Nowhere is the modernizing face of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast more evident than in VARNA, a bustling metropolis where Roman ruins, dainty churches and leafy nineteenth-century residential districts jostle cheerfully with new shopping malls and speculative real-estate developments. A booming economy has boosted the city's population to an estimated half a million, making Varna – unofficially at least – Bulgaria's second-largest city. The commercial and business centre of the Bulgarian coast, Varna is also a resort town in its own right, with a fine stretch of beach and an impressive repertoire of restaurants, cafés and clubs, mostly in the pedestrianized area around ploshtad Nezavisimost. The city's beachside suburbs stretch northwards to envelop the resort complexes of Sveti Konstantin and Golden Sands, creating a 20km-long pleasure zone of non-stop bathing, boozing and bopping opportunities.
As well as being a party city, Varna can also boast an excellent historical and cultural pedigree. The Archeological Museum displays some of the oldest jewellery in the world, while a second-century Roman bath complex provides visitors with an enjoyable open-air history lesson. The annual Varnensko lyato (Varna Summer) festival offers top-quality orchestral music and ballet in June and July, while The Varna jazz festival (Web: www.vsjf.com ) attracts top musicians from around central and eastern Europe in early August. Later the same month, the Varna International Folk Festival (Web: www.varnafolk.org ) celebrates traditional music and dance from around the world.