Theatre Sofia

A year ago we worked on an assignment for Booking.com that required us to take travel photos of Sofia. So we had the opportunity to enter the best apartments in Grand Hotel Sofia in order to take pictures from up above. The view from the last floor is stunning. You can view the whole City Garden with the building of the theatre, as well as the other beautiful buildings around. If I were a traveller and I could afford to stay there, I would definitely do it.

When winter comes, the air around the National Theatre Ivan Vazov fills with the scent of gingerbread and wine. The City Garden becomes the Christmas centre of Sofia. The traditional Christmas bazaar is held there with its cute wooden houses and a scene where Santa Claus is entertaining the kids. If not afraid of the crowds and the cold, you could have dinner there – a variety of sausages, cheeses, breads and beverages are being offered. So if your Christmas mood has not yet come, the City Garden is the place to grab some.

National theatre Ivan Vazov in Sofia, Bulgaria, in the moment when the street lights are just turned off the the new day has begun.

Prince Alexander of Battenberg Square

This is the place where every new year comes and goes in Sofia. The big square covered with yellow cobblestone, just next to the City Garden, is the venue of the New Year’s celebrations in Sofia. Tens of thousands local people and guests of the city gather there on the night of 31 December to watch the concert. And also to join the huge Dunavsko horo – the traditional dance with which every new year is welcomed in Bulgaria. I have attended this event a few times but I have to say that it is not an entirely pleasant experience. The winter in Sofia is usually cold so you have to dress well before going out there. Also, I am not a fan of the huge crowds. However, this is the best place to watch the fireworks.

On a working day Battenberg square is busy and its beauty is somehow lost in the long line of cars and pedestrians hurrying for work. But it is still a charming plane with its main landmark building – the former Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace in Sofia

The most impressive building on Battenberg square is the former Royal Palace. Nowadays it hosts the National Art Gallery and the National Ethnographic museum. The long yellow building was erected in 3 stages between 1880 and 1896. It acted as a palace of three generations royal families of Bulgaria – those of Prince Alexander I of Battenberg, Tsar Ferdinand and Tsar Boris III. In 1942 the last Bulgarian Tsar Boris III and his family left the residence because of the war.

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Царски дворец 42.696370, 23.327273

If you are a fan of the visual arts, I strongly recommend you to visit the National Arts Gallery. Some of the most notable works in Bulgarian history are being kept there. The Ethnographic museum is also interesting to see.

After the end of the monarchy in 1946 the building undergone a total change. It was first used as a headquarters of the Council of Ministers and the High Party School. The fence of the palace was destroyed, the park was not maintained and the interior was covered with ugly paint. In 1949, during the construction of the Mausoleum of the communist leader Georgi Dimitrov the alley in front of the palace was removed and a square was made on its place. The mausoleum was destroyed in 1999.

Behind the palace nowadays there is a nice and quiet park where you could have a short walk.

Where to eat and drink in central Sofia

Some people consider eating and drinking as a rest from the tourism. For us, this is a really important part of the travelling. But it happened many times that we found ourselves on a busy tourist place, tired and hungry, with no idea where to have some food. So I will try to give you some directions about this part of Sofia.

If you just need a coffee, the proven place for this is the nearby Costa Café. There are also other cafes around but we usually pick one of the Costa specialties. It is just next to the City Garden, on Knyaz Alexander I street. If you need just water, there is a drinkable water fountain a few metres from Costa, on the corner of the streets Saborna and Knyaz Alexander I. Another good but non-budget option are the cafes of Grand Hotel Sofia.

If you are already starving, there are a few options. Around the National Theatre you will fine sandwich booths so if you need just a quick and budget fix, they are an option. However, we prefer to sit and eat in a normal restaurant. One of the nearest is Pizza Jepetto on Gurko street. Another option is Confetti on Graf Ignatiev street. They are both less than 5 minutes away from the theatre. A more exotic idea is the Archive café, located on the top of the National Archive building just behind the palace. It looks like an old socialist canteen but offers an amazing view towards Battenberg square and the City Garden. The menu is not very rich but you can have a quick budget lunch there.

If you are ok to walk 10-15 minutes, one of my favourite restaurants is Cactus, on Solunska street, around 400 m from the National Theatre.

If you wonder where to stay near National Theatre Sofia, I would suggest you to use Booking.com because as a local I have no idea about the hotels in the city.



Booking.com


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