A week in Veliko Tarnovo & Nesebar, Bulgaria

Veliko Tarnovo and Nesebar, Bulgaria

We left Bucharest, Romania by a slow, old-fashioned train and journeyed into Bulgaria, where we spent a week sightseeing in two places. We spent three nights in Veliko Tarnovo and four nights in Nesebar, near Sunny Beach. VT is in the hills, and Nesebar is coastal. Both are quite pleasant, though the coast is extremely tourism driven.

There are seaside resorts in Nesebar, as well as a circus, a carnival, fake train rides up and down the coast, and performances in Stari Grad (old town) that highlight the lovely Bulgarian culture and history. The U.S. embassy gave a donation to help restore ancient churches on the island.

Stari Grad at Nesebar, Bulgaria

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Stari Grad is an island connected to Nessebar by an engineered land bridge. Seaside dining options range in price, but to give you an idea, one of our dinners cost $40 plus a tip. Theo had skate wings (sting ray family), I had grilled vegetables, we shared a Greek salad and potato wedges. Theo had a beer and I had the house mint lemonade.

Head back over the bridge and walk to the south through a lovely park and you get to South Beach, aka Nesebar Beach. You can rent beach chairs and an umbrella for the day at small restaurants and bars for about $17 a day in the Nesebar area. Or use a towel in the sand in the designated “free zones” at no charge.

Nearby Sunny Beach to the north of Stari Grad is much larger with more hotel and restaurant options, with roughly the same prices for beach chair rentals. There are many more lifeguard stands in this area and some kite surfers.

Both beaches are packed — but Sunny Beach feels less crowded because it’s simply so much larger. Even the nude beaches in both areas were pretty crowded with summer holiday goers.

montage of sunny beach, nesebar, and stari grad in bulgaria

There are no ride shares in Bulgaria. The taxi union wouldn’t allow it. That’s good and bad. Good for the drivers; bad for us budget slow travelers. Local buses are really crowded and taxis are expensive. We took a taxi from Nesebar to the bus station in Sunny Beach with our luggage. It cost $18 — it’s only four miles away. The same route by city bus is just over $1, the tourist train is $1.75.

Before the coast, we spent a few nights in Veliko Tarnovo. Both destinations have old stone roads and walkways just like elsewhere in old Europe. So older, less physically able travelers beware.

VT has an entirely different vibe. The historic area is small and quaint, with Bulgarian hillside homes. There is a small river and large park to explore, as well as the old fort on the outskirts of town.

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Outside the old town area, VT is like a sprawling suburb with communist-style block buildings. Three nights was just enough time to explore VT, which is the 15th largest city in Bulgaria. I recommend the Free Walking Tour of Veliko Tarnovo, which runs everyday at 11:00 a.m. during high season, and it starts from the main tourism office.

We never took a bus because old town is small enough to walk everywhere- including to the fort. In fact, we walked a lot of miles here, and much of it was on hills and steps. So that’s another thing to consider for older and possibly less mobile travelers when looking at VT as a destination. Some hotels might be tougher for some people to get to. Prices on hotels and food run the gamut depending on what you want.

To get from VT to Nesebar, we took a small minivan-style bus to Burgas. It left from the VT bus station outside of old town. From Burgas, you can make your way to the number 10 bus route— this runs up and down the coast from Burgas to Nesebar. It takes two hours because it stops along the coast. Or take a cab – but it will cost a little more than $40 for a 30-minute ride.

Next we are back to budget slow travel. We have booked a month-long stay in Varna, Bulgaria’s second largest city, which is also on the Black Sea, about 200 miles from Ukraine.

Thanks for reading, “A week in Veliko Tarnovo & Nesebar, Bulgaria.”

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Ellen’s sobriety date is April 13, 2010. She left the news business in 2015. During budget slow travel in early retirement with husband Theo, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy without reconstruction in Croatia in 2018. Today she travels the world as a ‘flattie’.


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