A walk through history: The most important places to see in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

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We walk along the cozy street General Gurko in Veliko Tarnovo, which is not the most touristy part of the town but is among the ones with best preserved authentic style. Meanwhile, I found some old issues of an American magazine, dating back to the last century, with information about Bulgaria. In these papers Veliko Tarnovo is referred as Tirnova or Tirnovo. Indeed, some time ago the name of the city was only Tarnovo (from Tarnovgrad, as it was known in the middle ages). And I even think that in these papers I saw pictures of Gurko street.

In 1965 the name of the city was changed to Veliko Tarnovo (“Veliko” means “Great”) in honour of the glorious history of the city and its immense role in the history of Bulgaria. Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom in 12 – 14 century

So I built a romantic vision of the street we are walking along now. Earlier in the hotel we saw a small shelter in the basement that had probably been used by Bulgarian national hero Vasil Levski or his fellow revolutionaries. The house we are staying at is also located on Gurko street, overlooking Yantra river. The truth is that many houses on this street probably have stories about known and unknown revolutionaries, fighting for freedom in the 19th century.

Why we find Veliko Tarnovo so attractive?

While walking by the street, we try to find out why every time we are so passionate about coming to Veliko Tarnovo. The answer is related to some invisible power, a feeling that constantly pulls us to reveal many new details of the history and present times of Veliko Tarnovo and the Bulgarian state.

The old streets of Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
The old streets of Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

It is nice to walk both along the new and old streets and neighbourhoods of Veliko Tarnovo. Sometimes we drive up to the quieter and calmer picturesque village of Arbanassi. Besides the fact that the weather is cooler there and the air is fresher, from there we can enjoy the amazing view to the city of Veliko Tarnovo. Indeed, what attracts us the most is the feeling that we are on a very special historical place. And the important monuments of our history are on every step, in every breath of air.

Little Anna running along General Gurko street in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Little Anna running along General Gurko street in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

In this article we want to tell you about the things in Veliko Tarnovo that everyone should experience. If you prefer, call them attractions in Veliko Tarnovo. Or top places to see in Veliko Tarnovo. Or any other way if you like making must-visit lists. For us they are all amazing places. And we think you should visit them because you want to, not because you have to.

Tsarevets

With no doubt, the first place you should see when visiting Veliko Tarnovo for the first time is the Tsarevets hill and fortress. It was once the most important fortification of legendary Tarnovgrad – the capital of the Second Bulgarian state. The fortification stood unconquerable for centuries with its three rings of fortification walls and the man-made abyss just below the main entrance.

The beautiful hill Tsarevets in Veliko Tarnovo
The beautiful hill Tsarevets in Veliko Tarnovo
Tsarevets fortress on sunset
Tsarevets fortress on sunset

We have been to Tsarevets many times, but the last time we visited with a guide from the Regional Museum of History. We learned many unknown to us things about the hill and really enriched our knowledge about it. We have told about the amazing history around Tsarevets in a separate article . But here we briefly explain why it is among the must visit places in Veliko Tarnovo.

The entrance to Tsarevets fortress on sunset, Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
The entrance to Tsarevets fortress on sunset, Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Tsarevets nowadays

Nowadays on the hill you can see the remains of key building for the Second Bulgarian state. Among them are the palace of the rulers and the Patriarchal church. Indeed, the real buildings from those glorious times were destroyed after the fall under Ottoman rule and their remains were buried for the centuries to come. But still the contemporary restored look of Tsarevets speaks a lot about the history of Bulgaria.

Remains of residential and other building found on Tsarevets hill in Veliko Tarnovo
Remains of residential and other building found on Tsarevets hill in Veliko Tarnovo
A walk on Tsarevets, Veliko Tarnovo
A walk on Tsarevets, Veliko Tarnovo

One important thing is that you visit Tsarevets as earlier in the morning as possible, at least in the summer. We strongly advise you to hire a guide (from the same place where you buy tickets to the fortress). Moreover, do not miss entering the church on the top of the hill, despite there may be a crowd up there.

