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With so many excellent hiking areas throughout the Balkans, it’s easy to overlook some very appealing destinations. One such destination is the city of Veliko Tarnovo, located on the Yantra River in the North of Bulgaria.
Veliko Tarnovo is a stunning, hilly city dotted with historical buildings and nestled into lush green surroundings. As such, it’s just about a perfect spot for a hiking getaway. One can get out and about on city walks and longer hikes through the surrounding area, and then relax a bit exploring a lovely (and frankly underrated) city.
If that sounds like an appealing trip to you, read on for a few of our tips for what you might enjoy during a few days in Veliko Tarnovo.
As mentioned there are both city walks and hiking trails in and around this beautiful corner of Bulgaria. We’d suggest prioritizing the following options:
Tsarevets – Tsaravets is the name of both a hill and an ancient fortress. It is one of three hills upon and between which the city of Veliko Tarnovo was built, and nowadays it makes for an excellent city hike for visitors. A walk through town from wherever you’re staying and up the hill will be only a little bit taxing, and once you’re there you’ll be able to enjoy incredible views, as well as a few old buildings like the fortress and the Patriarchal Church. The church incidentally is typically regarded as one of the city’s primary sightseeing spots.
Lyaskovets Monastery – Monasteries are a big deal in Bulgaria. As The Culture Trip put it in a look at some of the most beautiful ones in the country, religion is an important part of the national identity, and as such these structures tend to be impressive and well preserved. To be clear, the Lyaksovets Monastery outside of Veliko Tarnovo didn’t make this particular list. But it is home to one of the more intensive hiking trails in the vicinity.
Park Sveta Gora – Park Sveta Gora is another attraction more or less looking over the city. It’s a real park where plenty of people go to hang out on a nice afternoon, or let their children run about. But it also makes for a nice uphill hike from city centre (and should take just a few hours).
What to See
We covered some of what to see in looking at some of the area hikes and city walks above. But for a relatively small town not frequented by international tourists, Veliko Tarnovo has a lot more than just a few spots to offer sightseers.
Asen Dynasty Monument – Aside from the Tsaravets Fortress, the monument to the Asen dynasty is the preeminent landmark in town. It’s a very impressive public commemoration of history, and is situated in Veliko Tarnovo because this was the Asen capital.
Gurko Street – Gurko Street is referred to by VT-Today as “one of the most picturesque streets” in town, where houses are packed tightly together “as if cascaded, overlooking the Yantra River.” We’d go a step further and say it’s really about as pretty a street as you’ll see in all of the Balkans — a nice place for a stroll, but an attraction unto itself.
Stambolov Bridge – You can’t help but see the Stambolov Bridge if you’re on a getaway to Veliko Tarnovo, but it’s worth taking note of specifically. It spans the Yantra River and offers the best view of the city you can get without climbing a hill (or possibly just the best in general).
Aside from walking about and exploring nearby hikes, there are also some fun activities to enjoy during your time in Veliko Tarnovo.
Free Art – There is an old inn in the city that has been converted into an art gallery that locals and visitors alike can enjoy for free. Known now as the Hadji Nikoli Inn Museum Art Gallery, it primarily showcases local artwork, but gives you a sense of the area’s history (which is actually quite fascinating) as well.
Gaming Club Poltava – Not all of the fun here has to do with history and beauty. There is some more modern entertainment as well, such as the regular bingo games people enjoy at Gaming Club Poltava. That said, there’s a little bit of historical context here as well, in a sense. In a look at the history of the actual game of bingo, Foxy Bingo reveals that the game first started in Italy in the 1530s. We don’t have an exact timeline of when it seeped into the Balkans, but the close proximity would seem to indicate that it’s a very old game in this part of the world. You never know what ancient Veliko Tarnovo residents may also have stopped for a few games in centuries past!
Wine Tasting Centre – As you may have gleaned from our look at wine-tasting opportunities in Kosovo, we view this as an excellent way to explore a new city or region and its culture. And while Bulgaria isn’t specifically known for its wine, there is a lovely tasting experience right in town. The “Wine Tasting Centre,” as it’s known, is a small but charming, cellar-like venue where you can purchase any of a few different tastings with different numbers of wines. You’ll learn about the region’s wines and have the opportunity to purchase bottles of the ones you like — not to mention it can be a great way to unwind after a hike!
Charming towns like these always have a few special places to eat, and Veliko Tarnovo is no exception. So we’ll wrap up this guide with a few recommendations for where to have your meals.
Shtastliveca – Look up dining in Veliko Tarnovo and this is usually the first place that pops up. That’s with good reason. It’s a wonderful Mediterranean restaurant with seasonal ingredients and brilliantly prepared dishes. The venue itself also happens to be beautiful (right down to its outdoor terrace).
Hadji Nikoli Inn – We mentioned this inn and its free art gallery above. But there’s also a cozy, wonderful old-world restaurant tucked away in the building. It’s one of the better places in the city particularly for those seeking out authentic Bulgarian dishes, though there’s some variety to the menu as well.
Ego Pizza & Grill – If you’re looking for something a little bit simpler, Ego Pizza & Grill is the place for you. Pizza, Central European comfort food, and views overlooking much of the city (as well as some good local beer) make for a very pleasant stop.
There’s more to see and do, particularly given that it’s a fairly small city not often mentioned in travel guides. But this should be a nice start for a few days in Veliko Tarnovo.