You need to hire a car
during your stay in Bulgaria ?

Choose our cars and get a special 10 % discount for every online reservation !
      ABOUT US
In case of problems please call us at:
00359 884 048 130




Sofia -bridging the gap between communist past and EU future

Bulgaria’s capital is slowly but surely bridging the gap between its communist past and its future as a new member of the EU.

SOFIA IS A charming city, but it’s a city with a split personality – and once you’ve come to terms with the extraordinary tug of war with the past that’s going on here, you’ll find evidence of it everywhere.

On the one hand the Bulgarian capital is one of Europe’s oldest cities, dating back to the eighth century, with all the residual reserve you’d expect of a communist past it managed to jettison just 20 years ago.

On the other hand its people, particularly the young, are friendly, outgoing and striving desperately for modernity – which is why they’re hugely enthusiastic about its recently acquired future as a member of the European Union.

It’s been a frustrating couple of years though since EU accession, in January 2007. The property boom we were so familiar with here in Ireland was every bit as important to the Bulgarian economy. Now that’s turned to bust, and the global recession has hit the tourism and ski industries as well.

The good news, however, is that EU funding is cushioning the blows, improving the country’s infrastructure, attracting overseas investment and giving Sofia a 21st-century makeover as a chic new location for western European weekenders.

The first evidence of that EU cash is the brand new airport. The second thing you’ll notice is that Bulgaria still uses its own currency, the lev, which is pegged to the euro at €1 to about 1.96 leva. And the next thing you’ll see is that the periphery of this city of one and a half million people is a wasteland of bleak communist-era apartment blocks.

Sofia was badly bombed by the Americans and the British during the second World War, so swathes of the city centre have been rebuilt as well. Large parts of the Old City have survived, however; they are full of typically European tree-lined boulevards and balconied buildings designed by 19th-century Russian and Viennese architects – all criss-crossed by old- fashioned trams.

You’ll be drawn by the buzz towards Sveta Nedelya Square, the city’s central hub, which gives easy access to the main shopping and sightseeing districts, including the Tzum department store, to the north, and Vitosha Boulevard, to the south.

That positions you perfectly to start your tour at the Largo, a remarkable ensemble of three enormous Soviet-style buildings grouped around Ploshtad Nezavisimost – Independence Square – which featured a statue of Lenin until it was replaced by one of more politically correct Saint Sofia, in 2000.

The most impressive building is in the centre, the former headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party, now the national assembly.

To one side it has the council of ministers in a building shared, bizarrely, with the Tzum shopping mall. And to the other there’s the president’s office, the ministry of education and . . . the Sheraton Sofia Hotel Balkan.

Because of its central location, the foyer of the Sheraton is a popular coffee spot for political movers and shakers, business types and tourists who just want to sit back and watch.

Then it’s off to the city’s most popular tourist attraction, Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the world’s largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals, with its dramatic onion-shaped domes. Watch out for the central gold-plated dome, which has the words of the Lord’s Prayer inscribed around its inside in thin gold letters.

Outside, in the big circular plaza, there’s the inevitable flea market, colourful, fun and perfect for buying souvenirs and postcards, before you head for Sofia’s main covered market, the Halite, an ornate building topped by a clock tower, where you’ll find an eclectic mix of goodies, from alcohol to clothes to Bulgarian regional delicacies.

Like Dublin, Sofia had a reputation for a while as a destination for UK stag parties, but their virtual disappearance has been one positive side effect of recession.

Nightlife is centred on Vitosha Boulevard, with plenty of cool cafes, trendy bars and decent restaurants. If you must, yes, there is an Irish pub, JJ Murphy’s, at 6 Karnigradska. It has plenty of craic and football at the weekends – a real home from home.

Copyright © BEST RENT AND TRAVEL - All rights reserved