Things to do in Plovdiv
Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria. Very different from Sofia, Plovdiv is the hipster city of Bulgaria. The minute you arrive in Plovdiv, you can feel the laid-back atmosphere. The city has been named European capital of culture for 2019 and it's very visible through its street art, open-air operas, and artsy stores.
The historical centre of the city is mainly divided into two sections, Kapana, also known as “the Trap” and the old town. There are also other neighbourhoods in the modern city that can be explored too. Here is a guide of the top things to do in Plovdiv, see, eat and drink in the city. The article also gives you 2 great fay trips from Plovdiv.
By far the coolest neighbourhood in Bulgaria, Kapana has a very young and hip vibe with its wine bars, craft beers, coffee shops and artsy stores. Decorated with streamers and graffiti The Trap will surely seduce you. The neighbourhood inherits its name due to its labyrinth-like streets all intertwined with each other. Also, All the streets are pedestrian streets so you can wander around freely.
I highly suggest finding a Guest House here so you can have everything close-by.
The Old Town
The picturesque cobblestone streets, the colourful houses and small buildings with wooden shutters from the 19th century are very unique. This part of the city also has museums and little antique shops for you to spend a couple of hours. The houses are the best architectural example of the Bulgarian national revival. This period was a socio-economic movement by Bulgarians to regain their identity from the Ottomans. This part of town is part of UNESCO World Heritage tentative list.
At the end of the old town, you will find a beautiful Roman ancient ruin theatre, Philipoppolis. Overlooking the mountain, this relic still functions as an open-air theatre/music hall with great acoustics. In the summer, some week and weekend nights have opera under the stars, called Opera Open. Sadly, the days we stayed in the city did not have any shows so we could not enjoy it. There are also other festivities in the theatre like the International Folklore Festival. From here you can get a great point of view of the six hills that surround the city.
Besides visiting these two neighbourhoods, stroll down Knyaz Alexander I. This is the main commercial lined with beautiful neo-Baroque buildings, this street is 100% pedestrian and easy to walk, shop and eat. Did you know that his is one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe?
To get the full extent of the city, you can take a free walking tour or go to several museums like regional Ethnographic Museum or Regional Historic Museum. Also, don’t forget to visit the ancient Roman stadium near the main street. The Tsar Simeon Garden landscaped under the Ottoman Empire has lakes, fountains, sculptures, and monuments dedicated to the country’s heroes. During the summer night, go to the park to see the Singing Fountains, a show with light and music.
Being at the crossroads of many civilizations, Plovdiv is a testimonial of these changes. Dzhumaya Mosque was built on the site of Sveta Petka Tarnovska Cathedral after the Ottomans conquered Plovdiv. Stay around the mosque area and enjoy Turkish coffee, pastry shop and shawarmas. This will show you another part of the Bulgarian culture.
For great view of the city, take a short hike to Nebet Tepe Hill. This is one of the seven hills of Plovdiv. It also the place that the city was founded around 4000 BC by the Thracians. At the top, you can still has some of the ruins of the many settlements. Plovdiv is in fact, one of the oldest cities in Europe.
Plovdiv is one of those cities that always have a festival, it seems that every month there is a festival and a celebration, whether it's a national holiday or a wine fest, the city is always butly with festivities. So check out the official calendar here.
Where to eat and drink in Plovdiv
If you are a wine lover this is a must! The relaxed atmosphere with its wide selection of wines will be perfect to enjoy a glass or two. The bar was highly recommended by the oenologist of Villa Yustina (read more about it below). Boris, the owner is very knowledgeable about wines and alcohol in general. We had a great night discussing the different wines of the region with him and talking about Bulgaria in general.
Cat & Mouse
This place is pretty neat, they have a selection of their own beer, craft beer from Bulgaria and the rest of Europe. The bartenders were very friendly and took the time to explain their beers. Plus, their terrace and the music make it a cool place to hang out for a couple of drinks.
