Varna, Bulgaria: what to do on a weekend

In addition to going quite a few times to the beach (Rappongi was the chosen one, which the locals recommend) there are also many things to do in Varna and its surroundings. In this post we give you some recommendations on what to do in Varna on a weekend.

Aladzha Monastery

On the first morning, we did what we wanted most: visiting the monastery of Aladzha (Map; Web), on the outskirts of Varna.

Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1912, this rock-carved monastery was used by hermit monks during the 12th and 14th centuries. The rooms of the monastery had two floors, and are excavated at almost 40 meters high, being one of the few rock-carved habitats that looked architecturally like monasteries built with common building materials: it is quite an unique place.

There is archaeological evidence that the catacombs were inhabited during the first Christian era (5th and 6th centuries).

After the fall of Bulgaria at the hands of the Ottomans in the late 14th century, the monastery of Aladzha began its decline, and was completely forgotten in the 16th century. In addition, a natural cataclysm in the middle ages resulted in the collapse of the entire front rock facade, which is what you can see today.

Aladzha Monastery
Me, about to enter the Monastery.
Inside the Aladzha Monastery
Going through the Monastery.
Is that… John Wick/Keanu Reeves burying skulls, in one illustration?

How to get to the Aladzha Monastery?

The best way is with a taxi (the company that locals recommend as reliable is Omega) or private car, since this way you can go at the hours you want. If you favor public transport, however, you can take bus 29 from the Train Station or next to the Varna Cathedral at 7:55 and 17:50, and take the one that suits you best back from there (again , only two).

The entrance costs about 5 Bulgarian lev, although if you have the Varna City Card – which we talked about in the previous post – the entrance to the monastery is free.

Around the monastery there is a natural park, through which you can walk quietly, as we did.

Eating in Varna: Casa Al Mare

To eat around the city of the monastery we went to the promenade of Varna, and we stopped at La Casa Al Mare (Map).

A super tasty dessert.

This cozy and familiar Italian cuisine restaurant lured us with its spacious terrace on the shade side of the street on a hot day. The restaurant has an extensive menu with fish – always a good option when you are by the sea side, and also has a discount for the holders of the Varna City Card, as we had.

The salad and the meat were quite good, but what really shined for us was the dessert: a very generous portion of cake that provided us with energy for the entire afternoon.

You can see everything in this Instagram gallery.

Roman Baths of Varna

Within the city, perhaps the most famous attraction are the Odessos Roman Thermae (Map, Web), from the 2nd century A.C.: a large complex of Roman public baths from which its ruins can be visited.

With an impressive 7000 square meters, it is the fourth largest public baths discovered in the European provinces of the Roman Empire. During the crisis of the empire, shortly after the completion of its construction, the city could not keep them operational because of their high cost, and they were abandoned. Large parts of the materials with which they were built were integrated into other constructions, including the nearby small Odessos hot springs, much more modest in size, from the 4th century A.D.

The thermae still function today as a little stage for performances.

The entrance costs 4 levs, although if you have the Varna City Card it is included, and is quite a nice visit.

Varna Naval Museum

As we mentioned in the previous post, Varna is the main Bulgarian city in the Black Sea, which means of course that it has one of the largest ports in the area and that the sea is important to the city.

Therefore, after the hot springs we went down to the Naval Museum (Map; Web) of the city, to learn a little more about it.

The museum is in a building with two floors (and a half), with different themes depending on each floor. In the lower one – the middle one – we have a picturesque diving scene, for example. On the first floor you can learn more about sailing in the Black Sea and the old Bulgarian sea navigators. On the top floor we can see more about the last century of Bulgarian navigation, with for example the participation of the country during the main conflicts of the 20th century.

Some things to see are: the installation of the bridge of an 18th-century gunboat and the gadgets of a lighthouse (which interested me quite a bit). Likewise, there is now an exhibition of maritime comic strips, which will last a few months and is also worth visiting.

A boat trip along the coast of Varna: the Pinta Varna pirate ship

Although there are many different trips from the Pinta Varna (web, map) – a tourist boat that goes around the coast of Varna – we took the last trip of the day: the sunset trip.

The Pinta Varna is a pirate-decorated ship that offers a tour of about 90 minutes while the sun sets (among other kinds of tours during the day). It offers snacks and drinks on board (for adults, but also for children, being a good plan to do with the family) , with which one can get back to port a bit tipsy, which is always a good thing.

We did have a great time and the super friendly staff is always making sure that everyone enjoys their time, providing with pirate clothing (great for the kids), snacks, drinks and games.

