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Things to Do in Bulgaria - page 2

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Vitosha Boulevard (Vitoshka)
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Often known as “Vitoshka,” Vitosha Boulevard is Sofia’s main commercial street. Partially pedestrianized, it runs from the historic center to South Park, with most of the action concentrated at the northern end. Vitoshka is home to higher-end stores and cafés, St. Nedelya Church, the huge Communist-era TSUM store, and more.

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Konstantsalieva House
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Located outside of Veliko Tarnovo in the village of Arbanassi, the Konstantsalieva House offers a glimpse into the life of wealthy Bulgarian merchants centuries ago. A great example of traditional Bulgarian architecture, the first floor of the house is made of stone and originally featured store rooms and living quarters for servants. The second floor is made of wood and once consisted of a reception hall, living and dining rooms and a private room for expectant and young mothers. As is typical for Arbanassi, a tall stone wall surrounds the house and large yard.

Today, the house functions as a museum showing off the daily life and culture of Arbanassi in the early 19th century. The house has been restored in a national revival style and rooms are decorated much as they were back then, with white fretwork, hand-carved wooden figures and other drawings and crafts. There is also a souvenir shop and small ethnographic gallery.

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Amphitheater of Serdica
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Discovered in 2004 in the center of Sofia, the Amphitheater of Serdica was a Roman amphitheater built in the third and fourth centuries. Just slightly smaller than Rome's Colosseum, the amphitheater was one of the largest in the eastern Roman empire. Seating 25,000 spectators, it lay outside of the city walls of the ancient city of Serdica and hosted fights between gladiators and a variety of wild animals, including crocodiles, bulls, bears, tigers,and lions.

The amphitheater was discovered in the early stages of construction on the Arena di Serdica Hotel and was subsequently built into the architecture of the hotel. About one-sixth of the arena can be seen today on the ground floor of the hotel, which is freely accessible for tourists. Visitors can also see a small exposition of coins and ceramics that were discovered on the site, which are thought to come from the reigns of Emperors Diocletian and Constantine, as well as animal footprints left behind in tiles.

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Sofia National History Museum
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Founded in 1973, the Sofia National History Museum is Bulgaria’s national museum of history. Housed in the former residence of dictator Todor Zhikov, the museum has more than 650,000 objects, although only about ten percent are on display. The main exhibition is spread throughout five halls. The first covers the development and culture of the people who lived on Bulgarian lands as early as the 6th millennium B.C. The second hall continues that theme, focusing on the end of the 6th century B.C. to the 6th century A.D. In the third hall, visitors see exhibits on the Bulgarian State in the Middle Ages and in the fourth hall, the focus shifts to the period of Ottoman rule, from 1396 to 1878. The fifth hall showcases the Third Bulgarian Kingdom, from 1878 to 1946.

Items on display include a variety of weapons, traditional costumes, furniture, tools and household objects, coins, artwork, documents and photos. The museum courtyard showcases a collection of Greek, Roman and Byzantine columns and monuments from various periods.

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Monument to the Soviet Army
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Standing in Knyazheska Garden in the center of Sofia, the Monument to the Soviet Army was built in 1954 to commemorate the liberation of Bulgaria by the Soviet Army. The monument itself portrays a Soviet Army soldier holding a gun above his head, standing between a Bulgarian man and a Bulgarian woman holding a child. Several hundred feet away from the monument are additional sculptures depicting battle scenes, one of which has become a focal point for vandals who have painted it in protest on several occasions, including the anniversary of the Prague Spring and to show solidarity with the Ukrainian revolution.

The monument and surrounding park are also popular with local skateboarders and a skating half pipe and several quarter pipe ramps can be found around the monument. In recent years, the monument has become quite controversial with various groups calling for its removal.

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Museum of Socialist Art
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The Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia focuses on the art and history of Bulgaria during the communist period from 1944 to 1989. The museum was opened in September 2011 and includes a statue park and indoor exhibition space. More than 70 statues and busts of former socialist leaders, including a giant statue of Lenin that once stood in the center of the city, have found a new home in the park. The statues generally include only the title, creator, and in some cases the town where the statue came from. There is also a red star that once topped the Socialist Party headquarters.

The gallery has art on display that focuses on the socialist period. There are 60 paintings and 25 easel representations. Some of the art depicts life during World War II while other pieces show socialism in the country, including some scenes of happy life under party rule. There is also a video hall for screening documentary films and newsreels from the communist times.

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Central Sofia Market Hall (Halite)
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Browse orderly shops and stalls of Central Sofia Market Hall (Halite) in search of souvenirs, snacks, and bargains. Pay attention to the structure, opened in 1911, as the market is widely considered to be architect Naum Torbov’s finest work, blending neo-baroque with neo-Byzantine features, in a neo-Renaissance structure.

