There is a city on the western coast of the Black Sea, built between two heights, separated by a long lake. The blue waters of the sea wash its beaches and rocky cliffs. Its buildings, streets, and people live in harmony, and you can feel the past, the present, and the future. This is Varna, the largest city on the Bulgarian Riviera. Let’s go on a journey to Varna by this ultimate guide, with the hope it can impress you go there in reality!
Basic facts about Varna
Varna (Варна) is the third-largest city in Bulgaria, and it is an important urban, economical and political center in the eastern part of the country. It has several thousand years of history, and today it is a modern place with a lot of attractions and places of interest.
But probably the most important reason for visiting Varna is the sea. In 1921 Varna has been declared a sea resort, and this is what attracts thousands of tourists every summer to travel to the city and its nearby sea coast. This, combined with its cultural and modern background makes it a place worth exploring- not just for a summer vacation, but for a year-round journey in which you can visit and taste everything that the city has to offer.
Geography of Varna and its surroundings
Let’s look at the physical map of Bulgaria, particularly the country’s eastern part, and the Black Sea Coast (the Bulgarian Riviera). You can notice that the sea coast in the Bulgarian territory can be divided into three sections.
The Northern Riviera is from the border with Romania to the Bay of Varna (actually, in geographical terms, it is much longer- from the Danube Delta to the Bay of Varna, and a part of it is in Romania).
Then, the Middle Riviera is from the Bay of Varna to the Bay of Burgas. Finally, the Southern Riviera is from the Bay of Burgas to the mouth of Rezovo River (again, geographically, it is much longer- to the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey).
You can notice the two boundaries between the Northern and the Middle Riviera, and between the Middle and the Southern Riviera. Both of them consist of seaside lakes and a bay. And there are large cities at both of them- Varna and Burgas. But let’s focus on Varna.
The location of Varna
Varna is located mainly at the north side of the canal, connecting Beloslav and Varna Lakes with the Black Sea, and the northern coast of the Bay of Varna (Варненски залив). The land surrounded by the Northern Riviera and Beloslav-Varna Lakes in the south is part of a low but large plateau, called Dobrudzha, divided into several sub-plateaus near the seacoast of which the closest to Varna is Frangen Plateau (Франгенско плато). It is flat on its top, gradually descending to the east, but with steep slopes to the seacoast and the lakes.
In this type of terrain, Varna is established on a wider and a convenient area between the slopes of the plateau and the sea-lake coast. The place is relatively flat, with beautiful beaches at the sea coast, and proper for building of a port.
Today, Varna has grown beyond the canal between the lakes and the sea. There are the suburbs of Asparuhovo and Galata, established on the slopes of a hilly area. So, the whole area of Varna and its surroundings offers good land, convenient waterways, and an incredibly beautiful sea coast with amazing beaches and rocky cliffs.
No wonder that Varna has been chosen as a place of human development for thousands of years. But let’s dive into its history and discover more about the city’s past.
History of Varna
As I mentioned above, the history of Varna is very long, but to make it simple and clear, I will divide it into periods, as follows:
Pre-history (unknown to 570 BC)
Nobody knows when the first humans settled in what today is Varna, but there are a lot of remnants from ancient societies, dating many thousands of years ago. They have lived in small villages and other types of communities.
But from what has been found we can conclude that they were not savages. Varna is the place where the oldest known golden treasure in the world was found, dating from about 4500 BC in a site called Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis. Today, this place is not opened for tourists but you can see the golden treasure in the Varna Archaeological Museum.
Probably around the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, the Thracian tribes came and settle in a large area around the Balkan Peninsula, including Varna. But initially, they didn’t build anything significant here (although they left more artifacts, and remnants from a local settlement) until the 6th century BC.
Thracian-Hellenistic period- Odesos (c 570 BC to 15 AD)
Around 570 BC Greek colonists from Miletus found the fortress of Odessos. It became one of the important Greek colonies on the Black Sea Coast.
