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 on you for life.
In this complete city guide you will find comprehensive information about all tourist attractions in Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria): the best things to see and do, together with suggestions for day trips from Veliko Tarnovo.
This post has been last updated on 10 November 2018.
- 1 A city or a town?
- 2 How to get to Veliko Tarnovo?
- 3 Things to do in Veliko Tarnovo
- 4 Day trips from Veliko Tarnovo
- 5 Where to stay in Veliko Tarnovo?
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 to Veliko Tarnovo?
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 a direct train, but it will take you a century to reach your destination.
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If you are staying in Sofia, you can also book a whole day tour.
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 stops on your next adventure on the Balkans. I was recently in Bucharest and when I talked to the locals it turned out that Veliko Tarnovo is one of the most loved a popular day trips from Bucharest.
Should you decide just to visit Veliko Tarnovo for one day from Bucharest, there are different options with a combination between Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi, the Emen Canyon or the Ivanovo Caves:
How to get by bus to Veliko Tarnovo?
From the Central Bus Station in Sofia or in Varna, you can choose from one of the following bus lines: Etap, Grup, Biomet, or Union Ivkoni. When searching in the English version of the Central Bus Station in Sofia, use “V.Tarnovo”. You can’t type in the name, so from the drop down menu, choose for “V.Tarnovo”. You would think that the names are arranged in alphabetical order, yes they are, and the letter “B” (the Bulgarian for “V”) comes on 3rd place. So you will find V.Tarnovo after “A” and “B”.
On the website of the Bus Station in Varna, use the same technique as above, only this time the name is mentioned as “Veliko Tarnovo”.
How to get by train to Veliko Tarnovo?
Veliko Tarnovo has its own railway station, but there’s no direct connection from Sofia or Varna. If you are taking the train, you need to get off in Gorna Oryahovitsa, a town at some 10 km from Veliko Tarnovo. If you end up at the train station in Gorna Oryahovitsa, here’s how you can go to Veliko Tarnovo:
- by train – it takes about 20 minutes and there about 7 trains per day. Now you get the picture why I don’t recommend the train.
- by bus – there’s a direct bus line from the train station (No. 10), but the bus stop is a bit further from the station on the main road. You can also choose to get to the bus station in Gorna Oryahovitsa and get from there bus lines 10 (via Samovodene) or 14 (via Lyaskovets). In either way the journey will be between 30 minutes to an hour (line 14 is faster than 10).
- by a mini bus – they leave each hour.
- by a taxi – the fastest way to get to Veliko Tarnovo. Taxis are affordable in Bulgaria.
For the train schedules check the official website of the Bulgarian National Railways.
Things to do in Veliko Tarnovo
For whom is Veliko Tarnovo? The history geeks won’t be disappointed by the rich historical past, neither will be the nature lovers – there are enough hiking trails in the neighbourhood. If you love great food, great views and great parties – Veliko Tarnovo is for you, too. Chasing castles? Veliko Tarnovo got you covered.
On the map below, you can find all attractions and places of interest in and around Veliko Tarnovo mentioned further in this complete travel guide to Veliko Tarnovo.
Sightseeing in Veliko Tarnovo
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 affordable. 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.
Opening times: April-October: 8 am – 7 pm; November-March: 9 am – 5 pm. Entrance fee: 6 BGN (3 EUR).
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.
Opening times: April-October: 9 am – 6 pm. The funicular is closed on Mondays. Entrance fee including funicular: 16 BGN (8 EUR).
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.).
Opening times: April-October: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm; November-March: 9 am – 5:30 pm. Closed on Sundays and Mondays. Entrance fee: 6 BGN (3 EUR)
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.
This is the newest attraction in Veliko Tarnovo. The park was opened in September 2017. There are exhibited miniatures of the most iconic places in Bulgaria. Do you want to see the most beautiful places in Bulgaria in one day? Take a stroll in the park Mini Bulgaria in Veliko Tarnovo! Mini Bulgaria is open from from 9 am to 7:30 pm from Аpril to September and from 9 am to 6 pm October to March. The entrance fee is 10 BGN (5 EUR).
Museums in Veliko Tarnovo
If you want to learn everything not only about the local history but about Bulgarian history, you shall not miss the following museums:
- Archaeological Museum – Opening times: April-October: 9 am – 6 pm; November-March: 9 am – 5:30 pm. Closed on Monday morning (9 am – 12 pm). Entrance fee: 6 BGN (3 EUR).
- Museum of National Revival & Constituent Assembly, where Bulgaria’s First National Assembly was held after the Liberation in 1878. Opening times: April-October: 9 am – 6 pm; November-March: 9 am – 5:30 pm. Closed on Tuesday morning (9 am – 12 pm). Entrance fee: 6 BGN (3 EUR).
- Modern History Museum – housed in a former prison it features an exhibition about the role of Bulgaria in the WWI and the Balkan Wars. Opening times: 9 am – 5:30 pm. Closed on Sundays and Mondays. Entrance fee: 6 BGN (3 EUR).
- Multimedia Visitor Centre – a museum with wax figures from the heyday of Veliko Tarnovo – the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (12-14 c.). Opening times: April-October: 9:30 am – 6:30 pm; November-March: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm. Entrance fee: 10 BGN (5 EUR).
- 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. Opening times: Tuesday – Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm. The admission is free.
Hiking around Veliko Tarnovo
Nature lovers won’t be disappointed either, as Veliko Tarnovo offers a lot of 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.
Trails near Veliko Tarnovo
- Eco trail Emen Canyon
- Preobrazhenski eco trail
- Kartala waterfalls trail
- Lyaskovets monastery trail.
Day trips from Veliko Tarnovo
Located in the middle of North Bulgaria, Veliko Tarnovo is the ideal starting point for a day trip. Find out here the places you can visit for one day.
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 Nikopolis ad Istrun – a 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.
Where to stay in Veliko Tarnovo?
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!
Here you can check for the latest hotel deals in Veliko Tarnovo:
Veliko Tarnovo is a city that will leave you breathless, but it’s better if you check it by yourself!
I dedicate this post to the most beautiful among the cities, which was my home town for 13 years.
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Have you been to Bulgaria? Which places have you visited? Did you like it? Will you recommend Bulgaria to other travellers?
If you are planning a trip to Bulgaria or to Veliko Tarnovo and you need some insider tips, get in touch with me via FB or leave a comment on this page and I will gladly help you.
Have you already booked your trip to Veliko Tarnovo and want to know hot to get to Tsarevets Fortress and read everything about this must-see attraction, check out my ultimate guide to visiting the fortress.