A rocky "island" connected to the mainland by a short isthmus, Nessebar boasts the finest collection of 19th-century timber homes on the coast, as well as the largest collection of Byzantine-influenced churches. Exploring the tiny port is a wonderful experience if you stick to Old Nessabar. Both Old and New Nessabar are resort towns with all the pluses (facilities and attractions) and minuses (overcrowding and commercialism) that entails.
Only 850m (2,788 ft.) long and 350m (1,148 ft.) long, Nessebar is easy to cover and should take no more than a couple of hours -- you can pick up a map from the Archaeological Museum, 2 Mesembria (Mon-Sat 9am-noon and 1-5pm; 3lev/$2.45/£1.50), which is to the right of the Byzantine town gate (A.D. 500). Inside you'll find some of the best bits taken from the surrounding churches as well as a few ancient exhibits, like the 3,000-year-old stone anchor and the 200 B.C. statue of Hecate, goddess of witches and fertility. A short stroll down Mesembria brings you to the 14th-century Pantokrator Church. Of the 11 churches in Nessebar, this stone-and-redbrick church is the best preserved and has by far the prettiest, most photogenic exterior but, like most of Nessebar's churches, it serves as a gallery showcasing mediocre artists. Take the left-hand fork north to pass Church of St. John the Baptist, stopping to enter Sveti Spas (Church of the Saviour; Mon-Fri 10am-5:30pm, Sat-Sun 10am-1:30pm; 3lev/$2.45/£1.50). Built in 1609, this is one of only two churches that have frescoes well enough preserved to warrant a small admission; the other is St. Stefan Church (daily 9am-6pm; 3lev/$2.45/£1.50). To the north and west of Sveti Spas is a meandering network of narrow cobbled lanes that spreads to the shore, along which you'll find the remaining five churches -- the only one worth entering is Sveta Bogoroditsa for a brief view of its icons and carved bishop's throne. More or less in the center of Old Nessebar you can't miss the ruins of St. Sofia Church, built in the late 5th and early 6th century, and today surrounded by shops and tables where you can catch a quick espresso and a sandwich.
Where to Stay
If you need to spend the night (Nessebar is only 90 min. from Varna), the most atmospheric places lie within the old quarter. Trinity (tel. 0554/46700; www.trinity-nessebar.com) is a small, custom-built, modern hotel built in traditional timber-and-stone style. It is a good option, with professional service standards and rooms done in tasteful modern neutrals. Ask for a double room (all are twin-bedded) with a balcony and sea view, preferably on the second floor -- nos. 9 and 10 are best. At 100lev to 150lev ($81-$122/£50-£76) double (studios from 120lev/$97/£60), Trinity is a good-value option, particularly compared with Varna hotels in the same price category. Virtually neighboring Trinity, cozy Monte Christo (tel. 0554/42055; www.montecristo-bg.com; 95lev-125lev/$77-$101/£48-£62 double), with its more old-fashioned styling, is an equally good choice. For the best views book no. A8.
Alternatively, check out St. Stefan Hotel, 11 Ribarska St. (tel. 55/443 603; fax 55/443 604; www.infotour.org). Meticulous attention to detail and genuine concern about guests' needs make this gem in the heart of Old Nessebar the best hotel in town. St. Stefan, which opened in 2000, is across the street from the church of the same name, one of only two churches in town with knockout, centuries-old icons inside. Each guest room is a different shape because this is a timbered house with irregular spaces. Ask for a room facing the sea and you will be rewarded with a fabulous view. Ask for no. 401, a suite, and you will get that plus room to spread out and the sounds of music from the nearby amphitheater if you open your window. Doubles start at 110lev ($89/£55) June through September, and 85lev ($69/£43) other times. Plan to add 5% if you use a credit card.
Where to Dine
There are a many places to eat in Nessebar, but be warned: The city's restaurateurs don't have to work at their cuisine standards to fill their tables, and some don't. Try one of the places below and you can't go wrong.