The city of Sofia sits sheltered beneath the towering rocky mass of Mount Vitosha, which stretches 2,290 metres above sea level. The mountain has played a role in city-dwellers' lives since time immemorial, with many inhabitants taking weekly hikes up to Cherni Vrah, or the Black Peak. However, if you have limited time in Sofia and still want to breathe in some healthy fresh air, the city itself has a surprising number of charming parks and gardens that feel worlds away from the busy streets that surround them.
Stray from the tourist trail and mingle with the locals in Sofia’s Western Park. It’s one of the largest green spaces in the city, with wide open spaces and forest trails that wouldn’t feel out of place in the heart of Bulgaria’s countryside. It may not be the most meticulously manicured of Sofia’s parks, but its slightly unkempt nature creates an authentic and unspoiled atmosphere.
Sofia University’s Botanic Garden is small but perfectly formed, hidden in plain sight in the city centre. Just off the boulevard Vasil Levski, the garden is bordered by the National Cathedral, the International Art Gallery and the The University of Sofia Journalism Faculty. The entrance is through a tiny flower shop on the boulevard, which opens out into an oasis of lush foliage. There’s a huge rose garden, a tropical plant collection with over two hundred varieties of orchid, and an impressive oak tree which dates back to 1892.
Doctor’s Garden isn’t just an idyllic rural space - it’s also a good spot to learn more about the history of Sofia. The garden is named for the 531 medics who fell during the Russo-Turkish War, which freed Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire. There’s a huge monument dedicated to the fallen, built in 1883 (five years after the war ended) and inscribed with the names of all the doctors and nurses who gave their lives during the war.
Well maintained and landscaped, South Park is a favourite sunny day destination for both locals and tourists. Weeping willows and towering poplars provide shade on hot days, as people relax on the grass enjoying picnics or impromptu games of football. If you favour more energetic walks, the forested area behind the American Embassy is packed with hiking and cycling trails. Cafés and restaurants in the park ensure you don’t have to go far for some refreshments, and the entrance to the park is on Sofia’s most popular shopping street, Vitosha Boulevard.
Boris Garden is Sofia’s oldest (and most famous) park. It’s just around the corner from the Radisson Blu Grand Hotel, Sofia, and is packed with things to do; from stadiums and running trails to a rosarium with over a thousand species of rose. Tucked into the trees near the Russian Embassy you’ll find an intricately carved house, created by the self-taught woodcarver Racho Angelov, while the imposing Soviet Mound of Brotherhood towers over the corner of Boulevard Peyo Yavorov.