Things to Do in Bulgaria
One of the most well-known landmarks in Sofia, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was built to commemorate the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died in the Russo-Turkish War, fighting for Bulgaria’s independence. Completed in 1924, it was named after a medieval Russian ruler, Prince Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod, and modeled after Russian neo-Byzantine churches.
The exterior of the cathedral is made of pale Bulgarian limestone, and it is topped with gold-plated domes. Inside, you will find hundreds of flickering candles illuminating a decadent interior. Look for the Mosaic of Christ, Tsar Ferdinand’s throne, the iconostasis made of marble, onyx and alabaster and the many frescoes covering the church’s dome. Head down to the crypt to visit the cathedral’s Icon gallery, which features icons from 12th through 19th centuries and boasts the most impressive collection of religious art in Bulgaria.
The three historic buildings that make up the medieval Bulgarian Orthodox icon known as Boyana Church have been attracting visitors for over a hundred years. Each building was constructed in a distinctly different architectural style reflective of the time, taste and period it was created, making a visit to this famous landmark a truly unique experience.
The eastern church, Boyana’s oldest section, is one of the smallest, while the second section, built in the mid-13 century, is a two-floor wonder with tombs, semi-cylindrical vault and quiet family chapel. The final section of the church, which wasn’t built until the 19th century, showcases some of the most contemporary designs. Travelers agree that the architecture and history make Boyana Church a destination, but it’s the 89 frescos with 240 human images painstakingly painted onto interior walls that have placed Boyana at the intersection of religion and art in Bulgaria.
The well-preserved Bachkovo Monastery is tucked into the hillside of Asenovgrad alongside the scenic Chepelare River. It’s the perfect destination for travelers looking for a natural escape from Plovdiv or Sofia. Its peaceful beauty and quiet spaces for reflection have drawn visitors to its gates since it was built in 1083.
The monastery grounds include an original ossuary, decorated with ancient frescos and a home to a first floor burial crypt; a cathedral, which houses a statue of the Virgin Mary Eleusa and attracts pilgrims to pray her feet; the Archangels’ Church covered in paintings by Joan Mosch; and an expansive garden tended by monks who still live and work on the monastery today. The small but impressive museum at Bachkovo has an extensive collection of religious artifacts, wood carvings and old-school frescos that’s worth checking out.
More Things to Do in Bulgaria
Also known as the Summer Palace of Queen Marie, Balchik Palace sits along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, together with a popular botanical garden. The palace was built for Queen Marie of Romania between 1926 and 1937, when Romania controlled the region. Designed by an Italian architect, the palace is part of a complex that includes several villas, a wine cellar, a monastery, a chapel and several other buildings. Buildings within the complex feature architectural elements inspired by a variety of cultures and religions, including a minaret, a Christian chapel, Thracian, Greek and Roman symbols, and a mix of Bulgarian, Gothic and Islamic designs. The palace rooms open to the public display original furnishings, as well as some local ancient artifacts and photographs of Queen Marie. The nearby botanical garden was established in 1940 and covers 65,000 square meters. It is home to 2000 plant species, including a collection of large cactus species, only the second of its kind in Europe.
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.
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