What to see when your explorer side gets restless
Written by Mirela Harizanova, edited by Lindsay Martin, photos by Anastasiia Dehtiarova and Pauline Mornet.
In our previous article we gave you a good start by listing 5 streets you should visit in Sofia. In case you’ve already been to those places, we’re giving you 5 more to enrich your knowledge and awareness of the authentic side of Sofia.
Georgi S. Rakovski Street (a.k.a. “Rakovska”)
Some call it “The Bulgarian Broadway” because on it (or in its vicinity) you can find the National Opera and Ballet, as well as a huge number of theatres in Sofia:
– The Bulgarian Army Theater
– The “Tear and Laughter” Theater
– Theater 199
– The National Theater “Ivan Vazov”
– The Sofia Puppet Theater
– The Satirical Theater
– The Educational Drama Theater at NATFA (National Academy for Theater and Film Arts)
– The Educational Puppet Theater at NATFA
– The Aleko Konstantinov Satirical Theater
– The Vazrazhdane Municipal Theater at Slaveykov Square
And if this isn’t enough for you, you can also visit the houses of two of the most iconic figures in Bulgarian literature – Peyo Yavorov and Ivan Vazov – the Patriarchs of the Bulgarian literature whose 170th birthdays we celebrated this 9 July.
Graf Ignatiev Street (or simply “Grafa”)
This iconic boulevard was under reconstruction for several months in 2018, with the end result sparking heated reactions from Sofia dwellers who were dissatisfied with its quality. Nevertheless, we encourage you to check it out for yourself.
To me, it’s a special street because it has 2 of my favorite bookstores – Orange, which has a cafe on the top floor, and Elephant Bookstore, with its unique vintage atmosphere and its inventory of books, predominantly in English. I love this street because it passes Slaveykov square with the Sofia library, and because it passes by my favorite board game club – Level Up.
But there’s even more to this street. The “Holy Heptads” church, which is located more or less in the middle of Graf Ignatiev’s length, was reconstructed from what used to be the “Kodja Dervish Mehmed Pasha” mosque in 1903 – a symbol of Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottoman empire.
You can find photos of the old Graf Ignatiev and the church here.
Evlogi and Hristo Georgievi Boulevard
This central Sofia boulevard is split in half by the Perlovska river, which gives it a picturesque view. On this boulevard, you can pass by the:
-Vasil Levski National Stadium
-Pope John Paul II Square
-The Military Academy” Georgi Rakovski” – the oldest higher military institution in Bulgaria.
-Тhe Music Academy” Pancho Vladigerov “
-The Little City Theatre “Behind the Canal”
-The Sofia Theatre
Ivan Asen II Street
This street is named after one of medieval Bulgaria’s most successful rulers, Tsar Ivan Asen II, and has a truly authentic Sofia feel to it. The buildings at the bottom were built between the two world wars.
The street is full of various shops for: fish, fruits, vegetables, and hardware. There’s also a watchmaker, a flower shop, pastry shops, restaurants, and even a bakery with its own oven – one of the old Sofia ovens.
If you decide to check it out, you should start from its grandiose entrance. Ivan Asen II street’s beginning at Eagles’ Bridge is marked by two almost monumental residential buildings from the 1920s – Asenovets and Tsarevets. These names were given to the buildings in celebration of the Tsar’s dynasty and birthplace, respectively. On Ivan Asen II, you can also find Sofia’s oldest cinema – Vlaykova – which is still active to this day.
Vitosha Boulevard (a.k.a. “Vitoshka”)
Probably by now, you thought we would skip this street, but we just didn’t want to start off with such a mainstream location. This street is so popular and so central to Sofia that we doubt any foreigner – be it just a 1-day visitor or a longtime Sofia dweller – has not been to it. I must admit, even as a Sofia native, I still enjoy going on walks here. From the many designer clothing shops, to the restaurants and the cafes, to the street performers, there is a lot to like.
I remember when it was first decided that it was to become a pedestrian zone.This is what it looked like. It’s hard to believe it’s been 9 years already- and so much has changed. But this isn’t the first time Vitoshka has undergone drastic changes. The bombings over Sofia during WWII, and more precisely – those in 1944, left the city center devastated. Ever since then, I dare say that Vitoshka has recovered splendidly.
Honorable mention – Vishneva Street and tram # 10’s stop
The street is named after the sour cherry orchards which once existed in the area. At that time, Sofia was still very small, and the Sofia dwellers sought solitude in them. What’s iconic about this street isn’t its history or its scenery – it’s the small nearby forest where tram #10 passes and the little white house at the tram’s stop.
For years, the house has been used as a warehouse for materials. Workers would use them to repair the rails in the area. The house has also been used as a warehouse for the emotional baggage of passengers traveling in the area. But legend has it that this house once had a different purpose. The wife of Tsar Boris III – Queen Joanna, allegedly used to meet a young cavalryman there secretly. This was “whispered” among those close to the palace in the 1930s.
The house was severely damaged in a fire in late 2017 and was fixed surprisingly fast – by April 2018. So if you want to check it out for yourself – it’s completely safe to do so.