Varna is one of Bulgaria’s busiest destinations. During the summertime, its pristine Black Sea beaches fill up with vacationing locals and tourists from around the world.
I had a lot of fun wandering the streets, visiting the Roman Baths, walking through the big central park, and just hanging out at the beach. At night, the bars and restaurants teem with travelers and locals looking to enjoy their summer holiday.
It may not be an off-the-beaten-path destination, but it’s a fun one and definitely worth a visit. If you only have time to hit one beach town, pick Varna!
This Varna travel guide can help you plan your trip, lower your costs, and give you things to see and do for your visit.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Varna
1. Visit Primorski Park
2. Tour the churches
3. Visit the Varna Archaeological Museum
4. Wander Kraybrezhna Aleya
5. Go to Pobiti Kamani
Other Things to See and Do in Varna
1. See the Roman Baths
Varna’s second-century A.D. Roman Baths are remarkably well-preserved, and they’re the largest in Bulgaria (as well as the fourth largest in Europe). Wander around the complex and learn about how the Romans used their advanced floor and water heating systems to keep the baths going. Admission is 5 BGN ($2.80 USD).
2. Hang out at the beach
Leave the city behind and check out Varna’s lively beach scene. There are tons of clubs, bars, and cafes along the shoreline where you can grab a cocktail or a beer. If you want to get away from the craziness of the main beach, head to nearby Fichoza for a quieter beach.
3. Visit the History of Varna Museum
Originally built in 1851, this building was once the Belgian Embassy, a hotel, and a prison before becoming the History of Varna Museum. This museum’s exhibits will take you through the post-independence age (1878-1939) of Varna with recreated rooms from the period, a photography and postcard collection, and other artifacts including brewing equipment. It’s open daily from 10am-5pm (Tue-Sun), and admission is 5 BGN ($2.80 USD).
4. Check out the Ethnographic Museum
Within this revival-era mansion lies one of the most impressive museum collections the country has to offer. It covers life from the 19th and 20th centuries and has displays of agricultural tools and exhibits on wine-making, weaving, and fishing. There is also a lot of period furniture, costumes, and jewelry covering this period in Varna’s history. It’s open daily from 10am-5pm, and admission is 5 BGN ($2.80 USD).
5. Go to the Festival and Congress Center
This is one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the entire Balkans. There are always festivals, cinema and theater performances, exhibitions, shows, conferences, symposia, and congresses taking place here. It’s also home to a handful of restaurants and cafés. Try to catch something there while you’re in town and do something more offbeat and original!
6. Visit the Astronomical Observatory
The Astronomical Observatory is the largest and most modern observatory in the Balkan region. Its main highlight is the epic projection of the solar system in different seasons (and from different points of the world) on a giant hemispherical dome. There are always educational seminars taking place here, and you can use the observatory’s telescopes too. Admission is just 5 BGN ($2.80 USD).
7. Explore the Naval Museum
Varna’s history is tied to the sea so consider paying a visit to the Naval Museum. The highlight here is the Drazki, a destroyer that torpedoed a Turkish cruiser during the Balkan War in 1912. There are also many exhibits featuring model ships, uniforms, anchors, artillery, and more. Admission is 5 BGN ($2.80 USD). The museum is open 10am-6pm (Wed-Sun).
8. Go bungee jumping
If you need a thrill, go bungee jumping off the 100-feet-high Asparuhov Most bridge. You’ll soar through the air above a canal with a panoramic (and upside down) view of the city spread out before you. Expect to pay about 60 BGN ($34 USD) for one jump.
9. Explore Aladzha Manastir Cave Monastery
This mysterious rock monastery is a series of caves that were first inhabited by 11th-century hermits. Little else is known about the monastery’s origin or why they used the caves. They are decorated by colorful frescoes from the 13th and 14th centuries. There’s also catacombs and visit the tiny archaeological museum here. Tickets are 5 BGN ($2.80 USD).
Varna Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Most hostels in Varna cost between 18-21 BGN ($10-12 USD) per night for a bed in a four-six bed room. A bed in a dorm with eight beds or more starts from 12.45 BGN ($7 USD) per night.
