Wanderlust took over me once again, so I decided to make a quick getaway for a weekend. This time I chose Bulgaria as my destination, making the trip my third visit to this country. But I must say, this was my favorite from them all. As I have a soft spot for medieval cities, I decided to see the ‘City of the Tsars’, Veliko Tarnovo. This was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire and is one of the oldest cities in Bulgaria. Moreover, it has an incredible stronghold – Tsarevets Fortress – which I just had to see!
Stairs. Stairs everywhere.
Before I start, I must warn you: if you are the type of person who likes to explore thoroughly the places you visit, then you should consider getting physically prepared for this city. There are long strings of stairs everywhere. It will leave you breathless. Literally.
First, let’s explore Tsarevets Fortress. If you’re not in a hurry, take my advice and reserve a whole day to wander around. I don’t even have to tell you how to get there, because you will know. The fortress is big, visible and it dominates the city’s skyline.
Before you dash towards the fortress, there are some things you need to know. First, look around. Somewhere on the left side there will be a ticket office. It’s nothing fancy, so you’ll probably have to look more than once to find it. Useful tip: If you are a student you can buy a ticket for 2 leva (1 euro), instead of paying the full price of 6 leva (about 3 euro). Perfect if you’re on a budget! Here it doesn’t matter if you have on you a national or an international student card. Moreover, every last Thursday of the month you can visit Tsarevets Fortress for free! How cool is that?
If you visit during summertime, make sure you take water with you because the heat is often merciless. Also, consider covering your head with a hat, a cap or a wide headband. If possible, start your exploration in the morning, take a break during noon and have a nice picnic under the cool shade of a tree, while enjoying the views. Also, be sure to stick around for the sunset and later on for a spectacular light show. And just to be sure you return in one piece, be careful how you walk. In some place there are potholes, slippery stone steps and even missing steps & handrails.
Now that you have your survival kit ready, you may proceed to walk the stone path that leads to the main entrance gates.
The Tsarevets Fortress complex
Except you are a skilled clairvoyant that can easily see past events, you might be a little disappointed with the lack of information boards translated in English. Don’t worry though, I have your back. The fortress stands up with two main attractions: The Royal Palace and the Bulgarian Patriarchy. However, you will find yourself surrounded by many other ruins, of all shapes and sizes. These are the remains of over 20 churches, 4 monasteries, 400 houses, several watch towers and more. Still, most of what you see today was reconstructed over the years.
The Bulgarian Patriarchy
Now head towards the church on the top of the hill. I personally prefer more the outside rather the inside, which has pretty dark and nightmarish frescoes. As I was breaking my neck to look at them, I stumbled upon a stone step and almost landed in the arms of another tourist. Needless to say that my tripping resonated even in the smallest corner of the church and everyone looked at me to see what happened. And what did I do? I smiled very awkwardly, muttered a silent ‘I’m ok’, then turned towards the exit. That’s exactly what any other normal human being would do, right?
The Royal Palace
After leaving the top of the hill, I went to the Royal Palace. Even though it has lost most of it’s former resplendence, it’s fun to explore. Don’t be afraid to come closer, enter the dark chambers or climb it’s stairs. You can even get to it’s roof!
The view from the walls and watch towers
Now it’s time to head towards the fortress walls. Be careful, don’t walk along the walls if you suffer of vertigo and always be very careful where you step. There are loose and slippery stones everywhere and for your own sake falling just isn’t an option. In some places, the walls are 10 meters high and if you still think you can somehow make it out alive, remember that hundreds of years ago, those walls were used to execute traitors by being pushed to their deaths.
From place to place, you can find watch towers that will give you a breathtaking view of both the city of Veliko Tarnovo and Yantra River.
If you’re spending the night in the city, make sure you come back to the fortress at 9:30 PM to see an audiovisual show that combines music, lasers and church bells.