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Borovets
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One of Bulgaria’s premier ski resorts, Borovets was purpose-built in the 1980s, although it has its origins way back in the 19th century when a hunting palace was built there for the Bulgarian Royal Family. Today it is a low-rise, largely wooden Alpine-style resort with all modern amenities; it sprawls over the northern flanks of the Musala ridge in the Rila Mountains at an altitude of 1,300 meters (4,265 feet), with the highest runs up at 2,600 meters (8,530 feet).

The ski season lasts from December through to early April and the resort has 24 runs stretching over 58 km (36.25 miles) of marked pistes, ranging from easy blues to extremely challenging black runs, many through scenic pine forest. Borovets also offers two terrain parks for snowboarders as well as 35 km (22 miles) of groomed cross-country trails for Nordic skiers. Ski lifts are modern and efficient, with a mix of gondolas, chair and drag lifts; night skiing is available daily until 10pm. The resort’s family-friendly credentials include two snow parks for toddlers, ski schools, equipment hire, shops and plenty of cafés, restaurants and hotels that cater for kids. Non-skiers are well taken care of with swimming pools, spas, ski-doo snow safaris and horse-and-carriage rides and the late-night après-ski scene is jumping, with bars and clubs open until the wee hours.

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Sofia National Archaeological Museum
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Operated by the National Archaeological Institute with Museum, Sofia National Archaeological Museum is housed in the largest and oldest former mosque in Sofia. The building dates to around 1474 and has been home to the institute and museum since 1905. Museum exhibits are spread throughout five halls, starting with the Prehistory Hall, which displays items dating back more than a million years B.C. The Treasury Hall displays treasures from the late Bronze Age to late Antiquity, including two famous Bulgarian treasures: the Valchitran and Lukovit Treasures. The Main Hall features a wide range of items from ancient Thrace, Greece and Rome through the late Middle Ages, while the Medieval Hall includes a variety of books, drawings and metal objects from medieval times. There is also a hall that often hosts temporary exhibitions.

The highlight for most visitors to the National Archaeological Museum is the life size replica of the Madara Horseman near the main entrance. The original was sculpted in rock 23 meters high sometime in the Middle Ages and currently sits in the town of Shumen, just east of Sofia.

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Sofia National Gallery (Kvadrat 500)
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Variously written Kvadrat 500, Quadrat 500, or Square 500, Kvadrat 500 opened in 2015 as the largest museum in the Sofia National Gallery collection. Twenty-eight separate rooms house a wealth of artworks from around the world, with a special focus on Bulgarian art from the 19th and 20th centuries.

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More Things to Do in Bulgaria

Stob Pyramids

Stob Pyramids

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Stob Pyramids are a unique series of sandstone rock formations located in the foothills of the Rila mountain range southwest of Sofia. Stretching over 7.5 hectares, these pyramids — some dumpy, some spiky — cluster together up the hillsides and have been eroded over the centuries by wind and snow. Reaching up to around 39.5 ft (12 m) with bases of up to 131 ft (40 m), they come in multiple shades of brown and are more numerous on the southern slopes of the slopes than the north.

First stop for information and directions to the naturally formed pyramids is the visitor center in the ancient village of Stob. A way-marked ecotrail departs into the countryside from nearby St Procopius Church and winds up through lush meadows to the pyramids in around an hour; continue following the trail uphill for fantastic views looking down over their serrated peaks. As winter brings snow, rain and mud to this rural corner of Bulgaria, plan to visit Stob Pyramids in summer.

The Rila Mountains make a spectacular day trip from Sofia for their wild landscapes, hiking around the Seven Rila Lakes and the chance to visit Rila Monastery, founded in 927 by a hermit monk.

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Bulgarian National Museum of Military History

Bulgarian National Museum of Military History

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Set on 10 acres (4 hectares) on the outskirts of Sofia, the National Museum of Military History pays tribute to Bulgaria’s past glories. An impressive selection of mainly Soviet-designed military hardware includes tanks and fighters. Inside, displays cover art, weapons, uniforms, and insignia, alongside a bookstore, a café, and a library.

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Koprivshtitsa

Koprivshtitsa

The rolling hills and scenic landscapes of Koprivshtitsa attract plenty of travelers looking to explore Bulgaria beyond Sofia. Deep historical roots and a thriving population of merchants and artisans have made this town popular among tourists who find the town’s impressive collection of architectural, historical and artistic landmarks (388 in total!) worth a visit.

Travelers can experience the lifestyle of Koprivshtitsa’s early elite at the Oslekov House. Built in 1856, this popular museum showcases not only the rich interiors of a highbrow family, but some of its clothing and heirlooms as well. The unique rosewater fountain at The Lyutova House Museum, where authentic Koprivshtitsa wool, hand-painted murals and ornate woodcarvings are all on display, offers visitors a look at some of the region’s most impressive arts and crafts. Those who want to learn more about the area’s colorful history shouldn’t miss the birthplace of Gavril Gruyev Haltev, who played an influential role in the famous April Uprising. Travelers can explore collections of memorabilia, family photographs and historical documents that help frame how this single event dramatically shaped the nation’s past and future.

