Have you noticed when you go to a coastal city people tend to be happier? We have. Whether it’s the Sun, good vibes or maybe the sea, we can clearly say there is a secret yet to be uncovered by the rest of us.
One such city is for sure Varna. Strolling through the sunny boulevards leading to the sea side makes one see why the people here always smile.
- Travel and Accommodation
- Top Things to do in Varna
- Thermae – Roman Baths
- Armenian Orthodox Church
- Stroll on Boulevard “Knyaz Boris I”
- The Clock Tower and Saedinenie (Union) Hall
- The “Dormition of the Mother of God” Cathedral
- Archaeological Museum
- Sea Garden – Primorski Park
- Euxinograd Palace
- Aladzha Monastery
- Food and drink highlights
- Final Thoughts
Varna, written Варна, pronounced [ˈvarnɐ] is the third largest city in Bulgaria. It is situated on the coastline of the Black Sea in the North part of Bulgaria.
A cultural, economic and social hub for millennia, Varna or by its ancient Greek name, Odessos, has attracted wealth, people of influence but also has been an important centre on the Black Sea for seamen.
Whilst it’s debatable when exactly Odessos changed its name to Varna, there are a few theories relating to Varna’s name etymology.
Some believe, Varangians named it after the Viking word of “varn” – shield. Others believe it to be named after a river. No one knows for sure.
Nowadays, it’s home to over 330 000 people. Its attractive coastline and busy nightlife makes it a holiday destination for many Europeans including Romanians, Germans and Russians.
Travel and Accommodation
Varna is accessible by land, air and sea transport. Depending on where you come from there are multiple options for your travel.
Varna Airport (VAR), has multiple flights from UK per week however, they tend to be a bit pricey at least from the UK. Like we mentioned in our Tips on How to Find Cheap Flights article, it’s worth exploring other airports also such as Sofia or Bucharest which could offer better rates.
Personally we came by train as we were already in Bulgaria at the time. We normally travel by train in Bulgaria as we did when we went to Sofia and Bansko as it offers a cheap means of transport.
The railway station is in itself a nice architecturally designed building and if coming by train it does warrant at least a mental snapshot.
In terms of accommodation, we would recommend booking your travel through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates. On this occasion, we chose to stay at the famous Cherno More Hotel & Casino, which we booked via Agoda as this website offered the best price.
The hotel offers ok rooms however, the view is stunning. The tower aspect of the hotel means, all rooms will get a good view of the sea and the city skyline.
Top Things to do in Varna
Like we’ve mentioned in our article How to plan a trip: Best tips for your next holiday plan, it’s worth exploring some of the attractions beforehand so you can plan your trip accordingly.
When it comes to things to do in Varna, the city doesn’t fall short compared to any other coastline cities we’ve visited. Below we aim to cover the main attractions but also explore more on what makes this city really stand out.
Thermae – Roman Baths
Yes, you read that right. No, it’s nothing to do with Therme in Bucharest although similar in concept, they are a few millennia apart.
To start with, there are several public bath ruins in Varna but we will look at the main one, not far from the main train station.
The Romans established them as means for people to use them as public baths. These baths particularly were conceived to be one of the largest in this province. Built in the 2nd century A.D. they were functional for the next 100 years.
They offered everything from changing rooms to cold water and warm baths, steam rooms and also relax areas. Not that much different you’d say from today’s modern concept of a spa.
We felt fairly intrigued to see they also had under floor heating. It was interesting to see a cross-section of such a floor and how the mechanism worked.
Armenian Orthodox Church
The Armenian Apostolic Church “St. Sargis” combines both Armenian and Georgian styles. It’s a place worth taking a few photos as it does stand out from the rest.
Stroll on Boulevard “Knyaz Boris I”
Have some cash and time to spare? If the answer is yes, then head over to this boulevard. Over here you will find a great deal of luxury shops, souvenirs and bars and cafes.
If shopping is something you’re after, this place doesn’t come cheap. I remember we went to a jewellery shop and inquired for a bracelet.
When we saw the prices we thought our eyesight was letting us down. It turned out our wallets were a bit slim.