It goes along the north coast or the south coast of the city, depending on the wind and waves of the day, to provide the smoothest experience for the travelers.

The daytime tours of the Pinta Varna can be longer and contain a “water cannon battle” with another ship, which sounds quite fun if you travel with friends! Check out the schedules at the port or on its website.

The pedestrian center of Varna and Primorski Park

The center of Varna is very picturesque, with pedestrian streets dotted with cafes, restaurants and shops that are not overcrowded and leave plenty of room to breathe.

The pedestrian zone starts from the south of the famous Varna Cathedral, and ends in the Primorski Park: it is a very wide area where it is a pleasure to walk around. As we mentioned in our previous post, it is where we stayed over, and that it is a great location to spend a few days in the city.

Varna's Cathedral
Varna’s Cathedral.

It is connected to Primorski Park (Map), a large park parallel to the coast where there are all kinds of interesting things to do: dolphinarium, museums, mini-golf, street market, obstacles for skateboarders, bike paths, statues … Or just to walk, Of course, overlooking the sea.

The recommended beaches of Varna

Last but not least, the beaches of Varna, a place where we stayed a decent amount of time relaxing.

In the city itself, the best beach is Rappongi. It is a bit far from the pedestrian center, but it is the best beach area (the one chosen by the locals, as it is far from the port area). We went to it mostly during the days we were.

If you prefer to leave the city, relatively close (and well connected) you have the resort that the young boys and girl go to have a good time: the Golden Sands, a kind of Bulgarian Magaluf. To go to this place you can take the 409 bus from the pedestrian center or from the cathedral (the same line as the airport, but in the other direction). There is one every 15 minutes or so, so you won’t have to wait too long.

Rappongi beach
Having some lunch at the Rappongi beach.

If you like good beaches – and who doesn’t – but Golden Sands is a bit too much party for you and you prefer something quieter, the beach of St Konstantin and Helena (map) is for you. You can also arrive with bus 409 but it leaves you a little far from the sea. Bus 31A also does the same, but leaves you very close to the beach.

Finally, the Kabakum beach (map) is another one recommended by the locals, with good water quality. Again, the bus 409 in the opposite direction to the airport will take you there, being the best stop to step down “Journalist” or “Free University”. This is a little further than the St Konstantin, though.

And these were the activities and things we can recommend you! If you have visited any of these places, what did you think of them? Which would you most like to visit if not?


Varna: the city of the Black Sea

The next step our the trip was Varna, the largest city on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria.

The idea was, in addition to visiting the other two main cities of the country, staying a few days on the beach (and Varna offered that plus it is the European capital of sports 2019). So we headed towards the Black Sea.

Varna: European capital of sports 2019

Varna: how to get there

Varna International Airport has quite a few direct flights. You can check here which one is closest to you.

There are flights for example from all the Nordic capitals – at least in summer -, including of course the capital of Finland, Helsinki, and many other places.

Varna International Aiport.

If you are already in Bulgaria and prefer train or bus and you’re coming from Sofia, I could not find a route without a significant layover. In this way, plane seems your only option from Sofia to Varna.

If you come from Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria, there are only two trains and two buses per day, and they make quite a few stops along the way (patience will be a virtue). We took the 6:45 bus from there and arrived around 1pm. Of course, unless you prefer to avoid CO2 emissions, the best option to take is the plane to get to Varna.

Where to stay in Varna

It depends on what kind of plan you have: whether it is beach or city (we wanted both things).

If you prefer city or mixture of city and beach, the best thing is the city center, near the famous Varna Cathedral: it is a pedestrian area with lots of restaurants and cafes, and you can walk 10-15 minutes to the Beach. On the following map, within the red zone, is the recommended area to stay. We stayed in a central Airbnb (this is my link if you don’t have an account yet) to have easy access to everything.

Of course, if you want mostly beach and the city is less important, it is best to stay the closer to the Rappongi beach (map). It is the favorite beach of the locals.

How to get around and what to do in Varna?

That question is what we directed to the city, and they were very kind in answering us.

To get around the city, unless you go to the airport (line 409) or to the spectacular Aladzha monastery (bus line 29 – this and the previous one’s stops are next to the Cathedral), if you stay in the most central places and the beach , you can do everything easily by walking.

On my way to the beach.

As for what to do, the city was very kind to provide us with a couple of Varna City Card (web / Instagram), which gave us a lot of options to do in Varna, something that we thank them from here.

