Veliko Tarnovo: Bulgaria’s Time Capsule Waiting to be Explored


Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, transcends the typical tourist destination. This city, once the medieval capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, pulsates with history, architectural marvels, and a unique blend of ancient and modern life. Nestled amidst dramatic cliffs and overlooking the Yantra River, Veliko Tarnovo offers a captivating glimpse into Bulgaria’s glorious past.

  • A Storied Legacy: From Thracian Roots to Tsardom Glory

Veliko Tarnovo’s rich history stretches far back in time, even predating its rise as the Bulgarian Tsardom capital. The first evidence of life in the area dates back to an impressive 4000 BCThese early inhabitants were Thracian tribes, who left their mark on the region. 

Following the Thracians, various civilizations and empires left their imprint on the region, including the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines.  However, it was the arrival of the Bulgarians in the 7th century AD that marked a turning point.  They laid the foundation for the rise of the powerful Bulgarian Tsardom, with Veliko Tarnovo ultimately becoming its heart.

The reign of Tsars like Asen I, Ivan Asen II, and Kaloyan saw the empire reach its zenith, with its influence spreading across the Balkan Peninsula.  Grand palaces, fortified walls, and magnificent churches became testaments to the city’s grandeur during this period.

  • Ottoman Conquest and Beyond: A City Reborn

The arrival of the Ottoman Turks in the late 14th century marked the end of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Veliko Tarnovo fell under Ottoman rule for nearly five centuries. Despite this, the city retained its cultural and spiritual significance, with its churches and monasteries continuing to serve the Bulgarian people. Following Bulgaria’s liberation in the late 19th century, Veliko Tarnovo rose again, becoming a symbol of national revival and cultural pride.

  • Exploring Veliko Tarnovo’s Treasures

Today, Veliko Tarnovo is a vibrant city where history whispers from every cobbled street. Here are some must-see landmarks:

Tsarevets: The crown jewel of Veliko Tarnovo is undoubtedly Tsarevets, the fortified citadel perched atop a hill. Explore the ruins of the Tsarevets Fortress, the royal palace, and the Patriarchal Church, all remnants of the city’s glorious past. It is worth mentioning the fact that Tsarevets was the most visited site not only for the city but also for the whole of Bulgaria in 2023.

Tsarevets Sound and Light Show: Immerse yourself in history with the nightly Sound and Light Show at Tsarevets. This captivating spectacle brings the fortress’s past to life with dramatic lighting, music, and narration.

Delving Deeper: Unveiling the Secrets of Trapezitsa: While Tsarevets undoubtedly takes center stage, Veliko Tarnovo boasts another historical gem – Trapezitsa Hill. This fortified hill, once the second fortress of the inner city of medieval Tarnovgrad, offers a glimpse into the city’s past. Archaeological excavations have unearthed the remains of 21 churches, testaments to the city’s rich religious heritage.

A City Steeped in History: Beyond Tsarevets and Trapezitsa: While Tsarevets and Trapezitsa steal the spotlight, Veliko Tarnovo boasts a third historic hill – Sveta Gora (Holy Mountain). This rise served not as a military stronghold, but as the city’s cultural and educational heart, radiating influence throughout Europe’s southeast. Sveta Gora was once home to several monasteries, reminiscent of Mount Athos, the center of Orthodox monasticism. Among these monasteries, the “St. Mother of God Hodigitria” played a pivotal role. Within its walls, the revered Patriarch Euthymius of Bulgaria founded the Tarnovo Book School in the 14th century. This renowned school flourished, producing countless scribes, philosophers, and scholars who shaped Bulgarian literature and culture. Today, the legacy of Sveta Gora and the Tarnovo Book School lives on in the imposing presence of Veliko Tarnovo University, situated on the very same hill.

