Known as the capital of the Black Sea Coast, Varna is Bulgaria’s third largest city. A summer retreat for locals and tourists alike, its long history as a holiday destination speaks for itself, as this seaside city really does cater for all ages and interests. It’s the perfect combination of quiet meandering afternoons in the park coupled with beach days and busy nightlife. There’s something for everyone, whatever mood you’re in.
There’s so much to see and do in fact, that you couldn’t possibly fit it all into one holiday. That’s why we’ve made it easy for you and chosen some of the best parts.
1. Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin
In the very centre of the city you’ll find one of the most famous attractions of Varna, and a symbol of the city. This awe-inspiring cathedral is topped with glinting copper domes, perfectly chiselled stonework and stained glass windows bursting with colour.
Built in the late 19th century based on the temple at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, it stands majestically shining in the sun, enticing you in. Once you’ve crossed the threshold inside, make sure you look up towards the cavernous ceilings and note the decoration around you. A lot of this was added in stages across the years and the cathedral wasn’t fully complete until 2002.
Tip: Make sure you visit the cathedral at night too; you won’t be disappointed. Also, the view from the belfry towards the city is well worth the 133 stair climb.
2. Primorski Park
This park has been around since 1878 and stretches along the seafront for 5 miles. It’s the largest park of its kind in Europe and is the hub of Varna. Varna’s own citizens head here to relax and have fun because there’s always something going on, and it’s the perfect place to spend the day as a family or just meandering along on your own. There’s an aquarium, a theatre in the summer, various cafés and restaurants, the city zoo, the Natural Science Museum, a swimming pool; the list goes on. Whatever you choose to do, it’s definitely worth spending a day (or two) in this park, even if it’s just to admire the impressive landscaped flowerbeds and enjoy the shade of the palms.
Tip: Be sure to appreciate the sundial at the entrance to the park. It represents a flying swan and it’s a very impressive sculpture.
3. The Stone Forest or ‘Pobiti Kamani’
A naturally formed phenomenon in Bulgaria’s only desert, these hollow stone columns look as if someone has stuck them in the sand. They were formed naturally, although no one can quite decide on how it happened. The Stone Forest is an interesting and unique attraction to go and see, and something you won’t see again. Situated just outside of Varna, you could rent a car or take a half-day trip there. You’ll also be able to say you’ve visited one of only two naturally formed deserts in Europe. The other one is the Tabernas Desert in Spain.
Tip: See if you can spot any desert wildlife while you’re there. It’s the only desert in Europe where desert animals and fauna are found to thrive.
4. Aladzha Monastery
The monastery is a real treat for those who love a bit of history and architecture. For over a century Aladzha Monastery has been recognized as one of the most interesting destinations on the Black Sea Coast, and if you visit you’ll see why. These man-made caves have been carved into a 40 metre high limestone cliff face by medieval monks, who lived there during the 8th and 9th centuries. There are 2 levels connected by an external staircase and you’ll be fascinated exploring the caves, mosaics and frescoes inside. You’ll also be amazed to see how well some of these have survived over the centuries. You can find the monastery 16km outside of Varna and it’s easily reached by car or bus.
Tip: Wear sturdy shoes, some of the terrain can be difficult to negotiate. You should also take a short walk through the neighbouring forest and you’ll find the catacombs. Even more to explore!
5. Free walking tour
Whatever you choose to see and do in Varna, we’d recommend spending most of your time outdoors in this picturesque city. It really has got so much to offer and at a very reasonable price. We’d also recommend you take a free walking tour because you’ll see and learn so much more about the city this way. Tours leave from outside the cathedral everyday.
Around Varna by car
With a total driving time of around 1hr 15 (depending on traffic) to all 4 places you’ll easily be able to visit a few sites in one day by car.