Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Essential Bulgaria

Sail down the beautiful rivers
Sail down the beautiful rivers

When traveling in Bulgaria, we recommend that our clients spend at least a couple of days in the capital Sofia, exploring its numerous museums, churches, and enjoying the entertainment and shopping this vibrant city has to offer. In Sofia, we definitely recommend visiting the National History Museum which holds, among other exhibits, a remarkable collection of Thracian gold vessels and jewelry.  Not far away, the medieval Boyana Church, protected by UNESCO for its well-preserved frescoes, is also worth a visit.  Sofia is also a perfect base for a day-trip to the famous Rila Monastery - a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most impressive Christian monuments on the continent with its size, unique architecture and unsurpassed abundance of frescoes.

Only a few-hours-drive south-east of Sofia, Plovdiv is Bulgaria’s second largest city and the site of an ancient Roman amphitheater from the 2nd century. In Plovdiv, we recommend spending a night at the small boutique Hebros Hotel, located in a Baroque house in the city’s Old Town, among historic buildings dating from the period of the Bulgarian Renaissance. The hotel’s award-winning restaurant prides itself as being a ‘slow-food’ establishment and is a great place for a quiet and relaxed dinner.

In addition to visiting Sofia and Plovdiv, we recommend a couple of days in and around the former capital of the medieval Bulgarian Kingdom in the 13th - 14th Centuries – Veliko Tarnovo, to explore its majestic Tsarevets Castle Hill, the surrounding beautifully preserved churches, and the tower where Baldwin of Flanders – one of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade and conqueror of Constantinople, was imprisoned and found his end. In Veliko Tarnovo, we suggest staying at the 4-star Grand Hotel Yantra, which is located in the city center with modern facilities and excellent service. Some of its rooms and suites have gorgeous views toward the Castle Hill.  We also use the new and centrally located Bolyarski Hotel offering splendid views over the Yantra River and the Old Town.  

Download PDF Itinerary Here

ITINERARY

PRICING FROM

$4,400 per person, based on two guests traveling together.  Please contact Exeter International for specific pricing and availability. 

Day 1
Arrival | Sofia

Arrival in Sofia. The cost of the flight is not included in your program. You will be met by your private driver for the transfer to your deluxe and centrally located hotel. You will check in and have the rest of your afternoon at leisure.

Exeter Services: Arrival Transfer Only

Hotel: Sense

Day 2
Sofia | Sofia

This morning at 10AM, your guide and driver will meet you in the hotel lobby to take you to the National History Museum, which is located in a former presidential residence in the outskirts of Sofia. Your guide will take you into the museum and through several of its magnificent collections, including the Thracian gold treasures and other artifacts, jewelry dating back to the First Bulgarian kingdom, and exquisite pieces of religious art, which have survived the period of the Ottoman domination.

Later today, your guide and driver will take you back to Sofia’s center to continue your exploration of the Bulgarian capital. He will point out the famous Rotunda Sveti Georgi (St. George), which was built in the 4th Century as a Roman temple. Later, it was consecutively used as both a church and a mosque, and recent restoration works have revealed magnificent medieval frescoes. The rotunda is considered to be the oldest preserved building in Sofia.

If you are interested, you may also visit Sofia’s magnificent Great Synagogue, which was built by an Austrian architect in the Byzantine-Moorish style in 1909 and is the third-largest Sephardic synagogue in Europe, after the ones in Budapest and Amsterdam. It seats 1,200 and the interiors feature ornate decorations, arches, and a huge chandelier hanging from the dome. The synagogue’s grand opening was a lavish occasion attended by Bulgaria political elite and the Tsar himself who cut a ribbon if front of the Ark. The synagogue was damaged and its library destroyed during the bombings in the Second World War. During the Communist regime, the building remained empty and neglected for decades before being fully renovated in the 1990s and rededicated in 1996. A Jewish Museum was established in 1992 on the second floor which exhibits historical and Holocaust artifacts and documents.

Continuing with your tour, you will also see Sofia’s signature gold onion-domed landmark, the Alexander Nevski Memorial Cathedral, built as a tribute to the Russians who liberated Bulgaria from the Turks at the turn of the 19th Century.

The St. Sofia Church stands just across from the Alexander Nevski Church and is in rather modest contrast to the cathedral’s Russian flamboyance. The current building dates as far back as the 6th Century, but excavations have revealed that it stands on the remains of an even older

church. The Ottomans who used it as a mosque added minarets to the church in the 16th Century. This graceful monument has inspired the city of Sofia’s coat of arms.

As time allows, you will the head to the outskirts of Sofia, where you will stop at the small Boyana Church. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its rich collection of medieval murals, some dating back to the mid-13th Century and considered to be among the finest examples of religious art. The east wing of the two-storey church was originally constructed in the late 10th or early 11th Century. Later, the central wing was added in the 13th Century during the period of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. The whole building was finally finished with a further expansion to the west in the middle of the 19th Century.

The church is famous mainly for its frescoes from the 13th Century, which form a second layer over the paintings from earlier centuries and represent one of the most complete and well- preserved monuments of Eastern European mediaeval art, including a total of 89 scenes with 240 human images are depicted on the walls of the church.

