Be prepared to be swamped by loads of photos because Plovdiv is astoundingly beautiful, it was our favourite place when venturing around Bulgaria and this gorgeous city is so underrated! Many tourists opt to visit the beach resorts of Varna (Sunny Beach) or the mountain resorts of Borovets and Bansko near Sofia, so Plovdiv is a hidden gem in Bulgaria. Honestly guys, this place is mesmerizing and the people are the loveliest we’ve met! Plovdiv is multi-cultural, artistic, quirky and has an air of elegance. This is the place many affluent Bulgarians send their children to study classical music, dance and the arts. Walking the clean cobbled stoned streets there is music pouring from open windows, we watched a young boy perform piano pieces to an audience outside a museum, bronze statues of famous Bulgarian Musicians peacefully sat in the sun all around the old town, very well done street art can be found all over and there are plentiful book shops, antique markets, art galleries and craft fairs galore! The people here are a mixture of bohemian and class, many that we met were artists in residence, dancers preparing for their European tour or contemporary craftsmen and women working their craft in open air studio spaces.
We saw ourselves living in this place, we even ventured around estate agents to see what properties were for sale.
This is a safe and peaceful city to bring children up in and with its mixture of different ethnicities everyone speaks fluent English, you can also here a wonderful variety of other languages too and everybody appears to be very placid and happy to help. We sadly only had two days here yet we explored a lot so I’ll take you on a picture tour of Plovdiv to show you exactly why we fell in love with this city.
Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria, with a city population of 341,000 as of 2015 and 675,000 in the greater metropolitan area. It is an important economic, transport, cultural, and educational centre. There is evidence of habitation in Plovdiv dating back to the 6th millennium BCE, when the first Neolithic settlements were established; it is said to be one of the oldest cities in Europe.
The city was originally a Thracian settlement and subsequently was invaded by Persians, Greeks, Celts, Romans, Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Slavs, Rus people, Crusaders, and Turks. On January 4, 1878, Plovdiv was liberated from Ottoman rule by the Russian army. It remained within the borders of Bulgaria until July of the same year, when it became the capital of the autonomous Ottoman region of Eastern Rumelia. In 1885, Plovdiv and Eastern Rumelia joined Bulgaria.
Plovdiv is situated in a fertile region of south-central Bulgaria on the two banks of the Maritsa River. The city has historically developed on seven syenite hills, some of which are 250 metres (820 feet) high. Because of these hills, Plovdiv is often referred to in Bulgaria as “The City of the Seven Hills”.
This incredibly rich history has given Plovdiv one of the most charming old towns in Eastern Europe. Enormous stones cobble the streets, making for stunning photos, bumpy car rides and sore ankles. Just walking around the Old Town gives you plenty of things to do and see. Do make sure you have water to drink because the climate is humid and at night keep insect repellent to hand as sadly sometimes Plovdiv does have a mosquito issue- primarily when you explore the old Thracian ruins that look over the city below.
Parts of the ancient wall can still be found in certain areas of the town and there is a spectacular Roman amphitheatre that commands a cliff overlooking the Kapana neighbourhood and the more modern part of the city.
During our visit we were fortunate to meet a famous (now retired) ballet dancer, although “retired” her passion for dance continues so she teaches at the dance academy not far from her home. Her late husband was a famous Bulgarian artist. She welcomed us into her courtyard garden to marvel at more of her husband’s work and to talk about their younger years traveling around Europe together. Plovdivians are extremely friendly, I love the society here!
There are walking and museum tours available if you prefer to be guided around the city in small groups, but since Jon and I only had two days here we tried to cram in as many sites on our own and at our own pace (which is pretty fast in comparison to the leisurely strolls of tour groups) Do inquire about these walking tours in a local information centre.
The main pedestrian street (Knyaz Aleksander I or Aleksander Batenberg Street) runs for 1.7 km from north to south right through the center of town (not technically the “old town” but close to it). You can stroll back and forth along this street for hours. And similarly to British main streets like Bristol and York, you can find pop up book shops, ice cream parlours, street performers, cute seating areas by water fountains and brilliant urban street art. We even found a seating area consisting of bean bags and hammocks! This is a city but Plovdiv is so laid back!
There are many shops selling everything from boots to bottles of wine and there are also a few great cafes with tables spilling out onto the street.
Most of the buildings along Knyaz Aleksander were built in the late 19th and early 20th century and while many of the best examples of architecture have been converted into shopping malls, they’re still beautiful from the outside.
Venturing out of the city centre and old town we stumbled across a dream-like public park, it had the grandiose of Vienna with a hint of Italian elegance and a touch of Londonian hustle and bustle. Again here you can find families playing in the water fountains, elderly men playing chess, puppeteers and musicians performing, and lovers having picnics under trees. This place is so tranquil, people are smiling and going about their day, there is something so relaxed about the society here which made us realize our way of life in the UK is rather stressful when it doesn’t need to be. Being in Plovdiv gave us a wake up call that life is short and its so important to enjoy it but also cherish the quieter, simple moments.
