Bulgaria is a country overflowing with delightful old towns, sublime countryside, delicious cuisine, quality wine, modern cafes and vibrant nightlife.
The third destination on our Bulgarian tour, the words “medieval city” in our Lonely Planet guide-book inspired us to visit Veliko Tarnovo.
Twenty years ago when Tourista Sister visited Sofia, Bulgaria, she could never have imagined a medieval city. All she saw were blocks of communist-era buildings and a dull landscape. But trust us this medieval city has been here for longer than twenty years. We are suckers for a church, historic building, an old town, but a medieval city is a “Do Not Miss!” no matter where the path takes us!
Train trip through Bulgaria
It was a long 6-hour train that crossed the centre of Bulgaria and gave us a glimpse into rural Bulgaria. We saw small quaint villages and a few bustling towns. We also saw many abandoned villages and dirty, decrepit towns. It was an entertaining trip, as we feel like we got to see the real Bulgaria. We feel as if we had a sneak peek into the lives of Bulgarian people.
As it was a weekday, the train was not crowded. We had a 6 person closed cabin all to ourselves. This felt like first class in the Western countries we’d caught the train in. We love long train trips, and we had a relaxing time. Towards the end of the 6-hour journey, we had a sleep across three seats each.
Finding our room with a view
The train trip ended in darkness in a small railway station with nothing open. However, there was a mass of students who spoke quite good English returning from their weekend away. Thus, we followed them to the bus stop. There were lively animated conversations about the weekend. And we found many students had been away in Sofia. The bus which finally came took us right into the town centre.
We were most impressed with the quality hotel. For $23 a night we had our own en suite studio apartment right in the main street of the old town. We likewise found the standard of accommodation in Bulgaria of high quality at a budget price. We definitely love that!
Veliko Tarnovo the prettiest old town
Veliko Tarnovo is one of the prettiest old towns we’ve seen in Eastern Europe. It is even better due to the lack of reconstruction. The dilapidation gives it a feeling of authenticity. Many of the buildings are from the 1700s. The churches in the area stand majestically above the landscape complimenting the view of the ancient fortress.
It is an awe-inspiring excursion to Tsarevets Fortress. We hiked from the city centre through the old town. We visited grandiose churches, and we loved the impressive architecture of the revival buildings. You can see it all in a day. But if you are fond of hiking, there are many satisfying hikes in the area to keep you occupied for days.
Or just have a laid-back day and join the Cafe Society. Which us slow-travel experts just love to do. Some of the cafes have views of the town and the valley. We loved having meals with a panorama of the fortress. Our highlight is dining out in the quality restaurants, followed by music in one of the student clubs in the area. The prices of meals are delightfully low-cost and of exceptional quality. The drinks are among the most inexpensive in Europe.
Winter snow in Veliko Tarnovo
We’d toured the local town and were contemplating day trips in the surrounding areas when it suddenly started snowing. In our home town of Sydney, Australia, snow is a rare thing. We were like little children who had never seen snow. We were so excited and happy to spend the day walking around the old town with the snow falling on our faces. Everything that was beautiful became sensational. We missed our day trip to the nearby local attractions as the weather became wild and we evacuated to another destination. But snow in Bulgaria, this is a life long memory we will always remember and cherish.
And that’s what travel is about. Sometimes it’s just about the little things, these snatched moments, and the life long memories.
Our Highlights in Veliko Tarnovo
This is one of our highlights in Bulgaria. One of Europe’s grandest medieval monuments this complex dates back to the 12th century. Three thousand feet of stone walls enclose the massive complex. In some areas, they are 4 metres high. It is a fun day trip to walk from the old town to the fortress. Spending a few hours exploring the ruins of houses, churches and the royal palace will be one of the highlights of your trip To Veliko Tarnovo.
Built to honour the Asen Tsars, the monument is massive. The imposing sculpture is perfectly placed and seen from anywhere in the city. It is a pleasant walk along the Yantra River and across the Stambolov Bridge to view the grandiose monument up close. The views from there to the old town are fabulous.
Samovodska Charshiya Complex
The charming historic town was once a busy trade centre for artisans and farmers. We loved wandering around on the cobblestone paving and exploring the shops, pretty buildings and quaint streets. Though many of the traditional houses are in urgent need of restoration, we loved the authenticity. And, a bonus on our exploratory walks was finding the cool street art scattered throughout the town.
Drink in Veliko Tarnovo
If you love drinking and partying, Veliko Tarnovo is a great place to indulge. The drinks are as cheap as drinks can get in Europe. One of our favourite bars is Cafe Joy Happiness. The quirky decor, the groovy dance music and the vibrant crowd make it a hit with the locals.
Food in Veliko Tarnovo
To sample different cuisine and delicious food is one of the reasons we travel. The food in Veliko Tarnovo is absolutely delightful. Every restaurant we ate at offered tasty food. Many offer stunning views of the town and river views from the top of the hill.
But Restaurant Shtastliveca ranked one of the best restaurants on TripAdvisor, so we had to go. It is a franchise that is now in several locations. The old town restaurant has panoramic views across the town. The city centre location has luxurious vintage decor. They both serve traditional Bulgarian meals, as well as Western food and the quality, choice and price were outstanding. We can see why they are No. 1 on TripAdvisor. Some of our favourites include the mixed grilled meats with Shopska salad, fried cheese and fried aubergine. We also found the Italian meals to be as delicious as in the best restaurants in Italy.
Shopping in Veliko Tarnovo
There are captivating souvenirs to buy such as painted icons, pottery, folklore art and crafts and Bulgarian rose oil.
The rose is the national symbol, and Bulgaria is one of the worlds largest rose oil producers. There are perfumes, soaps, candles, and creams made with the prized oil. We love it so much; we bought 20 vials of rose oil. Unfortunately, we ended up giving most of them away to family and friends.
Looks like we’re going to have to make another trip back to Bulgaria to pick up some more. We won’t wait twenty years this time. Bulgaria is now towards the top of the list of our favourite Eastern European destinations!
Next time in Bulgaria we would go to:-
As we had not been expecting to love Bulgaria as much as we did, we didn’t allow time to explore. It would be great to hire a rental car and drive through the country stopping to visit hot springs, rivers, monasteries, ancient ruins and mountains. Also, we would have gone to the beaches if winter hadn’t set in.