Trapezitsa

When you are standing on Tsarevets, you will notice the opposite hill with recently renovated fortification walls and many small buildings on it. This was the second most important fortress of the glorious Tarnovgrad – Trapezitsa. We have dedicated a separate article to Trapezitsa, because it is a relatively new tourist attraction, which is extremely interesting. We had a walk up there last year with three year-old Anna on a very hot day. So it is best to come here early in the morning, too.

Te southeastern tower and gate of Trapezitsa fortress, Veliko Tarnovo
Te southeastern tower and gate of Trapezitsa fortress, Veliko Tarnovo
The alleys of Trapezitsa
The alleys of Trapezitsa

For us it was extremely interesting to walk among the remains of many churches, in some of which we can even see preserved floor and wall decorations.

The entrance to Trapezitsa is on the northern side, in the Asenov quarter of Veliko Tarnovo and there are signs in the area. Also, any GPS like Google Maps would easily find the spot. If you prefer public transport, you can use buses 50 and 110 to Asenov quarter. You can climb on the hill by walking or by funicular (if it is in operation, depending on the weather).

The Sound and Light show

If you are lucky like us, you may be able to see the amazing Sound and Light show, which is usually projected only on public holidays or on private requests against a fee. However, almost every time we visit Veliko Tarnovo, we catch the show. The show tells the glorious story of the Second Bulgarian State and is projected in the night on Tsarevets hill. It is indeed a very emotional experience. The dramatic music, the ringing bells, the play of lights on the fortification walls on Tsarevets make us stay steady and quiet and go back through history. And this feeling does not disappear, no matter how many times you have watched it.

The Sound and Light show on Tsarevets hill, Veliko Tarnovo
The Sound and Light show on Tsarevets hill, Veliko Tarnovo
The Sound and Light show on Tsarevets hill
The Sound and Light show on Tsarevets hill

So, when you plan your visit to Veliko Tarnovo, check the schedule of the Sound and Light show and you may be lucky to watch it.

Museum of Bulgarian Revival and Constituent Assembly

The building of the Museum of Bulgarian Revival and Constituent Assembly is one of the most recognizable buildings in Veliko Tarnovo. For a long time it has been the most important building in the city – that of the former Turkish Konak – the building where the Turkish authorities were. It was built by famous Bulgarian builder Kolyo Ficheto in 1872.

The lobby of the former Turkish Konak in Veliko Tarnovo, now Museum of Bulgarian Revival and Constituent Assembly
The lobby of the former Turkish Konak in Veliko Tarnovo, now Museum of Bulgarian Revival and Constituent Assembly

After the Liberation of Bulgaria in this building was held the Constituent Assembly. Nowadays, on the upper floor of the museum, you can see the restored hall of the Constituent Assembly. This is the place where the First Bulgarian Constitution was worked out and signed in 1879.

The hall of the Constituent Assembly in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
The hall of the Constituent Assembly in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

One of the most important museums in Veliko Tarnovo

The exhibition in the museum is located on three floors and is very rich. On the lower floor we found incredible collection of icons and other religious relics. Some of them date back to the 16th century. In the other part of the hall there are exhibitions, dedicated to the economic development of Veliko Tarnovo during the Bulgarian Revival. Among them you can see very interesting pictures and artifacts related to the various crafts of those times. On the second floor the exhibition is dedicated to the Liberation wars and and the local efforts for the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule.

Part of the exhibition in the Museum of Bulgarian Revival and Constituent Assembly
Part of the exhibition in the Museum of Bulgarian Revival and Constituent Assembly

To be honest, we are not huge fans of museums. Of course, we completely agree that they are very important. But we have to admit that sometimes we find them boring. But the Museum of Bulgarian Revival and Constituent Assembly was enchanting with its richness and scale and we are very happy that we visited.

However, if you want to enjoy it to the maximum, you should allow enough time. Because the interesting things to see and read inside there are endless.