Jon and I are not wine drinkers but I have been told the vineyards around Plovdiv are some of the oldest and most beautiful in the world and you can go on a wine tour here. The Thracians were the first people to colonize these lands and they were crazy about their wines, with many of their rituals and traditions directly linked to the holy grape. So this might be a wonderful option for all you wine lovers!
Similarly to Liverpool the music scene here is off the charts. There are multiple places in Plovdiv where you can listen to live music, in fact you can hear it all day every day in the old town because somebody somewhere is practicing or performing their instrument. In general though there are countless bars, bistros, nightclubs and cafes in Plovdiv and many of them have great live music playing every night. There are plentiful Bulgarian bands that play in small, dark traditional taverns too which is fantastic!
There is also “The Trap” caught between the main street and the old town. Kapana is a newly renovated area of Plovdiv that the locals call “The Trap” and its very ‘hip’. They call it this because there are so many narrow alleyways and hidden back streets that it’s very easy for visitors to get lost and “trapped” and it is so fun being trapped in the trap!
We recommend getting completely lost in this neighbourhood! It’s a beautiful area and once you’re inside, you’ll wonder what took the government so long to fund the revival of this magnificent quarter.
There are countless pubs and restaurants here with tables spilling out onto the street. The vibe in the trap is buzzing all year round, but during the summer, there are festivals and parties that shouldn’t be missed. We actually stayed in a little apartment hotel in the Trap and the owner was really pleasant and helpful and his wife also owned a gallery around the corner. I highly recommend staying here , click on the tripadvisor link for more information: Residence Art Guest House
The Trap is quirky with a very student vibe to it with plentiful boutiques, little art galleries, florists, shoe designers, jewellery shops and much more, all owned by independent business owners.
If you’re lucky enough to be in town when there’s a concert, symphony or show playing in the Roman amphitheatre, don’t miss it!
The ancient auditorium still hosts musicals and plays and apparently the acoustics and the view of the city lights beyond the stage make for an unforgettable experience.
We were in Plovdiv when the amphitheatre was being renovated and closed to the public for a drama show so we didn’t have a chance to catch a concert or spend time on the grounds, but after seeing the amphitheatre in all of its glory (from behind bars), we’d love to return to the city and catch a concert one day. It would be simply spectacular.
Another place in the city I recommend you visit is the Nebet Tepe which are old Thracian ruins situated on a hill and overlooking the city of Plovdiv. This is the place sadly rife with mosquitoes (primarily at dusk) so do keep insect repellent on you. But the views are gorgeous!
Walk up to Nebet Tepe (Sentry or Lookout Hill) for the panoramic view of Plovdiv and surrounding mountains in the distance. The remains of the earliest settlement in Plovdiv are randomly scattered stones and some bits of wall but the vibes up here are very calming. Evidence has been found that the site was settled as early as 12th century BC as the ancient Thracian town Evmolpiya and later expanded by Philip of Macedonia. As the town expanded, Nebet Tepe became the citadel of the town’s acropolis, the highest point of the three hills. There are remains of a fortress wall and tower. There is also a secret tunnel from the time of Justinian (4th century) leading down to the Maritsa river.
Just before you reach the top, the restaurant ‘Rahat Tepe’ provides some much needed refreshment, although a little expensive so if you are hungry, soon after your visit to Nebet Tepe, you’ll be back in the old town within 5 minutes to find other eateries if you are a budget traveler.
One tip I can give is: Give Plovdiv Time; Aylak means “to be relaxed and do nothing at all” and that’s exactly how Plovdivians live their lives. The expression is only used in Plovdiv and it’s a place that’s so special that when you visit here, you’ll agree that it deserves its own word.
No words could explain just how enchanting this place can be, but Aylak does a good job of summarizing the feeling you’ll have when traveling here.
Plovdiv you’ve stolen our hearts. This is an exceptional city and I highly recommend you visit this place. You won’t regret it!
Missed previous posts about Bulgaria? Click on the links below:
Day trip to Arbanasi
Day trip to Hotnitsa Falls
Day trip to the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration of God
Two days in Sofia
Day trip to Krushuna Falls
Living in & Visiting Veliko Tarnovo
Day trip to Emen Gorge
Day trip to: Etar Living Museum
Want to read other travel blog posts? Click on the links below:
3 weeks backpacking around Nepal
10 days traveling up the Dalmatian coast of Croatia & Montenegro
16 days touring around Morocco
4 day mini break in the Algarve, Portugal
5 days in Budapest and Vienna
Day trips and mini breaks around the UK