Home Β» What to do in Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria). Your Complete Guide by a Local
a monument with a sword and 4 horsemen and some houses behind; Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria, things to do in Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria

What to do in Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria). Your Complete Guide by a Local

by Daniela

The most comprehensive city guide of all tourist attractions in Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria) by a local: what to do and what to see in Veliko Tarnovo, where to stay and where to eat, the best day trips from Veliko Tarnovo and the best hidden gems in Veliko Tarnovo.

This post has been last updated on 09 December 2019.

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.

Discover Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria) with this complete travel guide by a local!Click To Tweet
Tip: First time travelling to Bulgaria? Read here my complete guide on what to expect when visiting Bulgaria and how to prepare for your trip to Bulgaria!

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.

lots of houses with red roofs on hill and some green trees in front; Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria

What 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!

two orthodox churches in close-up in Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria

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.

Opening times: April-October: 8 am – 7 pm; November-March: 9 am – 5 pm. Entrance fee: 6 BGN (3 EUR).

Read more: Do you want to know everything about the fortress? Read my complete guide to Tsarevets. 

remains of a fortress with a church on the top of the hill; Tsarevets fortress in Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria

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.

a river dividing two hills with some houses along the river and a fortress on two of the hills and lots of lush green, Tsarevets and Trapezitsa in Veliko Tarnovo

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.

Opening times: April-October: 9 am – 6 pm. The funicular is closed on Mondays. Entrance fee including funicular: 16 BGN (8 EUR).

remains of a fortification wall and a tower on a hill covered with trees in bloom against blue sky; Trapezitsa Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria

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)

an old house with a vine winding up and a lot of hanging geraniums on a balcony with two colourfully painted hose carts in front full with pots with flowers, Gurko Street in Veliko Tarnovo

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.

a cobblestone street with houses on both sides and little shops on the ground floor, Samovodska charshia Veliko Tarnovo

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.

a monument of a tall sword with four horsemen around it and a sandstone building with columns set against a background of houses on a hill, Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria

Mini Bulgaria

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.

sandstone building with white columns in neoclassical style, the art gallery in Veliko Tarnovo

Hidden gems in Veliko Tarnovo

There are places in Veliko Tarnovo that you would not normally notice at first glance. You need to know the place quite well to find them or just stumble upon by chance, or have a local show you around. So here I am, to show you some off-the-beaten path places to see in Veliko Tarnovo:

  • Bishop’s Bridge
  • Assenov Quarter
  • Skywalk
  • Hadji Nikoli Inn

Got your attention? Read my post packed with information about those places. Includes also a map with the exact locations as some of them can’t be found on Google maps! Click below on the link, to read the post.

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.

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.

a city with mostly white houses with red roofs against some green hills and blue sky; view from Sveta Gora on Veliko Tarnovo

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.

Arbanasi

Arbanasi 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 quite a popular place with numerous hotels and lost a bit of its authentic romantic charm (distance – 4 km).

lush green hills dotted with spring flowers and a city at the distance with some hilly mountains, Veliko Tarnovo seen from Arbanassi

Etara

Etara is ethnographic complex at some 50 km from Veliko Tarnovo.

a tiny stream with a bridge and a tree and a blue house at the background, Etara Gabrovo

Tryavna

Tryavna is a small town with architecture in National Revival style, famous for the the woodcarving, located at 40 km from Veliko Tarnovo.

an old stone cock tower with a belfry on a square surrounded by white houses; Tryavna Bulgaria

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

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.

a stone monument with a lion in front and a canon on the top of a hill, Shipka Memorial Bulgaria
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.

Tip: Make a road trip in Bulgaria with Veliko Tarnovo as one of the highlights. Check out my 7-day itinerary for a road trip in Bulgaria.

DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase one of the products via these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost for you. This is not a sponsored post and I have paid for all activities, accommodation and food by myself. All opinions are mine.


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”.

Tip: All buses from Sofia to Varna and Varna to Sofia stop in Veliko Tarnovo, but not all buses from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo end up in Varna and the other way around: not all buses from Varna to Veliko Tarnovo go to Sofia.
Tip 2: Before travelling to Bulgaria, learn the Bulgarian alphabet and how to read in the Cyrillic script. It’s gonna be of a great advantage to be able to read at least the places’ names.


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.

Tip: Read here everything you need to know about the taxis in Bulgaria.

houses built on a hill with a tunnel going underneath and lots of green, Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria

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!

Read more: How to choose the best accommodation in Veliko Tarnovo? Read my insider tips how to find the accommodation with the best location and the most amazing view.

Here you can check for the latest hotel deals in Veliko Tarnovo:



Booking.com

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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house with wooden balcony and lots of flowers with overlay text - Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria - complete travel guide by a local
houses built on a hill with a tunnel going underneath and layover text: Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria - complete city guide by a local
a house with wooden balcony and flowers with text above: Veliko Tarnovo - the best kept secret of Europe

 

 

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.

29 comments
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29 comments

Nirit Segal 25th March 2019 - 11:25 pm

I was in Veliko first time a few months ago. and come again soon to learn more, and later with groups of tourists.
I too was fascinated and fell in love with this city. I read your Descriptions with pleasure.
I try to learn more and find connections with local artists, cooks, social ventures and points of interest for tourists who want to know the place from the community side.
Can I contact you on the subject?

Reply
ipanematravels 26th March 2019 - 8:07 am

Hi, Nirit, I am happy you liked it. Send me a mail to discuss.

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Jenni 5th June 2017 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 10:30 am

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

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Kellyn 4th June 2017 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 4:39 pm

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

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Liz 30th March 2017 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 11:22 pm

Yep, I hope one day you’ll make it to this city πŸ™‚

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Candiss 29th March 2017 - 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 - 11:22 pm

I’m happy you liked it there!

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Boarding Call 29th March 2017 - 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 - 11:21 pm

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

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Cali 12th March 2017 - 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 - 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 πŸ™‚

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ipanematravels 5th March 2017 - 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…

Reply

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