This post is also available in: Dutch

Latest update: 17 May 2023

The port city and coastal town of Varna is right next to the clear blue Black Sea. Not nearly as well known as Sunny Beach, but perhaps that is why it is much more fun to visit. I have collected a few tips for what you can do in Varna for you, have fun!

Stalin ruled Bulgaria and the city of Varna from 1949 to 1956. His communist regime still influences the “modern” port city that Varna is today. You can still buy souvenirs with his image, you can find him in the retro museum, and Bulgarian guides seemingly speak of him with bitterness in their voices. In Stalin’s time, Varna was even called Stalin – he received the name change as a gift for his seventieth birthday.

Varna is the second largest city in Bulgaria after Sofia and Plovdiv. It is directly on the Black Sea and a popular beach holiday destination. There is even an airport. But to be honest: I had never heard of Varna until friends of mine got married there. So I had no idea what there was to do in Varna. But luckily, there is enough! Find out what you can do in Varna.

Coastal Park Sea Garden

The Sea Garden coastal park is much bigger than you may think. The park connects the center with the beach but fans out quite a bit to the side. It is no less than seven kilometers long. You can walk, cycle, picnic, and visit various attractions. There is a zoo, an open-air theater, a casino, an aquarium, and a planetarium. In the park, you will find multiple food and drink stalls, and especially at the beach, there are many cafes and restaurants.

Google Maps location

Varna Beach

The best accessible beach from the center of Varna is Varna Beach. It is in the Sea Garden Park, with numerous beach bars. Cubo, Menthol… you have plenty of choices. It is a beautiful long beach with nice soft sand. However, on sunny days it becomes crowded quickly.

Google Maps location

Tip! A bit of sailing on the Black Sea is always a good idea. Compare and book the boat trips here.

Varna Cathedral

The Cathedral of Varna is called the Dormition of the Mother of God Cathedral or: the Assumption of Mary. It is one of the largest cathedrals in Bulgaria. Some shady characters hang out around the cathedral, so watch your stuff. But be sure to take a look; the golden domes and lavish interior are worth it. You can also visit the cathedral with an audio tour.

Google Maps location

Roman baths

In between modern buildings are the ruins of Roman baths. A place where the Romans met in the second and third centuries BC. It was then called the Baths of Odessus; that’s what Varna was called at the time. The entire complex is more than 7000 m2 and is also the largest complex from that time in Bulgaria. You can visit the ruins to get an idea of the baths. However, you do need a little imagination for that. Fortunately, there are a few drawings to spark your imagination.

Google Maps location

The harbor and the lighthouse

The Varna lighthouse is called Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. You can’t go in, but it’s nice to walk towards it. You walk along the long pier along the marina. It is a relatively deserted part where the sun shines brightly. On the way back, I would definitely have a drink at one of the cafes. For example, you can order a home-brewed beer at Craft Beer & Meat (Google Maps location).

Google Maps location

Retro Museum

The Retro Museum is on the first floor of the Grand Mall. It is full of old cars, irons, radios, figurines, and more from 1944 to 1989. The museum gives you an insight into everyday life in Bulgaria during socialism. There is hardly any oxygen in the air, so it is a rather suffocating visit. Which might fit the topic…

Unfortunately, there are few information boards, although most objects are self-explanatory. It is a costly museum (about 15 euros). You can get an e-guide online in advance. You can’t get it (as far as I know) at the cash register. Compare the prices at GetYourGuide and Tiqets.

Google Maps location

Bulgarian vineyard visit and wine tasting

This is a visit to a vineyard like you’ve never experienced. My friends and I get picked up in the center of Varna by the owner of the Prisoe vineyard. It is an old typical Eastern European car that smells of old age and cigarettes. The air conditioner is howling, but it has no effect at all. The short ride leads over potholed roads with exactly zero suspension left in the car. I’m actually loving the experience already!

We get a tour of the vineyard and taste in the wine cellar. It turns out to be a family business: Mum also comes to take a look at the Dutch visitors. She and her husband started the vineyard, and their son and his wife are now in charge.

