After a summer in Bulgaria, Sofia’s city parks and gardens are where we fell in love with this city. We’re drawn to the serenity of a beautiful garden or a peaceful walk in the park. Sofia has a good number of parks to enjoy for brisk snowy trails in the winter or summer strolls. It’s a surprisingly green city with forests and views that stretch up to the impressive Vitosha Mountain.
Sofia, Bulgaria: Park life in the city
City life in Sofia is unlike other European countries. There’s no sizeable river or port, mountain ranges surround it, and its town centre is disjointed with no old town/new town divide. Everything merges together, and you’ll find that passing from one neighbourhood to the next is generally through Sofia’s city parks.
Throughout its 7000-year history, Sofia has been strategically important to its various rulers. From Roman Sofia to Ottoman rule right up to socialism under the Soviet Union, the city is one of layers, and its parks and gardens are part of that story.
A guide to Sofia’s City Parks and Gardens
When planning to visit Sofia, you’ll find that there are several parks that offer concerts, theatre, beautiful picnic spots and museums. These are the city parks we think tourists or ex-pats to the city should seek out for an insight into life in Sofia.
Number one on our list is the city’s most famous park named after Bulgarian Tsar Boris III. Borisova Gradina is a 19th-century park that started life on the edge of the city. However, with city expansion over time it has become the centre of Sofia. The park is so big it holds two football stadiums, a velodrome, and the largest outdoor pool in Sofia.
Distract your kids with go-karting, trampolines, play parks and a giant elephant which is best known for its trunk slide! If you want an alternative activity to do, visit Kokolandia for tree climbing. The safety belts and instructors are there to guide you across the tree platforms – this is a perfect family activity.
Above all, enjoy the beauty of the park. Spot Eagle Bridge at the edge of Borisova Gradina, see Sofia’s TV Tower and take in the Japanese corner near the lily pad adorned Fish Lake. At the bottom end of Borisova Gradina is this small, less developed Loven Park. This is where you’ll find Sofia Zoo!
Yuzhen Park (South Park)
For us, this is the most beautiful park in the city. You won’t find Kenny or Cartman, but you may find a statue of Ronald Reagan and Gandhi! This park has fantastic views over to Vitosha Mountain and was created in the 1970’s in an English style.
Although a newish kid on the block, South Park is home to 65 species of birds, and 29 of them are protected! There are fountains, ponds teeming with life, restaurants, wooden shack pubs and fascinating sculptures.
The Perlovska River runs through South Park, and nearby are some lovely picnic spots with mountain views. The terrain is hilly in parts, so a walk through the park is good exercise! You can get here easily from Vitosha Boulevard and the National Palace of Culture.
A great tip is to pass through another park at the top which is home to the Slovak Gallery of Contemporary Art – this makes for a more cultured Sofia day out.
Every visitor to the city has probably passed through City Gardens to look at the gorgeous National Theatre building and fountain in the square opposite. It’s a lively atmosphere with families, old men meeting for a chinwag or a game of chess and buskers playing jazz variations of the ‘Tequila’ song.
The theatre is the focal point, and while families fill the park during the day, at night it transforms into a lively meeting spot for late-night revelers. No matter when you visit, there is always an interesting snippet of Sofia life on display.
The City Gardens are a pretty place to stop before visiting museums or Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The Sofia City Art Gallery and the National Gallery are nearby, as is the famous ‘yellow brick road’ of Sofia.
In a leafy suburb of the city, is this small but important memorial garden. Doctor’s Garden is often overlooked, but it’s home to a memorial to over 500 doctors and nurses who died on duty during the 1877-8 Russo-Turkish War which saw an end to Ottoman rule in Bulgaria.
The garden was designed by Daniel Neff, a Swiss gardener and is based on Chinese and English landscaping. Dotted around the gardens, you’ll also happen upon parts of columns and stone tombs from the Serdica era that wouldn’t look out of place in a museum.
The gardens are small, but they’re next to some of the city’s best restaurants with hidden courtyards. They include the beautiful Crazy Diamond which we absolutely loved!