Exeter Services: Guide (8 Hours); Vehicle & Driver (4 Hours)

Hotel: Sense

Day 3
Rila | Rila

Today, your guide and driver will take you to the majestic Rila Monastery. It is believed that the monastery was founded by the hermit St. John of Rila (Ivan Rilski), whose name it bears, in the 10th Century. The hermit lived in a cave not far from the monastery's location, while the complex was built by his students, who came to the mountains to receive their education. Ever since its creation, the Rila Monastery was supported with large donations by the Bulgarian rulers, gradually turning the monastery into a cultural and spiritual center throughout the centuries under Ottoman authority.

The monastery museum houses a rich collection of valuable ancient manuscripts, coins, and weapons. After visiting the museum’s historic treasures, you will visit the main church.

In the afternoon, you will be transferred back to Sofia. Upon arrival, you will enjoy the remainder of the evening at leisure.

Exeter Services: Guide, Vehicle & Driver (8 Hours)

Hotel: Sense

Day 4
Plovdiv | Plovdiv

Today, after check out, you will continue east to Plovdiv - the second largest city in Bulgaria after the capital Sofia.

After your arrival in Plovdiv, you will check in at your small and charming hotel located in the historic Old Town. After some time to drop off your luggage, your guide will take you on an overview tour of the city.

Exeter Services: Guide, Vehicle & Driver (8 Hours)

Hotel: Hebros

Day 5
Plovdiv | Plovdiv

This morning, your guide will take on an overview tour of Plovdiv’s Old Town. The first settlement on this place was founded by the Thracians, and was later conquered by Philip of Macedonia – the father of Alexander the Great, who named it after himself – Philipopolis (the town of Philip). The Romans came here around the turn of the first millennia and further fortified the city, also building streets, towers and aqueducts. You will have a chance to see the famous Roman amphitheater and the Roman Stadium, which were also built in that period (2nd Century AD). The amphitheater could seat at that time 6,000 spectators and was probably the site of bloody gladiator fights. It is still used today for performances and cultural events.

You will stroll along the cobble-stoned streets of the Old Town and admire its beautifully restored Baroque houses. Mostly built in the 19th Century, these houses typically feature overhanging upper floors with jutting eaves, porticos with colonnades, and brightly colored facades. The interiors usually include a salon, one or more drawing rooms, and bedrooms featuring finely carved woodwork, wall decorations, ornamental niches, and mid-19th-Century European furniture.

In the afternoon, you will transfer to the second largest Bulgarian monastery – Bachkovo, which is situated in a narrow river valley in the Rodopi Mountains. Bachkovo is known for its miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary with Jesus, because of which the monastery has been a pilgrimage site for centuries. The frescos in the monastery’s medieval refectory are fabulous examples of 17th Century art. The dome of the church of St. Nicholas (Sveti Nikola) also contains some well-preserved frescoes. Later today, you will return to Plovdiv and your hotel. The rest of the evening will be at your leisure.

Exeter Services: Guide (8 Hours); Vehicle and Driver (4 Hours)

Hotel: Hebros

Day 6
Kazanlak | Kazanlak

This morning you will head north towards Kazanlak, the town of the Bulgarian Rose Damascene and the Capital of the Valley of the Thracian Kings.

Kazanlak is located at the foot of the Balkan Mountains and at the eastern end of the famous Rose Valley which has been a center of rose cultivation and rose oil extraction for centuries. It is believed that the type of rose used for rose oil extraction was introduced to this region from Asia Minor in the 18th - 19th century and, thanks to the favorable climate and soil, rose oil production soon became a major industry with plantations stretching for miles and supplying over half of the world’s supply of rose oil. The roses bloom from late May till early June and must be hand-picked before dawn to preserve their oil content.

You will first visit a rose distillery where a rose expert will introduce you to the ancient technique of extracting the oil from the roses. There you will also have the chance to taste some liquor and rose jam. You will have the chance to visit the famous Thracian Tomb located just north of Kazanlak. The Kazanlak Tomb is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and dates to the 4th Century BC. Discovered in 1944, it is located near the ancient Seutopolis - the former capital city of the Thracian king Seutes III, and is part of a large Thracian necropolis. The tomb’s interiors include a narrow corridor and a round burial chamber, both decorated with murals representing Thracian burial rituals and culture. These paintings are Bulgaria’s best-preserved artistic masterpieces from the Hellenistic period.

Return to Plovdiv after touring for an evening at leisure.

Exeter Services: Guide, Vehicle & Driver (8 Hours)

Hotel: Hebros

Day 7
Black Sea | Black Sea

Early this morning, after having checked out of your hotel in Plovdiv, your driver and guide will take you to the Black Sea Coast and to Nessebar (the journey will take about 4 hours). After check-in, and after some time to freshen up, your guide will meet you for a walking tour of this historic town, which was originally a Thracian Settlement.

