For a while before we were still deciding whether to go to the ancient town of Nessebar or go to Balchik, specifically to its famous botanical garden. It had been in our plans in the first place. After reviewing prices of guided tours and comparing them to DIY travel via public transport, we finally chose the latter option which was obviously cheaper.
Journey from Nessebar to Balchik
We left Nessebar and took the first bus at 8 AM. Unfortunately, there was no direct bus from Nessebar to Balchik, so we got down to Varna. We spent some time between trips at one of the biggest shopping centers in Varna, Grand Mall, which was located right next to the bust station.
It took us a total of four hours to get from Nessebar to the Balchik Botanical Garden. Two hours were spent passing on a serpentine road to Varna (the trip cost 12 levs per person), the 30 minutes were spent waiting for the next bus to Balchik, and then finally one hour was spent going there (the trip cost 5 levs per person).
No matter where you go in Bulgaria, traveling the DIY way along with children is not the best approach.
The entrance to the Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden has two entrances, situating close to each other that you can enter or exit through any. At the main entrance there are stalls that sell a variety of goods, as well as cafes. Always keep in mind that prices are intended for tourists, so bring your own bottle of water and prepare a couple of sandwiches before setting off to your trip to the Botanical Garden. Besides, the garden is so vast that you will get hungry and thirsty, but you cannot buy any food and drink inside.
If you have read lots of information about the garden on the Internet, it is said that there are drinking fountains within the garden premises, but when we actually got there, we didn’t find any. The information on the Internet also says that drinking from the fountain and swimming in ponds are forbidden (if you get caught, you’ll be reprimanded or thrown out of the premises).
The Botanical Garden is so vast that you have to explore every corner of it. You should wear a pair of comfortable shoes as it will be very difficult to walk along the steep paths or to go down the stone staircase if you’re wearing the wrong footwear (such as leather shoes, sandals or high heels).
Directly ahead of gates are located two ticket offices – in one of them you can buy a ticket to the garden (the cost of it for adults – 7 levs; for children from 7 to 18 years – 2 levs; and for kids up to 6 years the entrance is free), and in the second – a ticket to the Palace (the cost of the ticket is 5 levs for adults and 1 lev for children).
Working hours of the ticket offices are limited: 8 AM to 8 PM during the summer season, and 8:30 AM to 5 PM during the winter months.
Based on our experience at least, you should not go to the Palace as there is nothing much to see there. Well, if yo want to go, you may have experience it once and never to return. A bit more that in this article.
History of the Garden
One of the most popular and enduring attractions on the Black Sea coast, the Balchik Botanical Garden was built almost a century ago as a summer residence of Queen Maria, wife of King Ferdinand I of Romania (when the region was still under Romanian control). Construction began in 1926, and thanks to the efforts of the Queen, it became the favorite place to visit among European aristocrats, musicians, poets and artists.
The palace park is made by using different styles of landscape architecture and is undoubtedly a work of art. Symbols of Christian and Moslem religions are harmoniously united in it. Swiss botanist and gardener Jules Janie designed the garden complex (thanks to him!).
The summer residence of the Queen is unmatched. There are rare plants and a rose garden of fantastic beauty. There are also many bridges, pavilions, ponds and alleys.
In 1955, academic and professor Daki Yordanav founded the University Botanical Garden in Sofia University with a total length of more than 6 hectares, which since then has been endlessly delighting tourists from different parts of Bulgaria and around the world.
Apart from being a place for relaxation and sightseeing, the botanical garden also holds more important functions: as a Monument of Culture, a protected area under the Protected Areas Act (PAA) and a Washington Convention Rescue Center.
Territory of the park
The Balchik Botanical Garden is simply one of the best things during our holiday in Bulgaria. Imagine our joy in seeing those well-manicured landscapes and beds of colorful blooms decorating along the paths. A tiny pond with lotuses, waterfalls, symmetrical rows of cypress trees and a park pavilion covered that is almost engulfed with ivy, and of course, the highlight — the Queen’s summer residence.
Walking through the garden was a real pleasure; although the garden was vast, we didn’t seem to feel tiredness. Everything we saw in every nook and cranny of this garden is simply breathtaking. When you think of the Romanian Queen herself walking along the paths and alleys, you cannot help but feel envious of her — she had the garden to herself every day!
In the garden you can also see an imitation of the ancient labyrinth on the island of Crete. The local chapel is also a replica of the one of churches of the 15th century, also in the island of Crete.
Asking us about the most favorite part of the garden is close to useless — because each of the gardens holds a unique and special beauty and character. There is the “Garden of the Gods” (Garden of Allah), a rose garden, a collection of cacti and succulents, a garden consisting of a variety of exotic plant such as the rubber tree, gingko biloba, beautiful and delicate lotuses as well as rare plants that come close to extinction such as metasequoia. Needless to say, this is treasure trove for serious botanists.
It is as if this garden itself is a creation from God!
You can also find two wineries within the garden complex, where you can have a taste and buy exclusive drinks. As you might expect, the wines cost a lot.
