Nessebar Old Town, Nessebar, Black Sea, Bulgaria

Visiting Nessebar, One of Bulgaria’s Oldest Cities

Visiting Nessebar, One of Bulgaria’s Oldest Cities was originally published in July 2024

Nessebar, a coastal city situated along a narrow peninsula along the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast ended up being one of my favorite stops on my impromptu Bulgaria itinerary in October 2023. 

The town is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasting an array of historic churches, fortified walls, and traditional Bulgarian wooden houses.

Often hailed as “the Pearl of the Black Sea,” boasts a history spanning over 3,000 years, making Nessebar among Bulgaria’s oldest cities, initially originating as a Thracian settlement named Mesembria. 

Over time, it evolved into a Greek colony in the early 6th century, serving as a pivotal trade hub akin to nearby Sozopol. 

Throughout the Middle Ages, under Byzantine rule, Nessebar flourished as a significant city. However, its importance waned after the Ottoman conquest in 1453. 

This historical trajectory left a diverse architectural legacy evident in the town’s array of churches, reflecting its rich past.

So if you’re looking for a stunning coastal getaway in Bulgaria steeped in history, Nessebar is the perfect location to add to your Bulgaria itinerary.

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Nessebar Quick Tips

Nessebar, Black Sea, Bulgaria
  • It’s best to visit Nessebar between June and September, as outside these months many amenities such as restaurants, shops, and local accommodations shut for the season. I can speak from experience, having visited in late October, that not many places were open. That said, it’s still possible and you will find a few hotels and restaurants open in the off-season as there are people who live in Nessebar and people who visit Nessebar year-round.
  • If visiting Nessebar as a day trip as most visitors do, make sure and start early. Aim to arrive by 9 am to see most of the sites and get a little beach time in before departing. 
  • Many shops, smaller restaurants, and even some accommodations only take payment in cash, so bring some with you.
  • While there are ATMs in Nesebar’s Old Town, they mostly are those EuroNet ATMS that have an absolute ass exchange rate. There are a few banks with their own ATMs in New Nessebar on the mainland.

How to Get to Nessebar

Nessebar Harbor, Nessebar, Black Sea, Bulgaria
Nessebar Harbor

From Sofia

Buses depart Sofia’s Central Bus Station and take about 6 hours 30 minutes.

The bus will drop you off at the Fiesta Bus Stop, which sits just outside the Hotel Fiesta Panorama on Han Krum Street. 

From the Fiesta Bus Stop, it’s 1.5 kilometers to reach the Old Town of Nessebar. You can usually hail a taxi from here or just walk about 20 minutes to reach the Old Town.

The bus from Sofia to Nessebar costs roughly 34 Lev. Check Sofia-Nessebar bus schedules here.

From Varna & Sunny Beach

Varna-Sunny Beach

To reach Nessebar from Varna, you will need to take a couple of buses. I departed Nessebar to Varna and can attest to this.

From Varna Central Bus Station, you’ll catch the M-Bus to Sunny Beach. The Central Bus Station is in front of a giant mall on Vladislav Varnechenik Boulevard. 

You can see Varna-Sunny Beach bus departure times here.

The Varna-Sunny Beach bus takes about 90 minutes and you will be dropped off at the Sunny Beach Bus Station.

Sunny Beach-Nessebar

Once at Sunny Beach Bus Station (or if you’re staying in Sunny Beach), you will want to catch the next bus bound for Nessebar. Just ask at the bus station ticket counter which stop number the Nessebar Bus will come to and they will tell you.

The bus from Sunny Beach to Nessebar takes only about 10 minutes and they leave frequently. The bus costs 2 Lev per person. You will be dropped off at the Fiesta Bus Station in Nessebar New Town.

In reality, Sunny Beach and Nessebar are quite close, so you could opt to walk if you’d like, it takes about one hour on foot. 

From Burgas

Nessebar is a one hour bus ride from Burgas. 

From the Burgas Station South Terminal, catch either the M-Bus or DS Bus to Nessebar. Head to bus stop #3 located at the rear of the terminal and wait for the next bus bound for Nessebar.

