While I was making my trip through Northeastern Bulgaria, there was no way around Shumen. I had often imagined what the city would be like, looking at pictures of the huge monument and the wide view over Shumen. Never had I considered visiting as it is, at 363 kilometres from Sofia, quite a long haul. Especially by train, as I often prefer to travel. However, this time I had a car and wanted to explore the whole Northeast. Which I had far too little time for as there is so much to see. I started out in Kalofer, still in Central Bulgaria, crossed the mountains to Elena, then drove to Kotel and Zheravna and eventually Shumen. What makes the city really interesting, is its location near ancient sites such as Pliska and Veliki Preslav. Of course, the Madara Horseman fits in this group as well. Besides the city is relatively close to sea - Varna, Bulgaria's third largest city, is just 88 kilometres away and the Ovech fortress can be visited on the road. Likewise, Razgrad and the ancient site Abritus are just a short drive away. Ruse is quite near as well. If you come from Sofia, depending on your itinerary, you could easily pass by Targovishte, Yambol and Sliven. It's easy to combine a trip to Shumen with any sight that suits your interest.
The city's history began at the Shumen Fortress, on the Shumen Plateau high above the current city. During the era of the Second Bulgarian Empire, Shumen grew to be a city of importance and developed outside the fortress walls as well. The fortress was destructed by the Ottomans and the city was moved to its current location. The Ottomans gave the city the name 'Gazi' - victorious, as it withstood three attacks from the Russian army. Shumen was eventually overthrown by the Russians in 1878 and became a part of the Bulgaria we know nowadays. A part of the fortress has been restored. As it is quite a walk from the center and there are no pavements along the road, it's best to visit it by car or taxi. You could take the stairs to the Monument to 1300 Years of Bulgaria but then you'd still have to cross part of the Shumen Plateau over the road or through a forest path. Alternatively, you could take a taxi to the fortress, walk to the Monument and then take the stairs down. Otherwise, negotiating a price and waiting time would be necessary. Both the fortress and the Monument charge an entry fee.
The Monument to 1300 Years of Bulgaria is nowadays the city's icon and can be seen from as far away as 30 kilometres. It was built, as the name says, to celebrate the 1300 year existense of the state and overlooks the city since 1981. As opposed to many other communist monuments in the country, this one has actually been maintained. It's a vast structure of which the size is hard to describe. It's not all ugly concrete though, there are mosaics reaching high up the otherwise grey walls and there are statues of for example Khan Asparuh, Khan Tervel, Khan Krum and Khan Omurtag looking at you. The mosaics are the biggest mosaic-triptych (consisting of three parts) in Europe. This is the heaviest communist monument in the world. It's interesting to visit on any day - on a sunny day you might witness a wedding and on a dark, stormy day it would make the sight a bit gloomy but it suits the atmosphere.
The Shumen Plateau itself, on which the fortress and Monument to 1300 Years of Bulgaria are located, is quite interesting. Even though it's close to the city, it has some wild and even inaccessible areas. For a list of flora and fauna calling the Plateau their home, here's a list. The highest point of the plateau is 502 metres and 90% of it is covered by dense forests. As the plateau has a long history, there are even cave monasteries but these are hard to visit. The terrain is almost inaccessible. These monasteries functioned through the era of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Not entirely surprising, as many parts in Bulgaria, the park has a fair share of caves. The two best known ones are Biserna Cave (Pearl Cave) and the Taynite Ponori Cave (the Secret Ponors Cave). On the part of the Monument to 1300 Years of Bulgaria, where the cars are parked, is a tourist information center. You can get information on the trails through the well-maintained nature park and can even rent bicycles.
As you make your way down to the city center, you will notice that Shumen is a pleasant city to walk through. The leafy and wide streets invite you for a stroll and there are many outside terraces for a coffee. Shumen has plenty of restaurants that offer good meals and in some cases nice views. Some are right in the center and others more uphill. Restaurant Panorama, located in Hotel Shumen, offers a lovely view. Even though the hotel looks old-fashioned, the lobby, restaurant and many rooms have been very well refurbished. The restaurant's dishes are good and prices are reasonable. There is live music now and then, most likely during the weekends. I suggest a look on Shumen's Tripadvisor page to locate the best restaurants/hotels in town. At walking distance from Hotel Shumen is the Tombul Mosque, the largest in Bulgaria and second largest on the Balkan Peninsula (after the Sultan Elim Mosque in Edirne, Turkey). Summarized, Shumen should not be overlooked if you visit the Northeast. And it would be hard to miss, as you will most likely pass this city on the main junction of roads and history. Feel free to let me know in case of any questions or if you'd like help planning a trip.