The card includes free admission to 14 museums, including the famous Roman baths, from the 2nd century, a spectacular place that – in addition being a place to visit as a traveler – is still used as a stage for performances and small concerts.

It also includes discounts on a lot of activities like a trip on a pirate ship, where we saw a magnificent sunset at the sea and had a great time.

If you want to get yours ahead of time on your smartphone this is the place.

In the following post we tell you what we did in Varna during the days we stayed, and what we can recommend you from what we did.

Did you know Varna? Have you visited the Black Sea? Tell us in the comments!


Plovdiv: what to see on a weekend (2)

For our second day in Plovdiv (see our post about the first day) we started the morning with one of the free city tours, the Free Plovdiv Tour (website) . If you are interested, they start every day at 11 and 6 in the afternoon in front of the town hall, and last two hours (so you are perfectly in time for lunch or dinner later). Different seasons have different timetables. If it sounds like something you’d like to do, the best thing is to check their website.

After touring through Kapana with them, and also along the hill of the ancient city, we ate something quickly and headed to see the most emblematic houses of the XIX century nobility of Plovdiv.

Ethnographic museum of Plovdiv
Ethnographic museum of Plovdiv.

The ancient city of Plovdiv

The ancient city of Plovdiv is an architectural reserve and rightly so: is the area (map) were the houses of the wealthiest inhabitants of Plovdiv are. They built for themselves luxurious mansions for the standards of their time… and ours.

Plovdiv was then a merchant city, and after the western opening with the end of the Ottoman era many architectural influences are seen in the houses. Oriental mixed with western styles.

Many of them have been converted into museums or have been preserved for the enjoyment and admiration of locals and foreigners visiting Plovdiv. One more reason to get a Plovdiv City Card – which we talked about in the first post of the series – is that the entrance to a large part of the mansions is free with it.

The Hadji Aleko house – Philippopolis Museum and Gallery

This two-story building, located on 29 Saborna Street (map), is a beautiful Renaissance house, from 1895 for the notorious citizen of the city Adij Aleko, and the first made in the Western style. His grandfather was a famous craftsman, who organized the guild in the city, and from there comes the luxury of the house, exquisitely decorated with oak.

Galery Philippopolis in Plovdiv
Galery Philippopolis
Gallery Philippolis
Second floor of the Gallery.
Bulgarian costumbrist painting
Bulgarian costumbrist painting

Today it has been converted into a painting museum on both floors, with a permanent collection. The paintings have a clear Russian influence. There’s also a changing collection. When I visited it, the changing one was from the artist Lili Kioutchoukova, who depicts in her paintings the sordid side of Paris.

The Balabanov house

Another of the emblematic houses of the ancient area of ​​Plovdiv is that of Balabanov, which dates back to the early 1800s. Built for the rich merchant Hadji Panajot, it takes its name from the owner it had in the early twentieth century, Mr. Balabanov – also merchant.

Also freely accessible with the Plovdiv City Card, this house was built on the Bulgarian National Revival period. You can see the luxuries of the time on a second floor decorated with the original furniture, while the first floor acts as a painting and sculpture gallery.

Balabanof house.
Lower floor of the Balabanof house.
Main hall of the second floor.
Diniing room

Hindliyan’s house

A few steps from the previous house, we find another picturesque and luxurious house that competes in those criteria with that of Balabanov: the house of Stephan Hindlyan, also a rich merchant and rancher, dating from the 1830s.

It is perhaps the house of the architectural complex of the ancient city of Plovdiv that I liked the most. The second floor is fantastically painted in bright colors, with each room having a predominant one. The “Alafrangas” – a kind of “window” that instead of having crystals to the outside world contain a painting in the stone – are outstanding.

The green room.
Hindliyan's yellow room
Amazing ceiling decoration in the yellow room

Mr. Hindlyan definitely did not spare any expense, since he even had a rosewater fountain for giving the room a nice scent.

Rahat Trepe restaurant

After spending the afternoon walking through the old area (other things to see in the area: Philippo’s gate on the wall, the top of the hill with the ruins our appetite opened and we went to a Nice open-air restaurant on top of the hill: the Rahat Trepe (address: Doctor Stoyan Chomakov. Map).

We placed ourselves on one of the many tables on the terrace and we could watch the sunset from there while we had dinner. We ordered one of the house’s specialties, the ribs, as well as several rounds of refreshing Bulgarian beers (the brand is Kamenitza) and some Rakia (the Bulgarian Grappa) to close the night in the good atmosphere of the restaurant.
The Barbaque Ribs.