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Tsarska Bistritsa

Tsarska Bistritsa

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A former Royal hunting lodge perched in the Rila Mountains close to the modern-day ski resort of Borovets, Tsarska Bistritsa was completed in 1914 by architect Petar Koichev for King Ferdinand and combines Art Nouveau styling with simple Alpine influences such as carved wooden balconies. Its interior is ornamented with wood-paneled interiors executed by the craftsmen Petar and Luka Kunchev and brightened with patterned rugs, photos of the Royal Family covering the walls and display cabinets full of hunting trophies. Confiscated by the Communists in 1945, the palace was returned to Simeon Saxe Coburg Gotha, the grandson of Ferdinand, in 2006 but has again been subject of legal proceedings over rightful ownership.

Approached by a winding lane lined with pine trees, the palace is surrounded by a forested park with many rare and exotic trees planted by Ferdinand, through which the River Bistritsa runs and powers a hydroelectric station that was built in 1912 and still supplies the estate’s electricity. The lovely Orthodox mini-church of Saint John of Rila is also open to the public, crammed with glittering silver and gold icons; a small museum is located in the wooden former stable block adjacent to the palace, which houses memorabilia of the Royal Family including paintings from their private collections and hand-embroidered national costumes; two smaller hunting lodges can be found nearby, dating from 1904 and designed by Romanian architect Georgi Fingov.

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Vrana Palace (Park-Museum Vrana)

Vrana Palace (Park-Museum Vrana)

Built on land acquired by Tsar Ferdinand I in the late 19th century, Vrana Palace (Park-Museum Vrana) was the preferred residence of the Bulgarian royal family until their exile in 1946. Previously home to a working farm and a zoo, the grounds of the 247-acre (100-hectare) estate now make for an ideal getaway from the hustle and bustle of Sofia’s urban center.

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Tsari Mali Grad

Tsari Mali Grad

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The discovery of Tsari Mali Grad (which translates into English as ‘Tsar’s Little Town’) was made in 2007 near the village of Belchin, which is known in Bulgaria for its many therapeutic mineral springs. Dating from Roman times, the Tsari Mali Grad complex had laid forgotten underneath a forested area until it gradually reemerged from the ground on St Spas Hill above the village, when its awesome size and historical significance was appreciated.

At the center of the 10-acre archaeological site lay a vast Roman fort dating back to the rule of Emperor Valens between 364 and 378 AD; it had six watchtowers and walls that were over 400 meters (1,312 feet) in length. Over time, the fort expanded into a fortified town occupied between the fourth and seventh centuries by Thracian, Roman and Byzantine communities; there is also evidence of Thracian shrines, early Christian sanctuaries and the remains of a 15th-century church dedicated to the Ascension of Mary, indicating that the area was of special religious importance. The fort and the church have been painstakingly rebuilt and were opened to visitors in 2013; they are surrounded by spectacular hilly countryside covered in walking trails and can be reached by funicular or 20-minute walk uphill from Belchin.

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Plovdiv Roman Theater (Ancient Theater of Philippopolis)

Plovdiv Roman Theater (Ancient Theater of Philippopolis)

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Plovdiv Roman Theater (Ancient Theater of Philippopolis) is one of the world’s best preserved ancient theaters, originally built during the reign of Roman Emperor Trajan. Incredibly, the theater lay undiscovered for centuries and was only found in the 1970s after a landslide revealed its remains. Its restoration is considered one of the greatest achievements in conservation in Bulgaria.

Sitting between two hills in Plovdiv Old Town, the Roman Theater combines stylistic features of Hellenistic and Roman theaters and has several walls and steles inscribed with Byzantine Greek. The benches are made of marble and many are engraved with the names of municipal districts, indicating where patrons should sit. Facing south toward the Rhodope Mountains, the theater is still in use today, hosting both theatrical plays and musical shows during the summer months. Possibly the most recognizable landmark in Plovdiv, the theater also offers excellent acoustics and splendid views of the city and nearby mountains.

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Aqua Paradise

Aqua Paradise

An enormous water park just outside Nessebar, Aqua Paradise is also home to a large resort hotel. The park, sometimes known as Aqua Park Nessebar, features over 20 water slides, multiple swimming pools, lazy rivers, and attractions including a surf simulator. There are also a range of bars and restaurants, plus themed live shows in season.

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Varna Zoo (Zoopark)

Varna Zoo (Zoopark)

Set in Primorski Park on Varna’s coast, Varna Zoo (Zoopark Varna) is a small zoo established in the 1960s. Perhaps the most interesting of the 70-odd species here are the birds, which include black swans, pelicans, and local curios. There are also larger creatures here, including llamas, a camel, lions, tigers, wolves, and kangaroos.

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