Very few people know that Bulgaria has so much to offer. For Romanian people, this land tends to be a top attraction either for its ski slopes, or the beaches. Places like Bansko, Varna or Golden Sands are usually on any tourist’s list.
But there are plenty of hidden gems and one of the most beautiful and picturesque cities of this country is, for sure, Veliko Tarnovo.
The Old Town of the city and its special architecture with cobblestone streets, colorful houses, and red rooftops has a unique vibe. All these will make you feel like you have just stepped in a time machine and traveled back to medieval days.
How to get there?
Veliko Tarnovo is located in North Bulgaria and it’s easily accessible by bus, train or car. It is like a central point of that region, at 3 hours from Sofia or Varna.
One of the most surprising facts about Veliko Tarnovo is that it is also 3 hours away from the Romanian capital. If you are living in Bucharest, it is faster to get to Veliko on a Friday evening, than to Brasov.
If you plan to visit Bulgaria by car, you must buy an e-vignette – a tax for using the national road network. This is electronic, so you don’t need to stick it on the windscreen.
If you buy it online, you should consider doing that before the trip, just to be sure that all the banking transactions were done. Otherwise, you can find more shops, exchanges or simply taxes offices right after the border.
The price depends on how much time you plan to visit Bulgaria. For a week you’ll pay less than 10 euros.
Where to stay?
Considering Veliko Tarnovo a city with lots of cliff side houses, it’s easy to find accommodation with panoramic views. For some of them, you have to climb on very narrow streets, so you should ask your host in the first place if you can get there with your car or not.
I say that because we had some challenges to find our guesthouse in the night, on all those quaint streets. Even though, we really recommend Guest Room Harmony for the cleanliness, panoramic view from the balcony and the great price.
Where to eat?
I’ll be honest, if the food is great, there are many chances to keep that city in my heart for a long time.
Besides all the medieval vibes and panoramic views, which make Veliko Tarnovo a highlight of Bulgaria, this city could get a special prize for its great restaurants. We’ve heard before about their food, so the bar was set high. But we can confirm now: the plates are generous and the food is so delicious, you’d like to spend half of the holiday just eating. :)
What we recommend:
- Restaurant Ego 1 – great food, great panoramic view. We totally recommend it. I mentioned about Ego 1, because two hundred meters away from it, there is an Ego 2. We didn’t try it, but I think they have the same food.
- Hadji Nikoli Inn – great food with a piece of history. The inn is built like a caravansary – an old roadside inn where travelers could rest and recover from the day’s journey. It’s a really nice experience to enjoy a good meal in a place like this.
- Shtastliveca – great food, but too crowded. The restaurant is one of the most recommended places to eat in Veliko Tarnovo. We tried 2 times to make a reservation for a table with a view, but we had no chance. If you want to sit close to the window, maybe you should book a table several days prior.
- We read really good reviews about the best burgers in town at Vkusoteria, but for us, it wasn’t such an amazing experience. We had to order at the bar, but they did’t offer an English menu, so someone should translate for you every ingredient. And if you go for a beef burger, ask for that, to be sure you won’t get a chicken burger.
What to do in Veliko Tarnovo?
Walk and enjoy the city vibe
Veliko Tarnovo is really quiet in the morning, so if you are a morning person, it’s beautiful to stroll the streets and see the city waking up. There are some places you shouldn’t miss:
- Samovodska Charshia – one of the most beautiful streets from Veliko Tarnovo. Its name is referring to a place with lots of shops, souvenirs, and local artists.
- Strada Gurko – the most romantic street in town and our favorite one
- Stambolov Bridge and Asenevtsi Monument – for a great view over the entire city
- Sky Walk – made by a group of architecture students, this is a small panoramic terrace on the main street, very close to Shtastliveca Restaurant
- Sveta Gora – a perfect place for an afternoon walk or relaxing away from the city crowd. There is only one challenge: you have to climb more than 300 stairs to get on top of the hill
Take a free walking tour
We used to be skeptical about free tours, thinking that it won’t be so well organized or we’ll spend too much time on some squares or monuments we are not interested in. But, having two more days ahead to discover the city, we thought this time we could give a chance to it. And we didn’t regret it at all.
Every day in the summer, you can join a free walking tour guided by the students from the University. It starts at 11:00 am in front of the Touristic Information Center and for 2.5 hours you’ll find out a lot of interesting facts about Veliko Tarnovo and Bulgaria.
Visit Tsarevets Fortress
You can’t leave Veliko Tarnovo without visiting the fortress which served as the strongest bulwark for the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Besides the ancient ruins from the royal palace and houses, there is a central attraction: the church from the top of the hill. From outdoor, it looks like a regular Bulgarian church, but if you walk inside you’ll discover unusual murals, all painted in dark colors, creating a strange vibe. Due to them, this has never been consecrated or recognized as an Orthodox church. The ticket cost is only 6 leva (3 euros), so take some time to discover it.
Pro tip: Another really nice experience could be to enjoy the sound and lights show over the Tsarevets Fortress. The ticket is almost 20 euros, but if you book a room with a view over the fortress, you can see the lights show for free. There isn’t a schedule for this show, because it takes place only if a group of people will pay the tickets. We were lucky to see it twice from our balcony, so that’s another reason to recommend our accommodation.
What you should know about Veliko Tarnovo?
- This is one of the oldest cities in Bulgaria, actually the former capital of The Bulgarian Empire
- As a fun fact, you should be careful because Bulgarian people nodding to mean “yes” and shaking their heads when they mean “no”. At least some of them
- Sometimes you can speak Romanian and pay with Lei, but it's not such a common thing
- Veliko Tarnovo doesn’t have a central point or a central square, because the entire city is built on hills. That’s why the locals don’t use to say “left” and “right” to show the directions. They’ll say: “up”, “down” and “take the stairs”;
- The city is divided into a new and old town. The new town looks nice, but the medieval vibe of the old town makes it more attractive to tourists