Veliko Tarnovo. The old capital of Bulgaria. It is known by many names but one thing is for sure - this is one of the most beautiful cities in Bulgaria!
This blog post is dedicated to the 25 most important and interesting things to do in Veliko Tarnovo. The article is a result of at least a dozen trips to the old capital, as well as the kind assistance of a few locals, who contributed with interesting information and recommendations. So I believe we can safely say that this is your local travel guide to Veliko Tarnovo.
Lets dive right in!
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How to get to Veliko Tarnovo
You can easily get to Veliko Tarnovo by bus, train or car. If you dont have a car, Id definitely recommend picking the bus over the train, as its much nicer. Trains in Bulgaria tend to be very old and slow.
However, If youre planning on doing a road trip around Bulgaria, then renting a car is definitely recommended. I have experience with one of the biggest car rental companies in Bulgaria - Top Rent a Car, and Im happy with their service and the car they provided. They also have offices around the country, so you can pick it up from many different places. Check them out here.
Where to stay in Veliko Tarnovo
If youre coming by car and want to find a place to stay where you can park your car for free, be sure to check the parking information on Booking and also ask the host in advance. Its important to note that if you want to stay in the old town, parking would be near impossible - the streets are narrow and the spaces are very limited.
I personally like Guest House Gurkov - its a small cosy guest house which was recently renovated and its located in the old town. Keep in mind that if youre coming by car, youll most probably have to park on the street above (about 3-4 minutes walk away), and drive through some narrow streets, but if this doesnt bother you - the guest house itself is lovely!
Another good option is the City Hotel, which is located at the beginning of the touristic area. If youre coming by car, the street parking here is paid, unless youre visiting on the weekend or during national holidays.
Things to do in Veliko Tarnovo
1. Tsarevets Fortress
Tsarevets Fortress is the most impressive and visited landmark in Veliko Tarnovo. After the city was proclaimed the capital of the second Bulgarian Kingdom in 1185, Tsarevets became home to the aristocracy and its main fort.
As of 2022, you can pre-buy a ticket to Veliko Tarnovos main sights online, including the Tsarevets fortress! To do so, you can check out this website.
2. Baldwin´s Tower
The Baldwin Tower is part of the Tsarevets fortress and its been named after the Latin emperor Baldwin of Flanders, who was captured in the battle of Edrine in 1205 by Tsar Kaloyan. According to the legend, Baldwin was captured and imprisoned in this tower, where he later died.
3. The Patriarchal Cathedral St. Ascension and The Palace
The beautiful tower, ascending on the highest hill in Tsarevets, is the building of the Patriarchal Cathedral St. Ascension.
The building was destroyed during the capture of the fortress in the summer of 1393 by the troops of Sultan Bayezid І.
It was not until 1981, that the patriarchal church was restored and completed in honor of the 1300th anniversary of the establishment of the Bulgarian state. The interesting murals are the work of the artist Teofan Sokerov and were completed in 1985.
At the back of the building is a panoramic elevator that leads to the highest part of the tower. Boarding the elevator is paid separately from the entrance ticket and costs 2 BGN, right as you get inside, and the view from above is definitely worth it.
4. Audio – visual show “Sound and Light”
Sound and Lightis one of the most famous events happening in Veliko Tarnovo. A few times in the year, people from all over Bulgaria (and the world) head to Tarnovo, to see the impressive show with their own eyes.
Sound and Light is broadcasted every year on national holidays, and the most popular places to watch it are the square in front of Tsarevets (for free), from a special panoramic site for a fee, or from the restaurant at Hotel Yantra.
The Schedule for the upcoming events you can check from this link.
Trapezitsa is one of the three hills in Veliko Tarnovo, next to Tsarevets and Sveta Gora. The place represents a natural fortress, surrounded on its three sides by a river.
The excavations of the fortress began in 1879, and they continue to this day. Walking around the hill, you will find over 20 churches that have been found during the excavations.
You can reach this place by foot or by a funicular, which departs from the parking lot at Trapezitsa railway station. Keep in mind that the funicular works only during the warm months - from May to October, and Monday is a day off
6. Sveta Gora Park
Sveta Gora is the third hill in Veliko Tarnovo and is actually a park, suitable for walking and sports entertainment.
7. Park “Mini Bulgaria”
Right beneath the Tsarevets fortress, there is a relatively new landmark for Veliko Tarnovo, namely the park Mini Bulgaria. Right here, on an area of 12,5 acres, there are models of the most famous landmarks in Bulgaria, including the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the Ivan Vazov National Theater in Sofia, the Ancient theatre in Plovdiv, the Rila Monastery and many others.
