According to its motto, SOFIA "grows but does not age": a tribute to the mushrooming suburbs occupied by an estimated one-fifth of Bulgaria's population, and a cryptic reference to its ancient origins. Roman ruins, Byzantine churches and fine mosques attest to a long and colourful history, although the peeling stucco of its early-twentieth-century buildings lends an air of dilapidation to the capital's wide, tree-shaded boulevards.
The mixture of chaos and disorganization which characterizes most of Sofia's points of arrival makes it an unwelcoming city for first-time visitors. However, once you've settled in and begun to explore, you'll find Sofia surprisingly laid-back for a capital city. The place comes into its own on fine spring and summer evenings, when the downtown streets and their pavement cafés buzz with life. The close historical relationship between Bulgaria and Russia reveals itself in the capital's public buildings, foremost of which is the Aleksandar Nevski Memorial Church. The neighbouring streets harbour a modest collection of museums and galleries – enough to justify a day or two's sightseeing. Urban pursuits can be easily combined with the recreational possibilities offered by verdant Mount Vitosha, just 12km south of the centre. A host of new bars and clubs has given the city a raw, hedonistic edge – plus there's lots of drama and serious music, especially during the Sofia Music Weeks, which take place each June.