Varna is the third largest city in Bulgaria with a population of more than 347 840 people and a total area of 205 sq. km. Situated strategically in the Gulf of Varna, the city has been a major economic, social and cultural center for almost three millennia. Varna is an important center for business, transportation, education, tourism, entertainment, and healthcare. The city is referred to as the maritime capital of Bulgaria and headquarters the Bulgarian Navy and merchant marine. The oldest gold treasure in the world, belonging to the Varna culture, was discovered in the Varna Necropolis and dates to 4200–4600 BC.
Prehistoric settlements are best known for the Chalcolithic necropolis (mid-5th millennium BC radiocarbon dating), a key archaeological site in world prehistory, eponymous Varna culture and internationally considered the world's oldest large find of gold artifacts, existed within modern city limits. In the wider region of the Varna lakes (before the 1900s, freshwater) and the adjacent karst springs and caves, over 30 prehistoric settlements have been unearthed with the earliest artifacts dating back to the Middle Paleolithic or 100,000 years ago.
Since late Bronze Age (13th–12th c. BC) the area around Odessos had been populated with Thracians. During 8th–9th c. BC local Thracians had active commercial and cultural contacts with people from Anatolia, Thessaly, Caucasus, and the Mediterranean Sea. There is no doubt that interactions occurred mostly by sea and the bay of Odessos is one of the places where the exchanges took place.
Celts started populating the region after their invasion of the Balkan peninsula in 280 BC. All over northeast Bulgaria and even near Odessos were found a significant number of bronze items with Celtic ornaments and typical weapons, all quickly adopted by Thracians.
Odessos is one of the oldest ancient settlements in Bulgaria. It was established in the second quarter of the sixth century BC (585–550 BC) by Miletian Greeks at present at that time Thracian settlement. Odessos was a mixed community—contact zone between the IonianGreeks and the Thracian tribes.
The Roman city, Odessus, first included into the Praefectura orae maritimae and then in 15 AD annexed to the province of Moesia (later Moesia Inferior), covered 47 hectares in present-day central Varna and had prominent public baths, Thermae, erected in the late 2nd century AD, now the largest Roman remains in Bulgaria (the building was 100 m (328.08 ft) wide, 70 m (229.66 ft) long, and 25 m (82.02 ft) high) and fourth-largest-known Roman baths in Europe which testify to the importance of the city
In modern days city landmarks include the Varna Archaeological Museum, exhibiting the Gold of Varna, the Roman Baths, the Battle of Varna Park Museum, the Naval Museum in the Italianate Villa Assareto displaying the museum ship Drazki torpedo boat, the Museum of Ethnography in an Ottoman-period compound featuring the life of local urban dwellers, fisherfolk, and peasants in the late 19th and early 20th century.
The Sea Garden is the oldest and perhaps largest park in town containing an open-air theatre (venue of the International Ballet Competition, opera performances and concerts), Varna Aquarium(opened 1932), the Festa Dolphinarium (opened 1984), the Nicolaus Copernicus Observatory and Planetarium, the Museum of Natural History, a terrarium, a zoo, an alpineum, a children's amusement park with a pond, boat house and ice-skating rink, and other attractions. The National Revival Alley is decorated with bronze monuments to prominent Bulgarians, and the Cosmonauts' Alley contains trees planted by Yuri Gagarin and other Soviet and Bulgarian cosmonauts. The Garden is a national monument of landscape architecture and is said to be the largest landscaped park in the Balkans.
Varna has some of the finest and oldest museums, professional arts companies, and arts festivals in the nation and is known for its century-old traditions in visual arts, music, and book publishing, as well as for its bustling current hip-hop and pop-culture scene. Over the past few decades, it developed as a festival center of international standing. Varna is a front-runner for European Capital of Culture for 2019, planning to open several new high-profile facilities such as a new opera house and concert hall, a new exhibition center, and a reconstruction of the Summer Theatre, the historic venue of the International Ballet Competition.
Varna has an impressive nightlife and many say that the city never sleeps. It’s almost impossible to find a closed bar or club during the night in the summer. Many of the bars and restaurants in the summer months are located directly on the beach, nearby the Sea Garden. Varna is popular for its creative and innovative fashion and you can find here a plenty of modern shopping centers, traditional open-air markets and small shops.