Varna is one of Bulgaria’s most popular destinations. While just over 335,000 people call the city home, during the summertime, its pristine Black Sea beaches fill up with over 1 million people, drawn to the sunny weather and fun nightlife.
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 are teeming with travelers and locals looking to enjoy their summer holidays.
It may not be an off-the-beaten-path destination, but it’s a fun one and definitely worth a short visit. If you only have time to hit one beach town in Bulgaria, pick Varna.
This Varna travel guide can help you plan your trip, lower your costs, and ensure you make the most of 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 CE Roman Baths are remarkably well-preserved. They’re the largest in Bulgaria and the fourth largest in all 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. 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 time.
3. Visit the History of Varna Museum
Originally built in 1851, this building was once the Belgian Embassy, a hotel, and prison before becoming the History of Varna Museum. This museum’s exhibits 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 historic brewing equipment. Admission is 4 BGN.
4. Check out the Ethnographic Museum
Within this revival-era mansion lies one of the most impressive museum collections Bulgaria has to offer. It covers life from the 19th and 20th centuries and showcases agricultural tools, wine-making, weaving, fishing, and more. There is also a lot of period furniture, clothing, and jewelry covering this period in Varna’s history. Admission is 4 BGN.
5. Go to the Festival and Congress Center
This is one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the Balkans. There are always festivals, cinema and theater performances, exhibitions, shows, conferences, symposia, and other events taking place here. It’s also home to a handful of restaurants and cafés. Try to catch something there while you’re in town. Check the website to see what’s on during your visit.
6. Visit the Astronomical Observatory
The Astronomical Observatory is the largest and most modern observatory in the Balkans. 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. It’s super informative! Admission is 4 BGN.
7. Tour the Naval Museum
Varna’s history is tied to the sea so consider paying a visit to the Naval Museum. Opened to the public in 1923, the highlight here is the Drazki, a destroyer that torpedoed a Turkish cruiser during the Balkan War in 1912. There are also exhibits featuring model ships, uniforms, anchors, artillery, and more. Admission is 5 BGN.
8. Go bungee jumping
If you need a thrill, go bungee jumping off the 100-foot-tall Asparuhov Most bridge. You’ll soar through the air above a canal with a panoramic view of the city spread out before you. It’s 60 BGN for one jump.
9. Explore Aladzha Manastir Cave Monastery
This mysterious rock monastery is composed of 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, though they are decorated by colorful frescoes from the 13th and 14th centuries. There are also catacombs and a tiny archaeological museum here. Tickets are 5 BGN.
For more information on other cities in Bulgaria, check out these guides:
Varna Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Most hostels in Varna cost 16-20 BGN per night for a dorm bed in a room with 4-6 beds. Private rooms cost 50 BGN per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels have self-catering facilities.
Budget hotel prices – Budget two-star hotels cost 70-100 BGN, but there aren’t too many of them in the city. For a three-star hotel, prices start at 100-115 BGN per night. Expect basic amenities like TV and free Wi-Fi.
Airbnb is available in Varna, with private rooms ranging from 35-75 BGN per night. You can find an entire home/apartment for around 100-120 per night.
Food – Bulgarian cuisine is hearty and similar to that of its Balkan neighbors. Meaty stews with lamb, goat, or chicken are common, as are sausages and all kinds of yogurts (dairy products are big here). Popular dishes include kebapche (grilled mincemeat), shopska salad (a salad with tomato, cucumber, and cheese; similar to Greek salad), and moussaka.
Street food like banica (cheese pastry) are as little as 1.50 BGN. You can pick up a hearty shopska salad for 7 BGN or kebab for about 2 BGN.
A fast-food meal (think McDonald’s) costs 9 BGN. A traditional meal at a casual restaurant shouldn’t cost more than 15 BGN, while a local beer at the bar is 4 BGN. If you want to splash out, a three-course meal costs around 25 BGN.
Lattes cost around 2.75 BGN while bottled water is around 1 BGN.
Grocery shopping is very cheap here. A week’s worth of basic staples like pasta, rice, seasonal produce, and some meat or seafood costs 40-45 BGN.