For children, students and retirees - 5 BGN.
For adults - 10 BGN.
Family ticket - 20 BGN.
8. Shishman’s Bath
Shishman bath is located at the northern foot of the Tsarevets fortress, between the churches Assumption and St. St. Apostles Peter and Paul, on the left shore of the Yantra River, next to the Vladishki bridge.
This is one of the few well-preserved medieval baths in Bulgaria. It is called Shishman bath because it is supposed to have been built during the time of the last Tsar of Tarnovo - Ivan Shishman.
The bathroom has a total of 6 rooms - boiler room, 4 bathrooms and a dressing room. At both ends of the boiler room were built 2 hearths. A local guide told us that water was taken from the river for the bath because there was no other source.
Visiting Shishman´s bath is completely free and I recommend that you take a few minutes to explore the place.
9. Samovodska Charshia Market
The famous Samovodska Charshia market consists of two streets with shops, where you can find small shops where local craftsmen sell their goods. The Alley of Crafts was established in the 19th century in order to preserve the old folk crafts and traditions.
The complex includes restored houses from the Revival and Post-liberation period from the second half of the 19th century, as well as active craft shops - pottery, tannery, confectionery and weaving.
10. The house with the monkey – work of master Kolyu Ficheto
The house with the monkey was built in 1849 by Kolyu Ficheto and has become an emblematic landmark for Veliko Tarnovo.
Its name comes from a sculpture of a monkey placed on its facade. Today the house is an architectural monument and museum. You cant miss it, because it is located in the city center, at the very beginning of the Samovodska Charshia Market.
11. Gurko Street
Gurko Street is one of the main streets of the old town in Tarnovo, which manages to leave every visitor breathless. With the beautiful houses, spreaded across the hills, Gurko Street has sealed the look and spirit of Veliko Tarnovo in a unique way.
This is one of the most photogenic places in the town, and having a walk along it is a must for every visitor.
Churches in Veliko Tarnovo
12. Nativity of Virgin Mary Orthodox Cathedral
The Cathedral is one of the most beautiful and impressive buildings in Veliko Tarnovo, and it was built during 1933 - 1934. The current church is build on top of an old one, which was the work of master Kolyu Ficheto from 1842 to 1844, but was unfortunately destroyed by an earthquake in 1913.
You will notice that with almost every single church in Veliko Tarnovo there is one turning point mentioned, namely the earthquake that occurred in 1913. This earthquake is the reason for great destruction in the city, as many of the churches then collapsed.
Among the frescoes in the cathedral you can see several ones with historic scenes - the baptism of the Bulgarian people, the sending of St. Patriarch Euthymius into exile and the Tarnovo Literary School of Theodosius of Tarnov.
13. Church of St. Peter and Paul
The church is located at the foot of Tsarevets Hill, in the northern part. It was built in the 1930s.
During the earthquake in 1913 the church was destroyed and in 1981 it was rebuilt, based on the original photos and paintings. Its extremely interesting and impressive murals and the architecture make it one of the most remarkable Bulgarian medieval monuments.
14. “Holy Forty Martyrs” Church
Holy Forty Martyrs Church is located not far away from the Church of St. Peter and Paul.
In the church you can find some of the most significant written monuments for Bulgaria. It is also believed that the kings of Tarnovo were buried here.
15. “St. Demetrius” Church
The church is located on the right coast of the Yantra river and it is one of the oldest medieval churches in Veliko Tarnovo. It is associated with the declaration of the uprising in 1185 against the Byzantine rule under the leadership of the boyars Peter and Assen. This is where the first rulers of the Assen Dynasty - Peter, Assen and Kaloyan, were crowned.
Museums in Veliko Tarnovo
16. Museum of Illusions
In 2020 in Veliko Tarnovo the museum of illusions opened - a place where science meets entertainment.
Here young and old can have fun thanks to the dozens of physical and optical illusions, to take unreal photos such as being in a room with the head upside down or with a giant chair, next to which a human looks tiny.
17. Multimedia Visitors Centre “Tsarevgrad Tarnov”
Multimedia Visitors Centre Tsarevgrad Tarnov, known as the museum of the wax figures, is located near the Tsarevets fortress.Here you can discover the history of Veliko Tarnovo through sculptures and murals of important figures from the Second Bulgarian Kingdom.
Ticket for adults - 10 BGN.
Tickets for students and retirees - 5 BGN.
18. Archaeological Museum of Veliko Tarnovo
Another place, where you can dive into the history of the old capital, is the Archaeological Museum.