Then, in 331 BC it was conquered by Alexander III the Great and became a part of the Macedonian Empire until 281 BC. After that, it gained its independence, and remained a Greek city, outside of the Thracian territories, until the coming of the Romans.
Roman period (15 to 395)
The Romans added Varna to the Roman Empire in a peaceful way, and it became a part of the Roman province of Moesia. During that period, the city flourished, and the new masters of the city built a new fort wall in the 2nd century.
But the most significant remains from this period is the Roman Baths (Roman Thermae)- a luxurious bath complex built in advanced technology. It is the largest antique construction found in Bulgaria and the fourth largest Roman Baths in Europe.
In 313, Christianity was declared as the official religion in the empire by Emperor Constantine I. Due to this event, some new constructions were built in the ancient Odessos, and even in the Roman Themae, including church buildings.
Early Byzantine period (395 to c.780)
In 395, the Roman Empire was officially divided into Western and Eastern parts, and Varna (Odessos) remained in the Eastern one, called Byzantine Empire. During that period, Christianity as a religion began slowly dividing into Western and Eastern too. Again Odessos remained under the leadership of the Eastern Patriarch.
But as everywhere in Southern Europe, it was the time of intensive invasion by barbaric nations from the north- Goths, Huns, and more. Odessos declined and entered into a period of crisis. The Roman Baths were abandoned and gradually destroyed.
The city passed through a brief revival during the reign of Justinian I (527-565) when the new Small Thermae were built (they can also be seen today). However, later it was destroyed by Avars and Slavs and temporarily abandoned by its citizens until the coming of the Bulgars.
First Bulgarian Empire period (c. 780 to 970)
Odessos was included in the First Bulgarian Empire around 780 by the Bulgarian Khan Kardam. However, at that time, there was no “Odessos” anymore, only uninhabited ruins have left. So, at first, a new Bulgarian settlement was established, but it quickly started growing.
After 864, the Eastern version of Christianity was adopted in the First Bulgarian Empire by Tsar Boris I. The newly-established settlement, already called with its modern name Varna entered in a heyday again. A large monastery from this period was discovered in the northwestern suburbs of the modern Varna, called the Monastery of Saint Holy Mother, and its ruins can be seen today there.
Middle Byzantine period (970 to 1201)
In 970, after wars between the Byzantines, Bulgarians, Magyars, and Kiev Russians Varna was conquered by the Byzantine Empire and again gradually became a Greek Orthodox city. Its ethnic image changed and the population became predominantly Greek.
However, in 1187 the Second Bulgarian Empire was established and the city was nominally added to the new Bulgarian state. But it was fully incorporated only by Tsar Kaloyan in 1201 who conquered the city, annihilated its population, and re-settled it again by Bulgarian citizens.
Second Bulgarian Empire period (1201 to 1389)
After the Bulgarian conquest in 1201, Varna again entered a new flourishing period. It became a significant sea trade center, with many trade offices, not only Bulgarians, but also by traders from Genova, Venice, Dubrovnik, Florence, and Constantinople.
But after 1369, the Second Bulgarian Empire entered into crisis and started dividing between the Tsar and the local feudal. Varna was included in the feudal states of Dobrudzha and Karvuna until the new invaders came- the Ottoman Turks.
Ottoman period (1389 to 1878)
The Ottoman Turks conquered Varna in 1389. In 1444, the united Christian coalition, lead by the Magyar military leader John Hunyadi and the Polish-Lithuanian King Vladislav fights against the Turks near Varna. But they are defeated. Today, there is a Mausoleum of Vladislav, called “Varnenchik” in the Memorial Park, in the western neighborhoods of the city.
After that, Varna again slowly started flourishing, but mainly as a city with a predominantly Turkish population. It also became an important sea trade center.
During the wars between the Ottoman Empire and Russia, Varna was briefly liberated two times (in 1773 and 1828), but then still remained an Ottoman city. In the 19th century, the Bulgarian Revival period started in the Bulgarian lands, as well as the industrial revolution. The first railway was built, connecting Ruse with Varna, and later (between 1883 and 1885) it also became a section of the popular “Orient Express”.
