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  • Writer's pictureTania Andreea

How to spend a day in Veliko Tarnovo

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

HOW TO SPEND A DAY OR A WEEKEND IN VELIKO TARNOVO, BULGARIA


I fondly remember my first trip out of the country. It was going to be part of an organized trip to Veliko Tarnovo, a town that impressed me at first glance. Even from the bus, we couldn't wait to get off and walk the cobbled streets and discover the city that was once considered the second Rome.


Now, in 2023, on my second visit to Veliko, I had the opportunity to see the city with different eyes. At least that's what I thought, that I would perceive it differently, after eight years in which I traveled to many other places and different countries. To my surprise, the city remained exactly as I had remembered it. Few things have changed, maybe a building has been renovated, here and there, and maybe there are not so many tourists, as there were back then.


Veliko Tarnovo, which translated means Great Tarnovo, was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. It was the residence of the nobility from 1185 until 1393, when it was conquered by the Byzantine Empire. Nowadays, this place is one of the most visited cities in Bulgaria.


The city is built on three hills, offering the streets different levels, but also spectacular views. From place to place there is a belvedere point, where you can admire the valleys and the hills on which houses are built in traditional Bulgarian style.


HOW TO GET TO VELIKO TARNOVO


Veliko is located at a distance of 110 km from the border with Romania and approximately 180 km from Bucharest. The easiest way to get there is either with a personal car or as part of an organized excursion.


The journey takes 2 and a half hours from Bucharest, without taking into account the time spent in customs at Giurgiu, which can be between 5 minutes, or even hours, if it is the season to travel to Greece or Turkey.


In order to drive in Bulgaria, it is necessary to buy the Bulgarian vignette, which I recommend to buy right after passport control, at customs. They are both automatic, which are very easy to use and where you can only pay by card, as well as classic counters.


It is also good to know that there are many police filters on the road, with both speed and vignette radars, especially in areas with a limit below 90, so avoid exceeding the legal speed limit if you do not want a fine.


To book your seat in an organized excursion departing from Bucharest, go on this link, or this one.


THINGS TO DO IN VELIKO TARNOVO


Tsarevets Fortress


A visit to Veliko Tarnovo cannot but begin with exploring the Tsarevets Fortress. The history of this place starts from the 4th century. Evidence was found attesting that this place was inhabited since that period, which was a prosperous and flourishing one, and this place was considered the second Rome. In 1185, the Tsarevets Fortress was built, which was like a small town, with fortified walls. It lasted until 1393, when it was burned to the ground by the Turks. The destruction of the small fortress coincided with the disintegration of the second Bulgarian Empire.


the view over veliko tarnovo from tsrevets fortress

Nowadays, the complex looks like a park, where you can enjoy a walk in nature and admire the greatness of the walls, which can still be seen. The main tourist point is represented by the church located at the top of the hill. It was built quite recently, in 1978, in place of a former church. The paintings inside led to a wave of criticism from representatives of the Bulgarian church, who considered them blasphemy. Because of this aspect, the church was never consecrated. However, it gathers a lot of curious tourists, come to see the paintings and decide for them, if they really deserve to be sanctified or not.


the paintings from tsarevets monastery in veliko tarnovo bulgaria

The entrance costs 10 leva per person, and tickets can be purchased from the ticket office located right in front of the entrance turnstiles.


the church from tsarevets hill in veliko tarnovo bulgaria

After visiting Tsarevets Fortress, you must take a walk on the streets of the small town, because what would a visit be without exploring on foot? So, take comfortable shoes and let's explore.


On our way, on the street that connects the Tsarevets Fortress with the rest of the city, we see several restaurants, churches, old buildings and souvenir shops. Although on the internet I found many recommendations with interesting street in Veliko, the one I liked the most was in the area of ​​Rezervoarska street.


On some side walls of the tall buildings in the city you can admire paintings from the same theme as the monastery on Tsarevets Hill. From place to place there is a viewpoint over the city or the hills that surround it.


historical street in veliko tarnovo bulgaria

The monasteries and churches of Veliko Tarnovo


In Veliko there are many churches and monasteries that you can visit, which do not stand out compared to the rest of the buildings, most of them being in a very bad shape and unkempt, but nevertheless, very beautiful. Among all, two such buildings caught my attention: that of the Nativity of the Mother of God Cathedral and that of the Holy Martyrs Monastery.


The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God is one of the largest Orthodox churches I have seen. Its construction lasted 6 years, from 1842 to 1848, and in 1913 it was destroyed by an earthquake. It was rebuilt in 1934. Entrance is free.


The Monastery of the Holy 40 Martyrs is located on the left side of the Tsarevets fortress, near the river bed, so you will have to descend a little. There is also a parking lot next to this church, which is currently free. The church was renovated quite recently and has a well-kept garden. The entrance is paid and costs around 3 leva/person.


monasteries in veliko tarnovo

Trapezitsa Fortress, located a little outside the city and which can be reached by a funicular. Nowadays, one can only admire the ruins of what was once an inhabited fortress for more than 200 years. And this, like the Tsarevets Fortress, was destroyed by the Ottomans.


trapezitsa fortress in veliko tarnovo

The monument of Assen Dynasty, built to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the Second Bulgarian Empire, in 1985. The main attraction is not the monument itself, but the view over the city from there.


If you have more time available to explore this place in more detail, it is good to know that there are many museums and art galleries in Veliko. Among others, you can visit: the Museum of History, the Ethnographic Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Literature, the Museum of Wax Figures.


art gallery in veliko tarnovo


WHERE TO STAY AND WHERE TO EAT


As accommodation options, you have quite a varied range. I recommend that you also consider Arbanassi as an accommodation location. It is a town located on a top of a hill, which I recommend you put on the list to visit at least, if you do not choose it to stay. On Booking there is a varied range of hotels with swimming pools and terraces with panoramic views. Below I leave some of the places that seemed more interesting to me, with a link to each:


- Park Hotel Asenevtsi - hotel in Veliko Tarnovo, with spacious rooms, swimming pool, spa area and internet included in the price;

- Villa Arbanashki Han - accommodation unit in Arbanassi, with outdoor pool, private bathroom and free parking;

- The Four Houses - accommodation unit in Kostenkovtsi, with swimming pool, barbecue, kitchen, parking and internet included in the price. Accommodation is in individual cottages, decorated in traditional Bulgarian style, which can host from 2 to 6 people.


As dining options, apart from the recommendations from Trip Advisor, I personally tried two locations. Both have in common the fact that you have to wait quite a long time for food, and I want to mention this especially for people who come to this city just for a day, because it can take away from the time you have available for exploring. The two restaurants:


- The Green Restaurant, located right next to the Tsarevets Fortress, which did not satisfy me either in terms of food or service. Besides the fact that we wasted a few hours there, the food had no taste, the waitress did not write down our order and did not bring us everything we ordered.


- Ego Pizza and Grill, where the food was good, nothing out of the ordinary, but tasty. For some types of food, you have to wait more than an hour, so choose something that is easy to make, if you don't want to spend the day there.


CONCLUSION:


Veliko Tarnovo is not a city of extraordinary beauty, but I really liked it. I am aware that there would still be a lot of work to do with the appearance of certain buildings, which are quite degraded. If you either choose to visit it as a day trip, or to spend more time in the area, I am sure you will have a great time.


Read about other places to visit in Bulgaria.


You can watch my visit to Veliko Tarnovo on my YouTube channel





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