Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396). During the Middle Ages, it was a bustling cultural and economic hub. Today, it’s a popular stopping point for travelers as they make their way from one end of Bulgaria to the other.
This quiet little town still has its medieval castle dominating the skyline (which is the main draw for tourists). There are also nearby hiking trails and monasteries worth exploring too.
Unlike in the past, not much happens here — it’s a peaceful mountain town and a hub for university students. Nevertheless, I loved the cobblestone streets, the views from the castle, the little cafes in the city, and the accessible hiking trails.
Visiting here was one of the highlights of my visit to Bulgaria.
This travel guide to Veliko Tarnovo can help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most out of your time here.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Veliko Tarnovo
1. Go hiking
2. Visit Arbanasi
3. Stroll down Samovodska Charshia
4. Tour Tsarevets Fortress
5. Wander Gurko Street
Other Things to See and Do in Veliko Tarnovo
1. Take a free walking tour
The first thing I do when I arrive in a new destination is take a free walking tour. It’s the best way to see the main highlights and learn about the culture from a local. Free Veliko Tarnovo Walking Tours offers regular free tours in English that act as a great introduction to the city. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end!
2. Visit the Boris Denev Art Gallery
This gallery showcases work by Bulgarian artists from the National Revival Period of the 20th century through to the present day. There is a permanent exhibition on the ground floor featuring paintings, drawings, and sculptures all related to life in the region, including works by locally renowned artists like Nikolai Pavlovich, Marko Markov, and Ivan Funov. Admission is 4 BGN.
3. Admire the Church of Sveti Petar and Pavel
The Church of Saint Peter and Paul has been in operation since medieval times. The murals inside date from the 13th to 17th centuries and the church blends both Byzantine and Bulgarian architectural styles, including a high dome, lots of arches, and columns decorated with carvings. Entrance is an optional 7 BGN donation, with an additional 4 BGN for if you want to take pictures.
4. Drink coffee at Shekerdzinitsa
This is a quirky little café in the old market filled with antique Bulgarian furniture. Shekerdzinitsa is the best place in town to get Turkish coffee prepared the right way — in a miniature copper pot that is run across a basin of heated sand. Come here to relax, try the coffee, and take in the local pace of life.
5. Visit Preobrazhenski Monastery
Also known as the Monastery of the Transfiguration, the Preobrazhenski Monastery is located about 7km (4.3mi) outside of town and dates to the 11th century. With its scenic clifftop views and its fascinating 19th-century murals by painter Zahari Zograf (including detailed portrayals of demons), the journey here is worth it. You can take the bus but be prepared for the 3km (2mi) hike to the top. Admission is just 2 BGN.
6. Explore Tryavna
Tryana is located about 1 hour outside of Veliko Tarnovo. It’s famous for its woodcarving artisanship, which is used in architecture across Bulgaria. Walk Tryana’s cobbled streets and its old bridges, and admire the 19th-century National Revival mansions. You can also pop into some woodcarving shops or visit the Daskalov House which contains the Museum of Woodcarving and Icon Painting (admission is 2 BGN).
7. See the Asen’s Monument
This epic monument is dedicated to the Asen Tsars that ruled Bulgaria from Veliko Tarnovo. After Ivan and Peter Asen led a murderous rebellion against the Byzantine rulers in 1186, the Asen family established their dynasty and ruled the country for 100 years. The monument commemorates the 800th anniversary of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, with the statues depicting the first four Asen rulers: Ivan, Peter, Kaloyan, and Asen II. Each one holds a sword while riding a rearing horse, all circling a sword that points skyward.
8. Go to Trapezitsa
On top of Trapezitsa hill, you’ll find a ruined fortress with restored ramparts. Unlike Tsarevets, this fort is mainly in ruins. It’s a massive site with a museum detailing an interactive history of Trapezitsa, including artifacts (like jugs and tools) uncovered from the hill. The entrance is from the Asenov quarter in Veliko Tarnovo and there’s lots of signage so you won’t get lost. They have funicular open in during the summer but I think hiking up to the top through the main entrance is much more exciting. The funicular costs 10 BGN while entrance to the site is 6 BGN.
For more information on other cities in Bulgaria, check out these guides:
Veliko Tarnovo Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Hostel dorms with 6-8 beds cost 14-22 BGN per night. Private rooms cost 25-55 BGN. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels have self-catering facilities.
Budget hotel prices – Budget two-star hotels range from 40-90 BGN. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi and TV. Some also include free breakfast.
Airbnb is limited in Veliko Tarnovo, with private rooms starting at 40-75 BGN per night, while an entire home or apartment costs closer to 110 BGN 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.
