Traveling to Bulgaria and not visiting Veliko Tarnovo would be a big miss. This is one of Bulgaria’s main destinations both for tourists as it is for locals, and the bustling heartbeat of this village surely shows it. I cannot recall being in a more vibrant “small” village as Veliko Tarnovo. Not only is this a major cultural point of interest but it is also one of Bulgaria’s top university towns.
Arriving in Veliko Tarnovo
Let me save you a lot of headaches, do not come here by car. Veliko Tarnovo is a lot of things, but it certainly is not the biggest car welcoming town in the country. In addition to that, the only time I did see the police, was patrolling the streets for incorrectly parked cars, issuing fines, and clamping cars. Best way to reach this town is by bus or train. Most buses will leave you in or near the center of town, which should make for a short walk to your arranged accommodation. If you come here by train, keep in mind the train station is quite a distance from the center of town. You could walk it, but if you are coming with luggage, perhaps that is not the best way of starting your Veliko Tarnovo experience. Walk out the main door of the station to the first street crossing, and take bus #5. The bus takes about 10 – 15 minutes before dropping you on the main road. From here you can walk to the center of town in about 3 – 5 minutes.
Eating – Cafes and Restaurants
Most arrivals to Veliko Tarnovo will either be coming in via Sofia, which is a 5-6 hour train ride, or from Varna, which is a 4 – 5 hour trip. Regardless of, you will certainly have built up an appetite by the time you offload your bags.
If you want to go for the best meal in town right away, I found the menu at Shtastliveca Restaurant the most complete from all the places I visited. Their menu covers every meat, fish, chicken, pork, pasta, and vegetarian dishes the region has to offer. I went for the pork knuckle which was superb.
An honorable mention to their pizzas though, to the untrained eye, they might look like ordinary pizzas, but they offer a whole wheat pizza which was a real surprise. Considering most whole wheat pizzas taste like cheese dumped on toasted cardboard, this was truly not the case; it actually tasted like a proper pizza.
But if you are looking for the best pizza in town, look no further than next door at the Ego Pizza and Grill. They have a wonderful terrace, but inside they get old school and have the pizza maker in display as he makes every pizza by hand. I’m a sucker for this stuff.
If you arrived early and are looking for something more along the lines of a breakfast menu head over to Stratilat, where you can order a whole array of omelets, including their very particular version of English breakfast – which is mighty good!
If I may add, they serve a killer Latte, and the view, is one of the best in town.
This is the main attraction, and deservedly so. This is a massive fortress spanning a full mountain top with impressive structures at every corner. Make sure you bring good shoes as some parts of the fortress will require to bring out the mountain goat in you.
There is history in every corner, more than 350 homes, and more than 15 churches, but by far the most impressive is the Ascension Cathedral at the top of the hill. It’s the tallest and highest structure, you can’t miss it. Completely renovated, this wonderful cathedral will completely take you breath away with it’s magnificent art. There are some faint but very audible chants playing in the background that enhance the whole experience. Certainly take your time to soak it all in, it’s a magical experience.
Walk around the complex, there are many interesting artifacts and structures for you to marvel at. Some including the towering bells, the execution rock, and some amazing views of the valley that you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the city.
Saint George’s Chapel
When heading out of Tsarevets Fortress, a short 5 minute walk will take you to Saint George’s Chapel. A cute church that fits perfectly with your stroll back into town.
Murals with a view
As you continue with your walk towards the main road, stop an enjoy the huge murals which also provide some stunning views of the valley.
Walk towards the center of Veliko Tarnovo
This is such a picturesque city that an ordinary walk to the center of town can provide you with innumerable photo clicking opportunities. These were some of my favorite spots:
Time for a drink, don’t you think?
By now, you should be somewhere near the center of town. You deserve a refreshment, or ten 🙂
All three of the aforementioned venues (Shtastliveca, Ego Pizza & Grill, Stratilat) follow the Bulgarian tradition of dubbing as bars and pubs when the night falls, but if you are looking for different sort of vibe, in a different part of town, head towards the center of town to the Geronimo bar. It’s kind of hard to miss, as this is the only bar with a golden statue in front of its doors.
Where to stay in Veliko Tarnovo
For a small mountain town, Veliko Tarnovo sure has a lot of accommodation options. You will have your pick of hotels, motels, and pensions, especially during the off season when the massive tourist hoards have gone back home. Try and find accommodation inside or near the red circles, this will give you the best location to explore the town comfortably.
If you can find a spot the Rooster Hostel is one of the most beautiful hostels I have ever stayed in.
That you will find plenty of wonderful options in this town, I have no doubt, but finding one that gives you the feeling that you are genuinely staying in a rustic traditional Bulgarian mountain home is quite a special treat.
You can also try the Hikers Hostel and the Hostel Mostel if you are keen on staying in a hostel environment. If you are looking for something more upscale you can try the Hotel Kiev, Hotel Anhea, and Hotel Comfort.
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