Located in the north of Bulgaria not too far from the border of Romania, there are plenty of things to do in Veliko Tarnovo that make it a destination worth visiting. As the former capital of Bulgaria, there is a lot of history here to explore and get to know. Today, it is a thriving student city with a youthful energy that seamlessly blends old and new.
If you’re travelling through Bulgaria and want to stop in a small city with a lot to offer, then you’re sure to fall in love with Veliko Tarnovo. There are a lot of diverse things to do here and it’s simply lovely to wander through and enjoy the scenery.
Read on to find out how to spend a day exploring Veliko Tarnovo – this beautiful Bulgarian city is very much worth visiting!
How Many Days in Veliko Tarnovo?
Because it’s not as popular to visit among international tourists, many potential visitors wonder how many days to spend in Veliko Tarnovo in order to see the top sites of the city and get a good feel for the vibes and culture.
Veliko Tarnovo is quite a small city and though there are a multitude of things to do, you really only need one day here to see the highlights. With one day in Veliko Tarnovo, you can wander around the major fortresses and see the top sites in the old town.
If you have two days in Veliko Tarnovo, all the better! This will allow you to either take your time exploring around all of the areas in the town or give you an opportunity to explore the surrounding area.
A popular day trip, for instance, is to the Buzludzha Monument – a communist-era remnant that resembles a UFO. Another option is to the Monastery of the Transfiguration of God – a monastery located about 7 kilometres north of Veliko Tarnovo’s centre.
Getting To & Around Veliko Tarnovo
Veliko Tarnovo is located in Northern Bulgaria on the banks of the Yantra River. Because of its location, it can be a logical stop if you’re combining a trip to Bulgaria along with a route through Romania.
You can reach Veliko Tarnovo from Bucharest, for instance, via direct train in about 7 hours. It is also possible to take a bus to the border town of Ruse and then switch to continue onto Veliko Tarnovo – this journey should take about 4 hours all in. Alternatively, if you are based in the Romanian capital it is possible to take an organised day trip here too.
Alternatively, Veliko Tarnovo is also well-connected within Bulgaria. You reach the city in about three hours via direct bus from Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna. If you’ve hired a car, you can reach the city in about the same amount of time, as well. You can view schedules here.
Once in Veliko Tarnovo, your best bet is to get around on your own two feet. The majority of the sites within the town are within easy walking distance and it’s easiest to go between places on foot, that way you can see the most! It’s not entirely necessary to have your own car in the town itself.
If you want to go on a day trip or two from the city, then having your own vehicle can be helpful. Otherwise, you can generally find organised tours that will take you where you want to go if you don’t want to/can’t drive.
12 Things to do in Veliko Tarnovo
Without further ado, these are some of the best things to do while in Veliko Tarnovo. This list is best used as a one-day itinerary as they’re situated in logical walking order and you won’t have to venture too long between destinations or be zigzagging all over the city.
If you want to explore with a little bit more context to your wanderings, consider going on the free walking tour of the city. Just remember that the guides do work for tips, so it’s essential to pay what you think the tour was worth at the end.
Begin your exploration of Veliko Tarnovo at one of the city’s two fortresses – the Trapezitsa Fortress. Though this one isn’t quite as famous as the Tsarevets Fortress, it’s still very much worth exploring and no visit to Veliko Tarnovo is complete without heading here.
Located on a hill overlooking the Yantra River with views of the city and of the Tsarevets Fortress, the Trapesitza Fortress is a medieval-era stronghold with a lot to take in.
It’s set over quite a large area, so it’s a great idea to get an early start to your exploration – especially if you’re visiting in the summer and want to avoid the peak heat of the day.
Scrambling around the medieval fortification can really bring into perspective just how old this city is. You can also appreciate the beauty of Veliko Tarnovo by enjoying the incredible panoramic view over the city.
A walk across the Yantro from the Trapezitsa fortress is the famed Tsarevets Fortress – one of the top attractions in Veliko Tarnovo. This medieval-era stronghold was once used as the main fortress of the Second Bulgarian Empire when Veliko Tarnovo served as the capital.
The fortress dates back to the 12th century, however, there is evidence of human presence on this hill since the second millennium BCE. The entire complex is massive and it encapsulates a lot of different buildings along with the medieval city walls.
Keep in mind that much of the fortress is out in the open and this area of Bulgaria can get very hot, so if you’re visiting in the summer, make sure to get an early start and wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen!
There is a small entry fee to explore the fortress, but it is well worth it. While you are here, you can take the time to explore the landmarks and monuments throughout the complex and wander around the historic city walls. Like with the Trapezitsa Fortress, you can also get excellent views of the city below.
Note that the fortress is set on a hill with a lot of uneven pavement, so good, closed-toe shoes are essential when you explore here.
Within the Tsatevets Fortress complex, you will find the beautiful, Byzantine-style orthodox Ascension Cathedral – also known as the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of the Lord.
This beautiful church is actually a reconstruction of a historic church, however, it retains all of its charm and grandeur despite only being a few decades old.
The original church on this site was constructed in the 12th Century and was the seat of the Bulgarian patriarch – as Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. However, the church was then destroyed in the late 14th Century when the Ottomans laid siege to Veliko Tarnovo and took over the city.
Reconstruction of the building did not commence until the 1970s and it opened officially in 1985, with beautiful frescoes repainted.
Another site within the Tsarevets complex is one of the best-preserved, historic towers – the Baldwin Gate. Located at the south entrance to the fortress, this is a beautiful landmark to take in and it really puts into perspective just how old and mighty this fortress once was.
