What You Need To Know
Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria. The city has a population of 1.26 million, while over 1.5 million people live in its functional urban area. The city is located at the foot of Vitosha Mountain in the western part of the country, within less than 50 kilometres (31 mi) drive from the Serbian border. Its location in the centre of the Balkan peninsula means that it is the midway between the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea, whereas the Aegean Sea is the closest to it. Sofia has been an area of human habitation since at least 7000 BCE. Being Bulgaria’s primate city, Sofia is a hometown of many of the major local universities, cultural institutions and commercial companies. Sofia is one of the top 10 best places for start-up business in the world, especially in IT technologies. Sofia is Europe’s most affordable capital to visit as of 2013.
Area: 492 km²
Population: About 1,250,000
- The Bulgarian Lev (BGN) is the currency of Bulgaria and Sofia.
Sofia is the economic heart of Bulgaria and home to most major Bulgarian and international companies operating in the country, as well as the Bulgarian National Bank and the Bulgarian Stock Exchange. The city’s GDP PPS per capital at current market prices stood at €26,600 in 2012, which was 100% of the then EU average, according to Eurostat data – well above the same year’s national average of 46%. The city and its surrounding Yugozapaden NUTS II planning region had a per capital PPS GDP of €20,600 in 2014, higher than any other region in the country. In 2008, the average per capita annual income was 4,572 leva ($3,479). For the same year, the strongest sectors of the city’s economy in terms of annual production were manufacturing ($5.5 bln.), metallurgy ($1.84 bln.), electricity, gas and water supply ($1.6 bln.) and food and beverages ($778 mln.). Economic output in 2011 amounted to 15.9 billion leva, or $11.04 billion. The average monthly gross wages paid in December 2015 amount to €645, the highest in Bulgaria and the lowest among EU capitals. In 2015, Forbes listed Sofia as one of the top 10 places in the world to launch a startup business, because of the low corporate tax (10%), the extremely fast internet connection speed available – one of the fastest in the world, and the presence of several investment funds, including Eleven Startup Accelerator, LAUNCHub and Neveq. Historically, after World War II and the era of industrialisation under socialism, the city and its surrounding areas expanded rapidly and became the most heavily industrialised region of the country. The influx of workers from other parts of the country became so intense that a restriction policy was imposed, and residing in the capital was only possible after obtaining Sofianite citizenship. However, after the political changes in 1989, this kind of citizenship was removed. Increasingly, Sofia is becoming an outsourcing destination for multinational companies, among them IBM, Hewlett-Packard, SAP, Siemens, Software AG. Bulgaria Air, PPD, the national airline of Bulgaria, has its head office on the grounds of Sofia Airport. From 2007 to 2011, the city attracted a cumulative total of $11.6 billion in foreign direct investment. Up until 2007 Sofia experienced rapid economic growth. In 2008, apartment prices increased dramatically, with a growth rate of 30%. In 2009, prices fell by 26%. In January 2015 Sofia was ranked 30th out of 300 global cities in terms of combined growth in employment and real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in 2013–2014. This was the highest rank amongst cities in Southeast Europe. The real GDP (PPP) per capita growth was 2.5% to $33,105 (28,456 euro) and the employment went up by 3.4% to 962,400 in 2013–2014.
The official language is Bulgarian.
Health and security
- The current healthcare system is a complex bureaucratic structure that was created during the years of Socialism (1945-1989) and is still going through deep reforms to meet the modern standards.
