Here is the second part of my mammoth list of 50 facts to make you want to book a trip to Varna right now.
In its first part (click to read it, if you haven’t already!) I shared with you such enticing tidbits like the story that Varna used to be the final train stop on the Orient Express itinerary from where passengers would reach Istanbul by ferry. I also told you that the world’s oldest gold treasure was discovered in a Bronze Age necropolis just outside of Varna and that the world’s first ballet competition was founded in Varna in 1964.
In case beaches, nightlife and hot temperatures are what you have in mind when picking a destination to visit abroad, in the first part of the list I also mentioned that beaches in and around Varna are covered with fine golden sand, which is so much nicer to sunbathe on than a back-wrecking pebbly beach. Also night clubs line Varna’s waterfront and you can get a fab meal in a nice restaurant for the equivalent of 10 pounds per person. What’s not to like?
So, here is the second part of my extensive list. Dig in and I wouldn’t be surprised if you have booked your tickets to Varna even before you have finished reading it.
26. Every winter a large flock of swans arrives in Varna to spend the cold months on the city beaches. Local people love bringing them food. Seeing the beautiful birds elegantly floating in the sea shallows is one of the best ways to spend a leisurely hour in Varna.
27. About an hour away from Varna the long and narrow cape Kaliakra stretches for two kilometers into the Black Sea. It is a beautiful place where you can watch dolphins play and swim in the blue waters. The cape is also a birdwatcher’s paradise as several dozens of rare bird species nest there. The ruins of a fort and a defensive wall plus many local legends bear witness to Kaliakra’s rich historical past.
28. Varna will be European Youth Capital in 2017 under the slogan of ‘Innowave’.
29. Varna is less than two hours away from Romania, thus you can drive there in the morning and come back in the early evening for a day trip.
30. By plane Varna is 50 mins away from the Bulgarian capital Sofia, so, again, you can fly out early in the morning and fly back late at night for a fab day of exploration. Just book your tickets well in advance, as they tend to cost lots more the nearer to the travel date you buy them.
31. If you don’t want to spend your cash on plane tickets, you can get a sleeper train from Varna to Sofia. The journey takes approximately eight hours, which gives you an opportunity to catch on your beauty sleep. There are three bunk beds per compartment and once you get used to the rocking motion of the train, you will wake up refreshed at your destination.
32. You will be spoilt for choice of museums in Varna. Set a day or two aside to explore in depth the Archaeological Museum (it has a wonderful collection, but it charges silly money for the right to take photos of them), the Naval Museum (see point 23 of the first part of this list), the Ethnographic Museum, the Museum of Bulgarian Revival, the Museum of History of Varna and the several other museums dedicated to the preservation of the local art, history and culture.
33. Should you crave a spot of shopping, head to one of the huge shopping malls dotted around the city. You will find many of the usual high street shops like Zara, H&M and Mango there plus several smaller and local brands. In addition, have a look at the many jewellery shops around town. Bulgarians love their sterling silver jewellery and some amazing pieces can be bought for rather affordable prices.
34. On a hot and stuffy day take the short drive to the estuary of the river Kamchia. Less than an hour away to the south of Varna you will find a lush and leafy place with a nature reserve on one of the shores of the river and a fishermen’s village on the other. Called by the locals ‘The Bulgarian Amazon’, Kamchia is a wild almost jungle-like place which you can explore by boat and then spend the rest of the day on a large sandy beach where the river meets the Black Sea. Read more about this fab place here.
35. Overnight coaches connect Varna with Istanbul. So, if half way through your beach holiday you decide that you fancy some eastern charm and mystery, hope on one of those and by 6 in the morning you will be arriving in the colourful city which once was the capital of Byzantium.
36. For a bird’s-eye view of Varna, take the lift to the restaurant on the 18th floor of hotel Cherno More – until recently the tallest building in town. In fact, the photos used to illustrate the first and the second part of this list, were taken from the balconies of this same restaurant where my parents treated me and my husband to lunch on our last day in Bulgaria this summer.
