Borisovata Gradina and the Ariana Lake together form the biggest and best recreational and leisure area in Sofia. It is located near the Eagles Bridge (Orlov Most) and is served by an eclectic mix of eating and drinking establishments. Also beside it is the Vasil Levski National Stadium and National Sports Museum. The Alley of the Greats – a network of monuments to the artists and rulers, amongst many others, who all helped to shape Bulgaria’s history – can also be found here, as well as the Army stadium. Tennis courts and football grounds are also available for use.
The Vitosha and Lyulin Mountains can be seen wherever you are in Sofia. Travel 6 miles from the city centre and you will be in the middle of prime winter skiing grounds. However, throughout the year people come here to go rock climbing, hill walking and mountain biking. Boyana is at the foot of Vitosha Mountain. This district is well worth visiting to see the National History Museum and Boyana Church. Those who want to chill out and unwind head to the spa resorts of Lyulin Mountain. Some can be found only 15 minutes from the centre of Sofia. Bankya and Gorna Banya are noted for the high quality of the air and their springs, which are loaded with healthy minerals.
If Sofia has a secret, it is Little Jerusalem (Sveta Gora). What it lacks in size, it more than makes up in culture and history, which often comes as a surprise to many who discover it. This beautiful area consists of 14 Orthodox monasteries, hidden away in picture postcard villages near the capital. A number of these look out over the expanse of the magnificent Pancharevo Lake, into which the Iskar River flows.
The Rila monastery, about 72 miles outside Sofia, receives more visitors than any other attraction of its type in the country. It’s not difficult to see why; peaceful surroundings, breathtaking views of the neighbouring mountains from an elevation of about 2800 feet, impressive buildings, history and beautiful artworks. Tourists are fully catered for – shopping, eating and drinking options are all available. The Drushlyavitsa and Rilska Rivers flow past the monastery, which is about 4 hours on foot from the summit of the 9000 feet high Malyovitsa Mountain. The highest mountain, however, is Mousala (9600 feet), the highest peak in the Balkans. Lay aside about eight hours if you want to reach it on foot.
Ivan Vazov House-Museum is a monument to one of the most popular authors in Bulgaria, Ivan Vazov (1850-1921). What is now a museum used to be his home from 1895 until he died. One of his best known works is Under the Yoke, now considered a classic in his native country. It is set in and around April 1876, and the events of the Uprising against the Turks. A number of rooms have been refurbished so that they resemble more closely what they would have looked like when he was alive. Vasov had his pet and best friend, Bobby, stuffed after the dog died and to this day his remains lie in the study. A collection of memorabilia and pictures tells the story of his life, but unfortunately none of it is in English.