A Spiritual Tapestry: Unveiling Veliko Tarnovo’s Churches: Veliko Tarnovo’s rich history extends beyond its fortresses and hills. The city boasts a remarkable collection of churches, serving as testaments to its deep religious heritage. For the religious, the faithful, and the simply curious, Veliko Tarnovo offers a treasure trove of 13 active churches and chapels, each imbued with a rich and interesting past. These active houses of worship serve as vibrant spiritual centers for the local community. Additionally, 7 non-active churches stand as captivating cultural monuments, whispering tales of bygone eras.

Saint Dimitar: A Crown Jewel of Bulgarian History: Among Veliko Tarnovo’s many churches, Saint Dimitar holds a particularly significant place. Considered the oldest medieval church in the city, Saint Dimitar served as the stage for a pivotal moment in Bulgarian history. Within its hallowed walls, each of the brothers – Petar, Asen, and Kaloyan – were crowned Bulgarian tsars, marking the rise of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Standing before this church, one can almost feel the weight of history and imagine the grandeur of coronation ceremonies.

Bulgaria’s El Camino: The Holy Path: For those seeking a unique pilgrimage experience, Bulgaria offers its own “El Camino” – a national pilgrimage route called the “Holy Path.” This path, dedicated to the transfer of Saint Ivan Rilski’s relics from Veliko Tarnovo to the Rila Monastery, stretches approximately 600 kilometers and takes about a month to complete. The route winds its way through stunning landscapes and connects dozens of holy places, offering an opportunity for spiritual reflection and a deeper appreciation of Bulgarian religious history.

Arbanassi: A short distance from Veliko Tarnovo lies Arbanassi, a village renowned for its architectural heritage. Wander through charming cobbled streets, marvel at the 16th-century murals adorning the Church of the Nativity, and explore the Konstantsaliev House Museum, a typical dwelling from the Bulgarian National Revival period.

A Miniature Adventure: Exploring Mini Bulgaria: For those who want a taste of Bulgaria beyond Veliko Tarnovo’s city limits, a visit to Mini Bulgaria Park is a must. Nestled conveniently just below Tsarevets, this open-air museum offers a delightful miniature escapade. Spread across an area of 12,500 sq. m, the park showcases meticulously crafted models of the country’s most famous landmarks. Visitors can stroll through miniature replicas of architectural marvels like the Rila Monastery, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, and even the Tsarevets Fortress itself (though in miniature form)! Mini Bulgaria Park offers a fun and informative way to get acquainted with Bulgaria’s architectural heritage, all within a short distance of Veliko Tarnovo’s historical heart.

Stroll the Gurko Street: Immerse yourself in the city’s atmosphere by strolling down Gurko Street, the main pedestrian walkway. Lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants, this vibrant street offers a chance to sample local delicacies, browse for souvenirs, and people-watch.

  • Beyond the Sights: A City Alive with Culture

Veliko Tarnovo is more than just a historical site. The city boasts a lively cultural scene. Catch a performance at the emblematic Puppet Theatre, or enjoy a traditional Bulgarian folk music concert. Art enthusiasts can explore the galleries showcasing the works of local artists. In the evenings, the city comes alive with bustling nightlife, offering a variety of bars and restaurants to suit all tastes.

  • A Timeless Enchantment

Veliko Tarnovo is one of the most beautiful cities in Bulgaria. They say that this is a fairy-tale city, that everything is harmonious here, that the city is magic. Whether you’re a history buff or simply seeking a charming and atmospheric destination, Veliko Tarnovo promises an unforgettable Bulgarian experience. So, pack your walking shoes, embrace the city’s captivating past, and embark on a journey through the heart of Bulgaria’s Tsardom glory.

Find Your Perfect Accommodation: View the Best Hotels in Veliko Tarnovo by Guest Reviews

Latest from Blog


Obzor: Where the Mountain Meets the Sea

Obzor is a charming town located on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, positioned almost equidistantly between Varna (65 km) and Burgas (70 km). It is known for its unique combination of