Often referred to as the "City of the Tsars", Veliko Tarnovo is located on the Yantra River and is famously known as the historical capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, attracting many tourists with its unique architecture. The old part of the city is situated on the three hills Tsarevets, Trapezitsa, and Sveta Gora, rising amidst the meanders of the Yantra. On Tsarevets are the palaces of the Bulgarian emperors and the Patriarchate, the Patriarchal Cathedral, and also a number of administrative and residential edifices surrounded by thick walls.
Trapezitsa is known for its many churches and as the former main residence of the nobility. During the Middle Ages, the city was among the main European centres of culture and gave its name to the architecture of the Tarnovo Artistic School, painting of the Tarnovo Artistic School, and to literature. Veliko Tarnovo is an important administrative, economic, educational, and cultural centre of Northern Bulgaria.
The most widespread theory for the name's origin holds that its original names of Tarnovgrad (Търновград) and Tarnovo (Търново) come from the Old Bulgarian тръневъ (tranev) or тръновъ (tranov), meaning "thorny". The suffix "grad" means "city" in Bulgarian and in many Slavic languages. In 1965, the word велико (veliko), meaning "great", was added to the original name in honour of the city's status as an old capital of Bulgaria. This also helps distinguish it from the town of Malko Tarnovo.
Veliko Tarnovo has an area of 30.9 km². The area which is assigned to the town is 30,379 km². It is located on the river Yantra. The city has a strategic position. It is located on main roads which are connected West Balkans with Black sea and East Europe with Middle East. In the East and North-East the town borders with the Arbanassi Bardo. North - with the Orlovets locality, to the west with the Kozludzha locality and to the south with the area Dalga laka.
The relief of the Municipality of Veliko Tarnovo is diverse - plain-hilly and mountainous.It is situated at 208 m above sea level.
The water catchment area of the river Yantra is 7862 km². There are several springs in the area of the town. The main drinking source is the Yovkovtsi hydro power plant.
They predominate chernozem and gray forest soils at the south part. Repellents are also distributed - hummus-carbonate soils.
There are places around the city that keep their names for many years. Sini Vir is located to the west of the Cholakovci neighborhood in the Yantra River valley outside the city. Dervent is located in the Yantra River Gorge, near the Preobrazhenie Monastery. The Hill Golemyat duvar(Big Fort) with the highest peak 363 m. It is located between Veliko Tarnovo and the village Prisovo.
Veliko Tarnovo is situated on several hills. The Tsarevets, Trapezitsa, Momina krepost were the main centers of kings and boyars during the Second Bulgarian State, when the town was capital. Mount Athos was a spiritual and literary center, and part of it today is the Rectorate of Veliko Tarnovo University. The Garga Bair hill lies north of Trapezitsa. On the Orlovets hill are the Varusha neighborhood and the Akatsion and Kartala districts, the highest point is 241 m above sea level. The Troshana Hill is located south of Mount Athos and west of the Motela dam, and Veliko Tarnovo Hills is being built on it.
Veliko Tarnovo has a temperate climate, with cold snowy winters and hot summers. The average minimum temperature in the coldest month, January, is about −3 °C (27 °F), while the average maximum in August, the hottest month, is 31 °C (88 °F). The highest recorded temperature is 43.1 °C (110 °F), while the lowest is −28.1 °C (−19 °F), though according to unofficial data the temperature has fallen to −38 °C (−36 °F).
The deciduous forests (88%) predominate in Veliko Tarnovo - beech, hornbeam, oak, cherry, poplar, lime, poplar, etc.There are woods of coniferous vegetation. They predominate fir tree, Pine, Abies grandis, Scots pine, Abies pinsapo and other. Near the river, the springs and the marshlands are seen:Green algae, Diatom and others. Over 25 types of mushrooms are encountered:Boletus edulis, Agaricus campestris, Macrolepiota procera, Chanterelle and others.
The territory of the region has a rich variety of the animal world - 350 species of birds and 35 species of animals. Mammals include Hare, Fox, Deer, Wild boar, Hedgehogs, European ground squirrel. Birds include:Grey partridge, Crow, Common quail, Pheasant, White stork, Eurasian eagle-owl, Goose and others. Over 180 species of insects are encountered: Cockchafer, Grasshopper, Firefly and others. There are also reptiles:Turtles, Snakes, Lizards and others. Local fish include Wels catfish, European perch, Common carp, Common barbel.
Veliko Tarnovo is one of the oldest settlements in Bulgaria, with a history of more than five millennia. The first traces of human presence, dating from the 3rd millennium BC, were discovered on Trapezitsa Hill.
Veliko Tarnovo, originally Tarnovgrad (Търновград), grew quickly to become the strongest Bulgarian fortification of the Middle Ages between the 12th and 14th centuries and the most important political, economic, cultural and religious centre of the empire. In the 14th century, the city was described by Bulgarian cleric Gregory Tsamblak as "a very large city, handsome and surrounded by walls, with 12,000 to 15,000 inhabitants".
