(Editor’s note: Last month, we posted a travel story about Sofia that blew out the tubes on our Internet, it got so much traffic. It’s still a top-read story every day, so someone clearly loves Bulgaria. We asked freelance journalist Kalina Varbanova to post about Varna, her hometown. So, here you go.)
By KALINA VARBANOVA
Adventurous traveling, sailing, finding new discoveries, chilling with chamber music or just relaxing on the beach. Welcome to Varna – the summer capital of Bulgaria.
Varna is situated on the northern Bulgarian Black Sea coast line (just north of Istanbul). Due to its choice location and great climate, the city has become a cultural and recreation center for both the Balkans and for Eastern Europe. So, let me give you a few reasons you should plan a trip.
Varna is a tourist-friendly place. Summer tourism is traditional for the region with the sea and beach. There are summer beach resort villages just outside the city including Golden Sands and St. Constantine and Elena, and I also recommend hotels in the center of the city.
The SCF Black Sea Tall Ships Regatta 2016 stops in this weekend on the third leg, arriving from Sochi, Russia. This Varna leg follows the regatta’s huge success here in 2014.
Varna is one of Europe’s top cultural centers, with lots of events happening throughout the summer: international music festival Varna Summer; international theater festival Varna Summer, Opera in The Summer theater, international ballet competition and many others.
As you might imagine for a city on the sea, some of the coolest activities and destinations are nautical.
The Sea Garden forms an imposing park and entertainment complex, noted for its elaborate landscaping where you can visit the Natural Science Museum, the Naval Museum, the Copernicus Astronomy Complex planetarium (the first in the country), the zoo and the terrarium.
Here one can find the only dolphinarium and aquarium in Bulgaria, with Dolphinarium Festa Varna one of the top tourism draws in the region.
There is also a swimming pool, tennis courts, an open-air theater and a new children’s complex (opened on 1 May 2002) with a lot of amusements: water wheels, slide, archery, trampoline.
In the city you have a great choice of many kinds of restaurants – traditional Bulgarian, Italian, Chinese, sushi, fish, even McDonald’s. There is a notable restaurant district by the sea. Along the alley, which runs parallel to the coastline, there are a number of small cafes and restaurants, offering seafood specialties as well as attractive discos. On the beach you can have a pleasant lunch in a fish restaurant. I recommend fish restaurant Nord – the tastiest fish I’ve ever eaten, and it is not expensive. But good cafes and restaurants are everywhere in the city.
I recommend the Italian restaurant La Pastaria at Dragoman 45 near the center of the city … the best pizza and tiramisu I’ve ever eaten. Also I want to recommend the Italian sweets bar Kramer Patisserie – the tastiest Italian ice cream and cakes.
Culture and history
Both ancient and modern, Varna is full of life. The city has been chosen the European Youth Capital for 2017. With a population of 340,000, Varna has a large number of young people (around 158,000 under the age of 35). Varna was selected from a list that included finalists Cascais, Portugal; Galway, Ireland; and Perugia, Italy.
Bulgaria is a Christian country with churches in every city and village. In Varna there are many churches, and in the very center of the city is St. Nikolas church. On the main street in front of the church were found ancient remains of of the ancient settlement of Odessos. The city was founded by ancient Greeks – ancient Odessos – and later ruled by the Romans.
Varna’s Roman Thermae (bath-house) is the remains of the largest Roman thermae on the Balkan peninsula, and is incorporated in the city surroundings.
Varna has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. The oldest gold in the world was discovered here and is on display at the Varna Museum of Archeology.
Quality of Life
Public transport is good, with buses, trolleys and taxis.
The cost of living is not expensive compared to other parts of Europe. A ticket for a bus will cost you 1 lev, or about 50 euro cents. Coffee is 1.50 lev, or 77 euro cents. Lunch in an Italian restaurant averages about 15 lev, or 8 euros. At current exchange rates, the euro buys 1.95 lev, and $1 equals 1.75 lev.
If you are tempted to come to see where “The Expendables 3” was filmed, don’t hesitate. Jump on the plane and come to Varna.
You’re going to fall in love with Varna!
As you might expect of a city located on the Black Sea 400 kilometers south of Berlin, Varna has a mild, humid subtropical climate. Summers are hot and muggy with thunderstorms. (The climate is so mild that it’s not unusual for Varna to have temperates near 20 degrees during the winter, according to Dispatches staffers who’ve visited.)
Varna is a secure place. The only travel hazards are Roma pickpockets and beggars. Police maintain a strong public presence and young people speak English.