Modern period (1878 until today)
In 1878 Varna is included in the newly established Kingdom of Bulgaria. At first, it has a multi-ethnic image, consisting of Turks, Greeks, Gagauz, Armenians, Tatars, Bulgarians, Jews, and Gypsies. But later, many Bulgarians settled from Dobrudzha and the city again became predominantly Bulgarian.
During the following years, Varna was highly developed in the European model. Many administrative buildings in neoclassical architectural style were built in what is today Talyana Neighborhood, and they are still using today. Gradually, with the building of the modern Port Varna, the Railway Station, and the Seaside Garden, Varna began turning into what it looks like today. And from 1921 the city was declared a Seaside resort.
In 1944 Varna was a part of Communist Bulgaria and briefly adopted the name “Stalin”. But it still proceeding its development, as many new neighborhoods were built and many nearby villages became “swallowed” by the city. Finally, in 1989, Bulgaria became a Democratic country, and Varna- a modern European city.
Our journey to Varna
All of the above- the sea, the history, the culture, and the whole image of Varna became a reason for us to make a journey to this city. We were travel bloggers coming from various parts of Bulgaria. I personally reached it from Plovdiv, passing by many other interesting places on the way.
We stayed in Varna for 3 days, and we had a great experience in the city and around it. During our stay, we dived into the culture and history in Varna’s old neighborhood Talyana, explored the Archaeological Museum, enjoyed a dramatic play in the National Theater and a cruise in the Bay of Varna. Finally, we made a trip to a mysterious place at the rocky cliffs northeast of the city, called Aladzha Monastery.
So, let me share about the places we visited, as well as the places that we would visit if we had more time, and the things we did and you should do too, to get a full impression of this amazing city.
Places of interest in Varna and around
Let’s take a look at the map of Varna and its surroundings again. For better convenience, I will divide it into several areas and will introduce the places of interest in each of them.
Talyana and the Center
Our first area of exploring should be the central part of the city and its older neighborhood called Talyana (Таляна). No, Talyana is not a typical “old town” with old traditional houses, local street food, souvenir shops, and other attributes of an “old town”.
In fact, once there used to be such houses, but they were removed more than a century ago and replaced with new, European, neo-classical style buildings. Yet it still tells a story about the history of Varna.
But let’s start with the center.
The Main Pedestrian Zone
Most of the cities in the world have their pedestrian zones, and usually, these zones are located in the city centers. They are one of the main “faces” of the city and a favorite place for walking. Varna’s Pedestrian zone is not an exception.
It starts from Independence Square (Площад Независимост) and Preslav Street (улица Преслав), proceeds on bul. Knyaz Boris I (бул. Княз Борис I), gradually turning to the northeast, then turns right on bul. Slivnitsa (бул. Сливница) and finally reaches the Seaside Garden and the sea coast.
So, if you want to get a first impression of Varna, as well as to taste the city’s life, this is the place. You can enjoy shopping in the malls, having dinner in the restaurants, going to a party in the nightclubs, dive into the cultural life as we did in the Dramatic Theater at Independence Square, or just walk and take beautiful photos.
But if you want to dive into the recent history, go to the southern side of the Pedestrian Zone. Here is Talyana Neighborhood.
The neoclassical houses of Talyana
Talyana is a quiet place. Today, it is a mix of new building blocks, new residential houses, old neo-classical style houses, and ancient ruins. And if you take a walk around Talyana, the main reason for it is the houses in neo-classical architectural style.
You can see these houses on almost every street. Like in the past, today they are used mainly as government offices, so to explore them you don’t need to enter inside, but their real beauty is revealed in their exterior- their walls in a specific color, their ornaments and even small sculptures, and their overall shapes. In general, this is another nice place for a walk.
The museums in Talyana
Some of these houses are turned into museums. So, it is worth adding some museum experience to your walk around Talyana. Besides, in these museums, you can get deeper into the history and culture of Varna.
