Veliko Tarnovo was the unexpected highlight of my trip to Bulgaria. Situated in the mountains of Bulgaria, this city is the cultural hub for visitors from all over the world!
The stunning surroundings are already a reason to visit! The cute houses, stacked on each other to get as much of the gorgeous view over the river Yantra as possible, make Veliko Tarnovo incredibly photogenic.
But that’s not all!
Veliko Tarnovo also provides interesting museums, great restaurants and – of course – the amazing Tsarevets Fortress. Travelers from all over the world come to Veliko Tarnovo to explore this beauty, as well as to stroll the picturesque old town.
(Brief) History of Veliko Tarnovo
Veliko Tarnovo is one of the oldest cities in Bulgaria. Built on three hills, this city has a history that goes way back. Archaeologists say the first traces of human presence in the region dates from VI century BC.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Veliko Tarnovo was called the pearl on the Bulgarian tsar’s crown. After Bulgaria got liberated from Byzantine rule in 1185, Veliko Tarnovo became the capital of Bulgaria. It remained the capital until the Ottoman invasion.
Highlights of Veliko Tarnovo
There isn’t enough to do in Veliko Tarnovo to keep you there for a week or so. However, the city has an authentic feel and is simply stunning! Here’s what you should be doing in Veliko Tarnovo:
Starting with the symbol of Veliko Tarnovo, the Tsarevets Fortress is probably the reason most travelers visit the city. Tsarevets is a medieval fortress and was once the seat of the tsars that ruled Bulgaria. The fortress is surrounded by thick stone walls from where you’ll have amazing views over Veliko Tarnovo and its surroundings. Once through the gates, visitors need between 2 to 5 hours to explore the fortress.
Tsarevets is also the subject of the amazing sound and light show, which is held on the evenings of bank holidays and Veliko Tarnovo-day (March 22nd).
Tip: Visit Tsarevets Fortress in the morning to avoid the heat. Make sure to bring plenty of water!
Sveta Gora is one of the hills Veliko Tarnovo was built on. It now houses a large park, which provides some excellent strolls and steep climbs. Back in the day, Several monasteries were built on Sveta gora, including Orthodox monastery St. Mary Odigitriya.
Forty Martyrs Church
The Holy Forty Martyrs Church was built in 1230 by the orders of Bulgarian tsar Ivan Assen II to celebrate the victory near Klokotnitsa over the Despotate of Epirus under Theodore Ducas. Saint Sava, the most important saint of the Serbian Orthodox Church, was first buried at the church after he died on 14 January 1235 during a visit to Veliko Tarnovo.
During the first years of the Ottoman rule, the church had a Christian character. After that, it transformed into a mosque. Most of the icons and paintings were destroyed because of it and nowadays you can only find a few inside.
When you’re looking for amazing murals, try to visit the Church of Sveti Georgi. This church was destroyed by the Ottoman invaders and later rebuilt. The Church of Sveta Bogoroditsa also has some great murals, although they faded quite a bit through time.
Other churches you might like:
- Church of Sveti Dimitâr
- Church of Sveti Nikolai
- Church of Sveti Petar & Pavel
- Sveti Kiril & Metodii Church
The charming old town of Veliko Tarnovo was once the center of trade and artistry. In the 1980’s it was restored to recreate the atmosphere of the early 20th century. The cobblestoned streets take you to several parts of the old town, such as Samovodskata Charshia, the place where people from nearby villages came to sell their goods.
Scattered all over the old town you’ll also find the beautifully restored Bulgarian revival houses. The Bulgarian revival period was a cultural movement, bringing back the Bulgarian identity after it was almost erased by the Ottoman occupation.
The old town of Veliko Tarnovo is the perfect place to shop for souvenirs. You can find amazing painted icons, folklore clothing and colorful tableware to bring home with you.
Veliko Tarnovo Archaeological Museum
Veliko Tarnovo is home to some amazing museums! The Veliko Tarnovo Archaeological Museum (Ulitsa Ivanka Boteva 2) is probably the best example. Visitors can indulge in the history of the city from prehistoric times to the Middle Ages.
The Hadji Nikoli Inn Museum (Ulitsa Rakovski 19) is another highlight you can’t miss. Besides being a great example of a Bulgarian Revival-style building, visitors can learn about Hadji Nikoli, a wealthy man who has lived in the house.