Make sure and stay on the bus until the final stop, which is in front of the Western Fortress Wall in the Old Town.

Check the Burgas-Nessebar-Sunny Beach bus schedule here.

The bus costs 8 Lev per person.

Where to Stay in Nessebar

Nessebar Old Town, Nessebar, Black Sea, Bulgaria

You don’t necessarily have to stay in Nessebar to experience its charm, but I highly recommend it as I found my stay quite pleasant. 

Staying in Burgas, Varna, Sozopol, Sunny Beach, or Pomerie are all good options for those who want to visit Nessebar as a day trip.

I stayed at the Boutique Hotel St. Stefan which was perfect for me and one of the handful of hotels still open in late October in the Old Town.

A good budget option for those who don’t mind staying in the New Town is the Guest Rooms Kostavi

Those who want a more luxurious stay in the Old Town of Nessebar should check out the Castro Mesembria Boutique Hotel

Things to do & See in Nessebar

Nessebar map
Click map above for all locations in this guide on Google

The Windmill

The Windmill, Nessebar, Black Sea, Bulgaria
The Windmill on the isthmus to the Old Town

Located on the northern side of the road linking Nessebar’s New Town to the Old Town, the Windmill stands is a rectangular-shaped wooden structure constructed during the 19th century Bulgarian Revival period, though no longer operational as a functioning windmill.

Statue of St. Nicholas

The statue of St. Nicholas stands on the south side of the road just a bit further along from the Windmill, nearer to the Old Town entrance. 

Revered as the patron saint of sailors and fishermen, St. Nicholas symbolizes Nessebar’s maritime heritage. 

Western Fortress Wall

Nessebar’s initial settlers in the 8th century BC, the Thracians, erected a 2 meter high wall around the Nessebar Peninsula. 

Following the Roman conquest of Mesembria (modern Nessebar), additional towers were integrated into the fortress walls, and during the 5th century AD Byzantine rule square towers flanking the gate and semicircular towers were added.

Western Fortress Wall, Nessebar, Black Sea, Bulgaria
The Western Fortress Wall of Nessebar

Nessebar Archeological Museum

Discover the rich history of ancient Messambria and the medieval town of Nessebar through a multitude of cultural exhibits.

Hours: 9 am-5 pm
Admission: 6 Lev

New Bisphoric (Church of Saint Stephen)

Nessebar boasts 40 churches and monasteries, with 15 still preserved. Visiting some of the best churches of Nessebar is a must, as they are the city’s key UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The Church of St Stephen, also called the New Bisphoric, is a three-nave church constructed in the 11th century. The church is known for its well-preserved frescoes and mosaics- boasting 258 fresco murals and over a thousand figures depicting scenes such as the Last Judgment and the Miracles of Christ.

Hours: 9 am-5 pm 
Admission: 6 Lev

Church of St John Aliturgetos

Despite being marred by the 1913 earthquake, the Church of St John Aliturgetos remains one of Nessebar’s most exquisite medieval churches. The Church of St John Aliturgetos remains unconsecrated, as “Aliturgetos” in Greek translates to “unconsecrated”, and dates back to the 14th century.

The church’s facade is worth a gandar for its exterior featuring red and white segmented patterns and intricate geometrical designs.

Hours: 24 hours 
Admission: Free

The Ancient Amphitheatre

Ancient Amphitheatre, Nessebar, Black Sea, Bulgaria
The Ancient Amphitheatre of Nessebar

Adjacent to the Church of St John Aliturgetos lies the Ancient Amphitheatre of Old Nessebar, once a gathering place for locals to deliberate and a venue for performances.

Today, it remains a hub of entertainment, hosting numerous seasonal events and music concerts throughout the year.

Hours: 24 hours 
Admission: Free

The Christ Pantokrator Church

One notable stop is The Christ Pantokrator Church, dating back to the 13th century. Admire its stunning facade featuring segmented red and white stone, multiple concave arches, and a frieze of swastikas, symbolizing the solar cult. Though the church currently operates as a museum, its exterior beauty is best appreciated from the outside.

