Here, you can find all the info you need on how to plan your road trip across Bulgaria from Varna to the capital city of Sofia with an overnight stop in the middle in Veliko Tarnovo. Where to stay, what to expect and some special tips on where to get the best photos along the way.
Initially, we spent the first two weeks in Varna, Bulgaria (You can find out all about Varna in this article https://jetsettersecrets.com/varna-bulgaria-inexpensive-beach-city). The focus of this article is about taking a road trip across the country of Bulgaria with a stop in Veliko Tarnovo, a small charming town you have to stop in if you’re planning a road trip from Varna to Sofia.
Our road trip was very easy to plan and execute. Spontaneous, of course. It’s about a 5-6 hour drive across Bulgaria. It takes 2.5-3 hours to drive from Varna to Veliko Tarnovo, and another 2.5-3 hours from Veliko Tarnovo to Sofia.
Useful tips for your road trip across Bulgaria
- The local currency is Bulgarian Lev. It literally means “Bulgarian lion”
Currently, (July 2018): 1 USD = 1.67 BGN, 1 Euro = 1.95 BGN
- Buy a Local SIM card (4G data only, no local number) at Varna Airport (VAR) by Telenor.
They have two data plans: 3 GB for $6 or 10 GB $17.
Telenor is located on your right side outside of baggage claim. You can get the same deal at the Airport or in the city. Not all locations in the city have the SIM card, so it’s best to get it at the airport.
- Country code : +359. Here is how to dial a local number
- Download a GPS Navigation app such as; Waze or Google Maps. If you don’t have a data, you can download your routes prior to traveling so you can use the applications offline.
- Rent a car at Top Rent A Car. They have a location in Varna city center and you can drop off your car at their Sofia Airport location. Different location drop-off adds an additional 100 Euro to your rental total (about 40 Euro per day). If you’re not comfortable driving a stick (manual transmission), book an automatic in advance, as they have a limited supply. Driving through Bulgaria is smooth and super safe by the way!
- Highway speed limit is 120 km/h (75 mph), prepare yourself for fast drivers and enjoy the scenery!
How to get to Veliko Tarnovo
We picked up our rental car around 1pm and started our drive to Veliko Tarnovo on Route 4. As soon as you leave Varna, you’ll notice literally, endless stunning sunflower fields along the highway. Some of the sunflowers stand so tall, you could easily get lost within the fields. (Fun facts: Sunflowers turn to the sun, so during the day they will rotate and move depending on the sun’s location. Bulgaria is one of the top producers of sunflowers in the world and it is their second most important agricultural crop after wheat.)
About an hour or so into the drive we saw a sunflower field with an easy dirt road to access it. Most of the sunflower fields along the way are blocked off by fences, so wait until you see easy access dirt roads if you’re wanting to frolic through them. It is a must to stop in one of them and take some pictures. Also, if you have a drone, you’ll get some epic footage.
We decided to spend one night in Veliko Tarnovo during our trip. If I had known ahead of time how beautiful it was, I would have easily spent 2 nights there (or 3, or 10). It’s an photographer’s paradise, and if your Instagram is full of travel photos like ours, you will adore this location.
Accommodations in Veliko Tarnovo
We normally book our accommodations through Airbnb, but for a one night stay we looked for hotels through Booking.com. Prices on Booking.com are a little bit higher than the original hotel prices, so you can just pick a hotel, go to its website and make the reservation there. If they do not have a website (like the one we ended up choosing), go straight to the hotel. If you’re doing things a last minute, you can also check out HotelTonight. HotelTonight works by listing available rooms for same-day accommodations that are left over and much cheaper.
Don’t get overly excited. The hotels in Veliko Tarnovo aren’t much to rave about. Most of the hotels are outdated and poorly maintained, but for one night it is ok. We stayed at Real Hotel for $40 per night. The highlight of the hotel was their private parking lot for about 8 cars, which is a rare find in this small little town. It’s located within walking distance to restaurants and about a 15 minute walk to the fortress (Tsarevets). Walking around town is so charming beacuse the area is full of small, quaint streets, old beautiful architecture and a breathtaking skyline.
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Veliko Tarnovo – an incredibly romantic one day stopover😍💕 🔸 We decided to spend one night in Veliko Tarnovo, if I had known how beautiful it is, I’d spend 2 nights there. It’s a photographer’s heaven and if your instagram is full of travel photos, like mine, you’d love this location. 🔸 The inescapable symbol of Veliko Tarnovo, this reconstructed fortress named #Tsarevets, dominates the skyline and is one of Bulgaria’s most beloved monuments. It’s known for a magnificent night-time light, laser and sound show. I’m preparing a surprise for you. Check it out tomorrow😉 🔸🔸🔸🔸🔸 #velikotarnovo #bulgariaofficial #visitbulgaria #visitvarna #jetsettersecrets #minimalist #onesuitcase #livingmydream #nomadlifestyle #nomadbabe #nomadlife #israeligirls #bulgaria #sonyalpha #a6500 #travelandwork #locationindependent #bossgirl #gltlove #girlslovetravel #livingthedream
Tsarevets – The highlight of Veliko Tarnovo
The reconstructed fortress named, Tsarevets is the inescapable symbol of Veliko Tarnovo. Tsarevets dominates the skyline and is one of Bulgaria’s most beloved monuments. Tsarevets is known for its magnificent night-time, sound and light show. Bonus: The sound and light show is completely FREE! The 20-minute sound and light show utilizes choral music, flashes of light and lasers in an homage to the rise and fall of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The audiovisual show tells a story of great medieval battles that took place at the fortress. The show is an exquisite experience.
Veliko Tarnovo isn’t overcrowded with tourists as it’s not as famous as you may think, which is why I’m writing this. (We would love to know if we inspired you to visit this incredible ancient town!)
Everyone was waiting patiently in the rain for the show to start (typically) at 9pm. Even though we were in Veliko Tarnovo in July, it was still raining that night. Therefore, the night the sound and light show was pushed later to 11:30pm. Make sure to check the hours of the sound and light show along with the weather that day to be prepared for any potential delays.
After the sound and light show, I didn’t want to head back to the hotel just yet, so I had dinner at The Green restaurant which is located right next to the fortress entrance. It was a perfect location to wait for the show to begin and catch a clear view with my tripod and phone. You can see the time-lapse I captured at the beginning of this article, so believe me when I say it’s super romantic. You can’t miss it! The perfect closer for an amazing experience.
Veliko Tarnovo to Sofia
The next day we drove an additional 3 hours from Veliko Tarnovo to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia on Route 4. We made one stop along the way for some local Bulgarian food. In between Veliko Tarnovo and Sofia, we discovered a place directly off of Route 4 which is hard to miss. It has a handful of small local food vendors but one of those vendors stood out form the rest.
There, we met Eli. she’s a great cook and gives off such a joyful vibe. We walked by all of the vendors but we went back to her. She doesn’t speak English at all but she’s the sweetest woman, full of energy.
Chris pulled the latitude/longitude coordinates stored on this photo above, to show you where Eli is located. Go try Eli’s food while enjoying a view of the beautiful Bulgarian mountains. Oh, and don’t forget to tell her we sent you!
We dropped our rental car off at the Top Rent A Car Sofia Airport location, which is open 24/7. Now it was time to see what Sofia has to offer and catch up with friends!
I hope you found this article full of useful information for your upcoming across Bulgaria from Varna to Sofia.
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