We entered Bulgaria from Romania and we originally planned to get the train all the way to Sofia.
However, Florence did some research and heard about a small city called Veliko Tarnovo in the center of Bulgaria that was worth a stop in.
Veliko Tarnovo was the medieval capital of Bulgaria and is about five thousand years old. It’s a crisp, beautiful and picturesque city and one of Europe’s most famous medieval buildings is situated there; The Tsaravets Fortress.
We’re so glad we stopped here instead of by-passing it like we originally intended as it’s such a cool city. If you’re looking for beach resorts then you won’t find them here. Head east to Varna for those!
Instead, you’ll be immersed in ancient history and some absolutely stunning views.
The city was built on 3 hills: Sveta Gora, Trapezitsa and Tsaravets. Running through the city is the Yantra river.
The main attraction is the Tsaravets Fortress, which can be seen all around the city up on the hill. There’s also a charming old town which has a myriad of cobblestone streets.
The city is easily accessible on foot and you’d have no need to take a taxi, unless you were going somewhere further afield.
A quick history about Veliko Tarnovo
The city was the medieval capital of Bulgaria back in 1185 when two brothers; Ivan Assen and Theodor-Petar led a war against the Byzantine empire.
Back then, the city was called Turnovgrad and under the leadership of the Assen brothers, it developed at a rapid pace. This led to the Tsaravet Fortress being built around this time.
It was during this period of time that the city became an important cultural and economic hub for Bulgaria.
In 1393, Turnovgrad fell into the power of the Ottoman Turks and along with the rest of the Balkan countries, it remained like that for the next 500+ years.
It wasn’t until 1877 when the country was liberated that Turnovgrad became the capital of the newly formed independent state. Sofia, however, was shortly crowned the capital of Bulgaria and Turnovgrad was renamed Veliko Tarnovo in 1966.
What to do in Veliko Tarnovo
Depending on the time of year you visit the city, the choice of things to do and see may vary. Due to the insanely hot summers and freezing cold winters, the best time of year to visit would be spring and fall we think.
The tourist information office near the post office would be an ideal starting point for visitors. You’ll be able to get maps, brochures and ask the staff a few questions. There’s even a handy sign outside that shows the points of interest around the city.
The main attraction as we said is the Tsaravets Fortress. This building has 3,000 feet of stone walls surrounding it and it’s very easy to navigate around on foot.
It costs about 6 leva (€3 per person) to access the fortress and the ticket office is situated near the main entrance on the left hand side. It’s easy to miss it like we did!
Opening hours are 8am to 7pm from April to October and 9am to 5pm November to March.
There are a few shallow inclines on the way up, but unless it’s either freezing cold (slippy) or in the middle of the summer, you should have no problems making it an enjoyable walk up to the top.
At the top of the hill you will have a cracking 360 degree view and you’ll be able to see the Baldwin tower. It’s a perfect location to break open a picnic and relax (again, depending on the time of year you visit).
The quaint old town streets is a great place to wander around and check out a few cafes and restaurants. We loved the old town part of the city as it reminded us of Italy for some reason.
There are a few museums to explore if that’s what you’re interested in. The Archaeological and Hadji Nikoli inn museum are the main two to keep an eye out for.
We didn’t visit any museums there but we were told that they’re worth a visit.
The Assens Monument
This can be seen from more or less anywhere in the city and it’s nicknamed the “Horsemen statue”.
These statues are of Ivan Assen, Theodor-Petar, Kaloyan and Assen (the Bulgarian Tsars). It pays tribute the the Tsars for what they did for the city. The monument can be accessed by foot from the Stambolov bridge.
Accommodation in Veliko Tarnovo
There are plenty of hotels and hostel options in the city. We stayed in a funky hotel called “Hotel Play” and paid €25 a night for a really cool bedroom with a nice view of the center of town. The Wi-Fi was zippy fast (always a priority for us while we work online)
It’s located right in the heart of things and you’ve got plenty of restaurants and shops right on your doorstep.
Where to Eat
During our two days in Veliko, we eat at the Ego Pizzeria & Grill. Honestly, the prices are so cheap that you would think there must be a mistake! Trust us though – the food is amazing and the views on the balcony of the river and old town are spectacular.
It’s no wonder we eat there everyday!
Overview of the city
Veliko Tarnovo is a beautiful city, no question about that. It was our first introduction to Bulgaria after arriving via train from Bucharest in Romania.
It’s got a nice blend of things to do and see. Unless you were planning to do some day tours from the city, we would say that 2/3 days there would be enough to keep you entertained.
We loved walking around and taking photos of this and that, but we would feel a little restless after 3 days we think.
From Veliko, we travelled via bus to the capital, Sofia for our next stop on our European conquest tour!
Let us know if you’ve any questions about Veliko Tarnovo in the comments below!