Private single hostel rooms start from about 44 BGN ($25 USD) per night, while a double private room starts from about 57 BGN ($32 USD).
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about 62 BGN ($35 USD) near the city center or the beach.
Airbnb is available in Varna, with shared accommodation (like a dorm) starting at 20 BGN ($11 USD) per night (although these rooms are rare). For a private room, the average price is about 62 BGN ($35 USD) per night, while you can find a centrally located apartment or home in the city center for about 71 BGN ($40 USD) per night.
Food – Street food like banica (dough, cheese, and butter) or banitsa (a breakfast pastry) are as little as 1.50 BGN ($0.85 USD), or you can pick up a hearty shopska (like a Greek salad) or kebab for about 4 BGN ($2.25 USD). You can find fast-food meals at local chains like UNO for as little as 5 BGN ($2.80 USD).
A meal at McDonald’s will cost about 8 BGN ($4.50 USD). A meal at a mid-range restaurant shouldn’t cost more than 12 BGN ($7 USD), while a local beer at the bar is about 2 BGN ($1.15 USD). Seafood is king here so be sure to get some while you’re in town. It’s some of the best in the country. A fish entree at a more upscale restaurant will cost around than 15 BGN ($8.45 USD), though cheaper at more hole in the wall establishments.
Grocery shopping is very cheap, costing about 35-44 BGN ($20-25 USD) per week for bread, meat, fruits, and other basics.
Backpacking Varna Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Varna, expect to spend about 62 BGN ($35 USD) per day. On this budget, you’ll be staying in a hostel, eating local food or fast food, cooking some of your meals, and using local transportation to get around. You can visit one or two museums or historical sites on this budget too.
If you are visiting the summer or plan to drink more, I’d add another $10-15 per night to your budget to be safe. Those beers will really add up!
On a mid-range budget of 142 BGN ($80 USD) per day, you can stay in a two-star hotel or a private Airbnb room, eat out at mid-range restaurants, rent a bicycle to get around, and visit more attractions each day.
On a luxury budget of 293 BGN ($165 USD) per day, you’ll stay in a four-star hotel at the center of town or on the beach, eat out for all your meals, drink whatever you want, visit all the attractions you want, go bungee jumping, and take taxis everywhere. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Varna Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Varna is very affordable, but it’s a popular beach destination for vacationers from all over Europe, be prepared to pay extra during peak season. Here are some of my ways to save money in Varna during your visit:
- Couchsurf – Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free. Couchsurfing connects you with locals who will give you not only a free place to stay, but also a local tour guide who can introduce you to all the great places to see. Try to use this service when you visit!
- Take a free walking tour – Walking tours are a great way to get familiar with a city and the culture. Varna’s municipality puts off a free Varna Highlights Walk a few times a week, starting at the Tourist Information Center. Check with them for times and dates. (Be sure to tip your guide!)
- Come during the off-season – Winter is Varna’s off-season, which is a great time to visit if you want to save money on accommodations. Keep in mind that many businesses are closed during this time, however.
- Get a Varna City Card – The Varna City Card has tons of good deals, including free admission to 15 museums and a free beer tour. It’s 22 BGN ($12.50 USD) for a day! If you’re quick about it, you can get your money’s worth.
- Pack a water bottle – Save money and thousands of plastic bottles and get a bottle that can purify the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw ($49.99).
Where To Stay in Varna
Good hostels are hard to come by in Varna because resorts and hotels dominate the accommodation scene here. Nonetheless, there are some good ones. Here are my favorite places to stay:
How to Get Around Varna
Bus – Varna is a small city that’s well connected by bus. As a visitor, you’re most likely to use bus 409 which connects the airport to the city center, as well as the Golden Sands area. You can buy tickets from the driver for 1 BGN ($0.56 USD). To check schedules and plan your route, use the Moovit app.
Taxi – The normal starting rate for a taxi in Varna is between 1.09 BGN ($0.61 USD), and then an additional 0.75 BGN ($0.42 USD) per kilometer. The rate at night may be slightly higher at about 0.85 BGN ($0.48 USD) per kilometer. Triumph Taxi or OK Trans Taksi are two reputable companies.