In the 14th century, as the Byzantine Empire weakened, Tarnovo claimed to be the Third Rome, based on its preeminent cultural influence in Eastern Europe.
As the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, Tarnovo was a quasi-cosmopolitan city, with many foreign merchants and envoys. Tarnovo is known to have had Armenian, Jewish and Roman Catholic ("Frankish") merchant quarters, besides a dominant Bulgarian population. The discovery of three Gothic heads of statuettes indicates there may have also been a Catholic church.
The political upsurge and spiritual development of Tarnovo were halted when the Ottoman Empire captured the city on 17 July 1393. The siege lasted for three months, with the Bulgarian Patriarch Evtimiy leading the defence. Three years later, the Ottomans conquered the entire Bulgarian Empire.
Bulgarian resistance against Ottoman rule remained centred in Tarnovo (then known as Tırnova) until the end of the 17th century. Two major anti-Ottoman uprisings - in 1598 and in 1686 - started in the city. Tarnovo was consecutively a district (sanjak) capital in the Rumelia Eyalet, in the Silistria Eyalet, and finally in the Danube Vilayet.
Tarnovgrad, along with the rest of present-day Bulgaria, remained under Ottoman rule until the 19th century, when national identity and culture reasserted themselves as a strengthening resistance movement. The goal of the establishment of an independent Bulgarian church and nation motivated the 1875 and 1876 uprisings in the town. On 23 April 1876, the April Uprising marked the beginning of the end of the Ottoman occupation. It was soon followed by the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878).
On 7 July 1877, Russian general Joseph Vladimirovich Gourko liberated Veliko Tarnovo, ending the 480-year rule of the Ottoman Empire. In 1878, the Treaty of Berlin created a Principality of Bulgaria between the Danube and the Stara Planina range, with its seat at the old Bulgarian capital of Veliko Tarnovo.
On 17 April 1879, the first National Assembly convened in Veliko Turnovo to ratify the state's first constitution, known as the Tarnovo Constitution, resulting in the transfer of Parliament from Tarnovgrad to Sofia, which today remains the Bulgarian capital.
In deference to the city's past, Tsar Ferdinand, of the house of Saxe-Coburg Gotha, chose the Forty Holy Martyrs Church in Veliko Tarnovo as the place to declare the complete independence of Bulgaria on 5 October 1908.
In 1965, the city, then officially known as Tarnovo, was renamed Veliko Tarnovo (Great Tarnovo) to commemorate its rich history and importance.
During Communist rule, the town underwent considerable changes, with some 10,000 of its population thought to have become members of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) by the end of the 1940s. A number of its churches and private enterprises were closed, while the major industries were nationalized. In the early 1950s, the town underwent an intensive process of urbanization, expanding to the west. From the same period also dates the idea of creating a large urban area in Northern Bulgaria encompassing the neighboring towns of Veliko Tarnovo, Gorna Oryahovitsa, and Lyaskovets (popularly known as "Targolyas").
In 1963, the University of Veliko Tarnovo “St. Cyril and St. Methodius” opened as one of the largest institutions of higher education in the country. Urbanization continued during the 1970s, as the engineering, electronic, medical, computer, and furniture industries expanded in the region, adding the neighborhoods of Akacia and Kartala to the town’s landscape.
Today, Veliko Tarnovo is the center of one of the largest urban areas in Bulgaria and is one of the few cities in the country with a growing population. It is a foremost educational and cultural center, and the home of two major universities and extensive artistic activity. The city is a leading tourist attraction, boasting a steady increase in visitors for the last two decades. During the same period, it has also consistently attracted foreign settlers, and today, the city and its surroundings have become the home of the largest foreign expat community in Bulgaria.
According to the 2011 census, Veliko Tarnovo had a population of 68,783 as of February 2011, while the Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, including the villages, had 88,670. The number of residents of the city reached its peak in the period 1986–1991, when it exceeded 70,000. The following table presents the change of the population after 1887.
According to the latest 2011 census data, individuals declaring their ethnic identity were distributed as follows:
The ethnic composition of Veliko Tarnovo Municipality is 100,570 Bulgarians, 3,681 Turks and 595 Gypsies, among others.
Veliko Tarnovo has two universities, Veliko Tarnovo University (one of the biggest universities in Bulgaria) and Vasil Levski National Military University. The Veliko Tarnovo University currently has around 18,000 students. Vasil Levski National Military University is one of the oldest military universities in Bulgaria.