Museum of Prison

This is the only Museum of Prison in Bulgaria and we were lucky to be guided through it by Todorka Nedeva, one of the best specialists in history of Veliko Tarnovo. She had so many interesting stories to tell about it that we spent in the museum quite more time that we expected.

The entrance to the former prison in Veliko Tarnovo, now a museum
The entrance to the former prison in Veliko Tarnovo, now a museum

The former prison, nowadays a museum, is one of the few buildings in the town that have not changed their purpose. It was built and used for prison in the middle of 19th century. The building has three floors, two of which underground. There you can see restored cells, crankcases, torture halls.

Museum of Prison, Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Museum of Prison, Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

The prison after the Liberation

After the Liberation of Bulgaria (1878) the building kept functioning as prison until 1954. Later it was turned into a museum. So almost all the objects in the museum are authentic, including clothes of prisoners, means of entertainment and artworks made by prisoners.

Authentic cells in the Museum of Prison in Veliko Tarnovo
Authentic cells in the Museum of Prison in Veliko Tarnovo
Clothes of prisoners
Clothes of prisoners

This prison has hosted many Bulgarian revolutionaries. National hero Vasil Levski spent several nights there after his arrest before being transported to Sofia where he was executed in 1873.

The Samovodska Charshiya (Samovod Marketplace)

The Samovodska Charshiya (meaning Samovod Marketplace) is maybe the most popular street in Veliko Tarnovo among visitors. It attracts the tourists with its authentic spirit. It was formed as a streets of artisans and craftspeople in the 60s and 70s of the 19th century and has preserved its look since then.

The Samovodska Charshiya
The Samovodska Charshiya

Once there were several inns along the Samovod Market. Nowadays you can see the restored building and yard of the Han Hadzhi Nikoli, hosting a hotel and a restaurant. Even if you don’t stay there, you can go in and take a look. We like walking along the street, where you can find artisan foods, ice cream and other stuff.

Sarafkina’s house

On Gurko street you can find another attraction that we love visiting – the Sarafkina House. It was built in 1861 for home and office of wealthy merchant Dimo Sarafina. Later it was inherited by his wife Anastasia and somehow people remembered it as the Sarafkina’s House, meaning the house of the Sarafin’s wife.

The Sarafkins's house in Veliko Tarnovo
The Sarafkins’s house in Veliko Tarnovo

This house always amuses us with its scale. It has 5 levels on the side of the river and two levels on the side of the street, and also an incredible panoramic terrace. On the floors you can see exhibitions of various local crafts and artworks, typical furniture and decorations, etc.

The churches in Asenov quarter

Asenov quarter is the small neighbourhood between the hills Tsarevets and Trapezitsa. Once it was know as the New Town but nowadays it is the oldest quarter of Veliko Tarnovo,

The Holy 40 Martyrs church, located on the bank of Yantra river in Veliko Tarnovo
The Holy 40 Martyrs church, located on the bank of Yantra river in Veliko Tarnovo

In this quarter you can see some of the most important churches in Bulgarian history, including the Great Laurel monastery (Holy 40 Martyrs church), where are buried several Bulgarian rulers. The Saint Peter and Paul’s church is also very beautiful and interesting with its preserved frescoes. In the neighbourhood is located also the restored St. Demetrius church. It is a replica of the church where Bulgarian rulers Assen, Peter and Kaloyan were crowned.

The St. Peter and Paul church from the inside 2
The St. Peter and Paul church

If you like churches and want to learn more about the history of the Secind Bulgarian Kingdom, you can allow a few hours to spend in Asenov quarter and immerse yourself in the history. In this article we are telling more about this area of Veliko Tarnovo.

The view from the old part of Veliko Tarnovo – the Asenevtsi monument and Sveta Gora hill

We have been many times to Veliko Tarnovo but Maria recently understood the history behind the Asenevtsi monument – one of the most recognizable places in the city. Now we will tell you more about it.

