Driving into Varna, so-called "pearl" of the Black Sea, you can be forgiven for wondering what you're doing in this run-down port surrounded by ugly Socialist-era architecture and visually cut off from the sea by an overgrown and unkempt garden, but stay a day or two and Varna's cosmopolitan vibe starts to creep under your skin. Varna is Bulgaria's main naval and commercial shipping port. It is adjacent to the coastal resorts of Golden Sands, St. Konstantin, and Albena and it has an interesting edge, sharpened by the huge annual influx of foreigners and young Sofiates in summer. Most come to Varna for the overcrowded beaches and pedestrian walkways, and they inject energy into the endless disco beat. This in itself is not reason enough to include the Black Sea capital on your itinerary, but Varna's real draw, even if you're not a history buff, is its archaeological museum .
If you still have energy after visiting the museum, you could take the short stroll west to the city's other notable site: the huge gold-domed Assumption of the Holy Virgin Cathedral, on ploshtad Mitropolitska Simeon. From here, you can explore the Open Market opposite, coming out at Rousse Street, where there is an excellent souvenir shop, the Bulgarian Art Shop, 19 Rousse St. (tel. 052/622299). Head down Rousse to view the neo-baroque Opera House (tel. 052/650-555; www.operavarna.bg) on Nezavisimost Square, center of the city's cultural life since 1932. It offers a host of shows, including a few modern and traditional ballets, and plenty of operas and operettas during the International Music Festival Varna Summer, held at the end of July (though shows start mid-June). Having checked what's showing that night, amble down to view the city's 1,700-year-old Roman Thermae, at ul Khan Krum and San Stefano (Tues-Sun 10am-5pm; 3lev/$2.45/£1.50), one of the largest ancient Roman ruins in Bulgaria.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.