Known for traditional Bulgarian plates with a modern twist, Pavaj is very highly rated by locals and travellers. I found it a little deceiving, maybe my expectations were too high. Apparently, there is a waiting list of several months, but we were lucky to have a reservation on the same day. The staff is super friendly, and they even got us free shots of Rakia!
There is a little counter that serves pastries, unfortunately, I cannot remember the name. With a wide selection of sweet and salty ones, there is something for everyone. Besides being delicious, they are super cheap!! We went to have our breakfast every day there because it costs less than a $1 for two persons. The counter is located near the Coco Guest House.
Since Plovdiv has a bigger influence of Turks and Muslims, there is an abundance of shawarma stands. They are sooo good and very cheap too! The stands are also open until late so it’s perfect for a late-night snack after a few shots of Rakia. These restaurants can mostly be found near the Dzhumaya mosque.
Day trips from Plovdiv
Since we had rented a car to do a road trip across Bulgaria, we did some day trip from Plovdiv since its a very central city.
The Wine route
The wine route is easy to follow and very accessible if you have a car. The vineyards are just 30min to 1h distance from the city, so it's the perfect day trip.
Pro tip: you have to reserve if you wish to do tours and tasting. Also, most of the vineyards are closed on Mondays.
Of course, we decided to do the route on a Monday and of course, most of them were closed. Luckily, we could go to Villa Yustina, one of the best winery in the region. The oenologist gave us a great wine tour and an excellent wine tasting. We were spoiled to have her just for us so we could ask a bunch of questions. She was the one that recommended us Vino Culture.
Orbelus winery makes really good organic wine and the building is shaped like half a barrel, which makes it easy to recognize. Unfortunately, it was closed during our visit but we had the chance to taste the wine in restaurants.
My husband is very intrigued and captivated by the communist era so it was no surprise that when I told him about Buzludzha, also called the UFO monument, I knew we will do a stop.
The gigantic communist monument is a symbol of the power of the party at the time and it was constructed for large meetings in the ‘70s . Located on top of the central Balkans, it holds particular significance since it was where the Bulgarian rebels did their final battle against the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century.
The Brutalist architecture is very imposing. Sadly, as with most of the monuments of that era, the country has left it to abandon trying to turn the page. The route and the building in the interior and exterior are in decay. There are some movements to try to use it for different purposes, but the authorities have yet to decide what to do.
The entrance to the building is forbidden but there are a few adventurous people that go in to see what the rest of the murals is. For our part, we were too scared to go in.
On a magical realism type of moment, there was a family of wild horses hanging around the monument.
Another great day trip is to visit the Bachkovo Monastery. It is the second largest monastery in Bulgaria in the heart of the Rhodope Mountains. The monastery is known for the unique combination of Byzantine, Georgian and Bulgarian culture, all gather together in this religious place.
The city is easily walkable and all the main attractions are within reach. Kapana is in fact a large pedestrian zone. To get around other than by foot, you can take buses or taxis.
Bulgaria is part of the EU but it does not have the Euro, the currency is the Bulgarian Lev.
It was really hard to take-out money without a European master card, we learned this the hard way! We only brought 70 Lev for the whole trip thinking that we would be able to take out more cash. Since not all the restaurants, parking, and stores accept credit card, we were in big trouble! Thankfully my in-laws came to the rescue and wired us some money. Talk about adulting... -_-
Also, the currency could be hard to find abroad so I would suggest to bring euros and changing them in Bulgaria.
You can drink your tap water. So ditch your plastic bottle and fill your reusable bottle wherever you want! Remember that in Europe you have to pay your water in restaurants, so you better not forget your water bottle!
Bulgaria uses the European standard of 220V to 230V, with a frequency of 50Hz. The plugs are characterized with two or three round pins in a row. They use plugs Type F, C.
PSST: Don't forget to read my other post How to plan the perfect road trip in Bulgaria for a complete guide of the country.
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