The city is the economic and cultural centre of southwestern Bulgaria. It is located in the valley of the Struma River at the foot of the Rila and Pirin Mountains, 101 km south of Sofia, close to the Greek, Serbian and Republic of Macedonia borders. Blagoevgrad features a pedestrian downtown with preserved 19th century architecture and numerous restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, and boutiques.
Blagoevgrad is home to two universities, the South-West University "Neofit Rilski" and the American University in Bulgaria. The city hosts also the "Sts. Cyril and Methodius National Humanitarian High School", the former Bulgarian Men's High School of Thessaloniki moved from Thessaloniki to Blagoevgrad (then Gorna Dzhumaya) in 1913. Attractions in the surrounding area include the resort Bodrost.
Although the history of the settlement in the Middle Ages is not known, during the Ottoman rule of the Balkans it was initially a Muslim-majority town called Cuma-ı Bala, meaning Upper Juma in Persian and Ottoman Turkish. A Bulgarian quarter called Varosha was formed during the Bulgarian National Revival, with many of its typical houses and the Church of the Presentation of the Mother of God from 1844 being preserved to this day. A chitalishte was founded in 1866 and the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 saw the liberation of the area from Ottoman rule and its integration in the Bulgarian state. Before the Balkan Wars, Cuma-ı Bala was bounded as kaza to Serez sandjak in Selanik vilayet.
Many Bulgarian refugees from Aegean and Vardar Macedonia arrived in the town in the subsequent decades as the town, then known as Gorna Dzhumaya (a partial translation of the Ottoman name), continued to grow in size and importance. The name Gorna Dzhumaya ("Upper Dzhumaya") contrasts the town from Dolna Dzhumaya ("Lower Dzhumaya") to the south, today called Irakleia in Serres Prefecture, Macedonia, Greece.
Blagoevgrad is also known for being the birthplace of Manchester United player Dimitar Berbatov. The town's football traditions are very respectable, as the local PFC Pirin Blagoevgrad (1922) and more recently PFC Pirin Blagoevgrad (1931) (the old Makedonska Slava from Simitli), have both played in the A PFG and had players such as Berbatov, Petar Mihtarski, Ivaylo Andonov, Petar Zlatinov, etc.