Walking down this boulevard, you’ll be met by many period houses all dating to a bygone era. Classy and painted in bright, yet subtle tones, make this a very enjoyable walk.
Saint Nicholas Church
The boulevard opens up to the Saint Nicholas Church. In the immediate square there are plenty of cafes to sit down and gaze at the crowds of people walking up and down the street.
Head over west and join Preslav Street. It offers a nice square filled with more shops and cafes. Over there you will find the Varna Opera House.
It overseas the square and provides a very elegant almost 18th century look and feel. The theatre was build in 1947 and later became the Opera in 1999.
The Clock Tower and Saedinenie (Union) Hall
The idea to build an impressive city clock tower was accomplished in 1888 at the time when Krastyu Mirski was mayor of Varna. Varna municipality assigned to architect Sava Dimitrievich the project of a stone fire tower with a clock that should be 24 meters high.
The construction site was carefully chosen – the new clock tower in the city park and the Cathedral formed the city centre boundaries of those times.
In two years’ time the new clock tower and Saedinenie (Union) Hall were build and officially opened to visitors. Firemen used the tower since high buildings were still rare and from top of it they could watch over the entire city.
The clockwork was purchased from abroad and the prominent revolutionary Oton Ivanov fixed it on the tower and then by his late son.
The “Dormition of the Mother of God” Cathedral
The first stone upon the construction of the temple was placed by Prince Alexander I of Battenberg (1857 – 1893) in 1880. After the consecration, the prince reprieved all the prisoners from the Varna prison, for which three months of their sentences were remaining.
The name that was chosen, The Assumption of Holy Mother, was to the memory of the Russian Empress Maria Alexanrovna, benefactor of Bulgaria and aunt of the Prince.
The Cathedral boast an impressive façade dominating the skyline of the “St. Cyril and St. Methodius” square.
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Another good place where one can learn more of Varna’s history is the Archaeological Museum. Filled with many artefacts from over the past millennia it aims to uncover the heritage and legacy of this place.
Interesting enough the Museum and the wider Archaeological programme in Bulgaria have been founded by Herman and Karel Škorpil, Czechs by origin who came soon after Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottoman rule.
We came with a few minutes to spare till closing time so we didn’t have much time to spend inside but we definitely aim to make a return trip and finish the visit.
Sea Garden – Primorski Park
It’s a well-known, expansive seaside park with landscaped gardens & promenades, plus a swimming complex. We found it a very nice and enjoyable walk and a must visit place when in Varna.
The park hosts many beautiful flower arrangements as well as busts of key Bulgarian Figures scattered on each side.
The Pantheon of the Fallen of the Wars in the Sea Garden was inaugurated in November 1959. The memorial walls bear the engraved names of the fallen in the period 1923 -1944.
Varna Zoo is located within the Sea Garden in Varna. It is neighbouring the Dolphinarium. We visited this many years ago but if you have visited zoos elsewhere in Europe e.g. London Zoo, Chester Zoo, you may be a bit disappointed from this one.
Festa Dolphinarium is the only attraction of its kind in Bulgaria. It is situated amidst the greenery of the Sea Garden of Varna and offers a wonderful view over the sea.
A few years ago, we enjoyed a show at the Dolphinarium. It’s impressive how smart the dolphins are and we were truly impressed by the show and their acts. If you are visiting with kids, this might be a good stop.
This in itself can be half a day trip. An 1800s French-style palace, a former summer residence of Bulgarian royals, with extensive gardens. The name itself comes from Pontus Euxinus, the old Greek name for the Black sea.
It offers guided tours which you can book and they’re offered in any language you want as long as it’s in Bulgarian. The guide will try to accommodate other speakers in some parts of the tour but be prepared for an all round Bulgarian tour.
Fun fact, the estate hosts some impressive vineyards where they make only white wine and brandy which they call Euxignac. It derives from the famous brandies from Cognac which they put a local Bulgarian twist on them.
Half way through the tour you’ll also see the summer residence of the Bulgarian Communist Party where their most notable dictator Todor Zhivkov used to go.
We found the estate and overall the tour enjoyable, not at all fast paced and given Hristina is Bulgarian, we managed to even understand all the explanations.
