Located centrally in North Bulgaria, Veliko Tarnovo is the perfect home base to discover the region one day trip at a time. Quaint villages, historical places, UNESCO sites, monasteries, caves, waterfalls and beautiful nature are some of the treasures that this part of Bulgaria has in store for you. There’s so much authenticity and pureness in this region and of course tons of history and culture. So, if you are looking to discover one of the most beautiful regions in Europe without the crowds, then stay longer than a day in the old capital of Bulgaria and take at least one or two of those amazing day trips from Veliko Tarnovo.
Places to visit on a day trip from Veliko Tarnovo
distance from Veliko Tarnovo – 4 km
This little village is perched on a hill above Veliko Tarnovo and offers breathtaking views of the city. Stroll along the cobbled streets and get back in time with the houses dating back to the Bulgarian National Revival (18th – 19th century). When in Arbanasi, do not miss the Konstantsaliev House – an ethnographic museum, where you will have the opportunity to see how the houses looked in that period and how people lived then. The indisputable gem in this cute little village is the Church of the Nativity – a richly decorated 16th century church with beautiful frescoes and the eye-catching Wheel of Life. The ex-communist leader of Bulgaria – Todor Zhivkov (in office 1954-1989) had one of his residences in the village. Today, it’s a posh 5-star hotel, but you can still access the terrace of the building from where you will have one of those scenic views of Veliko Tarnovo. The locals love to visit Arbanasi on a day trip and when I used to live in Veliko Tarnovo, I would just take a taxi and go there for a little walk, or hike in the weekend.
distance from Veliko Tarnovo – 52 km
You don’t need a time travel machine to go back in time, just visit the open-air ethnographic village Etara to get transported to the 18th century. This is one of the most picturesque places in Bulgaria and a preferred place by the locals for a day trip. This ethnographic museum is working, so there are not only exhibits but you can see how things are actually made, or should I say how they used to be made in the past. Most of these crafts (22 in total) are pretty much extinguished, but you can see how fur caps are made, or cattle harnesses, or knives. All craftsmen sell their hand-made products, which make great souvenirs. One of my favorite places there is the predecessor of the modern washing machine.
When in Etara, you should get to the local café and try their Turkish coffee made on sand and the local delicacy Byalo Sladko (White Candy) – a sort of a fresh marshmallow mixture that hasn’t dried up yet served in a spoon in a glass with ice water.
distance from Veliko Tarnovo – 40 km
Tryavna is a small town with lovely houses in the National Revival Style, that’s bustling with life. You can admire the clock tower (1814) in the middle of the square, which is the only square in Bulgaria in National Revival Style, preserved in completely intact state from those days. This place breathes and radiates history. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was an important hub where education and revolutionary ideas were bred. One of the most famous Bulgarian period writers Pencho Slaveyvkov was born there. Tryavna is also famous for the woodcarving and applied arts. Visit the Daskalov House to admire the masterpieces on the ceilings and hear the story of the apprentice who outmastered his master in a woodcarving competition.
distance from Veliko Tarnovo – 7 km
Preobrazhenski Monastery is just outside of Veliko Tarnovo. The original monastery was built in the 11th century and is still functioning as such. Its outer walls are richly decorated with frescoes, but the inside is even more beautiful! The inside frescoes are made by the most famous Bulgarian artist from the National Revival period – Zahari Zograf. If you love stories, the monastery has plenty to tell. One of the latest is about the miracle of 1991, when a big land slide almost destroyed the whole place. There was this huge piece of rock rolling towards the church but just before it smashed it, it broke in two pieces and the two halves rolled alongside the church. True story? A miracle? Or another urban legend? It doesn’t matter. The monastery and the nature around it are absolutely stunning. A walk to the monastery used to be my favourite Sunday trip in spring for many years.
distance from Veliko Tarnovo – 30 km
The Monastery of Archangel Michael near Dryanovo or Dryanovski Monastery/Dryanovo Monastery, the way it’s known, was built in 1206. In the 14th century it was one of the Hesychastic centres in the country. It was completely demolished in 1396 during the Ottoman invasion and rebuilt in later. During the Bulgarian National Revival, the Monastery played an important role as hide-place for the revolutionary-minded. During the April Uprising of 1876 the Monastery was used as an ammunition and food depot and one of the detachments was sieged there. Today, in the Monastery’s courtyard there is an ossuary and a memorial dedicated to the rebels who died after defending the Monastery for whole nine days.
The Dryanovo Monastery is a popular day-trip among the Bulgarians and a good place to learn a bit more about the history of Bulgaria.
