In The Middle of Bulgaria: Veliko Tarnovo and Around
I guess you don't know that Sofia hasn't always been the capital of Bulgaria. Don't worry, many locals have no damn idea about this too. Well, that's OK because it has been nearly 150 years ago when the capital of the country was Veliko Tarnovo. And one good reason for it is that Tarnovo (as we use to call it shortly) is located in the middle of the country next to the Balkan (Stara Planina).
So, is there anything to see in Veliko Tarnovo besides knowing it has been old capital?
Things to See and Do
One of the most popular landmarks is the Tsarevets Fortress. It's located at a walking distance of Samovodska Charshiya. And this is the place where most tourist attractions, guest houses and hostels are. Just have in mind that the fortress closes at about 6 PM (how smart) so don't delay your going there.
You may also be interested in the Sound and Light show which is performed there on weekends in the summer. You can see pretty much of it from the city even without buying a ticket. But if you want the full experience, it's just €10 and well worth it.
Tsarevets is of course not the only reason to visit the city. It's an univercity city full of young people and attractions. Museums, art galleries, and theatres are abundant. It's well worth to visit the old city, the churches and monasteries, and the parks.
If you are interested in architecture you'll have a lot to see in Tarnovo as well. The city is hilly and this comes with charming mountain architecture, a nice mix of old-style and modern new buildings. There are also four bridges connecting the different parts of the city.
All this comes with excellent and affordable public transportation, one of the best in Bulgaria. So don't worry if you have some time you'll be able to visit all interesting places in Veliko Tarnovo.
How To Get There
Being in the middle of Bulgaria is a good thing but not as good for getting there from abroad. There is no airport in Tarnovo neither good train connections. So the best way to get there is by road. By car it will take you about 3 hrs from Sofia or from Varna. Buses from Sofia and Varna also stop in Veliko Tarnovo several times per day. The price is about € 10.
If you prefer trains you can get any train to Gorna Oryahovitsa. Gorna Oryahovitsa is the main railroad hub in North Bulgaria so there are several trains daily going to Sofia and Varna. The trip is about 4 hours. If you are coming by land from Romania, you can also reach Gorna Oryahovitsa by train from Ruse. Once in the city, the local buses will take you to Tarnovo in 20 minutes. You can even take a taxi, it's just 10 km distance.
As already said above, Gorna Oryahovitsa is just next to Tarnovo and reachable by the city public transportation. There are also nice small towns and villages around so if you have more time, you can jump on a random bus and go somewhere.
One of the popular places around is the village of Arbanassi which is just 5km away. It's an architectural reserve and a museum and one of the 100 tourist sites of Bulgaria.
Relatively close is also the town of Gabrovo with the popular Etar Architectural-Ethnographic Complex, the House of Humor and Satire, the Shipka Memorial (18 km away), Dryanovo Monastery, and many other interesting locations.
I recommend you to spend at least a week in the region of Veliko Tarnovo if you can afford the time. Although touristic, the area is less popular than Sofia and the Black Sea Coast and will reveal you more of the real charming Bulgaria.
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