This is a great place for a photo opportunity – especially if you climb to the top of the tower and take in the view. An excellent place to visit in Veliko Tarnovo for those who want to experience the history of the city.
Mini Bulgaria Park
Just outside of the fortress, you will find the charming Mini Bulgaria Park. This is especially a great place to visit if you’re travelling with children, however, it’s just as fun if you’re an adults-only party. This park recreates some of Bulgaria’s most famous landmarks in miniature form along with historic explanations of them.
This is a small area and you only need about 30 minutes to go through the whole park, however, it’s very worth visiting and can give you a bit of historical context to your Bulgaria trip in a very digestible context. You will even see some familiar sites from Veliko Tarnovo in this park.
About a fifteen-minute walk from the Mini Bulgaria Park toward Veliko Tarnovo’s old town is the Archaeological Museum. This is one of the best places to visit in the city if you’re interested in the ancient history of this area. Here, you can find a range of different artefacts and historical items.
The building itself of the museum is also absolutely beautiful and it’s worth paying a visit here just to take in the exterior, even if you’re not interested in venturing inside. However, it is also worth heading inside to learn a little bit more about just how old Veliko Tarnovo and the surrounding area actually is.
In the old town, one of the most historic streets to stroll along is Gurko Street, also referred to as Ulitsa General Gurko in Bulgarian. Lovely street winds alongside the Yantra and provides beautiful views of Sveta Gora Hill and the Asenevtsi Monument.
You can also take in the historic, Bulgarian Revival-style houses that line the street. You will notice this style of house all over the country and it is notable by the beamed windows that overtake the ground floor of the house.
If you’ve worked up an appetite at this point and are looking for a good, nearby lunch spot, check out Restaurant Ego 1 where you can get traditional Bulgarian food with a nice terrace and view.
Samodovska Charshia Market
If you wander just a bit uphill from the Yantra, you will find yourself at the Samodovska Chartshia Market.
This large bazaar is filled with different artisan shops and craftsmen and it is a great place to browse, shop for local handicrafts and maybe pick up a unique souvenir from your trip to Veliko Tarnovo.
Bulgaria has been making wine for centuries and though it may not have the same kind of esteem as vintages from France, Italy or Spain, the country turns out some excellent reds and whites.
And while a good portion of Bulgarian vineyards are located in the Thracian Valley surrounding the city of Plovdiv, there are also a lot of great wines produced in the area surrounding Veliko Tarnovo.
If you want to sample some local wines from the area, there are some great places to do so in the city itself (alternatively, you could venture out on a wine-tasting tour). If you don’t want to leave the city, consider heading to the wine-tasting centre in the Samodovska Market where you can have a -degustation of a range of locally-produced wine.
Boris Denev Art Gallery
It’s time to cross the Yantra River over the Stambolov Bridge and head the the Sveta Gora part of Veliko Tarnovo. If you haven’t tired yourself of museums and sightseeing, head over to the Boris Denev Art Gallery.
Set in a beautiful, historic building, this museum houses a wide array of art from Bulgarian artists both classical and contemporary. This museum is a must for art lovers.
Sveta Gora Park
One of your final stops when exploring Veliko Tarnovo should be at the Sveta Gora Park. The Boris Denev Gallery is located at the base of Sveta Gora hill and the majority of the rest of the area has been turned into a massive city park, filled with hiking trails and places to see and wander through.
However, if you’re a bit too tired to hike around, make sure to take in the famous Monument to the Assen Dynasty, an iconic landmark in Veliko Tarnovo.
Also referred to as the Asenevtsi Monument, this was constructed in 1985 as a testament to Bulgria’s former military might during the times of the Second Bulgarian Empire. It is dedicated to Bulgaria’s Tsar Ivan Asen and his brothers.
Sound & Light Show
As you end your day in Veliko Tarnovo, make your way back across the river and through the old town to the Multimedia Visitor’s Centre as the sun begins to set. Here, you can experience one of things that makes Veliko Tarnovo very special – the Sound and Light Show.
This show projects a dazzling display of coloured lights coordinated with sounds and music over the Tsarevets Fortress for an unforgettable viewing experience. This is a great thing to do with children, but it is just as entertaining if it’s just adults in attendance!
There are both paid and free shows available and make sure to check out their website to see when the show is on and if you may need tickets to the event. If you’re able to, this experience is very much worth it will leave you with great memories of your trip!
And if you’re keen to go out and grab a drink to end your day, then consider heading to Tequila Bar Funky Money which has a youthful vibe and great cocktails!
Where to Stay in Veliko Tarnovo
Augusta Spa Hotel – Centrally located in Veliko Tarnovo’s old town, this 3-star hotel has a daily buffet breakfast, an on-site swimming pool, room service and a range of lovely rooms to choose from.
Tarnovgrad Apartments – These apartments have a great, central location in Veliko Tarnovo. All flats have their own balcony or terrace, are air-conditioned and there is free parking available.
Hostel Mostel – This hostel is a great option for budget travellers. They have a good location in the city, good common areas, plenty of room types available and they also organise day trips to the surrounding area.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Veliko Tarnovo hotels!
Visiting Veliko Tarnovo may not be on the top of everyone’s Bulgaria wishlist, however, this historic little city in the north of the country has a lot to offer visitors with plenty of interesting and fun things to do.
Are you planning to visit Veliko Tarnovo? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!