Veliko Tarnovo currently has four secondary schools: Secondary School Emiliyan Stanev (main subject: foreign languages), Secondary School Vela Blagoeva (main subject: informatics), Secondary School Georgi Sava Rakovski (main subject: sports) and Secondary School Vladimir Komarov. There are ten high schools: Vasil Drumev School of Natural Sciences and Math (biology, chemistry, math), Professor Asen Zlatarov School (foreign languages), Honorary Old School of Economics, St. Cyril and Methodius School of Humanities (literature, history, Bulgarian language), A.S. Popov School of Electronics (computers, electronics), Kolyo Ficheto School of Building Construction (buildings), Angel Popov School of Architecture and Surveying (architecture, surveying), Professor Vasil Beron School of Tourism (cooking, restaurant, hotel), Vocational School of Fashion Design (sewing, design), and the American college, Arcus.
The town has five primary schools, named "St. Patriarch Euthymius" (since 1969), "Dimitar Blagoev", "Petko R. Slaveykov" and "Bacho Kiro". The schools educate students from ages 6 to 14. The subjects are Bulgarian language, math, biology, chemistry, physics, music, art, and others. The most popular sports include football, volleyball, basketball and handball, among others. Beginning with their first class, children learn English, and after four years they can study languages such as Russian, French, German, and Italian.
Culture in the city is still developing when the city is a capital city.
In Veliko Tornovo you can see fragments and foundations that are part of the architecture of the Second Bulgarian State. In the old part of the city and Asenova Mahala there can be seen Churches and houses that were dated through the Ottoman rule. In the whole old part, houses from the Renaissance era were built. Characteristic of them are the ornate elements. Baroque architecture can be seen in most of the public buildings built in the early 20th century. In the central and the new part there are public buildings and residential buildings built in Baroque, Stalin Baroque style and Modernist style.
The first newspaper in Tarnovo was printed during the middle of the 19th century. The first issue of the Tarnovo humorous newspaper "Draca" was published on 8 October 1884.  In 1900, the first newspaper devoted to theater art - "Turnovski Theatre"
In 2013, 450,000 tourists visited the city. The most popular landmark is the historic hill Tsarevets, which held the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. A number of other sites also attract tourists, including the historic hill Trapezitza, the Samovodskata Charshiya, numerous medieval and Bulgarian Renaissance churches, and the ancient Roman fortress of Nicopolis ad Istrum.
In the town are located the architectural reserves: Tsarevets, Trapezitsa and Momina krepost. The Regional historical museum in the town were established in 1871. In the town are located the House Museum of the Bulgarian writers Petko Rachov Slaveykov and House Museum of the writer Emilian Stanev. Next to the Regional Library is located the Archaeological Museum.
The Samovodska charshia developed as a business center during the Bulgarian revival. They are there many craft shops, which have preserved a centuries-old tradition of craftsmanship.
Gurco Street is one of the most picturesque streets in the old town.
Veliko Tarnovo is home to the Regional Hospital "Doctor Stefan Cherkezov," one of the largest medical facilities in North Bulgaria.
This monument was built in 1985.
The Monument of Mother Bulgaria was built in 1930.
Veliko Tarnovo is main transport center in Bulgaria. From the town passes the main road from Romania to Middle East.
In Veliko Tarnovo are crossed two main roads: Varna-Sofia and Rousse-Stara Zagora. The most important traffic roads are South road junction (constructed in 2000) and Wester road junction (constructed in 1978). The town has two bus stations.
Through passes the main railway Rousse-Stara Zagora. The Central rail station was built in 1900.
The Stambolov bridge is an arch bridge, designed by an Italian architect. It was constructed in 1897. Bishop's (Vladishki's) bridge is the oldest bridge, built around the 1800s in Asenova mahava (Old town). The king's bridge (also known as Stone bridge) was constructed in 1930 in Asenova mahala, as a connection to Veliko Tarnovo-Gorna Oryahovitsa.
The town is separated tp 4 Industrial zones:Central, North, South and West.
Veliko Tarnovo is the biggest producer of plastic bags in Bulgaria.
The main brewery in the city was established in 1987. Today it is called Bolyarka AD and is located in the Central industrial zone. It was a leading national brand in the 1960s and 1970s. The Pepsi soft drinks plant in the Central industrial zone produces drinks for Bulgaria and for export to the Balkans.
Tarnovo Ice Piedmont on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica is named after Veliko Tarnovo.
Ivailo Stadium is the biggest football stadium in the town. The stadium is the home of all the sports teams in Veliko Tarnovo which are called Etar. Ground was broken for the stadium in 1957 and it was completed in 1958. It has been rebuilt in the 21st century and now has seats for 18,000. Veliko Tarnovo has teams in football, basketball, volleyball, handball, athletics and other sports.
The Vasil Levski Palace of Culture and Sports is the biggest sports hall in Veliko Tarnovo. The hall was completed on 15 November 1985. The hall has 1600 seats and courts for basketball and volleyball.