Come visit the botanical garden in spring to catch the Tulip Festival, where you can see a variety of flowers (not just tulips) of different colors and shapes. Besides, visiting the botanical garden during the spring time is more comfortable as the season is not so hot compared to summer.
The administration cares about its visitors. They create special signatures of the plants to persons with disability. Visually impaired visitors can touch different botanic species in Braille, for example. It just proves that this wonderful and breathtaking botanical garden is open to all guests.
Scammers in the park
We are telling you in advance to beware of the scammers in the park — such as this old man we met along the way as we were walking at the gardens.
The fact that in Bulgaria people there are so friendly, that somehow you forget about some of them who forces you to pay for them for taking their pictures, or other ways to scam tourists.
The man smiled at us sweetly, so we could not help taking his photos. Then, all of a sudden, he acted like a spider — he began to lure us with a proposal to sit down next to him and and to make a couple of photos, then later demanded payment (or at least a couple of cigarettes).
As a result, we agreed to pay him a small sum as our wallet was almost empty. So we gave him a few stotinkas (100 stotinkas are equivalent to 1 lev).
We felt really bad about it, but this feeling quickly dissipated when we encountered a charming American tourist who came here in Bulgaria on a holiday, along with his family. Not only did he offer to take a photo of us together, he also took way better pictures. We thanked him profusely and then we were in good spirits once again as we strolled towards the rose garden.
This incident with the old man became a good lesson for us, and we are telling you this to protect you from such scammers if ever you plan to visit the botanical garden. Not only did we lose a lot of money, but our mood was also spoiled.
The collection of cacti and succulents
The Balchik Botanical Garden boasts a wide collection of cacti and succulents. It is the second biggest in the world, after Monaco’s. The cacti and succulents will astound you with their different sizes and shapes. The exhibit is divided into two parts — one part is an open area, and the other is a greenhouse with succulents and other sub-Mediterranean species.
The greenhouse may only have a measure of 800 square meters, but it has more than 2600 species of cacti and succulents, and only these belong to Cactaceae and the Euphorbiaceae!
There’s a feedback book at the greenhouse where guests may write on about their experiences in visiting it. There’s also an observation bridge and small ponds with plants and benches.
Some species of cacti, huge and tiny ones, bloomed with colorful flowers. The alley of giants made an unforgettable impression on us – you can walk under the “branches” of these plants directly in the greenhouse.
The greenhouse is a haven for plants — huge agaves, large aloes, bushes of fragrant oleander and collection of palm trees. The only disappointment is that the greenhouse itself was only a small part of the Botanical Garden. One day is not enough to see the entirety of it.
The open area of the cacti garden contains a large number of cacti with bizarre shapes and different sizes. But we weren’t able to stay for long because it was too hot there.
The Palace of Romanian Queen Maria as the highlight of the Botanical Garden in Balchik
The history of the palace dates back to the early 20th century. From 1921 to 1936 (in some sources listed 1937), a small palace with a park was built by Queen Maria’s orders. She named it “Lonely Nest” or the “Quiet Nest.” Italian architects and designers worked together to construct the palace complex.
The palace complex boasts ten villas for accommodations for tourists, a Christian chapel which the Queen named as “Sea Star.” It is at this chapel where her heart is buried, in accordance to her wishes.
The complex boasts different architectural styles which somehow work harmoniously. The entrance to the palace costs 5 levs per head (adult). But in our opinion, the price was unreasonably high. There was almost nothing to see there. We assumed that the entrance fees go to the maintenance and restoration of the palace.
The palace has three stories and a small tower or minaret. Royal chambers are striking in their simplicity and asceticism. The first floor used to be a state room and is now an art gallery and gift ship. The second floor contains a dining room and bathroom; some rooms are closed. We could not see the third floor, as well as the tower. I found an information about a large number of entrances and exits to the palace. Perhaps it was like that in former years, but now all tourists are admitted through one door. The wine cellar, also created by Queen, is also closed from prying eyes.
From the balcony around the tower opens a beautiful view of the sea. A stone throne, located near the entrance, is the place from which the Queen liked to observe sunrise and sunset.
The palace’s exterior view made a greater impression on us than its interiors. Therefore, we recommend not to waste time and money on this part of the garden. It will be enough to walk around the Palace. Believe us, you will not lose anything.
How to get to Balchik and the Botanical Garden on your own?
The easiest and the most popular option to go to the Botanical Garden – is to get to Varna from anywhere you’re staying. From Varna, you can go by direct bus to Balchik. If there are no tickets to Varna or from Varna to Balchik, you can go to Albena. It is close to Varna and buses run every 10-15 minutes from there.
If you will go to Balchik by bus from Varna or Albena, be sure to ask the driver to stop close to the Botanical Garden – at the turn. From there you will have to walk only 15-20 minutes, which takes you less than about 50 minutes from the bus station.
You can go back from the bus station in Balchik, or try hitchhiking, stopping the car on the same turn (you need to stand up at a gas station on the side opposite the one where you got off the bus).