In the uber-cool Oborishte neighbourhood, close to Doctor’s Garden is Zaimov Park. It’s named after General Vladimir Zaimov, and it’s the epicentre of events and concerts in the city. There are good quality sports facilities and a few restaurants in the park. Its tree-lined avenues are peppered with intriguing statues and contemporary art.
You’ll also find fountains and play parks intermittingly spread out across the park. Zaimov Park hosts a theatre company and locals come here to enjoy concerts, shows and festivals. On the weekend you are bound to find live music and something fun happening here. It also has free open wi-fi – we know how important that is to travellers like us!
Bell Park (Kambanite)
Kambanite’s real name is the International Children of the World Park and its home to an impressive sculpture of bells. It opened in 1979 when Bulgaria was the host of the International Children’s Assembly with each bell representing a child from each participating country.
Nowadays, there are almost 100 bells. On the sculpture, it reads, “Unity, creativity, beauty”. This is something a little bit different and worth seeking out!
Park Voenna Akademiya
Close to Borisova Gradina is the slightly mysterious Park Voenna Akademiya. If you want to visit the Museum of Military History, it sits on the edge of this park. It’ quite possibly the safest place to be because it’s also home to the Military Academy.
The park itself is pleasant to walk through, with hilly terrain and wooded areas. There are also stages in here and entertainment throughout the summer. A word of warning though – you can’t take photos around the perimeter of the Military Academy!
This idyllic park is a section of the Palace of Vrana, which is a 19th-century national monument of culture. The palace and park were designed initially as a summer residence for the royal family. That makes sense – it very much has that English stately home look about it! The designs were based on European gardens, from English to German designs and nowadays it makes for a beautiful wee escape from the city centre.
University Botanical Garden
Back in the city centre is the serene University Botanical Garden. The botanical gardens are set against a backdrop of Sofia’s grandest buildings, in sight of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. It was opened in 1892 and contains over 2500 plant species.
The University Botanical Garden is a small but charming space. It has glorious greenhouses and surprising finds such as the rock garden, a beautiful rose garden, and an edible garden.
The garden has many functions, it’s an educational space and the university use it for plant conservation and cultivation. There is a lovely shop selling plants, seeds and saplings from the grand oak tree that takes up residence in the front of the garden.
Add a few free-roaming cats (a common occurrence in Sofia), and it’s the perfect place to spend the afternoon. Entrance is not free, but it goes to a worthy cause. It’s not expensive to get in and students also get a discount.
Sofia’s City Parks Cycling Route
With over 20km of ground to cover, why not do a circular route of the city parks on bike? It’s safer to cycle on the cycle routes than to use the roads in Sofia. The city is not the most bike-friendly. The streets are a bit bumpy and hectic for the casual cyclist.
A great route is to start from Eagle Bridge on the edge of Borisova Gradina. Go towards Dragan Tsankov Blvd into Loven Park. Next, go towards Simeonovsko Shosse Blvd and make your way across it.
Join a wide cycle path alongside Sofia Zoo and cross into South Park. Here you can enjoy extensive trails and hills to speed down. To get back to the start point, cycle over the bridge. Go past the National Palace of Culture and down Angel Kunchev Street. Finally, cycle through City Gardens where the National Theatre resides.
Mindful travel tips for Sofia’s city parks and gardens
We always like to give our readers tips on how to be more mindful in their travels. Something we try to implement more and more as we move around.
• If you keep some cash on you, stop to have a drink or coffee in one of the park bars.
• Pay entrance fees for things like botanical gardens which pays for the upkeep of these gardens and keeps them going.
• Put away your phone and admire the natural beauty
• Take it slow – slow down and don’t rush
• In Sofia especially, the parks have so many impressive statues and sculptures so take the time to read the plaques and learn a bit more about the history of the city
The Bulgaria series starts here…
We were lucky to have the opportunity to pet sit in Sofia for three months. It also affords us the chance to see more of Bulgaria and tell you guys more about this beautiful Balkan gem.
In the meantime, if you don’t have a clue what pet sitting is, check out our beginner’s guide to house and pet sitting to get an idea of what we do. For travel tales from our previous home in Slovakia, we have a series of articles about Bratislava and the surrounding areas.
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