- Museum of National Revival (Музей на националното възраждане). This museum presents the history of Varna from the 19th century- the period of the Bulgarian Revival- photos, church relics, weapons, etc. Entrance fee: 4 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children. Working time: 10 am to 5 pm (without Sunday).
- Ethnographical Museum (Етнографски музей). It is established in one of the few Revival-style houses left in Talyana. Its main exposition presents the culture and lifestyle of the local people during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. Entrance fee: 4 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children. Working time: 10 am to 5 pm.
- Museum of Old Varna (Музей на стара Варна). The museum is located in a neo-classical building, next to the Big Roman Thermae. It presents more than 5000 photos from the past of Varna. Entrance fee: 4 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children. Working time: 10 am to 5 pm.
- Museum of New History of Varna (Музей на новата история на Варна). This museum covers the history of Varna from the Third Bulgarian Kingdom (1878-1944) and presents the development of the city, as well as the local culture and lifestyle during that period. Entrance fee: 4 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children. Working time: 10 am to 5 pm.
- Museum of Medicine History (Музей на медицинската история). This is a unique museum, the only one of its kind in the Balkans. It presents the history of medical science from pre-historic times until today. Entrance: free.
The Roman Thermae (Римски терми) are ancient Roman Baths, established as a large ancient type of resort. They were built in the 2nd century AD as the largest Roman Baths in the Balkans, and the fourth largest in Europe. It is amazing how advanced is the used technology for the baths- the Romans established an aqueduct and floor heating for the baths. There were pools with hot water, cool water, and cold water- just like a modern bath complex.
This bath complex flourished and was used not only for washing, swimming, or just relaxing but also as a place for social meetings. However, with the barbaric invasions and economical crisis, at the end of the 3rd century, the baths were gradually abandoned.
Instead, a new bath complex was established, much smaller and not as advanced as the first one. This is the Small Roman Thermae (they are closer to Port Varna). They were used until the 6th century. After that, they were abandoned and destroyed like the whole city of Odessos.
Entrance fee: for the Big Thermae- 5 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children; for the Small Thermae- 2 BGN for adults and children.
The Archaeological Museum
This is the largest museum in Varna and the second largest Archaeological Museum in Bulgaria. Here you can see rare and amazing treasures that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world. The most important among them is the Varna Golden treasure- the most ancient processed by human gold in the world!
The Archaeological Museum (Археологически музей) is established in an old building, a former school. It is on two floors and presents artifacts from prehistory to the time of the Ottoman Empire. Besides the unique Varna Golden treasure, you can see items from ancient daily life, as well as Orthodox icons.
Entrance fee: 10 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children. Working time: June to September- 10 am to 5 pm every day; October to May- 10 am to 5 pm without Sunday and Monday.
Before we leave the central urban part of Varna, we can’t skip another symbol of the city, a famous landmark that can be seen from far away like a star shining among the other buildings with its golden domes- the Cathedral of Varna. Its full name is Dormition of the Mother of God Cathedral.
The Cathedral was built between 1882 and 1886 with the financial contributions of the Bulgarian king. Since then, it was renovated many times to keep it in good condition. Today, there is a beautiful small park around it, and it is a popular place for photos by local and foreign visitors. It is active and you can visit it freely during the day, and can join some of its services.
Now, let’s go to the sea coast of Varna- the most important area that makes Varna what it is.
The Seaside area of Varna consists of three parts- the Port of Varna, the Seaside Garden, and the sea coast. Actually, there is more, but it is at the southern coast of the Bay of Varna, however, we will visit it later.
This is the largest seaport in Bulgaria and one of the largest on the Black Sea. A significant part of it is used for economical and industrial purposes- there is the loading-unloading area for cargo ships, the customs, and all other offices and facilities that serve the normal function of the port. It has another terminal at the western coast of Beloslav Lake, called Varna West, again entirely for industrial purposes.
