Plovdiv is the place to be! The second largest city of Bulgaria is loved by many, including the Bulgarian people. Built on seven hills, just like Rome, Plovdiv offers everything a tourist needs: a charming old town, astonishing architecture, excellent nightlife and that laidback southern vibe. No-one’s in a rush in Plovdiv, unless it is to get there.
From Sofia, a 2,5-hour train ride will take you to medieval Plovdiv. The difference between the two cities couldn’t be greater. Apart from the temperature (Plovdiv is significantly warmer), there’s no communist flat in sight while strolling through Plovdiv’s center. Elegant buildings grace the shopping street, which is the best place to stop for a cocktail or two as well.
Plovdiv isn’t a secret anymore, however, we didn’t discover many foreigners in late April. In 2019, when the Plovdiv will be capital of culture, all of that might change, but for now the lively center is home to the Bulgarian tourist.
Plovdiv offers a variety of fun activities for every kind of traveler. Below you’ll find a list of things to do in Plovdiv, as well as where to eat and rest your head.
THINGS TO DO IN PLOVDIV
Plovdiv’s old town is probably one of the highlights of visiting the city. Its cute, traditional revival style houses and hilly cobblestone streets make it a nice place to wander around in for a few hours while visiting some of the most important museums of the city. The ethnographic museum is one of these highlights, as well as some of the house museums and the stunning Nebet Hill from where you can see all over Plovdiv.
During your stroll through Old Town, make sure you keep walking up. Nebet Hill is worth the rocky climb as it gives you an amazing view over the city! From here the contrast between the pittoresque city center and the rest of Plovdiv is clearly visible.
Free Plovdiv tour
Start off your trip by exploring Plovdiv through professionals. Free city walks are offered in every corner of the world and Plovdiv isn’t any different. Booking is not necessary, just show up at the starting point of the tour. Make sure to tip your guide afterwards!
Gather between 11am and 6pm (May – September) or 2 pm (October to April) in front of the Municipality building on Plovdiv’s main street. For more information check: freeplovdivtour.com
One of Plovdiv’s most impressive sites might be the ancient Roman Theatre, which is one of the best preserved ancient theatres in the world. Every year the Folklore festival is held here, which attracts many visitors from all over the country.
Other sites you can’t miss are the forum, stuffed in between the post office and the road, and the Roman stadium on the main street, next to the Dzumaya mosque (which is well worth your time as well.). The Roman theater, approximately 240 meters long and 50 meters wide, could seat up to 30 000 spectators.
Another, less visited, highlight, is the old hamman. Partially restored in 1999, it now serves as a center for contemporary art.
Main street (Knyaz Alexander I)
The main street of Plovdiv offers a variety of shops and restaurants as well as cozy bars and cafes. It’s Plovdiv’s most lively area, filled with locals and Bulgarian tourists. Most people are found around the fountain of the main street, as well as on the corner of it, next to the post office.
A little off the main street there’s an area called Kapana, which is filled with cute shops and hipster cafes. The Kapana area is nicknamed ‘the trap’ because ‘once you’re there, you never want to leave.’. Kapana used to be an area for craftsmen, with a ‘leather street’ and ‘iron street’. Nowadays it’s the place to be for creative entrepreneurs!
Tsar Simeon Garden
Whenever Plovdiv’s great weather becomes too much for you, the Tsar Simeon Garden is where you want to cool down. Stroll around the fountain or sit yourself down at one of the cafes or park benches for a relaxing summer afternoon. Parks in Bulgaria are immensely popular among locals so don’t be surprised if you make a new friend.
Another great way to get in touch with nature is to climb Bunarzhik, one of Plovdiv’s seven hills. Bunarzhik is a great place to have a picnic or to go to the summer theater. Make sure you visit the Alyosja monument and the Hercules statue when you’re there.
Scattered all over Plovdiv you’ll find the most beautiful murals, mostly when you’re not looking for them. Street art has been a thing in many cities and Plovdiv is modern enough to have a piece or two. My favorites were the ones behind the main street, on top of the stairs. Especially the ones gracing the rocks are pretty cool if you ask me.
To be honest, nothing really happens around Maritsa river – at least not to the tourist eye – but it is a nice place to get a whiff of fresh air during the hot summer months. Make sure to check out the shopping bridge, going from the main street to the other side of Plovdiv. The locals I spoke to thought it looks ridiculous, however I enjoyed the fact it looks like a train, getting me from a to b easily.
WHERE TO EAT IN PLOVDIV
Finding something delicious is probably one of the easiest things to do in Plovdiv! Whether you’d like to try traditional Bulgarian food or sink your teeth in a cheesy pizza, it can be arranged! The Balkans are famous for their grill and pizza dishes and I highly recommend trying some of them as well as the typical Bulgarian Shopska salad.
XIX Vek serves delicious, traditional food from Bulgaria. This large, Bulgarian style restaurant is located a little bit outside the city center, which means (almost) no tourists whatsoever! The portions are large, as is the case in most Bulgarian restaurants. I’d recommend the chef’s special: a pork dish with loads of onions, pork fillets and gravy soaked bread.
Address: Tsar Kaloyan 1
Another traditional restaurant serving Bulgarian cuisine, this time in a more touristy setting. Rahat Tepe is located in front of Nebet Hill, in the old town of Plovdiv. Although this restaurant is filled to the rim with tourists and locals, the staff is excellent, as well as the food.
Address: Dr. Chomakov 18
Hemingway serves perfect Italian dishes in a cozy atmosphere. Located a little off the main street of the city, this restaurant is almost always full. Luckily we managed to get a seat outside, where we tasted what is probably the best bruschetta I’ve ever had.
Address: Ul. Gen. Gurko 10
Alfreddo (waffles & gelato)
In front of the, communist style, post office, Alfreddo is another place that’s filled with locals looking for a sweet bite. The restaurant serves amazing waffles and cakes, as well as ice cream and other sweet delicacies. No place to sit? Don’t worry, there are takeout options as well!
Address: Gladston street
Right on the main square, next to the fountain, you’ll find Raffy. This restaurant and café is great when you like to hang around and watch people. Their food, although a tiny bit pricey, is delicious (try the assortment of bruschetta or the chicken fingers) but their cocktails do it for me. I found myself sitting there for several hours, sipping margaritas while enjoying local life around me.
Address: Patriarch Evtimii 5
WHERE TO SLEEP IN PLOVDIV
I don’t have to tell you Bulgaria is an affordable country to travel through. Accommodation-wise you could save a few bucks when you decide to stay in a hostel dorm room, however, throughout Bulgaria there are many cheap (and super cozy) guesthouses suitable for the frugal traveler.
€ Hipster Guest Rooms
Located in the city center, this guesthouse is super budget friendly! Dorms start from €4, but are small enough to get a good night sleep, without having to listen to 20+ people’s snoring.
€€ Guesthouse Maison21
Maison21 has everything a traveler needs: clean rooms, common areas (with a fireplace!) and a lovely garden. For a small price, you’ll rest your head just 280 meters from the Roman theater.
€€€ Hotel Evmolpia
This boutique hotel is located inside a renaissance-style house, in the very center of Plovdiv. The charming rooms take you back in time, while the nearby Kapana neighborhood will do the opposite.
HOW TO GET TO PLOVDIV
Taking a train or bus is the easiest way to get to Plovdiv from capital Sofia. By train it took me 2,5 hours to get there and the ride was beautiful and relaxing. You can also fly to Plovdiv directly. Many lowcost airlines fly to Bulgaria so it’s easy to find affordable airfare.
Feel free to add your favorite thing to do in Plovdiv!
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