Other things to see in Veliko Tarnovo
What else you can do in this unique medieval city? Go sightseeing. Pretty impressive is The Assens Monument, a landmark easy to be spotted from many places of the town. It’s basically a complex of statues representing four horsemen with a sword in the middle of them. The statues depict four Bulgarian Tsars: Peter, Assen, Ivan Assen II and Kaloyan.
Veliko Tarnovo has an unique architecture and a distinctive way of building houses right on the hillside, giving them a ‘layered’ look. Therefore, the majority of streets are made of stone stairs and are very narrow. Exploring these streets is sometimes exhausting, especially if you’re like me, meaning you’re not used to climbing more than 20 stair steps at once.
I hope you now have a good idea of what’s in for you if you decide to come in this medieval paradise. Come on, The City of the Tsars has far more stories to tell! Also, if this post caught your attention and you want to find more about this country, you might be interested in reading 10 amazing facts about Bulgaria that you probably didn’t know!
We explore the tasty and the scenic in the former capital of the d Bulgarian empire Veliko Tarnovo. Eating great food is one of the main reasons we travel. And, our quest for anything covered in cheese led us to ordering (And then re-ordering) this fantastic 3 cheese flatbread. Made with a blend of mozzarella and both local with and yellow Bulgarian cheeses, it just popped. The strong white cheese, a little more melty than feta, really give a piquance to the overall flavour. Combine that with a homemade Cabernet Sauvignon and you are winning every time.
Cheese and wine… sounds amazing to me!
I never realized Bulgaria was such an interesting and beautiful country. You make me want to go. Hopefully it’s safe for an American to visit.
Yes, it’s safe. Still, you should take the usual measures of security, mostly to make sure you don’t have your things stolen. And since you’re in Bulgaria, make sure you visit Romania too, I’m sure you’ll love it. (Sorry, I couldn’t help praising my country a little bit). Thanks for stopping by :)
I never knew Bulgaria was such an interesting and beautiful country. I want to go! Hopefully it’s safe for an American to visit.
Enjoy this sightseeing, beautiful places. Love to visit .
Oh my! This looks like a dream! I wouldn’t even mind climbing up the many stairs if only to see something as beautiful as this.
Yes, it’s really beautiful. I didn’t mind climbing up the stairs either, in fact I took it like a chance to exercise more (something I always say that I want to do, but somehow never happens). Seems like travelling is my only way to keep my body in shape. People, don’t be like me! Haha
I was going to visit Veliko Tarnovo a few years ago as part of a trip to Romania and literally forgot about the city until I read this post. What a cute and charming town! I love the views from the fortress and would love to plan a trip back to Bulgaria to include this town in my travels.
You should definitely visit Veliko Tarnovo if you have the chance! Also, where have you been in Romania? It’s my home country and I would love to hear your thoughts about it :)
I loved Romania! I spent a few weeks there and started my trip in Maramures. Then, I made my way to Transylvania to visit some of the main cities and castles in the area before heading back North toward the painted monasteries of Bucovina. So much history and natural beauty in your country! I wrote some Romania posts on my blog, but I need to go back and edit them, since they were from before I transitioned to a new platform and the formatting is a bit wacky.
I searched the posts on your blog and found them. I’m so happy you had a great time in Romania and I hope you will return someday to discover more of it :)
Very informative post! It’s nice to know about all the stairs in advance, and to have a bit more background info, since things aren’t often in English. Thanks for sharing!
That’s my goal, to provide information that is normally missing in the sights I visit! Hope it will help you someday too! xoxo
Great post. I love the medeival era as well. These are great photos you captured of your trip Wow, your third time. Well, they say that ‘third times a charm’ Thanks a ton for sharing
Well, living in South-Eastern Europe has its perks: I’m near many beautiful and cheap countries, so I can easily afford to visit them more than once :)
Wow! This place is incredible!! I would love to travel here!!
Well, if you ever go to Bulgaria make sure you visit this city too. It’s even more exciting in real life :)
great view and site, never knew bulgaria had such wonderful places… and the palace is so beautiful…
thanks for sharing.
Every single country in this world has beautiful places, you just have to find them! Thank you for stopping by :)