Of course, the whole industrial area of the port couldn’t be a “nice place to visit” (in fact, you can’t enter everywhere), but there is a tourist-friendly area of the port, located at the inner side of the jetty.
You can take a walk on the jetty to the lighthouse of the port, which is another beautiful landmark, great for photos. On the inner side, there are a lot of restaurants, cafes, and other places for entertainment, arranged in a beautiful design. And since this is a port, the place is a starting point for passenger cruises or boat rides around the Bay of Varna.
For boat rides, the average price is 20 BGN per person (at least it was the price of the boat ride that we enjoyed during our Varna journey).
It is a long park established between the coast and the center of Varna. The Seaside Garden (in Bulgarian- “Morska Gradina”- Морска градина) is more than 3 km long and almost 500 m wide. Today, it is another landmark of the city.
The Seaside Garden is established in the second half of the 19th century and is quickly developed using the best practices of the park art. Many exotic plant species were planted in the park, along with fountains, beautifully arranged alleys, and more.
And the park environment appeared to be great as a place for several museums and attractions:
- Naval Museum (Военноморски музей). This is a unique collection of military vessels from the past until recent days, presenting the naval history of Bulgaria. Entrance fee: 5 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children.
- Aquarium (Аквариум). Here you can learn the fauna of the Black Sea, as well as more information about the fauna of the ocean, presented attractively. Entrance fee: 4 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children.
- Planetarium (Планетариум). The Planetarium is an astronomical observatory, supplied with some devices for scientific presentation attractively. One of Varna’s landmarks. Entrance fee: 4 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children. Working time: not open every day in winter.
- Nature Museum (Природонаучен музей). This museum focuses on the nature of the Black Sea region- in the sea and on the land in three sections- geology, flora, and fauna, in a good educative and attractive way. Entrance fee: 3 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children.
- Varna Zoo. A nice place to relax and walk, observing more than 300 animals of around 60 kinds. A great place for children. Entrance fee: 3 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children.
- Dolphinarium (Делфинариум). This is another symbol of Varna, a unique attraction presenting dolphin shows. Currently, five dolphins live under excellent conditions and they play for and with people (yes, you can swim with them!) in sessions. In summer, there are several sessions per day while in winter- only one. Tickets: 15 to 25 BGN for adults, 10 to 20 BGN for children, depending on the season.
Varna is a famous sea resort, and of course, it couldn’t be without its beaches. The coastline north of Port Varna extends to the northeast and most of it consists of beaches, along with just rocky and cliffy sections. Some of these belong to the city proper while the rest of them are parts of a resort chain.
So, the beaches of Varna proper consist of a large Central Beach that extends from the jetty of Port Varna to the northern parts of the Seaside Garden. Then, there are two smaller beaches protected by several small jetties, called Officer Beach and Rapongi Beach. The coastline between them is mainly stony or rocky under the steep slope of the Seaside Garden.
Of course, the beaches are full of people during the high season (summer), but even during the other seasons, they have their own beauty. And they are also a home for the seagulls.
Now, let’s cross the canal between Varna Lake and the Black Sea to the south.
South of Varna Lake and Bay of Varna
This is a suburban area of Varna, consisting of two districts- Asparuhovo and Galata. Besides them, there are other small villages, villa zones, and mini-resorts. And the more south you go, the wilder the area becomes. But first, let’s reach the south from the center.
Crossing to the south, to the coast of the Middle Bulgarian Riviera is also not without an attraction. This attraction is called Asparuhov Bridge (Аспарухов мост) and it is the second-largest bridge in Bulgaria. It is not only large but also high, reaching 50 m in height.
The bridge is beautiful looked from aside, also the panorama from the bridge to the left and to the right is spectacular. But the most spectacular point on the bridge is in the middle- there is a ramp for bungee jumping established on it!
If you are enough brave to jump from 50 m over the canal between Varna Lake and the Black Sea, you can reach this point only on foot, because there is no place for parking in the middle of the bridge with intensive traffic. Then, you can jump for 60 BGN.
