The City of Tsars

Witness the rich history of Veliko Tarnovo

Written and photos by Adriána Čigášová, edited by Mila Boshnakova

Every time I am in Veliko Tarnovo, I stumble upon something new. Perhaps this is the reason why I love it there. However, I am not the only one who can appreciate the captivating atmosphere of this Bulgarian medieval capital, since it was several times awarded “the most beautiful town in Bulgaria.” 

Streets set with cobblestones, flower-decked facades of houses imposed from the top, down to the banks of Yantra River which winds around three hills, and ancient walls of the fortresses Tsarevets and Trapezitsa, prove that Tarnovo won these prizes justly. Let's dive deeper into what Tarnovo has to offer.

Halfway between Sofia and Varna, this old capital held a strategic position in the middle of Bulgaria. The town is spread out on three hills – Tsarevets, Trapezitsa, and Sveta Gora – which offer many sightseeing spots. You can spend days strolling along, as any part of the city is easily accessible on foot. At night, a variety of clubs and pubs are full of tireless noises of students studying in universities here.

The dominance of the city is Tsarevets Fortress, which was home to many tsars living there for centuries and ensured their protection. Now, inside the stronghold, there is a massive complex as well as the renovated Patriarchal Church offering a gorgeous view from the outside and dramatic paintings inside. Due to these peculiar murals, the church is no longer in use and serves just as a tourist attraction.

View of Tsarevets Fortress

The top of another hill occupies the fortification of Trapezitsa. To go up to the hill, you can either walk or use a funicular railway. Inside are the remains of 18 churches constructed in different periods, a defensive tower, and a military complex including a museum that provides more information about the archaeological site.

Samovodska Charshia was, in the past, a street where one could find anything. Now you can still find traditional craftsmen - a potter, an armorer, a coppersmith, a carver, a confectioner, a weaver, or an icon painter - working and selling the products of their hard work. It is considered a living museum of Veliko Tarnovo, keeping the same atmosphere as several decades ago. 

The iconic landmark of Veliko Tarnovo, the Asenevtsi Monument, was built in 1985. It is dedicated to the four kings - Asen, Petar, Kaloyan, and Ivan Asen II. The sword in the middle, surrounded by these rulers, symbolizes the power and rise of Medieval Bulgaria. The place is popular not just due to its great panorama, but especially in the summer when it serves as a venue for cultural and musical events. 

Once you are in town, you should not miss the unique sound and light show following the history of Bulgaria. This attraction operates all year round regardless of the weather. You can check dates and hours here, as well as all the necessary information regarding tickets and the best spots to enjoy them.

The town also offers something for museum lovers, whether you look for ones of major significance or those of a specific theme, you will not be disappointed. Here are some of the most visited ones:
Archaeological Museum
Museum of the Bulgarian Revival and Constituent Assembly
Museum of Contemporary History
Museum of Prison
Park of miniatures "Turnovgrad - the spirit of millennial Bulgaria"

Surrounding Veliko Tarnovo are many interesting places too. Arbanasi village, located just 4 km away, is an archaeological museum-reserve. There are several churches, chapels, and monasteries with splendid architecture located in this little village.

Secondly, natural beauty does not lag behind cultural and historical importance. Whether you choose Kapinovski Waterfall with the nearby monastery, or Hotnitsa Waterfall with wooden walkways and incredibly turquoise water, you can enjoy both refreshment for the body and pleasure for the eyes. 

Whether you are an international or a local, Veliko Tarnovo belongs to the must-see places in Bulgaria. So don’t hesitate, let the charm of this historical town captivate you.

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