Bacho Kiro Cave
distance from Veliko Tarnovo – 30 km
When you visit the Dryanovo Monastery on a day trip from Veliko Tarnovo, you need to combine it with a visit to famous Bacho Kiro Cave. The cave is just a short walk from the Monastery. It’s the first cave in Bulgaria that has be open for tourists, but it’s not the biggest one. Actually it’s at number 13. There are two routes and I highly recommend taking the long one – it takes about an hour and is always guided. In this cave there were found the oldest human remains on the territory of Bulgaria, carbon dated to some 43 000 years ago.
The cave keeps many stories and legends and you will hear all of them if you take the tour. Ready to spill out your sins? No need… You can enter the Purgatory (a tiny passage of 60 by 40 cm) and if you manage to get out of it, you will be cleansed. Ready to try?
Nicopolis ad Istrum
distance from Veliko Tarnovo – 20 km
Nicopolis ad Istrum is an ancient Roman city built by the Roman Emperor Trajan in 101 AD to celebrate his victory over the Dacians (in today’s Romania). You remember the Trajan’s Column in Rome? Yep, that’s the same Trajan. The city prospered until the 5th century when it was destroyed by the Huns. Today, there are only ruins left from this once thriving place which even had own harbour on the Rositsa River. If you love ancient history, you should visit this place – just another layer of the Bulgaria’s historical heritage. Nicopolis ad Istrum is on the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
distance from Veliko Tarnovo – 65 km
If there is one monument that’s equally dear and special to all Bulgarians, it’s for sure the Shipka Monument. The monument was finished in 1930 and is dedicated to those who died in the decisive Battle at the Shipka Pass in 1878 during the Russo-Turkish Wars. This place is a symbol of the courage and the bravery of those who died for the liberation of Bulgaria. On the national holiday of Bulgaria – 3 March, the national celebrations are held at the Shipka Monument. The monument stands on the top of Stoletov Peak. From there you have an amazing panoramic view, as if you can see the whole of Bulgaria from there. Well, you will see a small part of it.
distance from Veliko Tarnovo – 25 km
One of the most beautiful canyons in Bulgaria is the Negovanka River Canyon, which is also known as the Emen Canyon. The river meanders through the Predbalkan (the northern hilly part of the Balkan Mountain Range), cutting a narrow gorge through the rocks. Along the canyon there is a walking trail that will lead you through a cave, hanging bridges and deep crevices, and a waterfall, showing you some breathtaking views of a part of Bulgaria, that remains unknown for the rest of the world. The trail is not difficult and can be done even by people that are not that fit. However, you should have good shoes, as it can be slippery. After all, you will be doing some climbing or walking on rocks, so your shoes need to have a good grip.
Kaya Bunar Waterfalls
distance from Veliko Tarnovo – 20 km
Kaya Bunar Waterfalls, also known as Hotnistsa Waterfalls are one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Bulgaria. The water falls from some 30 m in a natural pool, offering some spectacular views. The waterfalls are perhaps one of the most popular day trips from Veliko Tarnovo for visitors and locals alike. It’s also a popular destination for a weekend pick-nick with families or friends. There is also a walking trail along the Bohot River and its picturesque gorge, that starts at the waterfalls. If you visit Veliko Tarnovo in the summer and when the temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius (Yes! It can be that warm in Bulgaria) in the city, then the waterfalls are a much sought escape to enjoy some coolness in the heart of the forest.
Ivanovo Rock-hewn Churches
distance from Veliko Tarnovo – 95 km
Thee Rock-hewen Churches of Ivanovo are one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria and for a reason. This unique complex of churches, chapels and cloisters is actually dug out in the rocks some 30 m above the Rusenski Lom River. The first monastery in the natural cavities in the rocks was established at the beginning of the 13th century. Today, we can admire there some of the few frescoes remained from the glorious days of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185 – 1396).
Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak
distance from Veliko Tarnovo – 90 km
If you are after UNESCO World Heritage Sites, there’s another one for you – the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, that can be easily visited on a day trip from Veliko Tarnovo. The tomb dates back to the 4 century BC and is a part of a necropolis located near Seutopolis – the capital city of the Thracians under Seuthes III. Unfortunately today Seutopolis lies under the waters of the Koprinka Reservoir hiding for good its treasures and secrets. The Thracian Tomb in Kazanlak is not very big but it features some remarkable frescoes. They are so beautiful that you can stand there admiring them for quite some time. At least I did. To preserve the tomb and its unique frescoes, it was closed for visitors, instead tourists can visit an exact replica which is as beautiful as the real thing.