The Early Christian Church in Dzhanavara
Once you cross to the south from the Asparuhov most and enter Asparuhovo district, turn right. There is a paved street that guides you to a park on a hill, called Dzhanavara (Джанавара). Here you can see a large field with ruins, surrounded by forest.
These are the ruins of a Byzantine church, discovered by the Skorpil brothers and their archaeological team at the beginning of the 20th century. The church itself is dated between the 5th and 6th centuries. And recent discoveries reveal that it used to be a whole monastery with monks living around the church. Entrance: free.
This is a beautiful park on the southern coast of the Bay of Varna. But first, where its name comes from? Who is Asparuh?
This is the first Khan of the First Bulgarian Empire from its establishment in the Balkans. During his reign, he built a ground wall to mark the borders of his state. And here, in this place, we still can see the remains of this wall, marked as “Asparuh Wall” (Аспарухов вал).
From this wall and its creator, the name of the whole district was derived, as well as the name of the bridge over the canal, and the name of the park. Today, it is a beautiful place for a walk and relaxing, with many entertainment attractions like Fanagoria Village and Varna Rock Adventure. Also, here you can find another beach- Varna- Asparuhovo Beach.
Let’s proceed further along the coast. The next place is called Galata.
The coastline extends eastward to a prominent promontory, called Cape Galata. This point marks the southern end of the Bay of Varna. From here, the coastline turns southward.
Cape Galata (Нос Галата) is a beautiful place with a small park established around it, and a lighthouse. From here, you can enjoy great panoramic views of the city, the bay in front of it, and the plateau height behind it.
Near the Cape Galata is Galata district- the last suburb of Varna in the southern direction, with its satellite villa zones and mini-resorts. However, the coastline beyond Cape Galata is steep with almost no or very narrow beaches. Finally, beyond the last villa zone, called Rakitnika, there is one of the wildest sections of the Bulgarian Riviera- a coastline with wild beaches and deep forests.
Now, let’s focus on the west.
West of Varna
The west of Varna consists of the western neighborhoods and suburbs of the city, the attached villages, villa zones, and towns to it, and the industrial zones at the northern coast of Varna and Beloslav Lakes. For travelers “industrial zones” doesn’t sound so attractive, but there are some interesting places- hidden gems worth visiting.
Vladislav Varnenchik Memorial Park
This place is located in the western residential districts of Varna. But 6 centuries and a half ago it was a wild place, far from the city. It was the site where two armies representing two civilizations clashed- the united European Christian army against the Muslim Ottoman army. The Christian army was defeated here, and the Ottoman Empire continued its growth and conquest.
Now, this place is turned into a Memorial park in honor of one of the Christian army’s leaders- the king of Poland-Lithuania-Hungary Vladislav III, called Varnenchik. There are two ancient Thracian mounds inside the park, and a museum built at one of the mounds. In this museum, you can see artifacts from the battle with weapons used in this period.
Entrance fee: 5 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children. Working time: from 9:30 am to 5 pm.
Saint Holy Mother Monastery
This is a site that takes us back to the 9th century when Christianity was adopted as an official religion in the First Bulgarian Empire. Probably it was built by Bulgarian King Boris I and there are signs that it functioned until the 18th century. It is one of the largest Medieval monasteries discovered in Bulgaria.
However, currently, it is not so easy to be visited. It is located in a suburban area with some private villas nearby. There are only dirt roads leading to the site. Probably in the future, it will be developed into a tourist attraction, but now you have to be adventurous and follow your GPS to find it (and to not be afraid of the dogs roaming near the villas).
Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis
Turn back to the ancient history, or more precisely- to the deep ancient pre-history of the Balkans. An unknown civilization, called “Varna culture” used to live around today’s city, and it has created the oldest known golden treasure in the world, now exposed in the Archaeological Museum.
The site of the golden treasure discovery was found in the 70s of the 20th century on occasion, inside the Western Industrial Zone of Varna. What was discovered really got the attention of the scientists and they started an investigation of the place. They took a lot of what they found in the Archaeological Museum, but even till today, there is a lot more to be researched.
