The scenic town of Veliko Tarnovo in North Bulgaria is one of the oldest in the country, with a history that dates all the way back to the Paleolithic Era. Situated on the Yantra river about three hours by car to the east of the capital Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo has a rich past and a bright future. With a population of around 70,000, it has the feel of a small city that's just big enough to keep you interested, but small enough to feel right at home in. If you're doing a trip around the Balkans, be sure to include Veliko Tarnovo on your itinerary. It's just three hours from Bucharest, Romania, and two and half hours from the beautiful seaside resort of Varna.
The medieval Tsarevets Fortress is the city's main landmark, perched as it is on a hill at the edge of the town. Climb to the top of the castle hill to see the remains of old churches and a royal palace, as well as being treated to incredible views of Veliko Tarnovo and the mountains that surround it.
Travel tip: If you're visiting Bulgaria in the summertime, we recommend going to Tsarevets Fortress in the early morning in order to avoid the oppressive midday heat.
To get a sense of this region's history, head to the Archaeological Museum in Old Town. Alternatively, venture about 25km north of the city to Nikyup, home of the archaeological site at Nicopolis Ad Istrum (aka Nikopois), the ruins of a former Roman Empire city that was founded in 101 to 106 AD. A taxi journey to this UNESCO-listed destination will set you back about 50 BGN (about £20).
Cheap and cheerful is the best way to describe Veliko Tarnovo's food scene. Expect to see plenty of hole-in-the-wall eateries with scrumptious food at an affordable price. To sample the local fare, order a bowl of tarator (cold cucumber soup) and pizza made with local kashkaval cheese. Wash it all down with some local wine. Did you know wine making is a centuries-old tradition in Bulgaria?
One of the most surprising delights in Veliko Tarnovo is its thriving street art scene, fuelled in part by students at the local University of Veliko Turnovo St Cyril and St. Methodius. The city even held a street festival in 2013 to celebrate the colourful works that adorn the buildings and walls. Head to Stagan Stambolov Street and the area around it to catch a glimpse of the city's most striking designs.