Over one million tourists visit Veliko Tarnovo each year. This places Bulgaria’s former capital first in the ranking of most visited tourist sites in Bulgaria. The town is full of life all year round. The cultural calendar in this town is always full of events . You can attend all sorts of exhibitions, festivals, theater plays, international conferences, youth open-air happenings, etc. The temptations for all art fans are endless! Let alone the tourists who struggle to see at least part of the local cultural and historical landmarks! No wonder cultural tourism is among the top priorities of the local administration
In the summer time the old part of the town is full of foreigners mainly. During big holidays it is almost impossible to book a hotel room and guests usually make bookings in nearby places.
8 best things to do in Veliko Tarnovo
1. Visit Tsarevets hill with its medieval fortress
The Tsarevets Hill and its Medieval Fortress is the most impressive sight in Veliko Tarnovo. Between 1185 and 1393 it served as the Second Bulgarian Empire’s primary fortress and used to house the royal and the patriarchal palaces. The whole stronghold is girdled by thick walls reaching up to 3.6 meters and was served by three gates. Excavations have uncovered the foundations of 470 residential buildings, and inn, aristocratic homes, 23 temples and 4 city monasteries.
The Tsarevets Hill is crowned by the beautiful building of the Patriarchate, reconstructed in 1981. Its scale and architecture are impressive, with striking iconography depicting the rise and fall of the Second Bulgarian Empire. An amusement train which takes tourists across the town’s landmarks is among the latest attractions of Veliko Tarnovo. The train takes tourists even to the foot of Tsarevets Hill.
Nowadays the fortress hosts spectacular cultural events, medieval festivals and grandiose opera performances!
2. Enjoy the unique Sound and Light Show
If you are in the town of Veliko Tarnovo in a hot summer night you ’d most probably witness the most spectacular sound and light show. There are light effects, bell toll, fireworks and captivating music. This is the audio-visual show entitled “Sound and Light” that has been bringing life to the medieval fortress of Tsarevets for decades. This show has turned Tsarevets into the tourist logo of the town.
Going to Veliko Tirnovo and not attending this show is like going to Rome and not seeing the Pope. The idea is to revive the rich history of Tzarévetz through music and musical effects. The mega audiovisual show is among the major attractions in town.
3. Along the cosy Gurko Street
In order to feel the spirit of Bulgaria’s old capital though, you need to stay there longer. Take a walk along Gurko Street which is one of the most emblematic spots of Veliko Tarnovo.
Its old houses, pubs and small hotels are hugging closely together. Visitors can enjoy there the pleasant view over the town spreading along the Valley of Yantra River. Its old houses are nestled on top of each other.
In the past, people used to joke that it was only here that their chickens were raised on the neighbor’s roof. The terrain is so steep that you never know how many floors a house has. For example you enter a small one storey building and it turns out that there are still 2 or 3 floors on the slope. And all the houses face the beautiful curves of the Yantra river!
4. The Samovodska Market – a must see
Find at least one spare morning to visit the Samovodska Market ( Samovodska Charshia ) and its neat streets. In fact you may see almost all traditional Bulgarian arts and trades there. Samovodska is appreciated for the charming artisans boutiques and its souvenir shops.
You have to visit by all means the sweet house and buy a local coffee, a Turkish syrup-soaked shredded sweet, Turkish delight on a stick and even a syrup-soaked sponge cake.
5. Veliko Tarnovo is a Bulgarian history textbook
with its many museums, churches, architectural monuments, etc. It is not possible to visit them all in one or two days. But you could at least try to see the main sites. Drop at the Museum of Ethnography, the Historical Museum or at the Prison where the Bulgarian rebels were tortured by the Turks. You can also visit there the building of the first Bulgarian National Assembly.
Don’t miss the Museum of the Wax Figures
Medieval rulers, boyars, ordinary people and craftsmen from the Second Bulgarian Kingdom stand looking alive there. You will have the opportunity to “meet” emblematic personalities of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185–1396) … or rather their life-size sculptures.
In fact, they are so real, so alive that you have the feeling that they are following you with their vivid eyes. The twenty-eight figures inspire respect and admiration – among them there are ordinary people and artisans. These sculptures are part of a series of reconstructions of historical events and everyday scenes. They are true works of art that take us on a journey through history .
Entrance ticket fees to museums:
6 BGN (or 3 euro) for adults and 2 BGN (1 euro) for retirees and students.
Family ticket / with children under 18 / – BGN 6
Combined tickets for 10 museum – 20 BGN (10 euro)
Family combined ticket – 30 BGN (15 euro)
Please note: Every last Thursday of the month, the entry to the Veliko Tarnovo museums is FREE !!
6. Wine and Gourmet at Veliko Tarnovo
As descendants of former aristocracy of Tsarevets, the local people are definitely able to appreciate the good life and the quality of the wine. Samovodska Charshia organizes tastings of Bulgarian and foreign wines. Local agencies also organize wine tours and degustations at nearby wineries. In fact, in the region of Veliko Tarnovo the production of wine has ancient traditions.
Let’s not forget that the culture of wine goes hand in hand with gourmet emotions. Veliko Tarnovo is a renowned culinary destination. The city attracts gourmets and cordons bleu from all over the world. There you may find a multitude of local taverns and restaurants with generous and sought-after menus. I recommend: Le Tihiat kat, Malkiat Inter, Khan Hadji Nicoli, Shtastlivetsa etc…
7. Relish the old-time coziness of local hotels
No matter how well you think you know this town, you will always be surprised by something new and different. Starting from the numerous churches which can be visited in one whole weekend. And what about the local restaurants and the hotels which compete with each other to offer all types of services.
Hotels, hostels, guesthouses, studios, apartments for rent, and even a camping at the entrance to the city… There are many options for staying in the former Bulgarian capital! I have been to Veliko Tarnovo several times and I have always been satisfied with the hotels.
During the Ottoman occupation the building served as a refuge to shelter the great Bulgarian revolutionary Vasil Levski. The so-called Apostle of Freedom used to hide in a special cellar. It was provided with a escape- tunnel leading to the banks of Iantra River.
In Veliko Tarnovo ‘s city center you may find many pleasant places immersed in history. Besides – Hotel rooms are almost always equipped with free Wi-Fi.
8. Nicopolis Ad Istrum Roman Town – a walk into history
The guests of Bulgaria’s old capital can visit the remains of the ancient Nicopolis Ad Istrum Roman some 25 kilometers away from the town.
It was founded in the 2nd century AD by the Roman emperor Trajan (reign period 98-117). Nikopolis ad Istrum was home to communities of different religions and minted its own currencies.
Nowadays you can see the ruins of the ancient city. Among them – those of a cannonade, a small theater, public buildings and shops. As well as the remains of the thermal baths. They used to have underfloor heating, which also worked in other buildings in the city. On National Holidays you can witness re-enactments of the famous legionary fights and medieval crafts.
The City Council plans to build an alley along the Yantra River, a beach and a park on its banks. And why not launch small pleasure boats there like the Paris riverboats?
Veliko Tarnovo is a city full of surprises! ❤️