Bicycle – Varna is easy to get around by bicycle. You can rent a bicycle for one full day for 17 BGN ($10 USD) from Rent a Bike Varna, or hourly for 5 BGN ($2.80 USD).
When to Go to Varna
Being primarily a beach destination, the best time of year to visit Varna is in the summer months. The area experiences the highest temperatures between June and August, with average daily temperatures being 88°F (31.1°C) or higher. It rarely gets cooler than 64.3°F (17.9°C), even at night. This is the busiest time of year for Varna, however, so expect inflated prices and larger crowds.
If you’re more interested in visiting Varna’s historic or scenic attractions than hanging out at the beach, spring (March-May) is the best time to visit. Temperatures are pleasant, with highs around 75.9°F (24.4°C), and rain is minimal. Fall (September-November) and Winter (December-February) are the least busy times to visit with temperatures as low as 42.1°F (5.6°C) and higher precipitation (including snow). Many of Varna’s attractions also close for the late fall and winter season.
How to Stay Safe in Varna
Varna is a very safe city. Petty crime like pickpocketing is the most common danger you’ll face, but even those incidences are rare. Do not leave your valuables unattended, especially at the beach. Theft is really common during the summer as people just nab stuff when people go for a swim. So watch your stuff.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here. Taxi drivers have been known to scam customers by not turning on their meters during a ride, especially to and from the airport.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, move to another one.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Varna! Follow that rule, and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Varna Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Varna. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Varna Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Varna Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Under the Yoke: A Romance of Bulgarian Liberty, by Ivan Vazov
This book written in 1888 might be the most famous piece of classic Bulgarian literature in the country. It follows the story of a peaceful Bulgarian town subdued by Ottoman rule — but secretly, the people are preparing for an uprising. Boicho Ognyanov, having escaped from prison, returns to the town to assist with the rebellion and to connect with old friends, enemies, and his true love. It’s classic literature with some important history mixed in.
Bai Ganyo: Incredible Tales of a Modern Bulgarian, by Aleko Konstantinov
Another novel written in the late 1800s, this one takes on a more comical twist as you read about the misadventures of a rose-oil salesman named Ganyo Balkanski. He travels throughout Europe, bumbling his way through meetings with the upper class of Vienna, St. Petersburg, and Dresden. But then things turn slightly darker as Ganyo returns to Bulgaria where he finds that bribes and election-rigging are the norm now that Bulgaria has emerged from the Ottoman Empire. You’ll love this book and Ganyo is an odd but endearing character.
Party Headquarters, by Georgi Tenev
The award-winning Party Headquarters takes place in the 80s and 90s, as Bulgaria transitions from communism to democracy. The story follows the main character as he visits his father-in-law, who is a communist party boss tasked with delvering a suitcase filled with an enormous sum of money before he dies. It’s all based on a popular Bulgarian myth — many people believe that as the communist party fell apart, officials kept bags and suitcases of the country’s wealth, and now they’re circulating Europe waiting to be delivered to conspirators.
Valley of Thracians, by Ellis Shuman
In this book, a Peace Corps volunteer has gone missing in Bulgaria, and everyone (except his grandfather, Simon Matthews) believes him to be dead. Matthews, a retired literature professor, starts a search to find his grandson, but then gets tangled up in a quest to uncover a stolen and incredibly valuable Thracian artifact. Matthews travels across Bulgaria and the Balkans, exploring ancient tombs and fortresses, until he learns that the only hope he has of leaving the country with his grandson is if he finds the missing relic…somehow. It’s an easy read, and a fun one.
Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria, by Kapka Kassabova
Kapka Kassabova was born in Sofia during the communist party’s authoritarian regime. After escaping with her family once the Berlin Wall collapsed, she lived in the UK, New Zealand, Argentina, and a handful of other places. She decided to return to her home country once Bulgaria accepted democracy and became a member of the European Union, only to find the country struggling under the new way of life. This is a great book if you want to know what it was like to live on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
Varna Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Bulgaria and continue planning your trip: