The medieval town of Veliko Tarnovo holds a unique reputation in the eyes of Bulgarians. Situated in the north of the country, it’s deemed as being the conception of modern Bulgaria as it is where the first constitution of the nation was drafted. However, it’s historical old town and Tsarevets Fortress can really make you feel as if you are going back in time.
Where is Veliko Tarnavo?
The town possesses picturesque scenery as it is positioned on the Yantra river whilst also placed among the Trapezitsa, Sveta Gora and Tsarevets hills. Not only known for its natural beauty, the town during the middle ages was renowned as being one of the culture capitals of Europe thanks to its architecture, paintings and literature.
How to Get to Veliko Tarnavo
There are few ways in which you can get to Veliko Tarnovo directly. There are bus companies such as Biomet and Grup Plyus. These bus lines depart from the capital Sofia where it takes about 3 hours. Taking the train takes longer (around 5 hours) however the journey has impressive views.
If you are travelling from cities such as Sofia or Varna then you can consider getting a train to Gorna Oriahovitsa. The town is about 7km from here and you can get a connecting train, taxi or bus. You can also get a direct train from Plovdiv to Veliko Tarnovo but it takes about an hour longer.
The closest airports to Veliko Tarnovo are actually in Romania. There is the Bucharest Băneasa Aurel Vlaicu international airport and the Henri Coanda international airport, where you can get a direct train or a bus from Bucharest to Veliko Tranovo. However, travelling from Bulgarian airports such as Sofia, Varna, Burgas and Plovdiv aren’t much further in distance anyway and are quicker via the road.
What to see and do in Veliko Tarnavo
Museum of the Bulgarian Resistance
As the centuries went by, architects continued to stamp their mark on Veliko Tarnovo, as shown at the Museum of the Bulgarian Renaissance and Constituent Assembly. The blue and white building combines both the architectural and political side of Bulgaria’s history.
Arguably the town’s most notorious attraction is the medieval fortress of Tsarevets. The medieval stronghold placed on one of the town’s hills dominates its skyline and was the Second Bulgarian Empire’s prime fortress, housed the royal palaces and hosted 18 churches. One can walk around the ancient ruins which is now an archaeological museum that has guides who take you through the fortress’ history from the Byzantine’s to the Ottoman’s.
During the summer, Tsarevets becomes an even more attractive tourist destination thanks to its dramatic sound and light show which is designed to induce the historical events of the town. It has also been the home of the opera festival ‘Stage of the Ages’, which is held over the space of a week during the summer.
Veliko Tarnavo Old Town
The Old Town also contains many Ottoman buildings especially along Gurko street. The quiet but relaxed cobblestoned street truly captures the authenticity of the town with its flower-decked facades and houses attached to the rocks whilst overlooking the Yantra river and Asen monument. Other notable attractions include the Churches of Sveti Dimitur, Saints Peter and Paul and the Lyaskovets Museum of Gardening.
How long should you Spend in Veliko Tarnavo?
I recommend that you spend at least a couple of days to soak up the atmosphere of Veliko Tarnavo. However, if you don’t have much time to spare, it is possible to do this as a day trip from Sophia.