We recommend this as a side day trip for any of you looking to do your summer holidays in the nearby resorts. The views from the viewing platform are similar to the views we saw in Monaco, although we can’t compare both cities.
Note: the booking is not straight-forward as you need to send an email with your details and only upon a confirmation from them, you can consider your trip booked. They offer the trip in Bulgarian, English and Russian but at the time of our visit, it was Bulgarian only.
It is a medieval Orthodox Christian cave monastery complex in north-eastern Bulgaria, 17 km north of central Varna and 3 km west of Golden Sands beach resort.
The ticket also includes a visit to the nearby museum which tries to explain a bit more about this phenomena of stone carved monasteries across Bulgaria. It seemed fairly popular in the north-eastern part of the country.
It’s another great way to break down your all-inclusive summer holiday and make a day trip and see something different.
The monastery housed monks who were looking to retreat in solitude and prayer. The complex is carved in stone. They tried to carve different rooms and prayer halls.
Once you climb to the top level where the chapel was, you’ll be greeted by an amazing view towards the sea. A must for any photo enthusiast!
Food and drink highlights
Bulgaria is known for hearty meals but also for their salads! You could go into a restaurant and go through 2 pages of menu and still be looking at salad options. Yes – they love their greens!
As we discussed in our Bansko and Sofia articles, Bulgarians enjoy their salads as starters, typically with their local brandy, called Rakia. When eating out, sharers similar to tapas are also quite popular.
Also it wouldn’t be wrong to order a parlenka either. Which is a flat bread with either cheese or garlic butter toppings. Go on, it’s a holiday after all, you’ve earned the calories ;).
On this trip we decided to go for a traditional Mehana style restaurant close to Euxinograd Palace. They tend to offer a more traditional setting and good food.
Hristina went for a Sach, which is a stone cooked almost stir-fry like dish and I went for a pork steak. All pretty delicious.
In central Varna, we went to some great places offering traditional and more international menus. The food was very well executed with good all round service.
We would recommend BM City Restaurant and Happy Bar & Grill Centre Varna. Happy Bar & Grill is a famous chain and we have visited many of their restaurants – food has always been great and the service excellent.
And last but not least, after a good stroll in Primorski Park, why not sit down by the sea on a beach of fine sand and enjoy a cocktail or your adult beverage of choice?
A good bar we went to is Cubo. It offers good prices, beach style seating and a wonderful panoramic view of the gulf.
As with any tourist coast line city, night life tends to be pretty good. Any Varnents will tell you that the place to go at night is the marina area where a new Recreational and Entertainment Zone at the Port of Varna opened a few years ago.
Similar to our experience at Nyhavn in Copenhagen, it offers a great choice of restaurants but also bars and clubs. Prices tend to be on the higher end when compared to other Bulgarian venues but the fun will be well worth it.
Varna is for sure an all round destination. Anything from great attractions to excellent restaurants and bars, this city has it all.
A safe destination for families and solo travellers with very hospitable people, Varna is a city worth considering at least for a day trip for anyone looking to do their summer holiday on the Bulgarian Riviera.
Ready to book? Below are some recommendations to get your trip started:
- Flights – we use flight aggregators such as Skyscanner and Google flights to find the best options. You can find more information about finding cheap flights here.
- Flight compensation – Compensair or AirHelp for flight delays and cancellations.
- Accommodation – would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates. We also use TripAdvisor to read reviews.
- Transport – consider Rentalcars.com for car renting or if you rely on public transport, you can use Omio for trains, coaches, ferries, airport transfers and even flights.
- Activities – a great option is GetYourGuide or Viator for tours, excursions, experiences and tickets to many tourist attractions.
- Travel money – we have Starling Bank accounts (UK residents only) with 0% fees on FX and a good Mastercard exchange rate. Revolut is another good option.
- Internet abroad – with Airalo you can access a wide range of eSIMs (digital SIM cards) available for different countries and regions.
- Luggage storage – if you need to store your bags whilst exploring the destination, you can use Radical Storage to find your closest luggage storage and enjoy your journey until the very end.
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