The Asenevtsi monument seen from Gurko street
The Asenevtsi monument seen from Gurko street

From almost everywhere in the old part of Veliko Tarnovo you can see the Asenevtsi monument, standing high on the Boruna peninsula, at the foot of Sveta Gora hill. The monument is dedicated to the four rulers from Asenevtsi dynasty – Peter, Asen, Ivan Asen II and Kaloyan. Their statues surround a giant sword and pay respect to the glorious times of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. The monument is located at the foot of Sveta Gora hill, which was once a centre of the educational and cultural life.

Паметникът "Асеневци" и Художествената галерия във Велико Търново
Паметникът “Асеневци” и Художествената галерия във Велико Търново

Just behind the monument is the beautiful building of the Arts Gallery Boris Denev. Its construction dates back to the 1920s and it was initially meant to host an arts school. Later, the building hosted a police station but after 1985 it returned to its initial purpose and became home to the city arts gallery Boris Denev.

Mini Bulgaria

Mini Bulgaria is a popular place among tourists in Veliko Tarnovo but we have not visited it yet. It is a park with miniatures of important sights in Bulgaria. It is located just below Tsarvets hill, at its southern part. Here you can see replicas of the churches in Nessebar, Tsarevets itself, The Rila Monastery and others.

Park Mini Bulgaria in Veliko Tarnovo
Park Mini Bulgaria in Veliko Tarnovo

Nicopolis ad Istrum – the Roman jewel

In this article we may speak about separate historical or tourist places but the truth is that all of them are connected, despite dating to different times. Nicopolis ad Istrum stays a bit aside from the popular history of Veliko Tarnovo, which is mainly related to the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. However, just 20 km from Veliko Tarnovo stand the remains of the ancient Roman city that are uncovered and perfectly preserved to tell the story of another age. There we can walk along the stone streets, see the wonderful draining system and admire the huge square with its beautiful columns and parts of buildings, some of them 20 centuries old.

Nicopolis ad Istrum, an ancient Roman city in Bulgaria, roman city near Veliko Tarnovo
Nicopolis ad Istrum

For us visiting Nicopolis ad Istrum was like the feeling in legendary Pompeii in Italy. And despite the history beyond Tsarevets is related to another age, it seems that both places are connected. It is thought that after the fall of Nicopolis ad Istrum, local people moved to Tsarevets which provided better natural protection from barbarian raids. There is also a legend of a hidden treasure below the hill which you can find in our article about Tsarevets. But first read our article about Nicopolis ad Istrum, it is really a very interesting place.

A street in Nicopolis ad Istrum
A street in Nicopolis ad Istrum

Arbanassi

Sometimes, when we go to Veliko Tarnovo, but want to stay on a more quiet and romantic place, we stay in the nearby village of Arbanassi. It is only 3-4 km from the city but offer a very different feeling, especially on business days. You know, we love small towns and villages in Bulgaria, those with the cobblestone streets and old houses.

Arbanassi village
Arbanassi village
The church of St. Archangel Michail and Gabriel
The church of St. Archangel Michail and Gabriel in Arbanassi

Arbanassi looks just like this. Despite it is more like a tourist attraction than a regular village, it is still very nice. And the view from some higher parts of the village is stunning. Besides taking a pleasant walk in Arbanassi, you can also visit local attractions – several house-museums and old churches. You can discover them in the website of the Veliko Tarnovo Museum of History.

Where to stay in Veliko Tarnovo?

We have stayed at many different accommodations in Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanassi. Our latest discovery is the charming History Inn Guest Housea wonderful cozy place with perfect location on Gurko street, very close to all important attractions in Veliko Tarnovo. You can read more about it i our article about History Inn Guest House.

Adriana at History Inn Guest house hotel in Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria
Adriana at History Inn Guest house hotel in Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria

If you prefer even calmer place outside the city, Arbanassi is a wonderful idea. Last year we spent there three days with amazing views at Park Hotel Arbanassi, which is located on one of the highest points of the village, overlooking Tsarevets.

Luckily for all visitors, there are plenty of good places to stay in Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanassi – for every taste and budget. So just look through them on Booking and book the one that fits your needs best.

Booking.com

Where to eat in Veliko Tarnovo?