Other museums that might interest you are the Museum of National Revival & Constituent Assembly (Ulitsa Ivanka Boteva) and the Art Gallery Boris Denev (Ulitsa Alexander Stamboliyski).
Nicknamed the ‘horsemen statue’, this monument was erected exactly 800 years after Veliko Tarnovo became Bulgaria’s capital. It portrays the Bulgarian tsars and is located on a beautiful spot in the heart of the city. From the monument you have a panoramic view on the stacked houses of Veliko Tarnovo, as well as the Sveta Gora hill.
This part of the city is probably my favorite, as it is so relaxing to stroll across the river Yantra. The view on this monument, whether it’s seen from the top or when you’re standing in front of it, is something else!
You can visit the monument through the Stambolov Bridge. Ulitsa Gurko, the oldest street of Veliko Tarnovo can also be reached from here.
Visit the nearby town of Arbanasi
The quaint village of Arbanasi is the perfect getaway from – sometimes touristic – Veliko Tarnovo! Situated just 3 km from the city, you can easily spend a (half) day there and come back all relaxed.
Arbanasi is situated on a high platform, overseeing the Trapezitsa and Tsarevets hills. The oldest houses of Arbanasi are made entirely out of stone and resemble tiny models of fortresses that are exclusive to the village of Arbanasi. Today it’s an open air museum for architecture and village life.
Where to sleep in Veliko Tarnovo
Hotel Anhea is located on the main street of Veliko Tarnovo. The highlight of the hotel is the gorgeous garden where you get to eat your breakfast in the morning. The staff is also very welcoming and tries to help as best as they can whenever you have a question about your surroundings.
View from Hotel Anhea.
Where to eat in Veliko Tarnovo
EGO Pizza & Grill is located on the main street of Veliko Tarnovo and serves a variety of food. From delicious pizza’s to Bulgarian dishes, there’s so much to choose from! Sit yourself down near the end of the restaurant for amazing views over Veliko Tarnovo. (ul. Nezavisimost 17)
Sammy’s Bar is the place to sit down with a drink, watching Veliko Tarnovo bathe in golden hour lighting. Just off the busy main street, travelers and locals gather at Sammy’s for a little fun. The bars next door are also great for cocktails and beer snacks. My favorite snack? Fried cheese dipped in blueberry jam! (ul. Nezavisimost 9А)
The Tequila Bar doesn’t need an explanation. When you’re looking for a little fun in Veliko Tarnovo during the evening hours, this might be the place for you! (ul. Stefan Stambolov 32)
Shtastliveca is probably my favorite “chain” restaurant (there’s one in Sofia as well) in Bulgaria. They serve amazing food, from delicious Bulgarian dishes to the biggest pizzas you’ve ever seen! Their chocolate lava cake is simply to die for and it still haunts my dreams from time to time. (Ul. Stefan Stambolov 79)
How to get to Veliko Tarnovo
Veliko Tarnovo is quite easy to reach from many places within Bulgaria and even abroad. Chances are you’ll pass this lovely town coming from Bucharest, Romania, to Bulgaria. From Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo can be reached within 5 hours by train. I came from Plovdiv, which only took me 3,5 hours by train.
Veliko Tarnovo is located just a few km from the train station, however, it’s almost impossible to walk there due to the hills the city was built on. From there you can take a city bus to get to the center. When you take a taxi, make sure you arrange a fixed price to avoid getting scammed.
What you should know before you visit Veliko Tarnovo
Veliko Tarnovo is one of the hottest cities of Bulgaria. In summer it can become searing hot in Veliko Tarnovo, winters are only for die hard cold lovers. That automatically leaves fall and spring as the best time to visit Veliko Tarnovo. I was there in May, which was already quite warm (28+ degrees Celsius). Make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen, you’ll need it. Also, don’t go anywhere without a bottle of water.
Another thing is the amount of walking you’ll be doing. Since Veliko Tarnovo was built on hills, you’ll experience sore muscles after only a day of visiting. Sturdy, comfortable shoes are highly recommended!
Would you like to visit Veliko Tarnovo?
My trip to stunning Veliko Tarnovo was part of a 9-day trip to Bulgaria. It was probably my favorite place to visit in Bulgaria so far, although it’s hard to say because I’m nowhere near done with exploring the amazing country.
Have you been? As always, leave a comment below or tag me in your travel photos on social media. I seriously love that!
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