37. Several Hollywood movies have been filmed in Varna. Action heavyweights like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jason Statham have graced the film sets in the city.
38. Do you love cakes? You will have so much fun in Varna sampling the huge slices of cakes and bakes on offer in the city’s patisseries. They are nothing like your granny’s favourite Victoria Sponge. Expect extravagant creations with lots of cream, chocolate, fruit, ganache and even whole profiteroles built in. Yum!
39. Looking to buy some original art at affordable prices for your abode back home? Several galleries operate in Varna offering a staggering number of works of art – from paintings through ceramics to sculptures and figurines.
40. Varna is a great starting point to explore the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. You can go on a day trip or, if you prefer, organise an overnight stay, to visit such amazing little gems like the ancient towns of Nessebar and Sozopol to the south, have a glimpse at Varna’s arch-rival – the city of Burgas or drive up north to sun yourself on less frequented beaches and camp under the stars.
41. Over 15 thousand Thracian tombs have been discovered on the territory of Bulgaria and about two hours away from Varna are some of the most spectacular of them all. The architectural-historical reserve of Shveshtari encompasses Thracian settlements, temples and necropolises and it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most significant find there is the Thracian Royal tomb which dates back to the 3 century BC, it is huge in size and has an amazing decoration inside.
42. Varna is on the Via Pontica – one of the major migration routes for birds flying from Europe to Africa at the end of each summer. It is quite the sight seeing the thousands of storks and pelicans circling above the Varna Bay. There are so many birds that the flocks often block the sun for a few minutes and when you look up to see what is going on you can’t help but be amazed by the magnificence of it all.
43. Apart from a birds’ migration route Via Pontica is also a Roman road which connected Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) with Istros (nowadays Histria) in Romania. A tourist route follows the ancient road which is dotted with the remains of fortresses, towns and temples. Varna is an excellent starting point to explore Via Pontica either to the south or all the way to the north.
44. The blue sea waters gently lapping the beaches in and around Varna don’t have any trouble reaching 25 degrees Celsius in the summer months. This is positively hot! To put in perspective, have you tried taking a dip in the ocean brimming the beaches just outside Lisbon in Portugal? It’s freeezing! So, come to Varna!
45. About an hour away from Varna you will find the Honey House (in Bulgarian ‘Медената къща’). The most divine honey I have ever tasted is made there as well as many honey- and propolis-based products. I am in no way connected to the Honey House. This summer I had the utmost culinary pleasure of sampling their thistle honey and I am still dreaming of it. So, as everything else in this list, this is a personally tried and tested recommendation.
46. A little something for the lovers of post-socialist reality: Did you know that during the Iron Curtain years there were beach resorts built on the Black Sea coast just for the high-ranking members of the Communist party? If you were a commoner, you couldn’t visit and in most cases you wouldn’t even know they were there, so well concealed such resorts were. Well, one of them is just outside of Varna. It is called Sunny Day and it has some lovely beaches. Obviously, it is now open to the general public.
47. There are plenty of thermal mineral water springs and mineral mud deposits in and around Varna. Some hotels even have swimming pools which are filled exclusively with naturally warm mineral water. On offer are also many spa procedures and facilities.
48. Locally produced seasonal fruits and vegetables are really tasty and sweet. Salads are held in high esteem and restaurants often have at least a dozen different salads on their menus. Add to this the national obsession with tomatoes, which are big, round, juicy and a beautiful shade of red, and you will never be short on your five-a-day while you are in Varna.
49. Less than an hour away from Varna you will find Balchik – a charming town with some of the best botanical gardens in Bulgaria (check the huge cacti) and the former summer residence of the Romanian Queen.
50. A one of a kind event takes place in Varna on Epiphany every year. The bishop of Varna throws the cross into the Black Sea and a group of men jump into the icy waters trying to retrieve it. Usually, it is an extremely cold day, so it is quite amazing to watch the men stripped down to their swimming trunks getting ready to jump in and then diving in and out of the water in their search for the cross.