Bulgaria: Main Sights
A Country of Superb Variations
Alexander Nevski Memorial Church
This massive church, completed in 1912, was built to commemorate the 200,000 Russian soldiers who lost their lives in the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-8. The interior is decorated with numerous frescoes, while the outside is adorned with colourful mosaics of saints and royalty. The church crypt is home to the Museum of Icons, which displays the largest collection of medieval religious icons in Bulgaria.
Once the official residence of the Bulgarian monarch, today, the palace is home to two of Sofia’s finest museums. The National Art Gallery displays a large collection of 19th and 20th century Bulgarian paintings and sculpture, while the Ethnographical Museum holds a varied collection of folk arts and crafts such as carpets, traditional costumes and musical instruments.
This large, green expanse is Sofia’s main city park, laid out with flowerbeds, fountains and numerous statues, as well as shady avenues of trees, quiet little cafes and children’s play areas. Near the entrance is the imposing Monument to the Soviet Army, while another immense communist monument, now in rather poor condition, lies at the far end of the park.
Southern & Central Bulgaria
One of Bulgaria’s biggest tourist attractions, Rila Monastery - a UNESCO world heritage site - was founded in the 10th century. The complex centres on the breathtaking Church of the Nativity, whose exterior is covered with vibrant frescoes depicting scenes of Heaven and Hell. There are also a couple of small museums, and the surrounding countryside is ideal for walking. The monastery offers basic accommodation if you want to stop over.
Revered as the site of the 1876 April Uprising against the Turkish occupation, the little village of Koprivshtitsa has been meticulously preserved as a national monument. Coming here is like stepping back in time, and you can explore the faithfully restored homes of the rebel leaders or just relax in the tranquillity of this picturesque place. An annual re-enactment of the Uprising takes place in early May.
Bulgaria’s second city, Plovdiv is famous for its beautifully preserved Old Quarter, with its cobbled lanes, 19th century timber houses, museums and art galleries. Other sights of interest include the 2nd century AD Roman amphitheatre, which still hosts summertime concerts and drama.
Black Sea Coast
This lively maritime city is an ideal base for exploring the beaches and dramatic coastline, and has plenty of attractions in its own right, too. Varna boasts Bulgaria’s best Archaeological Museum, featuring Thracian gold jewellery and Roman statuary, and the country’s largest Roman Baths complex, dating from the 2nd century AD. Varna also has a long, sandy beach and is renowned for its nightlife and summer-long festival of music and dance.
Founded in the 6th century BC, Nesebar is the prettiest town on the coast, famed for its numerous, mostly ruined, medieval churches. These days, it’s heavily commercialised, but there’s plenty to see, and it’s great place to shop for souvenirs. There’s a beach just outside town, and the major resort of Sunny Beach is just a few kilometres up the coast.