Just like with Shumen, the main reason why I wanted to visit Stara Zagora, Bulgaria was the impressive Defenders of Stara Zagora Memorial Complex. But after doing quick research on the city it turned there are some more interesting Stara Zagora attractions I would like to check out.
And so when I ended up visiting Burgas I planned a day in Stara Zagora in my Bulgaria itinerary. It turned out to be a really good decision as the city is really pleasant and is actually one of the best places to visit in Bulgaria, albeit fairly overseen by tourists.
In today’s article, I will share with you all the best things to do in Stara Zagora and why you should go there in the first place.
Where is Stara Zagora, Bulgaria
Stara Zagora, the city of almost 140.000 inhabitants, is located in the central part of Bulgaria, 230 km away from Sofia (the capital of the country), 100 km away from Plovdiv, and 170 km away from Burgas.
How to get to Stara Zagora
Since Stara Zagora is on the main route connecting Sofia with the Black Sea coast, getting there is really easy.
You have plenty of bus and train connections to choose from. This website gives you a general overview of schedules but it’s always better to double-check before your trip (when I was going back from Stara Zagora to Burgas the bus I was planning to take was not running but I could go by the one half an hour later that was not listed online).
Why visit Stara Zagora
Stara Zagora is one of the oldest cities in Bulgaria and south-east Europe (the first settlement here dates back to 5-4th century BC) and still today you can find in the city numerous remnants of the former glory. But the present-day Stara Zagora is a vibrant city was numerous cafes and restaurants as well as a few interesting monuments and attractions worth checking out.
For me, the biggest highlight was of course the brutalist Defenders of Stara Zagora Memorial Complex – this place already was a good reason to visit Stara Zagora.
How much time for visiting Stara Zagora
I went to Stara Zagora on a day trip from Burgas (using a train on the way there and a bus back) and spent a few hours in the city. It was enough to get a feel of the place, go all the way to the Defenders of Stara Zagora Memorial Complex (located some 3 km away from the center), visit two museums, and wander around the city.
I believe one day in Stara Zagora should be ok but you can as well spend more time there to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the place. There are plenty of fine accommodation options to choose from in Stara Zagora – click here for details.
What to see in Stara Zagora
I must admit that before visiting Stara Zagora I didn’t know much about the city. That’s why I was more than happy to learn there are so many interesting sights there. And when I actually got to visit them they turned out even better than I expected.
Of course, my personal favorite was the Defenders of Stara Zagora Memorial Complex, commemorating the tragic yet crucial battle from 1877 (during the Russian-Turkish Liberation War). Even if the battle was lost and as a result, almost 15.000 lost their lives and the city was badly destroyed, Bulgaria eventually won the war.
The memorial complex was unveiled on the 100th anniversary of the battle. This brutalist masterpiece shows a giant Russian officer surrounded by six Bulgarian volunteer fighters who represent the six units that joined the Russians that day. Next to them, there is a massive concrete pillar that I really wish I knew what shows, but that makes this abstract structure even more interesting.
From the Defenders of Stara Zagora Memorial Complex, you can also admire a really nice panorama of the city and surrounding mountains.
If you like brutalist architecture, the Defenders of Stara Zagora Memorial Complex isn’t the only sight in the city that will catch your attention. In the center, there are plenty of fine concrete buildings with interesting add-ons such as bas-relief.
Some of my favorite ones included the Regional Library, the shopping center on the main pedestrian street Tsar Simeon Veliki, the municipality and the district administration buildings.
The biggest Stara Zagora attractions are the ancient remnants that you can find in the center of the city.
In front of the State Opera and the Regional Library, there is a strip of land that used to serve as the Ancient Forum. It dates back to the 3rd century A.D. and back in the times it was used for gladiator fights or theatrical performances.
Today you can freely walk around and feel the magnificent past in the cobbled street and centuries-old ruins. There is also impressive remnants of the amphitheater that looks pretty quirky in the modern surrounding.
If you wish to see more of the ancient remnants of Stara Zagora head to the nearby Regional History Museum. It is home to over a hundred thousand artifacts from different times, making it one of the richest historic expositions in Bulgaria.
On the ground floor, you will see remains of the main street of the ancient Roman city Augusta Traiana (the former name of Stara Zagora) from the 1st century A.D. as well as old mosaics and other remnants. Each floor is dedicated to a different period and the whole collection is really impressive.
There was one museum I really wanted to visit in Stara Zagora as soon as I learned about it – the Museum of Religions. This is such a unique place and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Located in the center of the city, in the mosque next to the main pedestrian street, it shows the different religions and cults all packed in one building. That’s why this very place was used for worshipers over the centuries.
It started as a cult pit in the Early Iron Age (10th − 9th century B.C.), and then it was used as a pagan sanctuary dedicated to the Thracian horseman (2nd − 3rd century A.D.), a medieval Christian cemetery church (end of 10th − 13th century A.D.) and a Muslim temple (15th − 20th century A.D.).
Today you can see remains and distinctive features of each religion inside the mosque. What a truly remarkable and interesting place!
And once you are done with all the Stara Zagora sightseeing you can enjoy the center of the city with its parks, beautiful old houses (hidden between the 20th-century architecture), and the long pedestrian street – Tsar Simeon Veliki. That’s where you will find plenty of cafes and restaurants where you can relax after discovering what Stara Zagora has to offer.
Final thoughts on visiting Stara Zagora
Stara Zagora turned out to be so much more interesting than I expected. While the main reason why I’ve decided to visit Stara Zagora was the Defenders of Stara Zagora Memorial Complex, the rest of the city surprised me in the most positive way.
I really enjoyed the center of the city with its ancient remnants and interesting museums as well as the vibrant atmosphere of the city (even if it was a weekday).
This really is one of the most underrated destinations in Bulgaria and if you are planning to travel from Sofia or Plovdiv towards the Black Sea coast be sure to stop in Stara Zagora, even if only for a few hours – the city is definitely worth it!
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