No trip is full if we have not tried at least one or two recommended local restaurants. For us the places to eat are also attractions. From our latest visits, here are the places that impressed us.

Restaurants in Veliko Tarnovo

Our latest discovery is Restaurant Asenevtsi, where we were surprised by the really good cuisine at really good prices. We spent there many hours, tried almost the whole menu and despite our company included two babies and another kid, we all felt very comfortable and cared for.

Duck Magret at Asenevtsi restaurant, Veliko Tarnovo
Duck Magret at Asenevtsi restaurant, Veliko Tarnovo

A very popular and even legendary restaurant in Veliko Tarnovo is Shtastlivetsa. It has become a symbol of Veliko Tarnovo and we still like it a lot. We usually visit the location in the old part of the city. If you want a table for dinner, you should better book in advance.

Fast, but delicious food

During our visit in spring 2018 we discovered the EGO – American Barbeque – a restaurant with a terrace with panoramic view to the city. This year we tried to go for lunch there but it was Sunday and it was a bit early so the kitchen was not yet open.

The terrace of EGO - American Barbeque
The terrace of EGO – American Barbeque

Instead, we had almost as good burgers for lunch at the small food bar Vkusoteria. Vkusoteria is a regular sandwich bar but they make wonderful burgers and we love burgers.

Burgers at Vkusoteria, Veliko Tarnovo
Burgers at Vkusoteria, Veliko Tarnovo

Tell us more!

In Veliko Tarnovo we never have enough time to try as many restaurants as we wish. So if you have recently been there and like some place to eat, feel free to share it with us. You can write us on social media: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram. After all, we write this blog to share information.

How to reach Veliko Tarnovo?

Veliko Tarnovo is one of the top places to visit in Bulgaria. However, reaching it sometimes may be a challenge. Here are the options:

Public transport – bus and train to Veliko Tarnovo

From Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo you could travel by train (quite a complicated and time-consuming option) or bus (around 3 hours). If you are enthusiastic about the train, mind that there is no direct train to Veliko Tarnovo and you should switch at Gorna Oryahovitsa station. Best case scenario, if there is no delay, you need almost 5h to reach Veliko Tarnovo. Check the timetable of the trains here: http://www.bdz.bg/en/ . For buses, here is the website of the Sofia Bus Station – https://www.centralnaavtogara.bg/#b

Organized guided tour

A great idea if you prefer to be guided and do not like to spend a lot of time and effort in organizing stuff. One of our partners is offering a wonderful day tour from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanassi. Check here the options and book a tour with a discount I have arranged especially for my readers.

Car rental and self-transportation

We always travel to Veliko Tarnovo by car and it is a great idea to rent a car from Sofia (or wherever you are) and drive to Veliko Tarnovo. Especially if you like to explore the vicinity, chase the sunset on Arbanassi or plan to visit the ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum.

Anna and Maria on the streets of Veliko Tarnovo
Anna and Maria on the streets of Veliko Tarnovo

Public transport in Veliko Tarnovo

The local public transport in Veliko Tarnovo is not bad at all. We used it to save some walking and climbing (get ready for a lot of ascending and descending on the streets of Veliko Tarnovo). We took the bus 40 from the Tsar Ivan Asen I square (near the gate to Tsarevets hill) to reach the city centre. You can also use buses 110 and 50 to reach the entrance to Trapezitsa hill and also the Holy 40 Martyrs church.

International folklore festival in Veliko Tarnovo

This is probably our longest article in the blog but Veliko Tarnovo is indeed a place with a lot to see and do. Now we tell you about one of the most colourful and beautiful events there – the International folklore festival. Many years ago, this was probably my first encounter with the cultural life in the city.

International Folklore Festival - Veliko Tarnovo
International Folklore Festival – Veliko Tarnovo

It was one hot day in July, years ago, I was visiting friends and we just found ourselves between the many dancing and playing people on the streets. It was a wonderful experience and I still remember it, despite it was almost 15 years ago. I am rarely able to be in Veliko Tarnovo during the festival but every time I manage, I love it.

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