Home Bulgaria The best kept secrets of Europe: Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

The best kept secrets of Europe: Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

written by ipanematravels 4th March 2017
Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Asenevtsi monument, the Horsemen, the old city

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?

Sightseeing

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!

Tsarevets

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.

 

Trapezitsa

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.

 

Asenevtsi Monument

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.

 

Museums

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.

 

Hiking

Nature lovers won’t be disappointed either, as Veliko Tarnovo offers a lot for hiking possibilities, with many trails starting at the very city.

Parks

  • 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.

 

Trails

  • 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.

Veliko Tarnovo is an ideal base to start your daily trips from. The places from the day trips section above are pinned below.

If you liked this post, pin it!

Disclaimer: All opinions in this post are mine and this is not a sponsored post.

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27 comments

Jenni 5th June 2017 at 2:58 pm

I haven’t been to Bulgaria yet but I do keep meaning to visit. The Gurko street looks lovely and I hope I get to see that when I finally get there. Tryavana looks a interesting place to visit I love the style of the buildings.

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James 4th June 2017 at 12:18 pm

I will visit Bulgaria this winter and only know of Sofia. I’ll be sure to check out Veliko Tarnovo as well after reading this and seeing the images. The houses packed on the hill are unreal, as a photographer I must photograph these for myself!

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ipanematravels 4th June 2017 at 2:53 pm

Oh, that’s great! When in Bulgaria make sure you do not stay only Sofia, there are so many wonderful places to visit besides the capital! If you need advice on what to visit, let me know.

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Linger Abroad 4th June 2017 at 11:44 am

For a secret city, Veliko Tarnovo is a very impressive city. The buildings are pretty amazing and the various architectural structures are really nice. The surrounding landscape is gorgeous too; just love how the city is surrounded by lush green vegetation. Looks like a great place to check out and maybe one day if we make it to Bulgaria

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Chiara Cisario 4th June 2017 at 10:30 am

II love discovering new small places around the world so I loved this article 🙂 Thanks for sharing about this gem

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Kellyn 4th June 2017 at 9:17 am

Thanks for sharing. I always love hearing about hidden gems around the world most people haven’t heard of or wouldn’t even think of visiting. The old fortresses are little pieces of history left for us to explore. So much to learn in these places.

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Paula - Gone with the Wine 3rd June 2017 at 1:57 am

Beautiful pictures! I have been in Bulgaria years ago but I don’t remember this city at all. Looks like a place though that I would love to visit. I also like the maps at the end. Very helpful when planning a trip!

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ipanematravels 3rd June 2017 at 10:19 am

If you don’t remember it, you haven’t been there! You can’t just forget it, it so unique :)!

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Wanderlust Vegans 2nd June 2017 at 7:31 am

The streets there look so nice and old. I like the buildings and the big mansion. Beautiful surroundings as well.

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oursweetadventures 1st June 2017 at 12:24 am

Wow this city does look like a hidden gem. I would have never heard of it had it not been for this post. It does look quaint and picturesque. The buildings and scenery are beautiful. I can’t wait for a visit to the Balkans.

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themormonadventurista 31st May 2017 at 6:35 pm

Veliko Tarnovo looks like a fairy tale-esque town that I would love to get lost in! I’m just starting to get into hiking and am excited to hear about the opportunities out in Bulgaria. Your photographs are absolutely stunning too!

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Ivanna | Provocative Joy 30th March 2017 at 7:47 pm

This post is so thorough! I don’t have plans to head this way soon, but it’s a great resource!

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Ro from The Travel Captain 30th March 2017 at 7:35 pm

What a charming city, wish i had more time to discover Bulgaria to its full potential. Only been to Sofia and thought it was beautiful as well. The landscapes look incredible and so does the hiking, my kinda place!

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Samantha 30th March 2017 at 7:22 pm

I am a huge history nerd when I am traveling so this city is a dream come true. That architecture is amazing! Saving this for later to reference when I head to Europe!

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xtralush 30th March 2017 at 7:22 pm

WOW! Veliko Tarnovo is truly breathtaking! It really IS Europe’s best kept secret, because I’ve never heard of it. I will now be adding it to my Wander List thanks to you!

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Ha Truong 30th March 2017 at 4:39 pm

Before reading your article, I didn’t know much about this place! It’s surely worth a visit 🙂 Lovely photos with lots of nature.

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Liz 30th March 2017 at 1:46 pm

I’ve heard of this city, but could never imagine that it’s so beautiful! Thank you for your post & photos! Definitely one of the most underrated cities in Bulgaria!

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wanderingchocobo 30th March 2017 at 12:54 am

You have me hooked! I would LOVE to go here and explore. I am a big hiker and this city sounds like it has the right amount of nature for me with some amazing history and culture! Great photos!

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Jessica 29th March 2017 at 9:33 pm

Nice post! i never imagined so much to dee and do there! I am adding this destination to my bickerlist now! And the city ,not town, looks so cozy!

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ipanematravels 29th March 2017 at 11:22 pm

Yep, I hope one day you’ll make it to this city 🙂

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Candiss 29th March 2017 at 9:04 pm

Wow Veliko Tarnovo looks awesome! I spent 2 days in Sofia in October and am already dying to get back to explore more, Bulgaria is fantastic!!! I am definitely saving this for the future!

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ipanematravels 29th March 2017 at 11:22 pm

I’m happy you liked it there!

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Boarding Call 29th March 2017 at 8:54 pm

I never even realized there were great hiking opportunities in Bulgaria, looks like it would be great!

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ipanematravels 29th March 2017 at 11:21 pm

There are a lot of mountains around, so yes, perfect place for hiking!

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Cali 12th March 2017 at 1:33 am

Looks beautiful! I really want to visit Bulgaria and I love nature so I will definitely be keeping Veliko Tarnovo in mind

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GallopAroundTheGlobe (@KiaraGallop) 5th March 2017 at 11:53 am

I love reading about new towns and cities to add to my travel hit list! I live in the UK so Bulgaria is an easy trip for me, but so far I’ve only visited Sofia and Bansko. Veliko Tarnovo looks like exactly the sort of place I’d enjoy and Tryavna looks lovely too 🙂

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ipanematravels 5th March 2017 at 12:20 pm

It is well worth the visit! It is simply a unique place where you can easily spend about a week discovering it and the neighborhood. Bankso is also nice, been there once many, many years ago…

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