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Veliko Tarnovo
city in north central Bulgaria
Europe > Balkans > Bulgaria > North Bulgaria > Veliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo (Велико Търново, also transliterated as Veliko Turnovo), meaning Great Thorny City in Old Bulgarian, is a mountain city located in the north of Bulgaria. It has often been called the "City of the Tsars", as it was historically the capital of the Bulgarian political entities. It is located around a major bend in the Yantra River that carved steep hillsides on which the Old Town is built. The Old Town is separated into 3 hills: Tsarevets, Trapezitsa, and Sveta Gora, while the New Town spills out into a flatter region to the west of the hills.
Veliko Tarnovo Cathedral
St Demetrius Church
Understand
A town with very rich history, Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire and has long traditions in the culture of Bulgaria. The city is rich in museums and historical sites, combined with vivacious night life propelled by the students in one of the largest universities in Bulgaria.
Get in
By plane
Although Veliko Tarnovo's Gorna Oryahovitsa airport 4 km away is not open to passenger air traffic (it is possible to arrange private aircraft landings there by arrangement), it is possible to fly to Bulgaria's capital city Sofia, or the coastal city of Varna and then by rail or modern coach to Veliko Tarnovo.
By train
There is a small railway station in the town and it is possible to get a taxi to the centre of town from there for about 3-4 lev. There are also local buses going just by the station, go to the bus stop next to a small restaurant building. There are buses at least every 20 minutes, and it costs 0.50 - 0.60 lev. You should have small money with you. A bus ride to center takes about 10-15 minutes.
An alternative is to get a train to a larger railway station at the nearby town of Gorna Oryahovitsa. You could then take a bus, minibus or taxi from Gorna Oryahovitsa station to Veliko Tarnovo. Taxi from Gorna Oryahovitsa to Veliko Tarnovo should cost 8-10 lev - you can ask for fixed price if you want to be sure.
One train operates each day from Bucharest to Gorna Oryahovitsa (in the direction of Sofia), leaving at 12:50 and arriving at 18:27. It costs approximately 81 Romanian lei (June 2016).
If you are planning to take the train to another country, tickets can't be bought at the train station. There is a ticket office for international tickets on the main street, 19 Stefan Stanbolov (they only take cash, no cards) and they are open M-F 08:00 to 16:00.
By car
One of the main roads in Bulgaria runs through the city, so car transport is not a problem to and from the city. Since the town is located relatively in the centre of Bulgaria, it is quite comfortable to stop there for an hour to rest and get a glimpse of the sights.
Driving into and in the New Town is easy, but the roads in the Old Town are smaller, windier, and weren't designed for modern auto traffic, so it'll be easier to travel in the Old Town on foot. Also, you can't drive directly into the Old Town without first driving through the New Town. Bulgarian highway E85 tunnels under the old town as it follows the Yantra River, but it doesn't have direct access to Veliko Tarnovo at the tunnels.
By bus
Busses run approximately hourly from Sofia. Several buses daily run from Plovdiv north bus station (18 lev) and from Varna. The small bus station is ~1 km from the centre of town so arrange pickup during winter. The ticket for the busses, departing from Sofia to Tarnovo, costs about 17 lev.
Get around
Old post hall
On foot
Walking is the best way to see Veliko Tarnovo. The town is fairly large but everywhere is within easy reach including attractions such as Tsarevets, the medieval stronghold. In the Old Town, walking is preferable since the roads weren't designed for modern transportation and are cramped and curvy.
By public transport
Since Veliko Tarnovo is not that large, you'll probably never use it. Buses run from 07:00 till 21:00 with frequency of rides varying between 20 and 60 minutes. Buses #20, #50 and #40 go to Tsarevets. Bus 10 connects the city with Gorna Oryahovica railway station (but mini-buses are preferable). Virtually all bus lines go through the city center. Tickets can be purchased only in the bus from a conductor. The ticket is valid only for the current ride and costs 0.70 lev.