Tired and happy, we went back down to the apartment (see the first post of the series, where to sleep in Plovdiv?) To rest, since at dawn we had to continue the trip. The weekend was over.


Plovdiv: what to do in a weekend

We arrive in Plovdiv in the morning from Sofia. We left our things in the AirBnB (See: where to stay and how to get around in Plovdiv?) And we went to the first of Plovdiv to see: the Kapana district.

Kapana: the center of Plovdiv to see and feel

“Kapana” means “the trap.”

Its name comes in its form: they are small and labyrinthine streets from which once you enter you cannot (or do not want, as is our case) leave. It used to be the center of artisanal production of the city, but it has found itself again as the place to go for a coffee or dinner in Plovdiv.

Street in Kapana
Kapana from the Multi Culti café.

Kapana (this area: Map) is alive: cafes, restaurants and picturesque buildings everywhere (and near the oldest part of the city).

The first thing we did was go eat something. We arrived at Café Multi Culti (6A Abadzhiyska street – map, Facebook), a great Gastro-Pub with a menu in which the two young owners have put a lot of love (and quality). What we had was delicious, including a table of Bulgarian cheeses and homemade Fanta (that I had to order when I saw it). You can see it in these photos that we also put in the Big in Finland Instagram.

Bulgarian Cheeses in the Multi Culti café.
Bulgarian gastronomy.
Multi Culti café
Gastro Pub Multi Culti: recommended.

From there we took the “Arts and Crafts District Tour” through Kapana (you can find it here). In addition to picturesque low-rise buildings in the area, dotted with cafes and bars, there is a graffiti battle between the two most important graffiti artists in Bulgaria: Stern (a native of Plovdiv) and Nasimo. We went through the streets trying to identify who the graffiti belonged to (hint: Stern has the same protagonist in his ones, and Nasimo likes triangles and bees). You can see it in this gallery that we put in Insta.
Nasimo VS Stern.
Nasimo Grafitti in Kapana.
A Nasimo Grafitti.

In Kapana we met Giovanna, in her Art Studio Giovanna (address: Frederic Joliot-Curie 6, map), an expert in leather and who has worked with the most prestigious fashion brands in the world, but who returned to her Plovdiv to start a own study. She showed us how leather is worked and we made a pair of keychains with her, which I still carry with me in my backpack today.

Working with leather in the Art Studio Giovanna.

From there we went to see an art gallery of young artists: pLOVEdiv (Pavel Kurtevich Street 3, Map and web), which was almost next door. We walked around the exhibition and to the terrace, with a nice view of Kapana, and before we left we bought a magnet with the motto “Make pLOVEdiv, not Warna”. It still greets from the refrigerator every day. The pun refers to Varna, the city on the coast of the Black Sea of Bulgaria.

pLOVEdiv art gallery
Seeing Kapana from above in pLOVEdiv.

From there we went to have a coffee in the corner, to the gourmet coffee Dukiana Coffee Roaster (map) before going to see the best known monument of Plovdiv.

Dukiana Coffee Roaster
Bean selection at the Dukiana Coffee Roaster

The Roman Theatre of Plovdiv

Roman Theatre of plovdiv
A view from above of the Roman Theatre of Plovdiv, near Kapana.

(re)Discovered by a landslide, and located between two of the 7 hills of the city, the Plovdiv Roman theater is erected. It is the best known ancient monument in Bulgaria.

It was built in the year 90, as it could be seen in the inscription discovered and that names the city councilman then: Titus Flavius ​​Cotis. Admission is free with the Plovdiv City Card, which we talked about in the previous post and that you can get here.

It is still used for its original use, and as you can see in the photo they were preparing it for a concert. Something unique to see in the city.

Kapana at night

After resting for a while, we returned at night to have dinner and have a drink and walk through the center at night.

There is a bar / cafe in the Kapana district that is a copy of Friends’ Central Perk (who knows if to save costs they would record something there Bulgaria Of course Bulgaria has a movie studio that houses the shooting of many films), although we chose the Bar opposite, which they recommended for good Gin Tonics.

Central Perk in Plovdiv
Plovdiv’s Central Perk

From there, we took a walk to the ancient city of Plovdiv, in one of the hills and with several of the most emblematic buildings of the city, now converted into museums and galleries, which we will talk about in the next post.

Of course, Kapana left us delighted! In the next post we will tell you how we spent the second day in the ancient city. You can read here this second part.