I may even enjoy the location and conversation even more than the wine. We talk about viticulture, communism, and life in Bulgaria. On departure, we take a bottle of wine with us. There are no labels, so the winegrower grabs a white marker to write the name on the bottle. Love it.

Book through Viator.

Butterfly House Varna

A little outside the city, you can go to a small butterfly house. It’s not all that much in terms of space. But the gentleman who works there ensures you get to see all the animals and that you hold them, feed them or let them walk over your arm. He clearly has a lot of love for the animals. Combine a visit with the nearby monastery.

Google Maps location

Saint Constantine and Helena Monastery

This small monastery can easily be combined with a visit to the butterfly garden. It is well maintained, and supposedly you can cure illnesses with water from the spring. The monastery is said to have been built near a shipwreck. The shipwrecked sailor is said to have carried a sign or object from the saints. And so the idea for the monastery was born. You are not allowed to enter with bare shoulders or knees, then you have to put on a scarf that they hand out at the entrance.

Google Maps location

Take a mini road trip to Kavarna

If you have the time and a car, be sure to drive along the Black Sea coast. I made a short road trip of less than sixty kilometers to Kavarna. Depending on how many stops you make, that will take a day. This article discusses the mini road trip between Varna and Kavarna.

Restaurants in Varna

You will find many restaurants along the beach and in the center of Varna. I recommend Monkeys for dinner. They have a lovely outdoor area, but you can also sit comfortably inside. Monkeys has an extensive cocktail menu and a wide choice of food: from sushi to burgers (Google Maps location).

I had breakfast a few times at Sweet Parmy. It is a small place with croissants, sweets, and good coffee (Google Maps location). Lunch at the beach? I have a great time at Menthol (Google Maps location).

Parking in Varna

Parking in the center of Varna is horrible. You can park anywhere (paid) along the streets, but finding a spot is difficult. There are some small paid parking locations. Here, for example. But it’s all very small and crowded. So if you have the chance, book accommodation with a parking space.

If you still need to arrange a rental car, I recommend Sunny Cars or EasyTerra. With them, you can organize everything in one go regarding insurance and extensions so that you don’t have a hassle when picking up your car.

Hotels in Varna

There are several friendly hotels in Varna. For example, take a look at:

Because I’m traveling with two friends, we would like an apartment with two bedrooms, and that’s how we ended up at Urban Style, also with free parking. It is a lovely apartment with comfortable beds. The shower is a bit of a crazy cabin, but oh well. The air conditioning works well, and the owners have clearly done their best to decorate the apartment nicely.

More Bulgaria travel inspiration?

  • Accommodation. Favorites remain Booking.com and Campspace. Rather stay in a hostel? Try HostelWorld.
  • Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. Both Freetour.com and GuruWalk offer ‘free’ walking tours. WithLocals has nice theme-based tours.
  • Attractions and museums. Get a 5% discount at Tiqets on museums and attractions with the discount code: KIMOPREIS22
  • Bus and train. Travel to Sofia with NS International by train. Travel to and in Bulgaria with Flixbus and find affordable buses and trains with Trainline, Omio or Busbud.
  • Car rental. My go-to car rental companies are EasyTerra and Sunny Cars as they have all-inclusive / worry-free offers. If you can’t find a good deal there, compare prices at Discover Cars.
  • Flights. Always compare prices! Definitely check out Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kiwi.
  • Guide books. I love the practical guides by Lonely Planet, for sale at Bol.com and Amazon.
  • Money. Your debit and credit cards may not get accepted everywhere. You could opt for a Revolut card as an additional card when you travel. 
  • Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? In the Netherlands alone, there are plenty of travel agencies. From the Netherlands: ANWB Vakanties and Tui, or maybe try Vakantie Discounter, Sawadee, or Shoestring? And you could also check Sunweb and D-Reizen.
  • SIM card. Beware of unexpectedly high calling and internet costs. Buy a local SIM card when you arrive, or arrange one online via Airalo.
  • Travel gear. Buy your gear at Bever or Decathlon, or simply at Bol.com.
  • Yoga retreat. Or why not treat yourself to a yoga retreat!

Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through these links, I might receive a small commission.

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