Veliko Tarnovo is one of those cities that you are doomed to fall in love with, the moment you arrive there. You will be hunted day and night by the river Yantra meandering through the city. You won’t be able to forget the colourful houses perched on the hills. Neither you will be able to erase from your memory the medieval fortress. There’s only one solution: to come back again and again, as you won’t get enough from a single visit. The mesmerizing beauty of this city in Bulgaria will cast a spell for life on you.
A city or a town?
In the past a place could call itself a city, only if it was also a bishop’s seat. Now those days are gone and any large and significant town can call itself a city. So, yes, Veliko Tarnovo is a city, whichever classification you would choose.
How to get there?
Veliko Tarnovo is at a 2,5 hours’ drive from the 3 airports in the country: Sofia, Varna and Plovdiv. You can rent a car or you can take the bus – there are bus lines operating from Sofia and Varna at regular times. You can also choose for the train, but it’s not advisable – it’s very slow and trains in Bulgaria are far from comfortable. Moreover there’s not a direct connection from Sofia and Varna – you have to get off in Gorna Oryahovitsa and take another train or the bus, or a taxi. From Plovdiv there’s one, but it will take you a century to reach your destination. Veliko Tarnovo can be also easily reached from Bucharest (Romania) or Istanbul (Turkey). There are regular bus lines operating between these cities, so Veliko Tarnovo can be one of the stop on your next adventure on the Balkans.
Where to stay?
There are hotels for each tourist: from those that would love a Jacuzzi in their bedroom to the budget traveller looking for a simple hostel, or the couple choosing for a charming family hotel. My advice – get a hotel on the side of the city overlooking the river Yantra and you won’t be disappointed. Each morning you will wake up with a magnificent view!
What to do?
Veliko Tanovo is the perfect place to discover by walking, just have in mind that walks can be long, and as the city was built on several hills, there will be some inclinations. After a few days of sightseeing you will feel for sure your muscles. If you don’t feel like walking or if you have difficulties with walking, you can always take a taxi. There are plenty of them and they are cheap. Take the time to walk around the city and feel it. And bear in mind: you walk on history, you breathe history, you feel history. It is all about history!
Veliko Tarnovo was originally built on three hills: Tserevets, Sveta Gora and Trapezitsa. It used to be the capital of the glorious Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185-1396), one of the biggest countries in Europe those days. Tsarevets was the hill where the aristocracy lived. Nowadays you can visit the ruins of the king’s palace, the ramparts, some houses and churches. On the top of the hill there’s the Patriarchal Church. When you make it to the top, take a deep breath and enjoy one of the most beautiful views you would ever see! The interior of the church is pretty sombre, it features modernist murals painted in the 80-s. Take a look for yourself and decide whether you will like them or not. IMHO, they are the most depressing thing that I have ever seen.
In the evening, when it gets dark, the visitors of the city can enjoy the impressive “Sound and Light” show over the fortress. On bank holidays the access is free and you can watch the show from the square in front of the fortress. For the rest of the occasions you will need to buy a ticket. Then, you will have access to a special panoramic terrace where you will have the best view over the fortress. On normal days, however, you will still be able to watch the show from the square, but there will be no music played there. Here you can check the dates when the show is played and book your tickets.
Trapesitza is the brand new attraction in Veliko Tarnovo. It’s open for tourists since 2016 when in September the newly built funicular took the first tourists to the top of the hill. There are preserved and restored the ramparts of another fortress dating back from the 13th c. You can reach the hill either via the funicular or via a special trail. If you choose for the latter, be prepared for some hiking.
Gurko Street & Sarafkina kashta
My favourite street in the city. It works like a time machine – walk along the river Yantra in a late 19 c. set with cobblestone, flower-decked façades and houses clung to the rocks. You can visit also the Sarafkina House (Sarafkina kashta), built in 1861 for a wealthy banker, now featuring an exhibition of everyday paraphernalia and period outfits from the Bulgarian Revival (18 – 19 c.).
