1. Which is the most prominent sight of Veliko Tarnovo?
Definitely the fortifications located across the Tsarevets hill!
In 1187, two years after throwing off the Byzantine rule, the brothers Peter and Assen proclaimed Veliko Tarnovo capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. Until the 14th century, when the Turks conquered the country, the town was an important political, trade and cultural centre in Europe. However, in 1393, despite the fortifications and the protective ramparts, Veliko Tarnovo was brutally captured and burnt down to the ground by the Turks.
Today you’ll find the fully restored Holy Assumption Patriarchal Church which has a modern interior and recorded monastic chanting. Below is the Royal Palace which has been home of kings and noble men for two centuries but it’s still under reconstruction. To the west is the restored Baldwin Tower, named after Baldwin of the Flanders, a Crusader. According to folklore legends, Baldwin was imprisoned here. The Queen fell in love with him and tried to help him escape. The King executed Baldwin after finding out about this. Later, the Queen arranged the murder of her husband. Never trust women! ;)
The ups and downs of Bulgarian history are symbolically carried out through the multi-coloured Light Show, accompanied by Bulgarian folklore music. Different colours depict different stages in history. Pink features Bulgaria as a newborn child; violet shows the glory of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom; flashing lights depict the fear and disturbances of wartime, full darkness symbolizes the country being under Ottoman rule (for 500 years!); red is the colour of the pushing heart and vigour of the Bulgarian people, with the bells ringing to celebrate the liberation; finally, violet and green – the return to the grandeur and the readiness to fight enemies in times of trouble.
2. What time is the Light Show?
Unfortunately, nobody can tell when and what time exactly it happens. A minimum of 25 people is required to pay 12 leva (6 Euros) each, or at least 300 leva (150 Euros) in total. The good news is that you can watch it free of charge from the balcony in the hostel though you won’t be able to hear the music very well. A better alternative is to go to the small square in front of the fortress where you’ll be within earshot – worth trying ‘cos the music is stunning!
3. Is the fortress open for visitors? How far is it from the hostel?
The fortress is open for visitors in the daytime (working hours vary depending on high/low season) and 4 leva admission fee is collected. Though it looks as if the fortress is far from the hostel, it actually isn’t. It’s about 10 minutes on foot, you only have to get to the main street and keep walking along it in direction opposite the centre.
4. What other popular sights in town do you recommend?
Samovodska charshia near the hostel is one of the oldest streets in town, a vantage point for merchants and tradesmen in the past, with its Revival buildings, many workshops, boutiques and souvenir shops.
"This was a street in which you could find everything. Particularly on Wendesdays and Fridays which, were market days, it was more like a fair. There could be so many people there that if one tries to throw an egg down there would be nowhere for it to fall," old shopkeepers retell, remembering those days.
Nearby is the exquisite House with the Monkey (so called because of the statuette of a grimacing monkey on its ornate brick facade; no monkeys inside), built by Koliu Ficheto, a self-taught Bulgarian master-builder.
Gurko Street is probably the most romantic street in town, a fine example of an architectural ensemble. Sarafkina kashta is the most remarkable here, with only two floors visible from the street and another three overhanging the river. Walking along Gurko Street you’ll enjoy the wonderful view of the Yantra river and the Monument of the Assens. The latter was built in memory of the Bulgarian kings who founded the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. It’s a huge construction, with a sword in the centre and four horsemen around it. A woman holding a baby is standing in the middle, symbolizing Mother Bulgaria and the Bulgarian people. To get there you cross over Stambolov’s bridge where on particular occasions you can see bunjee jumping.
5. Are there places to visit in the surroundings?
The region around Veliko Turnovo boasts many attractive landscapes and scenic landmarks. The appearance of the city’s immediate surroundings is shaped by deep valleys flanked by steep limestone rocks, making it Bulgaria’s premier spot for rock climbing. In addition to the numerous rock climbing routes, there are remarkable trails, such as the “Negovanca” eco-trail (in the village of Emen), “Preobrajenska” eco-trail just a few kilometers outside of the city, eco-trails to the village of Arbanassi, Dryanovo monastery’s eco-trail and many more, which will take you to scenic sights such as caves, narrow gorges, waterfalls and spectacular lookout points.
The region of Veliko Turnovo is also quite popular for mountain biking, as well as horseback riding. Near the village of Arbanassi you can find excellent riding grounds, as well as many streams, rivers and lakes perfect for swimming and fishing.
The village of Arbanassi is one of the most popular destinations in Bulgaria. It’s only four kilometres from Veliko Tarnovo and you can even see its outskirts from the balcony in the hostel. An ethnographic complex and a national architectural reserve, Arbanassi attarcts not only tourists but archaeologists, scientists and artists as well, with its rich history, unique monuments and architectural arts heritage. There are many impressive houses there, along with the churches inside which one can observe mural paintings from 16-17th century.
Preobrazhenski Monastery (The Transfiguration of Our Lord Monastery) is one of the oldest and most beautiful monasteries in Bulgaria. It’s about seven kilometres from Veliko Tarnovo and you can go there either by bus or on foot. A recently constructed eco-trail with panoramic views of Veliko Tarnovo and the surrounding hills leads you away to the monastery. Luckily, it starts from the end of Rezervoarska Str. where the hostel is located and it’s marked all along the way. Following the tourist marks, painted on trees and stones, you finally get to the monastery. There you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the variety of colourful wall-paintings made by Zaharii Zograf, a famous Bulgarian artist. The most significant of them is the so-called Wheel of Life composition, an interpretation of the known topic of life, the four year seasons symbolizing different stages of human being, its transitoriness and eternal beginning and end.
6. How do I get to the village of Arbanassi?
Walking is possible but not advisable as the path is not marked and you take the risk of getting lost. A better option is to take a taxi – only 2-3 leva/1-1.5 euros.
7. How long does it take to go to the Preobrazhenski monastery?
About two hours. Actually, it depends on your pace, or time you spend on taking pictures, or wandering about, or whatever you do.
8. Do I have to book a day trip in advance?
Not necessarily. We arrange day trips when there’s a group of people so that they share the cost. If you can afford it, go ahead!
9. Where is the Tourist Information Centre located?
In the centre of Veliko Tarnovo, in 5 Hristo Botev Str. A big sign, illuminated at night, makes it noticable from anywhere. Very friendly and cooperative staff. Open until 5 p. m. on weekdays. Phones: 062/ 62 21 48 or 062/ 60 07 68.
10. Is there an International Ticket Office?
Rila International Railway Ticket Office is in 2A Kaloyan Str., a narrow street behind the Tourist Information Centre. You need to book a ticket at least one day prior to departure. Closed on weekends. Phone 062/62-20-42.
11. How far is the train station?
Too far, outside of town. If you happen to arrive there, check the directions to the hostel or let us know you're coming to collect you free of charge. Don’t trust people offering accommodation there, ignore them! Make sure a taxi driver turns the meter on, otherwise get off the car quickly.
12. Are there privately operated bus companies?
There are several such companies located in different parts of town. For more information on their schedule, ask Hikers Hostel staff.
13. Where can I find an ATM in the town?
One you’ll find in the shopping centre on the main street. Another is located behind the Tourist Info Centre.
14. Is there a laundry service in town?
Ladybird near the Tourist Information Centre, in 25 Hadzhi Dimitar Str., is open daily during the week and until midday on Saturdays. A very nice young lady manages the place and makes your laundry in one day. Phone 088/7002812.
15. Do you accept foreign currency?
Only euros and US dollars.
16. Where is the best place to eat?
St. George`s food & bar in The Heart of The Old Town. Great views of the fortress and a warm underground retreat where you can try a wide range of dishes which include Cottage Pie, Chicken Tikka Masala, Jacket Potatoes,
Argentinian Steak, Fish and Chips and many more...
Shtastlivetsa Pasta and Pizza on the main street! Helpful staff will bring you an English menu – you can spend at least half an hour reading it. Most cuisines included. They serve very big dishes for a very good value for money. Be careful when ordering food, one dish is enough for two unless you haven’t eaten for days. As the name of the restaurant suggests, you’re lucky to have a meal there /’shtastlivets’ is the Bulgarian for ‘happy man’, though it is originally after a famous Bulgarian writer’s pen-name/.
17. How about nightlife?
There’re several nightclubs on the main street, within a walking distance of the hostel. Bacardi Club, Tequila Bar, Pepy’s Bar, Mosquito Club and Deep are the most popular ones. Ulitsata is a beer house next to Shtastlivetsa where you can listen to rock or heavy metal music. There are also some discos in town, popular amongst teenagers and younger people. Joy, Scream and Bali are in the centre but you’d better take a taxi to Organza.