Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s medieval capital, is a great place to spend a day or two. Many come here as a day trip from Bucharest or visit the city from Sofia, While it’s popular in the summer, don’t skip a visit to Veliko Tarnovo in winter! This photogenic town is laid out over the hillsides above the Yantra River and is even more picturesque when covered in snow.
Here are our picks for the top things to do in Veliko Tarnovo in winter, plus important Veliko Tarnovo travel tips!
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Where to Stay in Veliko Tarnovo in Winter
Budget: If you’re looking for the best hostel in Veliko Tarnovo, there’s one easy answer: Hostel Mostel! Nearly every backpacker who has come through Veliko Tarnovo has stayed here, and for good reason! It has a social but not party-crazy vibe, spacious rooms with plenty of space to spread out, a comfortable lounge and kitchen area to hang out in (and outdoor space to enjoy in the summer), and they even help organize tours and day trips. I stayed here during my overnight in Veliko Tarnovo and loved it. However, I will say that two premium things I love in hostels – privacy curtains and easy access to outlets from every bed – are missing at Hostel Mostel, but everything else (especially the free vegetarian dinners and amazing breakfast spreads!) makes up for it. Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Mid-Range: Brand new and quietly trendy, Base Camp Guesthouse is a sign that things are slowly changing in sleepy Veliko Tarnovo. Comfy and cozy, more a home than a hotel, this guesthouse is the perfect place to stay if you want more privacy than a hostel but you don’t want to pay a fortune for unnecessary things. Travelers love the free breakfast, friendly staff, comfortable beds, and general cleanliness of everything! Keep in mind some rooms have a shared bathroom, and others have private bathrooms, so when booking, make sure you select the right option for the level of privacy you want! Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Luxury: For the nicest place in all of Veliko Tarnovo, don’t miss General Gurko House. This house is, well, literally a house – it can fit up to 6 people, so it’s perfect if you’re traveling with a large group or with a bunch of friends. Complete with a full kitchen (and perks like an espresso machine), several bedrooms each with their own private bathroom, and a large balcony that can easily fit everyone in your party. On a quiet street in a traditional house, this is the ultimate way to experience Veliko Tarnovo! Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
The Best Things to Do in Veliko Tarnovo in Winter
In no particular order…
Tour Tsarevets Fortress
The seat of power of the medieval capital of the Bulgarian Empire, you haven’t really been to Veliko Tarnovo until you’ve toured Tsaravets Fortress. Make sure to stop outside the gates to take a photo of the beautiful nineteenth-century lion statue.
Wander the Old Town
The Bulgarian Revival Style houses in Veliko Tarnovo’s Old Town is my favorite part of any visit to Veliko Tarnovo, and you don’t want to miss it just because it’s cold outside!
Just make sure to wear layers and keep cash on you so you can duck into a cafe and warm up whenever you start to feel cold.
Enjoy Some Bulgarian Wine with a View
When in Bulgaria, drink Bulgarian wine! There are many cafes and restaurants with views of the Yantra River, so if it’s too cold to spend time outside then curl up with a bottle of Bulgarian rose and stare dreamily off into the countryside.
Visit a Nearby Monastery
We love visiting Bulgarian monasteries, and there are quite a few important ones to be visited from Veliko Tarnovo. Our favorites are Transfiguration Monastery, which is just a thirty-minute taxi ride from the city center, and Dryanovo Monastery, which is about forty-five minutes outside of Veliko Tarnovo.
We combined these and did a DIY day trip in a taxi. Visiting both monasteries plus travel time took about four hours, but you could easily stay a little longer!
Venture Out to Buzludzha
Between the two of us, Allison and I have toured Buzludzha in every season, and it’s still awesome to visit in winter! Yes, it’s cold, and you’ll want to make sure your rental car has good tires, but it’s really fun to be up there in the snow! (Provided, of course, that you’re properly dressed for it).
Check out our complete guide to visiting Buzludzha, including directions on getting there from Veliko Tarnovo.
What to Bring to Bulgaria in Winter
We have a full Bulgaria packing list, but in case you just want the quick version, here are a few essentials you shouldn’t forget to pack!
A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle: We love and own Lonely Planet Bulgaria & Romania for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.
One or two swimsuits: If you plan to enjoy your hotel sauna, indoor pool, or steam room, you’ll likely want one! We suggest bringing two so you never have to put a cold wet one back on. We love this one.
Plenty of winter clothing: You can check our packing list above for our full winter packing suggestions for men and women. At a minimum, you’ll want to bring a warm winter jacket (I love this North Face parka), cozy snow boots, warm wool socks, touch-screen friendly gloves, a scarf, and a winter hat.
We’re not skiers ourselves, so we don’t have specific ski gear equipment, but special ski clothes — waterproof pants and jackets, goggles, etc. — and ski gear obviously should be on your packing list, unless you have decided to rent it all when you arrive at your Slovenia ski resort.
Moisturizer: Travel will beat your skin up in the best of times — and winter travel in addition to skiing will do a number on it! If you use a moisturizer at home, bring it. If you’ve never used a moisturizer before, you really should start. You’ll be happy to give your face a boost before heading outside in the cold all day.
Sunscreen: We strongly suggest wearing sunscreen when you spend time outdoors, no matter the weather outside. The higher altitudes combined with the reflection of the sun off the snow can lead to unexpected sunburns. I love this solid Neutrogena sunscreen – it’s mess-free, works well in carry-ons, is ultra-protective, and blends in well.
More Bulgaria Travel Resources
If this will be your first time in Bulgaria, we have some resources to help make your first trip here a breeze. Check out our guide on how to plan your trip to Bulgaria, which goes over everything from visas to ground transportation to budgeting your trip.
Don’t forget to check out our Bulgaria packing list which has details of everything you’ll want for your trip.
If you will also be spending time in Sofia, check out our guide to what to do in Sofia in winter, plus things to do in Sofia and Sofia itinerary posts to help guide your way through the city we call home. Make sure to check out our guide to avoiding taxi scams in Sofia as well.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance
Finally, make sure you always travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. The country is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses. Recently my aunt fell on a train in France and needed surgery, but luckily her travel insurance covered the costs in full. Thank goodness!
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
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Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.