Exeter Services: Transfer; Guide in Nessebar (4 Hours)

Hotel: The Mill

Day 8
Sozopol & Burgas | Sozopol & Burgas

Today you will continue the exploration of the area with a visit to Burgas, the main port in the country, and a vibrant city that has been recently ranked as the best place to live in the country. This coastal city has a pleasant atmosphere and a pedestrianized city center. It also has several fine churches and interesting museums, like the Ethnographic Museum – located in a 19th century house, it contains an interesting collection of traditional costumes.

You will also see the Church of SS Kiril and Metodii, designed by Ricardo Toskanin, the Italian architect who strongly influenced Burgas’ architecture in the early 20th century.

In the afternoon, your driver-guide will take you to Sozopol, another picturesque fishing port located south of Nessebar and Burgas. The cobbled streets of this town are densely lined with attractive old houses and you will have time to enjoy to stroll along.

Later in the day, you will be transferred back to your hotel and enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure.

Exeter Services: Guide, Vehicle & Driver (8 Hours)

Hotel: The Mill

Day 9
Nessebar & Veliko Tarnovo | Nessebar & Veliko Tarnovo

After checking out, you will continue your journey with your guide and driver back West, through the Shipka Pass, which was the scene of an epic battle during the Russo-Turkish War in 1877, when some 7,000 Russian soldiers and Bulgarian volunteers died while successfully fending off the attacks of some 27,000 Turkish troops trying to cross the mountain range and enforce the Ottoman army in the northern part of the country. Today, 900 steps lead to the mountain top, dominated by the impressive Freedom Monument, dedicated to the fallen soldiers and offers magnificent vistas.

This evening, you will arrive in Veliko Tarnovo – the former capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. You will check in at your hotel and enjoy an evening at your leisure or meet your guide in the lobby of your hotel for an overview walking tour of the city.

Exeter Services: Guide, Vehicle & Driver (8 Hours)

Hotel: Grand Hotel Yantra

Day 10
Veliko Tarnovo | Veliko Tarnovo

Today, you will start with a morning tour of the medieval capital of Veliko Tarnovo, including a visit to the Tsarevets Royal Hill, where Bulgaria’s tsars and other distinguished gentry had their royal residences and mansions. You may also visit the Baldwin Tower, where Baldwin of Flanders – one of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade and conqueror of Constantinople, was imprisoned and found his death in the 13th Century. You can climb the stairs up to the main church for splendid views over the city, and also see the Execution rock, from where traitors and enemies of the royal family were once pushed into the abyss of the Yantra river canyon.

The Old Town of Veliko Tarnovo boasts some beautiful examples of 19th Century architecture and a cobbled street with some charming craft shops. The Sarafkina House is a local museum on the pleasant Gurko Street, which is worth visiting. Your guide will point out some of Tarnovo’s numerous medieval churches, mostly situated between the Tsarevets and the Trapezitsa Hills where once the nobles and courtiers used to live, there are two which are not to be missed.

This afternoon, you will transfer to the picturesque village and architectural reserve of Arbanassi, where some 90 churches, homes, and monasteries are protected as cultural monuments. Walking along Arbanassi’s cobble stoned streets; you will visit the oldest remaining church in the village – the Church of Nativity. Its interiors are completely covered with distinctive 16th and 17th Century frescoes, featuring over 3,500 figures in some 2,000 scenes.

You will return to Veliko Tarnovo and enjoy an evening at your leisure.

Please note that some of the sightseeing today is on foot and sometimes includes walking on steep and cobble-stoned streets. Please wear comfortable footwear.

Exeter Services: Guide, Vehicle & Driver (8 Hours)

Hotel: Grand Hotel Yantra

Day 11
Veliko Tarnovo | Veliko Tarnovo

Today you will have the chance to enjoy a wine tasting in the area, visiting one of the renowned wineries in North Bulgaria, Lyaskovets. In the afternoon, you will be transferred back to your hotel and enjoy the reminder of the day at leisure.

If you wish, we can plan this experience for the afternoon, so you can enjoy the morning at leisure. Alternatively, hiking trips or visits to nearby towns can be arranged as well.

Exeter Services: Guide, Vehicle & Driver (4 Hours)

Hotel: Grand Hotel Yantra

Day 12
Departure | Bucharest

Early this morning, after meeting your guide and driver, you will transfer from Veliko Tarnovo to Russe – Bulgaria’s main river port located on the Danube River.

If you are interested, your guide and driver will take you to the Ivanovo Rock Monastery - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On this site, several caves were used for religious purposes in as early as the 13th Century. Later, a monastery was built under the sponsorship of the Bulgarian tsars and was linked to the royal court, thus becoming a regional center of the arts, culture, and religion. The monastery is beautifully decorated with 14th Century murals, depicting portraits of saints and religious scenes.

Later today, your Bulgarian driver and guide will transfer you along the massive steel bridge, the longest in Europe, which crosses the Danube and the Romanian- Bulgarian border, to the town of Giurgiu – a major river port and the main gateway to Romania from Bulgaria.

Arrival in Bucharest and transfer to the airport for your onward flight.

Exeter Services: Transfer to Bucharest

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