Varusha & Samovodska charshia
Built on the hills, Varusha is the face of Veliko Tranovo on each postcard. It’s a quiet neighbourhood with houses in 19 c. National Revival style. One way to access Varusha is via one of the most famous streets in the city – Samovodska charshia. Once a huge market place, today the street hosts numerous craft and antique shops. This is the place where you can buy a souvenir or even a painting. It is a hot spot for all tourists and a favourite place for the locals to stroll on a Sunday.
The locals call it the Horsemen. This monument in the form of a giant sward with 4 kings on horses was built in 1985 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom and the proclaiming of Veliko Tarnovo for its capital. The 4 horsemen are the kings from the Asen dynasty – Asen, Petar, Kaloyan and Ivan-Asen II.
If you are into museums, do not miss:
- Archaeological Museum
- Museum of National Revival & Constituent Assembly, where Bulgaria’s First National Assembly was held after the Liberation in 1878
- Modern History Museum – housed in a former prison it features an exhibition about the role of Bulgaria in the WWI and the Balkan Wars
- Multimedia Visitor Centre – a museum with wax figures from the heyday Veliko Tarnovo – the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (12-14 c.)
- State Art Museum – the city’s art gallery housed in a grand building in a neoclassical style near the Asenevtsi Monument. From the terrace in front of the art gallery you will have a perfect 360 degrees view of the city. It is one of the best places to take photos.
Nature lovers won’t be disappointed either, as Veliko Tarnovo offers a lot for hiking possibilities, with many trails starting at the very city.
- Sveta Gora Park – you can access the newly opened park on one of the hills from the Asenevtsi Monument. Be prepared for a steep walk climbing endless stairs to the top. Once there, you will not regret the climb. There are several viewing platforms from which you can admire the enchanting beauty of the city.
- Ksilifor – is a recreational area near Veliko Tarnovo with a lake, quite popular among the locals for a weekend escape in the nature, or just for a Sunday picnic.
- Eco trail Emen Kanyon
- Preobrazhenski eco trail
- Kartala waterfalls trail
- Lyaskovets monastery
More detailed information on the trekking opportunities near Veliko Tarnovo will follow in a separate blog post. Keep an eye on my travel blog for the sequel.
Day trips from Veliko Tarnovo
Located in the middle of North Bulgaria, Veliko Tarnovo is the ideal starting point for a day trip.
- Arbanassi – a quaint small village perched on a hill just outside of Veliko Tarnovo, offering bird views of the city and hiding little treasures like the Nativity church. The last decades it became popular with its numerous hotels and lost a little bit of its romantic charm (distance – 4 km);
- Etara is ethnographic complex at some 50 km from Veliko Tarnovo;
- Tryavna is a small town with architecture in National Revival style, famous for the the woodcarving, located at 40 km from Veliko Tarnovo;
- Nicopolis ad Istrum – the ruins of the Roman town founded by Emperor Trajan (around 100 AD) are located at 20 km to the north of Veliko Tarnovo
- Shipka is the name of a peak (1326 m) in Stara Planina (the Balkan Mountains) where you can visit one of the most significant historical monuments for the Bulgarians – the Shipka Memorial. From there you can enjoy stunning views of the Balkan Range and Sredna Gora. Be prepared for a tiring walk up the hill climbing the 1000 steps leading to the top.
Veliko Tarnovo is a city that will leave you breathless, but it’s better if you check it by yourself!
I am planning to write a few more posts about the city, giving more information on:
- the hiking opportunities;
- the places to stay & eat;
- the local pubs, bars and night life; and
- the festivals.
I dedicate this post to the most beautiful among the cities, which was my home town for 13 years.
If you are planning a trip to Bulgaria or to Veliko Tarnovo and you need some insight tips, get in touch with me via FB or leave a comment on this page and I will gladly help you.
Find your way on the map
All places listed above are shown on the map bellow. Find your way around in Veliko Tarnovo.
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Disclaimer: All opinions in this post are mine and this is not a sponsored post.