Varna at a glance
Because the third-largest city in Bulgaria is the country’s cultural and cosmopolitan capital. Thanks to golden, sandy beaches, it’s also the St Tropez of the Black Sea.
The beating heart of Varna is Ploshtad Nezavisimost, a square where you can find the opera house, the theatre, as well as plenty of cafes and restaurants.
You probably didn’t know
In 1972 a 6,000-year-old necropolis was found with the oldest collection of gold in the world, reinforcing claims that Varna is one of the world’s oldest cities. You can see the stash in the Archaeological Museum.
Mechanic: Resurrection (2002), starring Jason Statham and Jessica Alba, was actually filmed here, and did a stellar job of showing off Varna’s picturesque coastline.
- Population: 334,500 (in 2015)
- Annual visitor numbers: 310,000 (2015)
- January mean temp: 3°C
- August mean temp: 23°C
Things to do in Varna
Pri Monahinite is located in what was the city’s first hospital (and run by nuns, hence the name). It’s well known for hearty Bulgarian food like chicken hearts with butter, veal with eggplant and succulent barbecued meat.
It’s a clever name for a relaxed and eclectic eatery: a few steps through the door at Happy and you’ll feel just that. Sample the Bulgarian’s take on sushi (deliciously bonkers – we love the baby pink Hawaii maki with crab mousse and Philadelphia), the Paradise pork burger, plentiful pasta options and, of course, the odd Bulgarian dish. Try to grab one of the tables spilling out onto the pavement for views of one of Varna’s main thoroughfares.
Di Wine Restaurant and Cellar
Di Wine Restaurant and Cellar, found in the shadow of Varna’s mighty cathedral, is widely regarded as the best joint in town: think fine dining food served on tables with pressed white linen, elegant tableware and exquisite wines. The international menu has been created to impress, and standouts include delicate octopus served with a zingy Mexican salsa, chicken with an almond crust and blue cheese sauce, and barbecued duck with a rich vegetable risotto.
While many of Varna’s top night spots are only open during the high season, Club Horizont (in the Sea Garden) is a popular, year-round party venue that regularly brings over top international DJs and hosts live performances with some of Bulgaria’s top popstars.
Retro Club is a delightful change from the cheesy clubs at nearby Golden Sands. With nightly live gigs, this trendy basement bar has to the most eclectic mix of music in town – think everything from rock and disco to Bulgarian and Latin hits, and even a bit of reggae and ska thrown in, too.
Dark, dank and with sometimes questionable music choices and ridiculously large pours of vodka, Bolla is definitely an experience, and a world away from the swanky clubs out by the waterfront. The guys at Bolla are incredibly welcoming, and know how to keep the party going until the early hours.
The vintage scene is booming in Varna (with retro club nights, classic car parades and car boot sales most weekends), but if you’re looking for something unique to remember your trip to the Bulgarian gold coast, you can’t do better than Vintage House. This cute and chintzy store sells first-rate, second-hand clothes, statement jewellery and the odd piece of pre-loved furniture, too.
The Grand Mall
There’s nothing more convenient than mooching around a mall when you’ve got to purchase gifts and souvenirs for a whole host of family and friends back home. The Grand Mall has all the names you know so well (Adidas, Guess, H&M and Massimo Dutti) and a few you don’t, such as fashion boutique Badoo, shoe store Humanic and jewellery store Oxette.
The Sea Garden is the city’s largest park and one of its main landmarks. Located directly above the Black Sea (hence its name), it has a whole host of offerings, including an open-air theatre in the summer and magnificent views of Varna’s beaches.
No other building in Varna shakes off the gloom of the Soviet era quite like the funky Graffit Gallery, designed by Bulgarian Georgi Bachev. This six-story modernist building with a graphite exterior (‘graffit’ is graphite in Bulgarian, not a misspelling of graffiti!) has a café downstairs and a hotel on the upper four floors. You’ll find the gallery on the first floor. With a regular roster of edgy art, this is Varna’s coolest art gallery by miles.
National Navy Museum
Bulgaria’s largest seaside resort, Varna is rightly proud of its rich maritime history. You can find out more about what the sea means to the city at the National Navy Museum, founded in 1923. As well as plenty of model ships and naval uniforms, you can also see the boat that led the Bulgarian Navy’s only victory; in 1912 it sank the Turkish cruiser Hamidie off Cape Kaliakra.
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