You’ll find the cheapest food in Veliko Tarnovo at the many bakeries and pastry shops. Food like banica (cheese pastry) are as little as 1 BGN.
A meal at a casual restaurant serving traditional cuisine with a drink costs around 10 BGN. Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around 8 BGN for a combo meal.
If you want to splash out, a meal at a high-end restaurant with wine costs around 25 BGN.
Beer is around 2-3 BGN while a latte/cappuccino costs around 2 BGN. Bottled water is less than 1 BGN.
If you plan on cooking your own food, a week’s worth of groceries costs 40-45 BGN. This gets you basic staples like rice, pasta, seasonal produce, and some meat.
Backpacking Veliko Tarnovo Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Veliko Tarnovo, expect to spend about 50 BGN per day. This assumes you’re cooking all your meals, limiting your drinking, staying in a hostel dorm, taking public transportation to get around, and doing mostly free activities like hiking and visiting the churches. If you plan on drinking, add 5-10 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 fast food places, have a few drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do more paid activities like visiting the fortress and the museums.
On a “luxury” budget of 210 BGN per day or more, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, drink more, rent a car or take more taxis, and do whatever paid 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.
Veliko Tarnovo Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Veliko Tarnovo is an affordable place to visit as there are numerous cheap and free things to do around town. You don’t need to worry about breaking the bank here. That said, here are some extra ways to save money in Veliko Tarnovo:
- Stay with a local – Use Couchsurfing to find a local who can host you for free. You’ll save money on accommodation and get to connect with a local insider who can share their tips and advice with you.
- Take a free walking tour – Walking tours are a great way to get familiar with a city and the culture. Free Veliko Tarnovo Walking Tours takes you all around town to show you the best highlights. Just be sure to tip!
- Skip the taxis – Taxis in Bulgaria are cheap, but they can add up if you overuse them. Skip the taxis as much as you can.
- Cook your own food – Restaurants here are affordable, but cooking your own meals is even cheaper. Head to the grocery stores and markets if you’re on a budget.
- Eat at the bakeries – Bakeries in Bulgaria have inexpensive pastries and other baked good that can fill you up in the morning. Two of my favorite snacks there are banica and krenvirshka.
- 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 Veliko Tarnovo
There are only a handful of hostels in Veliko Tarnovo but they’re all affordable and comfortable. Here are my suggested places to stay:
How to Get Around Veliko Tarnovo
Public transportation – You’ll likely get around most places in Veliko Tarnovo on foot, but there is also a small public bus network. You can buy a ticket on board from the driver for 1 BGN.
Taxi – The base rate for a taxi in Veliko Tarnovo is 1.40 BGN and then 0.93 BGN per kilometer. While affordable, they can add up so stick to the bus if you can.
Bike rental – Veliko Tarnovo is easy to bike around, with rentals costing around 12 BGN per day.
Car rental – Car rentals are super affordable here, costing as little as 25 BGN per day for a multi-day rental. You won’t need one to get around town but if you want to explore the region at large having a car might be helpful.
When to Go to Veliko Tarnovo
Summer in Veliko Tarnovo is warm and sunny, with temperatures between June to mid-September ranging from 16-24°C (60-76°F). This is also the busiest time of year for tourists. If you visit during this time, make sure you book your accommodations in advance as hostels are limited.
Fall (September-November) and spring (March-May) are the shoulder seasons, with temperatures rarely dropping below 6°C (43°F) or going above 24°C (76°F). This is an excellent time to visit if you want to avoid the crowds and if you want to do some hiking.
December to February are the coldest months, with temperatures dropping to below freezing. Since tourism dies out for the winter, keep in mind that some businesses and tourist attractions may be closed for the season.
How to Stay Safe in Veliko Tarnovo
Being a small town, Veliko Tarnovo is very safe. Petty crime like pick-pocketing is the most common danger you’ll face, but even that is rare here. I never once felt unsafe while here, even at night.
That said, always make sure your valuables are secure and out of sight when you’re out and about, just to be safe.
When out at the bar, always keep an eye on your drink. Also, never walk home alone while intoxicated.
While scams here are rare, if you’re worried about getting ripped off you can read about common travel scams to avoid right here.
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, find a new one.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Veliko Tarnovo! Follow that rule, and you’ll avoid being the victim of petty crime.
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.
Veliko Tarnovo Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Veliko Tarnovo. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- 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.
- 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 in theirspare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can share 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.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes 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!
Veliko Tarnovo 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:
Veliko Tarnovo 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.
Veliko Tarnovo Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Bulgaria and continue planning your trip: