After traveling to multiple other cities in Bulgaria, we were very excited about Veliko Tarnovo based on the reactions of people we told we planned a visit. We were not disappointed! The city is extraordinarily picturesque, easily accessible, and friendly. We should note that a visit at the end of shoulder season did result in more closed museums, hotels, and restaurants that we’d prefer, but it was wonderful to visit without the crowds!
We technically arrived in the early evening on a travel day from Sozopol via Burgas on buses. The four hour drive to the mountains was delightful!
We arrived at the West Bus Station, which is too far to walk to center city. We planned to take the 110 bus into town, but couldn’t figure out where it picked up due to lack of English fluency from local workers and missed it. Luckily, there was a taxi there to take us to our guest house!
Our hostess at the Tsaravets Residence was INCREDIBLE! She met us outside and immediately provided helpful information about the town and what to visit. Most delightful was the room and breakfast nook with stunning sweeping views of the town’s two fortresses!
That evening, we ate traditional Romanian fare at the recommended Hadji Nikolai Inn!
On our first official day, we woke to a delicious prepared meal from our hostess in our breakfast nook with sunrise over the Tsaravets Fortress.
Next, we headed out into the now lit town by first walking along Gurko Street, a medieval pathway notable for it’s crags and difficult passage. However, we were surprised because they have recently repaved the street so it’s flat as can be! It still provides good views though of the Yantra River and Monument Asenevtsi.
Next, we passed by the Monument of Mother Bulgaria, dedicated to the country’s soldiers during various wars over the years, including the Russo-Turkish 1877-1878, Serbo-Bulgarian 1885, Balkan, and WWI.
From there, we headed east towards the city center to explore the town’s Ethnographic Complex, which should have been a collection of vendors selling their handmade wares on the streets. However, it was a little too off season for vendors to be out and about. Yet, we enjoyed walking around the quaint tiny stone streets up and up and up, until we had spectacular views of the city.
We stumbled into the Sveta Nickola Church, which was technically closed, but we tried speaking to the caretaker in very poor Bulgarian and she took pity on us and opened it! No pictures allowed inside, but it was very lovely!
Our guest house was located in the exact city center, so we stopped in for a phone charge and lunch break before heading on to the town’s most notable feature: the Tsarevets Fortress! The fortification has existed since time immemorial, but the medieval fortress was predominantly developed during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1393), after the Bulgarians were able to fight off the ruling Byzantines but before Ottoman occupation. Interestingly, the Ottomans destroyed most of the fortress, but it was renovated by the Communists!
The fortress features the Ascension Cathedral, rebuilt in the 1970s-80s with surprisingly modern communist murals inside!
After the fortress, we headed down towards the river to visit the Holy Forty Martyrs Church, another ancient and historically important landmark for the Second Bulgarian Empire, built by Tsar Asen II to commemorate a battle victory.
After so much up and down walking, we were ready for dinner, so we returned to the Hadji Nikolai Inn, one of the only restaurants open this time of year, for more traditional Bulgarian fare!
On our second day, we woke to another delicious Bulgarian breakfast produced by our wonderful hostess with another beautiful sunrise!
After fueling up, we headed out for a bit of hiking! We took Gorko Street around the river bend to a pedestrian bridge for a better view of the Monument Asenevtsi.
From there, we took the stairs up Sveta Gora Hill (485 steps to be exact!) The steps were worth it for the views!
After our hike up, we had to find a way down! We went through the park at the top and down a trail to the local university and through the Turkish part of town.
At the bottom, we stopped for a bit of lunch at what seemed to be a favorite among university students. Nearby, we had planned to visit the Contemporary History Museum, but sadly found it was closed for renovations.
After our respite, we were ready for a bit more walking and traveled back down towards the river to explore the final of the three hills of Veliko Tarnovo: Trapezitsa! The Trapezitsa Fortress has only recently opened to tourists and still seems to be in development, but there are both a walking trail and funicular available to the top. It’s a little difficult to find, but just ask for directions and you’ll be fine!
We had organized a night pickup by a driver through Daytrip.com to Bucharest, so spent our remaining hours enjoying wine at our new favorite tavern The Hipster and charging our devices while we waited for pickup from our guest house!