Varna - The Sea Treasure of Bulgaria
by Plamena Kirova
Varna is undoubtedly the sea treasure of Bulgaria. And I am not saying that just because I was born and bred here. Besides opportunities for sunbathing and yachting, Varna offers a rich cultural program and an exciting trip through time. The inspiring energy of the Sea Garden, which is amongst the most prominent symbols of Varna, will stay with you long after you have left, and Aladzha Monastery will leave you speechless.
How to get to Varna
By airplane – there are directs flights to Varna, but most flights arrive in Sofia, the capital, and you can take a train, a bus or rent a car from there in order to reach Varna. The direct flights from Sofia to Varna are a great time saver as the traveling time varies from 45 minutes to 1 hour, but naturally, flying to Varna is a lot more expensive than the other travel options.
By train – Varna train station is an architectural monument in its own glory and is one of the first buildings to ever have been built in Bulgaria. Direct trains Sofia-Varna travel every day and it’s the cheapest means of transportation (the train ticket costs approximately 24 leva or 12 euros), but the journey can exceed 8 hours. Taking the night train is the best way to save time, plus, the sleeping wagons have been renovated and are really comfy.
By bus – the bus lines Sofia-Varna are regular and frequent throughout the year.
What to see in Varna
The Sea Garden
The top destination for every tourist must be the astonishing Sea Garden. With its ever-changing colors, it inspires the heart and it’s a beautiful picture every season. 24 hours won’t suffice to see the whole garden, but only half an hour is enough for you to be emotionally recharged for the coming week. Varna’s Sea Garden cannot be compared to the Gardens of Versailles, but it isn’t merely a big, pretty park. It has a great cultural value and more importantly, it is an energy battery for the soul. Part of the garden is the longest bike lane and the so-called “Sportsman’s alley”. It leads to the inner parts of the park, where the Dolphinarium, the Zoo, the Aquarium, the Sundial, the “Rakovina” stage and many others are located. The Sea Garden’s entrance/exit leads directly to the city center.
The Zoo is definitely a must-see spot for kids and grown-ups alike. It’s significantly smaller than Sofia Zoo, but a lot cozier. Moreover, your kid is allowed to feed most of the animals, which is always fun to watch.
The Dolphinarium is a one-of-a-kind entertainment facility in Bulgaria and that literally means it’s the only one on the Balkan Peninsula. It’s also the symbol of cultural tourism in Varna. The program is intensive, involving many interactive games with members of the audience. The five Varna dolphins are extremely friendly and always ready to play, and if you’re lucky you get to sail in an inflatable boat with the dolphins swimming around. Other games for tourists involve feeding the dolphins with little fishes and playing volleyball with them. During the summer, the Dolphinarium is almost always crowded and there is a great cafe with a magnificent view of the Black Sea just a floor below.
The “Nicolaus Copernicus” National Observatory and Planetarium
The Planetarium is a top landmark in Varna, where one can enjoy an educational meeting with the stars through the sky theatre. Located just beside the entrance of the Sea Garden, the planetarium organizes group visits (over 15 people) all year round.
Varna Archeological Museum
The Archeological Museum must definitely be included in your itinerary as it guards the oldest gold treasure in the world. The find contains around 2000 pieces (necklaces, bracelets, plates) of pure 23.5 Carat gold. The exhibition is in a chronological order. The museum is open every day (except Sunday and Monday) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The must-visit out of town destinations are Aladzha Monastery, Residence Euxinograd, the Stone Forest.
Aladzha Monastery is truly a magical place. It’s the most famous medieval cave monastery on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, so naturally, it’s very well preserved. The monastery was inhabited by hermit monks during the XIII-XIV centuries and their rooms are rather peculiar – caves that are hewn on two levels into a limestone rock (almost 40m high). Although it’s now a tourist attraction, one can smell the wild forest’s perfume which is absolutely intoxicating. Only on Sundays (during summer) there is an audio-visual show called “Aladzha Monastery Legends”, so you know when to plan your trip.
Residence Euxinograd is a summer palace that was built around 1885, specifically for Alexander I Battenberg. It’s famous for its beautiful gardens and greenhouses, but the Sundial (a gift for Prince Ferdinand from Queen Victoria), the chapel “St. Dimitar” and the wine-cellar are also an integral part of the tourist’s route. The palace is located 8 km from Varna, near the seaside resort “St. St. Constantine and Helena”.
The Stone Forest
The Stone Forest is considered to be one of the places with the strongest energy fields in Bulgaria. Its atmosphere of spiritual presence can only be surpassed by that of the village Rupite, where the prophet Vanga has lived during the last years of her life. It may sound boring to just hang around and observe rock formations, but they are all located in a very bizarre way and take many different forms. At the entrance, you are given a stone map with the name of every stone. The names reflect the shape of the rock formation and one can have a real laugh when trying to take a guess at the name.
Where to eat in Varna
Cubo is probably the most popular beach bar in Varna. Not only is it located on the beach, but also the bar’s chairs literally sink into the soft sand. Although it’s the most charming at night, Cubo has no shortage of daytime drinks. It’s vital to know that it is one of the few beach places that doesn’t close doors at summer’s end – it works just as hard throughout the whole year.
“Midena Kashta – mussels and fish”
“Midena Kashta – mussels and fish” is one of the most famous restaurants on the coastal street. It’s most definitely a top summer place as they cook the best fish in town. Needless to say, sipping red wine and eating delicious shrimps while watching the sunset on the sea horizon, is nothing short of a heavenly experience.
I declare “The Bay” my personal favorite. You have to take the time to travel 8 km to “St. St. Constantine and Helena” in order to get to “The Bay”, but, trust me, it will be worth the effort. Not only does the setting reflect the name of the restaurant, but also the cuisine is superb. The restaurant itself looks like a colorful little house with two floors, located on the sand. The service is warm and friendly and they can offer you something a little out of the ordinary – smoking a hookah while laying on your lounge and listening to the sound of the waves. Isn’t that neat?
To discover more about Varna you can visit the Official Visitor Guide.