Hours: 9 am-8 pm 
Admission: 3 Lev

Church of Christ Pantokrator, Nessebar, Black Sea, Bulgaria
Church of Christ Pantokrator

Church of Saint John the Baptist

One of Nessebar’s best-preserved Bulgarian Orthodox Churches, don’t miss the 10th-century Church of St. John the Baptist.

This domed cruciform church features an intricate interior and two intersecting cylindrical vaults, with the cylindrical dome positioned above the intersection. The altar comprises three semi-circular apses, while the dome is upheld by four substantial pillars.

Hours: 11 am-6 pm 
Admission: 3 Lev

Byzantine Baths

Next to the Church of St. John the Baptist lies the early Byzantine Baths, that date back to the 6th century. Here, you can explore the excavations that have revealed two-thirds of the Byzantine Baths of Nessebar to date. 

Featuring remarkable ancient technology, water conduits beneath these baths, indicate an underground water system that has served the entire town of Nessebar since the 5th century BC.

Hours: 24 hours 
Admission: Free

Sveti Spas (Church of the Holy Savior)

Sveti Spas, also known as the Church of the Holy Savior, was constructed in the 17th century, the only church erected during the Ottoman era.

The interior wall paintings of Sveti Spas are particularly fascinating, featuring frescoes that depict scenes from the lives of Christ and the Holy Virgin.

Hours: 10 am-5 pm
Admission: 3 Lev

Ethnographic Museum of Nessebar

Housed in a traditional two-story building constructed in 1840, the Ethnographic Museum of Nessebar displays a variety of traditional crafts and everyday items, including household essentials, clothing, and vintage magazines.

Hours: June 1 to August 31: 9 am-7 pm 
September 1 to May 31: 9 am-5 pm
Admission: 3 Lev

Old Bisphoric (Church of Saint Sophia)

Next up is one of Nessebar Old Town’s most impressive- the Old Bisphoric, also known as the Church of Saint Sophia.

The 5th-century church features a double-sloped roof, and plastered walls adorned with frescoes and mosaics, serving the local populace as a church throughout the Middle Ages, falling into disrepair by the 18th century.

Today, all that remains are the ruins of this church, including three naves, an atrium, and arched windows. 

Hours: 24 hours
Admission: Free

Saint Paraskeva Church

The single-nave 13th-century Saint Paraskeva Church is known for its intricately decorated exterior walls, crafted from hewn stone and bricks.

These remarkable walls feature decorative motifs such as fishbone, zigzag patterns, checkerboards, and sun symbols integrated into the blind arches.

Hours: 10:30 am-2 pm and 2:30 pm-5 pm 
Admission: 3 Lev

Church Dormition of Theotokos

On August 15th each year, Nessebar locals head to the Church Dormition of Theotokos to honor an epochal painting of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus, known as the Black Madonna. They seek blessings for health and fortune, believing the Black Madonna wards off evil spirits.

Hours: 8 am-5 pm 
Admission: Free

Ruins of the Church of Holy Mother Eleusa

Not much more than ruins and remnants, the Church of Holy Mother Eleusa dates back to the 6th century. Discovered during a 1920 excavation, this church is potentially the oldest in Nessebar.

The Promenade

Nessebar Promenade, Nessebar, Black Sea, Bulgaria
The Nessebar Promenade

Located on the north side of the Nessebar Peninsula, the Promenade is worth a stroll for views of the cerulean blues of the sea surrounding and to reach Nessebar’s Beaches.

Buna Beach

Buna Beach is a small sandy beach near Nessebar’s fishing pier. The beach itself is quite small, but the waters are nicely guarded by the pier, giving swimmers calm waters to relax in. 

Buna Beach, Nessebar, Black Sea, Bulgaria
Buna Beach

Old Town Beach

Located just below the Ancient Amphitheatre, Old Town Beach is the nicer and more popular of the two beaches on the Nessebar Peninsula. The beach here is noticeably larger, giving more space to spread out under the sun.

Have Any Questions About Visiting Nessebar?

Ask in the comments section below. 

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