Before I moved to Romania, I had never heard of Veliko Târnovo. And to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been able to point to Bulgaria on a map.
Even though Eastern Europe is quickly becoming a popular tourist destination, Bulgaria (and Romania) is often skipped over, in favor of Hungary or the Czech Republic. I’m personally pretty happy about this fact, as it means my husband and I get to explore abandoned castles and fortified churches without waiting in lines, and are able to have picturesque medieval cities like Veliko Târnovo pretty much to ourselves.
Since Veliko is only a 3-hour drive from Bucharest, Luke and I just went for the weekend, staying Saturday night and coming back Sunday. It was enough time to soak in some of the town’s history and charm, but I would’ve liked another day or two. We’ll be back.
In the meantime, here’s a look at what we did, where we stayed and, of course, where we ate.
What We Did:
The first thing I always do in a new place is walk around. Veliko Târnovo’s historical downtown is relatively small and very pedestrian friendly. Full of artistic graffiti, quirky statues, and cobblestone streets, there’s enough to see for an enjoyable 3-4 hour stroll. (And yes, we brought our dog with us. He now has four stamps in his doggie passport!)
2. Explored Tsarevets Fortress
Visiting castles and fortresses in Eastern Europe quickly becomes like visiting churches in Western Europe or temples in Asia. However, Tsarevets Fortress was worth the time and money (only 6 Bulgarian Lev, or $3.50 USD). Dating back to the 12th century, this citadel served to protect the Bulgarian tsars who ruled during the Second Bulgarian Empire. Wear comfortable shoes and plan to spend 1-2 hours walking around.
3. Visited Asenevtsi Monument
This monument was built in 1985 to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Bulgaria’s liberation from the Byzantine Empire. It’s dedicated to the Asen family and the rebellion brothers Ivan and Peter Asen led against the Byzantines in 1186. From the monument you get a great view of town’s hillside homes.
Where We Stayed:
Luke and I stayed at the Rooster Hostel in the historic part of Veliko Târnovo. It’s not a hostel as the name suggests, but more of a guest house with the option to stay in a cheaper 4-bed dormitory. The owner was lovely and very helpful with offering maps, history and dining suggestions.
How much we paid: $25 USD per night for a double room with a shared bathroom. We used booking.com.
How much we liked it: As you can see from the pictures, the place was cute and clean, and the owner is a complete gem. Just know that if you’re staying on the ground floor (like we did), you’ll hear people talking in the common room until lights out at around 11pm. If you’re a light sleeper, pack a pair of ear plugs and an eye mask.
Where We Ate:
Malkiq Inter (above) is a local haunt owned by our hostel owner’s girlfriend’s parents (it’s a small town). The restaurant/bar looked like an eclectic antique store, with a few cats roaming around for good measure. Great music, beer, and awesome chicken served in a clay pot. Oh, and the bill came to less than $20USD for the both of us.
Restaurant Shtasliveca (above; Veliko Tarnovo Old Town location) is, in my opinion (and TripAdvisor’s), the best restaurant in the city. In fact, I would drive to Veliko just to eat there again.
I have no food pictures of this place because it was dark; and honestly, the food was so good that I couldn’t wait to dig in. The menu is seasonal, but when we were there, we ordered a cheese-stuffed sweet pepper appetizer, a cheesy pumpkin dish, chicken and local vegetables served on a “lava plate,” a special biscuit cake for dessert, and a fantastic bottle of local wine for just under $50USD (including the standard 10% tip). Seriously, I can’t even write any more without drooling all over my keyboard. Just go.
What I wish we did:
For some reason we weren’t able to catch this when we were in Veliko, but the city’s Sound and Light Show is something I definitely want to see next time we’re in town. Apparently most every night around 8-9:30, flashes of colored lights bathe Veliko Târnovo’s skyline to the sound of choral music. Sometimes it’s free, sometimes it costs around $10USD. For more information, visit https://www.soundandlight.bg/en/.
Have you been to Veliko Târnovo, or anywhere else in Bulgaria? Luke and I plan to visit Plovdiv and Sofia later this year and would love suggestions. Comment below if you have any!