With its developing infrastructure and strategic location, Sofia is a major hub for international railway and automobile transport. Three of the ten Pan-European Transport Corridors cross the city: IV, VIII and X. All major types of transport (except water) are represented in the city. The Central Railway Station is the primary hub for domestic and international rail transport. Sofia has 186 km (116 miles) of railway lines. Sofia Airport handled 3,815,158 passengers in 2014. Public transport is well-developed with bus (2,380 km (1,479 mi) network), tram (308 km (191 mi)) network, and trolleybus (193 km (120 mi) network), lines running in all areas of the city, although some of the vehicles are in a poor condition. The Sofia Metro became operational in 1998, and now has two lines and 34 stations. As of 2012, the system has 39 km (24 mi) of track. Six new stations were opened in 2009, two more in April 2012, and eleven more in August 2012. Construction works on the extension of the first line are underway and it is expected to reach the airport by 2014. A third line is currently in the late stages of planning and it is expected that its construction starts in 2014. This line will complete the proposed subway system of three lines with about 65 km (40 mi) of lines. The master plan for the Sofia Metro includes three lines with a total of 63 stations. In recent years the marshrutka, a private passenger van, began serving fixed routes and proved an efficient and popular means of transport by being faster than public transport but cheaper than taxis. As of 2005 these vans numbered 368 and serviced 48 lines around the city and suburbs. There are around 13,000 taxi cabs operating in the city. Low fares in comparison with other European countries, make taxis affordable and popular among a big part of the city population. Tsarigradsko shose, one of the busiest boulevards in Sofia Private automobile ownership has grown rapidly in the 1990s; more than 1,000,000 cars were registered in Sofia after 2002. The city has the 4th-highest number of automobiles per capita in the European Union at 546.4 vehicles per 1,000 people. The municipality was known for minor and cosmetic repairs and many streets are in a poor condition. This is noticeably changing in the past years. There are different boulevards and streets in the city with a higher amount of traffic than others. These include Tsarigradsko shose, Cherni Vrah, Bulgaria, Slivnitsa and Todor Aleksandrov boulevards, as well as the city’s ring road, where long chains of cars are formed at peak hours and traffic jams occur regularly. Consequently, traffic and air pollution problems have become more severe and receive regular criticism in local media. The extension of the underground system is hoped to alleviate the city’s immense traffic problems. Sofia has an extensive district heating system based around four combined heat and power (CHP) plants and boiler stations. Virtually the entire city (900,000 households and 5,900 companies) is centrally heated, using residual heat from electricity generation (3,000 MW) and gas- and oil-fired heating furnaces; total heat capacity is 4,640 MW. The heat distribution piping network is 900 km (559 mi) long and comprises 14,000 substations and 10,000 heated buildings.
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world. Sofia is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Bulgaria alongside coastal and mountain resorts. Among its highlights is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the symbols of Bulgaria, constructed in the late 19th century. It occupies an area of 3,170 square metres (34,122 square feet) and can hold 10,000 people. Sofia holds Bulgaria’s largest museum collections, which attract tourists and students for practical studies. The National Historical Museum in Boyana district has a vast collection of more than 650,000 historical items dating from Prehistory to the modern era, although only 10,000 of them are permanently displayed due to the lack of space. Smaller collections of items related mostly to the history of Sofia are in the National Archaeological Museum, a former mosque located between the edifices of the National Bank and the Presidency. Two natural sciences museums — the Natural History Museum and the Earth and Man — display minerals, animal species (alive and taxi dermic) and rare materials. The Ethnographic Museum and the National Museum of Military History are other places of interest, holding large collections of Bulgarian folk costumes and armaments, respectively. Vitosha Boulevard, also called Vitoshka, is a pedestrian zone with numerous cafes, restaurants, fashion boutiques, and luxury goodsstores. Sofia’s geographic location, in the foothills of the weekend retreat Vitosha mountain, further adds to the city’s specific atmosphere.
Sofia has a humid continental climate with an average annual temperature of 10.6 °C (51.1 °F). Winters are cold and snowy. In the coldest days temperatures can drop below −15 °C (5 °F), most notably in January. The lowest recorded temperature is −28.3 °C (−19 °F) (January 24, 1942). Fog is not unusual, especially in the beginning of the season. On average, Sofia receives a total snowfall of 97 cm (38.2 in) and 58 days with snow cover. The snowiest recorded winter was 1995/1996 with a total snowfall of 171 cm (67.3 in). The record snow depth is 57 cm (22.4 in) (December 25, 2001). Summers are warm and sunny. In summer, the city generally remains slightly cooler than other parts of Bulgaria, due to its higher altitude. However, the city is also subjected to heat waves with high temperatures reaching or exceeding 35 °C (95 °F) in the hottest days, particularly in July and August. The highest recorded temperature is 41 °C (106 °F) (July 5, 2000 and July 24, 2007). The hottest recorded summer was in 2012 with a daily average July temperature of 24.8 °C (76.6 °F). Springs and autumns in Sofia are relatively short with variable and dynamic weather, intensive storms, sudden cold or heat waves. The city receives an average precipitation of 581.8 mm (22.91 in) a year, reaching its peak in late spring and early summer when thunderstorms are common. The wettest recorded year was 2014 with a total precipitation of 1,066.6 mm (41.99 in).