A salty sea breeze blows in over Varna, through charismatic streets and across the stunningly unique Bulgarian architecture. The smell of the sea pours across stunning scenery with the force of the ocean breaching a wall. It permeates the historical Roman baths complex; it laps at the doorways. One sniff at the air here and you'll understand why people consider Varna to be the maritime capital of Bulgaria.
Boasting history enough to keep even the most avid historian or archaeologist busy for years, this is a stellar holiday destination that somehow combines sheer natural splendour with a deep and interesting past, but also sports plenty of modern amenities to ensure you will be comfortable.
Odd though it may sound, the bus ride to Varna from the airport may well be a bit of a highlight for your trip, as you'll get to ride through the stunning scenery that makes Bulgaria so special. With azure waves on one side and the wild untamable landscape to the next, you won't know which way to look. Varna is extremely well-connected with the local resorts such as Sveti Konstantin and Balchik, both of which are great if you're seeking ideas for daytrips. If you're going from one to another, chances are you'll have to take a bus through Varna. Tickets generally cost 24 euro for a 24-hour ticket, or 6 euro for six hours.
However, it's worth remembering that English signage is poor in many of the bus depots and you may have to ask for directions. If in doubt, taxis are common and are usually much quicker for getting to your destination.
While shopping in Varna isn't necessarily the city's strong suit, there are a number of good locations to check out if those euros are burning a hole in your pocket. Firstly, head to the Capricorn Gallery just off of Plaza Ekzarh Yosif, where you'll find a charming little set of shops dedicated to selling wonderful creative works from local artists. The prices are quite high, but if you're seeking a quality present to take home to someone hard to please, this is where you need to be. Also worth a visit is the Grand Mall Varna, which boasts more than 220 shops, late night restaurants, a supermarket and even an eight-screen cinema. If you can't get what you're looking for in here, it's probably not worth having. Regular promotions also make it a must-visit spot for shopping fanatics.
Eating and drinking
Bulgarian cuisine is an absolute treat, and Varna is particularly excellent for it. Situated on the Black Sea coast, you can expect tasty items from the sea to dominate many of the menus. Grilled fish is a bit of a Bulgarian specialty, so this is an absolute must-try. The beach is fantastic in high season, lined with open-air bars and restaurants that drag squid and salmon up the beach before preparing it and putting it on your plate. If you're not travelling in high season, however, it's best to stay in the city centre for food, where you'll find a selection of excellent eateries serving up plenty of traditional local grub. This might be meatballs, risotto, salads - Bulgaria has a fascinating foodie culture that is as varied as it is mouthwatering. Influences from the surrounding nations have allowed it to cultivate a variety of wonderful meals.
Things to do
Where activities are concerned, you couldn't ask for a better city than Varna. This vibrant metropolis has history, natural beauty and a party atmosphere all rolled into one - and that's without mentioning the fabulous beaches. Speaking of those, if you're here for any length of time, you should definitely take the opportunity to get active with some water sports. Centres can be found all along the coast, offering everything from windsurfing to parasailing. If that doesn't appeal, there are some volleyball nets set up along the sand - these are great if you want to make friends and it's easy to ask a passer-by if they want to participate.
Also famous is Varna's Primorski Park, which overlooks the sea and carries a sense of calm that wouldn't be out of place on a picturesque desert island. Wandering through, you'll see everything from families stretched out under the palms to little old ladies clacking away with knitting needles. It really is a bit of a miniature paradise.
Finally, you simply must check out Varna's extraordinary history at the Archaeological Museum and the National Naval Museum. Whether you're delving into the history of the Romans or checking out galleries of model ships, uniforms and officers of times gone by, exploring the city's history is sure to take up a day or two.
Again, in high season, the beach is the place to go. It's truly wonderful to be able to dance your socks off, go out onto the beach and then cool your aching feet in the crystal clear waters. The venues that pop up in the summer are well used to serving tourists and you'll find there is plenty of English spoken. It's also an altogether friendly atmosphere and who knows - you might even meet a handsome or pretty Bulgarian who will buy you a drink.
Further in town, Varna has a fabulous and fancy bar for any time of day or night, with no end to the stylish venues lining the streets. Wander around the centre and see what you can find.
If there's one event you absolutely need to be in town for if you're taking a holiday in Varna, it's the Varna Summer International Festival. This takes place from May until October - so it's actually quite hard to miss if you want to see Varna in the summer - and features a plethora of events from tightrope walking to open-air art exhibitions to street food market places. The website generally carries details of exactly what's on. Be sure to check it out before you travel.