Backpacking Varna Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Varna, expect to spend 55 BGN per day. This assumes you’re staying in a hostel dorm, cooking all your meals, limiting your drinking, taking public transportation to get around, and doing mostly free activities like enjoying the beach. If you plan on drinking or partying, add 10-20 BGN to your daily budget.
On a mid-range budget of 120 BGN per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb, eat out for most meals at cheap fast food joints, enjoy a couple of drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do more paid activities like visiting museums and going bungee jumping.
On a “luxury” budget of 215 BGN or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, drink more, rent a car or take more taxis, and do whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. 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 BGN.
Varna Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Varna is very affordable, but it’s a popular beach destination for vacationers from all over Europe so be prepared to pay extra during peak season. Here are some ways to save money in Varna during your visit:
- Stay with a local – Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free! Couchsurfing connects you with locals who can give you a free place to stay while sharing their insider tips with you. It’s an awesome cultural exchange website.
- Take a free walking tour – Walking tours are a great way to get familiar with a city and the culture. Varna’s municipality organizes a free Varna Highlights Walk a few times a week, starting at the Tourist Information Center. Check with them for exact times and dates.
- Visit 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, prices are also much lower so it’s a trade-off.
- 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 and tasting. It’s 24 BGN for a one-day pass, 30 BGN for a two-day pass, and 36 for a three-day pass.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Varna
While Varna is a resort destination, there are a couple hostels here that can help you have an affordable visit. Here are my suggested places to stay:
How to Get Around Varna
Public transportation – Varna is a small city that’s well connected by bus. You can buy a one-way fare for 1 BGN. To check schedules and plan your route, use the Moovit app.
Taxi – The starting rate for a taxi in Varna is 1 BGN, and then an additional 0.79 BGN per kilometer. Just make sure your driver uses a meter as some drivers will try to scam visitors by not turning it on. Considering the bus covers all the main areas of town, you can likely skip the taxis here.
Bicycle – Varna is easy to get around by bicycle. You can rent a bicycle 17 BGN per day from Rent a Bike Varna, or hourly for 5 BGN.
Car rental – Car rentals are super affordable, costing as little as 25 BGN for a multi-day rental. However, unless you’re leaving the city to explore the region you won’t need one.
When to Go to Varna
Being a beach destination, the best time to visit Varna is in the summer. The area experiences the highest temperatures between June and August, with average daily highs hovering around 27°C (81°F). It rarely gets cooler than 15°C (59°F) at night. This is the busiest time of year for Varna 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 22°C (72°F), and rain is minimal.
Fall (September-November) and Winter (December-February) are the least busy times to visit with temperatures dropping below 0°C (31°F) in winter. Many of Varna’s attractions close for the late fall and winter season so I’d probably skip a winter visit if you can.
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 incidents are rare. Nevertheless, always keep your valuables secure and out of sight just to be safe.
Don’t leave your valuables unattended at the beach as theft there can occur (especially during the summer).
When taking a taxi, make sure the driver uses the meter so you don’t get ripped off. If they don’t, get out and find a driver who will.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about common travel scams to avoid here.
When out at the bar, always keep an eye on your drink. Also, never walk home alone if you’ve been drinking just to be safe.
If you experience an emergency, dial 112 for assistance.
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 wouldn’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. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- 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).
- HostelPass – This new card gives you up to 20% off hostels throughout Europe. It’s a great way to save money. They’re constantly adding new hostels too. I’ve always wanted something like this and glad it finallt exists.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do group tours, go with Intrepid. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts with them too!
- Grassroots Volunteering – For volunteering, Grassroots Volunteering compiles a list of good local volunteer organizations that keep the money within the community.
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- Fat Tire Tours – For bike tours (as well as food tours and cooking classes), check out Fat Tire Tours. They have fun, intereactive tours led by expert local guides. You’ll get to see all the main sights without breaking the bank!
- Rail Europe – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- 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.
- FlixBus – German based Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low 5 EUR (6 USD)! Their buses include WiFi, electrical outlets, and up to three 3 free bags.
- BlaBlaCar – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
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
Written in 1888, this book 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, its 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 as 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 delivering a suitcase filled with an enormous sum of money before he dies. It’s all based on a popular Bulgarian myth as many people believe that as the communist party fell apart, officials kept bags and suitcases of the country’s wealth for their own personal gain.
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 eventually 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: