Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria) was the first stop in our Balkan road trip. We quickly found a convenient place to stay, based on the Lonely Planet recommendations, took a shower and went for a long walk.
Our small group discovered Veliko Tarnovo’s street art, admired its bright terraced houses, got caught by the rain at Assen’s monument and visited Tsaravets Fortress. We also went to Marno Pole Park and found ourselves in the middle of a colourful festival.
If you’re short on time, you can just skip to the Quick Guide at the end of the article. If not, join me in exploring Veliko Tarnovo!
Veliko Tarnovo Street Art
As we were wandering on old, narrow, terraced houses, some well-kept and renovated, others deserted and maybe close to falling apart, we discovered by interesting and beautiful wall art.
Another favourite of mine, which we discovered by pure luck, is this painted staircase:
A Secret Garden After a wedding ceremony
While we were walking, we went down some other stairs and we ended up in a hidden garden of what I believe was a deserted church. However, it looked as if someone had held a wedding ceremony there not too long ago. The decorations on the ceiling were still there, and so were some light installations, although several of the bulbs were missing:
While you’re visiting Veliko Tarnovo, I strongly advise you to get lost on the narrow streets, while picking random stairways to go up and down on. I promise you’ll always come across a nice surprise on the way!
Veliko Tarnovo’s Fortress: Tsaravets
In the afternoon, though it was still quite hot outside, we went and visited Tsaravets, the fortress of Veliko Tarnovo.
The fortress dates back to the second millennium BC and has faced many attacks, especially from the Ottoman Empire. The latter has finally conquered it and burned it down in 1393. The story of the conquering and other important moments from the history of Tsaravets have been turned into an audiovisual spectacle, called The Sound and Light Show. The show has been put on stage since 1985, and it consists of lasers, lights, music and church bells.
You can take a peek at The Sound and Light Show here.
As you climb up, at the very top you will come across a church, the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God. Step inside and you will get to gaze at some very interesting, modern frescoes.
The Assen Dynasty Monument
The monument is dedicated to four kings from the Assen Dynasty (Assen, Peter, Kaloyan and Ivan Assen II). You can see their representation the large sword in the image below. This sword represents the power and the rise of Bulgaria in the medieval times.
The Assen Dynasty Monument was built in 1985 when Bulgaria was celebrating 800 years since the rebellion of brothers Assen and Peter.
The Veliko Tarnovo International Folklore Festival
In the evening, while we were walking through Marno Pole Park, we saw two guys heading to a stage. I followed them and asked if they knew what was happening there.
They were from a band from New Orleans called Komenka Ethnic Ensemble and they were taking part in a folk festival. They weren’t sure if we needed tickets or not, but since we had already entered through the backstage, the two of them told us to just go ahead and take a seat.
So we stayed a bit. Their band opened and they were followed by numbers from Mexico, Taiwan, Argentina, then it was their turn again… And soon after that, we left, but we really enjoyed it!
As we found out, the International Folklore Festival in Veliko Tarnovo is apparently a pretty big deal. It started in 1998 and, from its very beginning, it was one of the 270 festivals recognized by CIOFF*. It brings together groups from all the corners of the world, in a wonderful musical mosaic, and is a pleasant way to relax and cool down at the end of a hot summer day.
* International Council of Organizers of Festivals for Folklore and Traditional Arts Official Partner of UNESCO
Discover Veliko Tarnovo street art and much more!
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Quick Travel Guide for Veliko Tarnovo
Where to stay in Veliko Tarnovo
Mehana Slavyanska Dusha
Hotel and restaurant in Veliko Tarnovo, 8 minutes away from the Yantra River. Perfect if you’re on a budget. The rooms are clean, the food is tasty, and the staff is very friendly, even though they didn’t really speak English. Family-friendly.
Address: 21 Nikola Zlatarski, Veliko Tarnovo 5000 | See on map
Book your stay at Mehana Slavyanska Dusha now!
What to visit in Veliko Tarnovo
Open daily from 08.00 to 19.00 (April – October) or from 09.00 to 17.00 ( November-March). Tickets cost 6 leva (€3) for adults, 2 leva (€1) for students. The scenic elevator ride costs 2 leva (€1).
Address: Tsar Asen Square, Veliko Tarnovo 5000 | See on map
The Assen Dynasty Monument | Free
Address: Sveta Gora, Veliko Tarnovo 5003 | See on map
Marno Pole Park | Free
Address: Marno Pole, Veliko Tarnovo 5000 | See on map
Veliko Tarnovo Events
The Light and Sound Show
International Folklore Festival | Free
Other Useful Articles
- Kathmanduandbeyond’s article on Veliko Tarnovo street art. It comes with a handy map.