Here you will find ceramics, weapons, jewelry, coins and all sorts of findings from local excavations.
19. Revival and Constituent Assembly Museum – The building of the first National Assembly
The museum is located in the building of Konaka and was built in 1872 by master Kolyu Ficheto.
Here you can get in touch with all sorts of pieces from the history of Tarnovo - from its economical development through the Revival, up until the most important stages of the fights for national liberation of the population of this region during the era of the Ottoman rule.
On the last third floor is the hall in which the Constituent Assembly was held in Veliko Tarnovo in 1879 was restored, which laid the foundations for the development of modern Bulgaria.
20. House – museum of Emilian Stanev
Near the Samovodska Charshia market was the birth house of the famous bulgarian writer Emilian Stanev. A museum dedicated to the great master of the word has been built in its place today. Personal items of the writer can be seen here, including his Remington typewriter on which he wrote all his works.
21. Sarafkina house (Museum of Urban life)
Sarafkina house is located near Gurko street and it was built during 1861 with the aim to become both a living and working place for Dimo Sarafina.
Today the house is transformed into a museum, which houses impressive collections of pottery, icons and iconostasis, carved chests, musical instruments as well as handmade fabrics, tablecloths, towels and much more.
Monuments in Veliko Tarnovo
22. The Asenevtsi Monument
The monument Asenevtsi, known among the locals as the Horses, was built in 1985 and has become one of the emblems of Veliko Tarnovo.
It is dedicated to the Kings Asen, Peter, Kaloyan and Ivan Asen II and it resembles four kings on horses, placed around a giant sword, which symbolizes the power and rise of medieval Bulgaria.
23. Monument “Mother Bulgaria”
The monument Mother Bulgaria is another famous monument in Veliko Tarnovo. It is located in the centre of the town and it is dedicated to the warriors that have died in these five wars: Russian-Ottoman (1877 - 1878), Serbian - Bulgarian (1885), Balkan (First and Second 1912 - 1913) and the First World War.
The monument was unveiled on May 6th 1935 and was built with funds donated by the local population of Veliko Tarnovo.
24. The monument of Emilian Stanev
The monument is located in front of the house-museum of Emilian Stanev and it was built in honor of the Bulgarian writer born and raised in Veliko Tarnovo.
25. The monument of Stefan Stambolov
The monument of Stefan Stambolov is located in the beginning of the Samovodska Charshia Market and it was built in honor of the remarkable Bulgarian revolutionary, politician, writer and journalist Stefan Stambolov.
Where to eat in Veliko Tarnovo
Restaurants with a view
Restaurant Ego 1 - a lovely pizza and grill restaurant with a big terrace, offering a beautiful view over the river valley and Asenevtsi monument. The interior is very well-made and the food is much recommended.
Address: Nezavisimost 17, Veliko Tarnovo
Shtastlivetsa - located right next to Ego 1, Shtastlivetsa (The Happy Man) is a restaurant chain you can find in major Bulgarian cities. However, the very first restaurant Shtastlivetsa is located right here, in Veliko Tarnovo. Its an interesting, a bit more pricey place, but the food is delicious. It also has a terrace with a view.
Address: Stefan Stambolov 79, Velik Tarnovo
In the busy season I recommend booking a table in advance for both restaurants.
Good coffee in Veliko Tarnovo
Stratilat - a place for nice coffee and desserts, located at the beginning of the famous Samovodska Charshia street.
Turkish coffee - right at the end of the Samovodska Charshia street you can try some traditional Turkish food and coffee on sand.
Good street food in Veliko Tarnovo
Porto Fresh - the best burgers in town
I recently discovered this place for coffee, bakery, fresh juices and burgers, which is located near the town market. It turned out that the place is new (since June 2021) and the burgers are the most delicious ones which you will find in town.
The relatively low prices, the friendly staff and the extremely tasty food are the reasons why visiting Porto Fresh turned into a tradition, every time, when I am in Veliko Tarnovo. I suggest you try it at least once.
For travelling in Bulgaria, I highly recommend renting a car so you are able to visit as many places as possible without being dependent on buses and trains. One of the biggest and most reliable car rental companies is Top Rent a Car. Ive used their services and was very happy with them, so I can definitely recommend them. Click here to discover car rental options.
You can find the best accommodation options at Booking. They have many discounts and excellent customer service. Click here to look for a place to stay in Veliko Tarnovo.
Organized tours can spare you the hassle of planning the full trip by yourself. You can find a great selection of tours at Get Your Guide - click here.
Make sure to have the offline map always installed on your phone, as they can save you so many troubles. I always use the free app Maps.Me.
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