Again, currently, this place is hardly accessible. It is within the industrial zone, between several factories and you have to be “Indiana Jones” to find it. Probably, in the future, it will be developed as a tourist site, but for now, it is only under scientific research.
Let’s go further west, to the canal between the Varna and Beloslav lakes. There is a town here, called Beloslav (Белослав), established at the southern coast of the canal. Here you can find two interesting museums located on the same site- the Museum of the Glass and the Submarine “Glory” Museum.
The Museum of the Glass (Музей на стъклото) is established in the location of the first Bulgarian glass factory. It presents a lot of information about glass, the process of glass production, as well as various glass-made items. Entrance fee: 8 BGN for adults, 6 BGN for children. Working time: from 10 am to 2 pm, every day without Monday.
This museum is located at the coast of the lake. And right beside it, you can see a submarine. Its name is “Glory” (Слава) and today it is also turned into a museum. You can see it from outside for free, but if you want to enter inside and see more, the entrance fee is 12 BGN for adults and 6 BGN for children.
Finally, let’s go to the most significant attraction in the west of Varna- the Stone Desert “Pobitite Kamani”.
The Stone Desert- Pobitite Kamani
This is a place with a fantastic landscape. The ground is covered by sand like a sea beach. And there are countless stone pillars on it- some standing erected on the ground, others laying on it. The pillars are hollow inside (although mostly filled with dirt today).
It is considered that this amazing phenomenon was formed many millions of years ago when this area was a bottom of a pre-historic sea. Then, the sea gradually drained but the stones made of karst materials remained and were shaped into pillars by the ancient microorganisms.
Today, only the main site of The Stone Desert (Побитите камъни) is opened as a tourist attraction. Entrance fee: 4 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children. But besides this site, there are many other Stone Deserts of the same kind, scattered around Beloslav Lake.
Now, let’s go to the north and northeast of Varna.
North and Northeast of Varna
The North and Northeast direction from Varna lead us to the coast of the Northern Bulgarian Riviera and the slopes of the Varna-Frangen Plateau. In this area, you can see excellent beaches, high-class resorts, but also deep forests and ancient mysteries.
Let’s explore the northeast of Varna, starting from the northern end of the Seaside Garden. One of the first places that we can see is a splendid palace, called Euxinograd.
This is the former residence of the Bulgarian kings from the Third Bulgarian Kingdom. The Euxinograd Palace (Дворец Евксиноград) consists of beautiful palace buildings (there is the main building with several additional constructions) surrounded by a marvelous park. Besides the park is the sea coast, and there is a beach called Trakata, a jetty and two smaller beaches. And inside the park, you can see the ruins of a Medieval fortress called Kastritsi (Кастрици).
Currently, the Palace is still used as a residence for government people, but it is open for tourists. However, tourists have to apply for visiting in advance by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saints Constantine and Helena, Chaika, and Golden Sands
Further, in this direction, our journey passes through a chain of high-class resorts, called Saints Constantine and Helena (Св.св. Константин и Елена), Chaika (Seagull- Чайка), and Zlatni Pyasatsi (Golden Sands= Златни пясъци), with a lot of villa zones between and around them.
This area is located on the eastern slopes of the Varna-Frangen Plateau along the sea coast. And the sea coast consists of excellent beaches, interrupted by rocky and cliffy sections. And it is one of the main favorite places for summer vacation.
West of this resort chain, on the higher slopes of the plateau and on its top, there is an area covered by lush forests. This area is called Golden Sands Natural Park and it contributes to the resorts and beaches below it. But in this park, you can discover some ancient secrets. Of them, the most significant is Aladzha Monastery.
Aladzha Monastery (Аладжа манастир) is a Medieval monastery carved in a rocky cliff- a rocky monastery. The place was used since ancient times, but only during the Second Bulgarian Empire, in the 13th century, the monks chose it to establish a monastery.
