“Little Vienna”… A nickname given to so many cities across Europe, throughout the years. It’s not hard to figure out why: the Austrian capital is a standard for the Baroque architecture, and has an artistic legacy that is worldwide famous. But enough about Vienna… Now is the time to talk about Ruse, the fifth largest city in Bulgaria.
Situated on the right bank of the Danube river, the city has a long history. The first settlement in the area, a Thracian colony, was founded more than two millenniums ago. Soon later, this colony became a Roman fortress, named Sexaginta Prista, which meant the “City of sixty ships”. The foundation walls of the fortress are still standing today and are open to visitors.
Between the 15th and the 19th century, period in which the country was under Ottoman occupation, Ruse was the largest city in Bulgaria and one of the main centers of the Ottoman Empire. This privileged status was reflected in the city’s economical and cultural development. The first railway station in Bulgaria was built here, along with a contemporary publishing house. During this period of time, multiple consulates were established throughout the city.
Ruse is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities that this Balkan country has to offer. Despite this status, don’t set your expectations that high and take the comparison with Vienna too literally, because you might be a bit disappointed by the outcome. Sure, Ruse is a pleasant city for a day trip, with a charming city center and many fine examples of the Baroque architecture, but it is far from being a small scale copy of Vienna. The outskirts of the city have plenty of massive, grey apartment buildings, all part of the communist heritage.
But the architecture of the city is not the only thing that stands out. The Bulgarian traditional food is excellent. There are a few places around that are worth at least a visit. Food usually comes in big portions (my advice: you should try more than one local dish, so if you’re part of a bigger group, sharing is the best option) and the prices are more than affordable, so overall it’s a well worth culinary experience.
How to get to Ruse
Let’s face it, Ruse is not the most popular touristic destination. It doesn’t have an airport, so getting there is not easy. I’d say that the most common reasons for visiting this city are:
- You are living in Bucharest and want to escape the daily routine for some hours, but don’t want to stay in traffic for hours, to go to either the seaside or the mountains – my case.
- You are taking a Danube cruise and you have a few hours stop in Ruse.
- You are transiting Bulgaria and Romania by car, heading to either Greece or Turkey, and you want to make a short stop.
If you’re either in the first or the third case, you need to know that using the Danube Bridge (formerly known as the Friendship Bridge) to cross the border from Romania will get around €3 out of your pocket (14 RON), while crossing back will get around €2 (4 Leva). I know that it’s strange to encounter a fee difference, but each local authority can set its own desired tariff. Besides this tax, don’t forget to buy a one week vignette (daily vignettes are not available for cars, just for trucks or buses), which is an extra €8 (or 15 Leva).
Guide to Ruse
I’ve spent around six hours in Ruse. I haven’t visited any museums, but I had enough time to admire the beautiful city center, to take a stroll along the Danube and to try the local cuisine. The best part about the center is that a large part of it is only pedestrian, which creates a relaxed atmosphere and makes it perfect for walking. Here are the highlights:
→ Freedom Square (Svoboda), with its Monument of Liberty, is one of symbols of Ruse.
→ Dohodno Zdanie, which has been hosting the National Theatre since 1902, is, in my opinion, the most impressive building in Ruse, thanks to its flawless facade.
→ Walking along Ulitsa Alexandrovska, the main street, is a charming activity, as you’ll spot many nicely decorated 19th century buildings.
→ Battenberg Palace, built in 1882, hosts the Regional History Museum. In front of it, there’s a large park, with fountains and sculptures.
→ The Lyuben Karavelov Library is situated in a beautiful early 20th century building, with several baroque ornaments and rosettes.
→ Ulitsa Borisova is another important street, that starts right in front of the Municipality Hall. No matter the angle, this building reminds of the past communist times. From this street, you will spot the Ruse TV Tower, the tallest structure in the region, at 204 meters high.
→ Mladezhki Park is the biggest park in the city, a peaceful and quiet green oasis.
Food and drink
Although the place is a bit tacky, Mehana Chiflika () is the best traditional Bulgarian restaurant in the city. The place is huge, it can accommodate around 300 people, and the prices are somewhere between cheap and decent. Here are some meals that you have to try: shopska salad (also known as the Bulgarian salad), Mish Mash (mixture of vegetables, eggs and cheese), Pljeskavica (grilled dish) and Plitka (traditional bread). I’ve also read good things about Happy Bar & Grill (Svoboda Square 4), so have it in mind. For dessert, I would recommend Nedelya (Ulitsa Borisova 3), a cake shop part of a bigger chain and the perfect spot for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake.
Ruse has proven me that even a small city can become, for at least a day, an interesting touristic destination. With a rich history behind, it is the result of an amalgam of various architectural styles, each one with its own particularities and uniqueness. That’s why you’ll spot, in less than a few hundred meters away, stone walls built more than two millenniums ago, along with beautiful 19th century Baroque buildings and communist edifices.
So in case you’re tired of spending hours in traffic to go to the seaside or mountain (remember the first reason from above), why not go to Ruse?
Author: Marian Bulacu
Live. Love. Travel. Make a difference.