Varna is the largest city and seaside resort on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. It is the second-largest metropolis in Bulgaria, after Sofia, and the 80th largest in the European Union. Since 2001 its population has tripled and at the end of 2008 has reached 970,000, according to the recent statistics announced by the Mayor of Varna, Kiril Yordanov. Since 2001 investments in Varna have exceeded €3.5 bn, while unemployment is now well below 3%.
Commonly referred to as the seaside (or summer) capital of Bulgaria, Varna is a major tourist destination, a university centre and headquarters of the Bulgarian Navy and merchant marine. It is the second most important economic centre of Bulgaria after Sofia. It is also the country’s foremost trade link with Russia and one of the major hubs for the Black Sea region.
The local economy is service-based, with 61% of net revenue generated in trade and tourism, 16% in manufacturing, 14% in transportation and communications and 6% in construction.
The city is the easternmost destination of Pan-European transport corridor 8. Major industries in Varna are transportation, distribution, shipbuilding, ship repair and other marine industries.
In June 2007, Eni and Gazprom unveiled the South Stream project, whereby a 900-km-long offshore natural gas pipeline from Russia’s Dzhubga with an annual capacity of 31 cubic kilometers is planned to come ashore at Varna, en route to Italy and Austria.
Tourism is of foremost importance, with the suburban beachfront resorts of Golden Sands, Holiday Club Riviera, Sunny Day, Albena and others. The resorts have a total capacity of over 120,000 beds (2007). They attract millions of visitors each year (€6.75 mn in 2007). Varna is also Bulgaria’s unique international cruise destination (over 60 cruise ships visited the city in 2008) and a major international convention and spa centre.
In September 2004, FDI Magazine (a Financial Times publication) proclaimed Varna to be the ‘South-eastern European City of the Future’, citing its strategic location, fast-growing economy, rich cultural heritage and higher education. In April 2007, rating agency Standard & Poor’s announced that it had raised its long-term issue credit rating for Varna to BB+ from BB, declaring the city’s outlook “stable” and praising its “improved operating performance”. In April 2008, Knight Frank placed Bulgaria at the top of the Global House Price Index, ahead of previous leader Latvia.