The monastery has two levels in the rock cliff, of which the higher one is natural but additionally carved. These levels were the dwelling place of the monks, along with a church, a chapel, and all other facilities for a monastery.
After the Ottoman conquest, the monastery was destroyed and the monks were killed. Since then, a lot of legends about “ghost-monks” wandering around appeared.
There is an even more mysterious place 700 m from the monastery- the Catacombs, where the monks were buried. The place of the Catacombs consists of several caves used even earlier- around the 5th century.
Entrance fee: 5 BGN for adults, 2 BGN for children.
That’s the most significant about Varna. There are many more places of interest further away to the south, west, and north-northeast, but they are already closer to other cities and geographical areas.
Now, let’s focus on some useful travel tips.
How to get to Varna
If you go to the Railway Station of Varna, you will notice how beautiful is its building designed in a neo-classical style. And you can also notice how close it is to Port Varna. And indeed, more than a century ago, the whole area was planned as a transportation hub that included sea, land, and railway transport.
Today, it is the same. Needless to say, since Varna is such a big and important city, it is well-connected by land and air to the rest of Bulgaria and to the rest of the world. Only sea transport is not developed for passengers (except some private cruises and boat rides).
But there are a lot of buses to the Varna bus terminals, trains to the Railway Station, domestic and international planes to Varna Airport, and a very well-developed road network. Anyway, the best way to reach Varna is by car.
Traveling in and around Varna
Varna is a large city. If you just want to explore the center, the best way to do it is on foot. If you travel by car, better don’t drive there- you will hardly find a parking place, and the distances are enough short for walking.
But if you want to travel to the suburbs and further, you need transport. Traveling by car is the best, but there is also a well-developed public bus network with tickets between 1,50 to 2,00 BGN. You can also travel by taxi, although it is much more expensive. For example, if you want to travel from the center to Asparuhovo, it can be more than 10 BGN.
If you travel by your own or rental car, you just need to have in mind the difficulties for stop and parking in the center. Yes, there are “blue” and “green” zones where you pay by SMS 1 or 2 BGN per hour, but even in these zones can be difficult to find a place for your car. However, if you go far from the center, you should not have a problem.
Accommodation in Varna
Since Varna is such a large city and a sea resort, obviously, there are a lot of places to stay. And indeed, you can find various kinds of accommodation- from budget to splurge hotels, guesthouses, hostels, resorts, and Airbnb.
We personally stayed in a very nice hotel. It was Panorama Hotel, located exactly at the sea coast between the Seaside Garden, the Central Beach, and Varna Port. Panorama is a 4-stars hotel with great panoramic views of the sea from the rooms (so its name is not just a beautiful word but a real reflection of the hotel’s location).
For young travelers who are more adventurous, I would personally recommend hostels. Yes, the level of privacy there is lower, but they are cheap, and also they offer excellent opportunities to meet other travelers and share each other’s experiences.
Seasons in Varna
There are four distinctive seasons in Varna, and of course, the best of them is summer. This is the high season, and this is the time when the city, its beaches, and its surroundings are full of local and foreign visitors. It is warm, often between 30 and 35°C, and the seawater is usually between 24 and 26°C. It usually starts at the end of May and ends at the end of September.
The other seasons are low. You can’t swim in the sea (unless you are enough hardy like a “walrus”). But you still can enjoy everything else that Varna can offer. Even the beaches still remain a great place for walking and photos.
The harshest season is winter. It is not too cold, but it can be windy and sometimes snowy. The sea is more often stormy but seen from aside it brings another specific beauty and charm.
We left Varna from the northeast, as Aladzha Monastery was our last stop. From there, I proceeded to explore the eastern part of Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Riviera. But Varna left an unforgettable impression on me- the city, the places of interest, the panoramic views and landscapes, and the nice people I met there, with a dream to visit it again, like every great place that I have been.
Get more inspiration from the video below!
Take a look at some books about Varna, the Black Sea and Bulgaria:
Disclaimer: Journey Beyond the Horizon is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites at no additional cost to you.