By taxi
Taxis in Veliko Tarnovo are yellow and can be caught on the streets by waiving a hand or can be called. The passenger is charged 0.80 lev initial fee, and 0.60 lev per kilometer afterwards. In general, a trip within the city limits shouldn't cost more than 3.5-4 lev. Overall this means of transport is very reliable.
By car
Although Veliko Tarnovo is generally a calm city, transportation by car could be very complicated due to the frequent traffic reorganisations. The maximum admissible speed within the city limits is 50 km/h.
See
Tsarevets
The city is divided into an old and new parts. The old city is a collection of traditional renaissance houses scattered over the hills around the river Yantra and the new part consists of a mixture of communistic and modern style buildings.
If in Veliko Tarnovo, make sure to visit the castle of the old Bulgarian capital - Tsarevets. The medieval stronghold located on a hill of the same name, served as the Second Bulgarian Empire's primary fortress and strongest bulwark from 1185 to 1393. Housing the royal and the patriarchal palaces, it is a popular tourist attraction. The castle itself offers spectacular views of the town, surrounding hillsides, and the river below. The Tower of Baldwyn (also Baldwin Tower) within the complex allows for tourists to climb to the top and offers both spectacular views and an insight into how medieval towers wer designed and how they functioned.
Since most of the touristy old town (including both fortresses) is on a natural choke point caused by the Yantra, that part will feel more cramped and crowded with tourists, and anyone looking to see a less-touristed old town should go to the western half, where the city opens up. The only problem with this is that most of the museums and monuments are located in the choke point, and most of the western half is residential, but both parts still offer great insights to old medieval European towns.
There are various historical museums, located in Old Town, and an art museum on an island in the river. Nearby Arbanassi on the hilltop 4 km away is also worth a visit, a taxi will cost about 3-4 lev.
Right around where the old part widens, there is a large Monument to Mother Bulgaria, which commemorates Veliko Tarnovo's history as the former capital of the Bulgarian state.
Eat
Shopska Salad is made from tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, peppers, and sirene (feta type) cheese; it is cheap and great as a snack. There are many restaurants and bars in Veliko Tarnovo and this will be one of the most common things on the menu.
Bars and restaurants worth visiting:
Budget
Mid-range
Splurge
Do
Drink
Sleep
View from the balcony of a private room
Veliko Tarnovo offers a wide range of accommodation, from very cheap private rooms and hostels to 4-star hotels that can make you feel like you are in a Western European town or city. There is seemingly something to suit all types of people that are staying in the town.
Budget
Mid-range
Splurge
There are a number of 4-star hotels in Veliko Tarnovo with modern facilities and clean, comfortable rooms.
Stay safe
With a little common sense and respect for the locals, your stay in Veliko Tarnovo will be a safe one. It is a friendly student town with a lot of history and welcoming people.
Go next
Arbanassi, a nearby village.
Preobruzhenie Monastery, approximately 5 km north-west of Veliko Tarnovo.
The city of Gabrovo to the south-west, at the foot of the Balkan Mountains, which has historic sites, a humor museum and impressive shopping and dining opportunities, is worth visiting.
Nature Park Bulgarka, just south of Gabrovo, provides many out door activities opportunities for people who enjoy nature and hiking.
The city of Rousse, border with Romania and on the way to Bucharest (11 lev). To go there go to the Prevotzi Zapad Bus Station (West bus station), it is 1 km west from the center so you can take local buses 10, 12, 14, 70 or 110. They have 8 buses daily, starting at 07:00.
Visit Devetashka, a huge and stunning cave near to Pleven and only a few lev to enter. To reach it you must take the small country roads which are in terrible condition.
Plovdiv buses leave several time through the day, this route will take you past Budzludzha (the abandoned UFO building)

This city travel guide to Veliko Tarnovo is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.

Last edited on 30 August 2021, at 11:22
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