Plovdiv was one of those places that I just knew would steal my heart as soon as I arrived.
Located in the south of Bulgaria, just two hours from the capital of Sofia, Plovdiv is teeming with ancient history, quirky street are and bohemian cafes and bars.
Not only is Plovdiv Bulgaria’s second biggest city, but it is also the oldest living city in Europe.
It has been Thracian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Old Bulgarian, Ottoman and now modern, and these echoes from the past can be found everywhere, from the architecture to the food.
Plovdiv was one of two European Capitals of Culture in 2019 (the other being Matera, Italy), a title that it truly deserves.
Everywhere you go in Plovdiv, from the medieval Old Town to the bohemian Kapana neighbourhood, you will find history, art, and beauty, not to mention a tonne of delicious foodie goodness!
Even though I only spent four days in Plovdiv, I could easily have stayed for two weeks.
For a small city, there are actually a lot of fun things to do in Plovdiv, so if you’re visiting and want to make the most of this charming city, just carry on reading!
19 Things to Do in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
1. Admire the Bulgarian Revival buildings in the Old Town
One of the best things to do in Plovdiv is to simply admire all of the beautifully ornamented and brightly coloured buildings that line the cobbled streets of Plovdiv’s Old Town.
These buildings have a rich cultural heritage dating back hundreds of years to the Bulgarian National Revival, a time of socio-economic development and opposition to the Ottoman rule when Bulgarian architecture saw huge developments.
Towards the end of the 19th century, trade connections were established with Central and Western Europe, and Bulgarians took inspiration from European architecture, building the majestic houses that you see on the streets today.
You can actually go inside many of the Revival houses in Plovdiv Old Town, as many of them have been turned into museums and restored to look the way they would have done in centuries past.
Bulgarian Revival houses that you can’t miss include:
The Ethnographic Museum – With a stunning Baroque façade, the Kuyumdzhieva house is not only breathtaking on the outside, but is well worth venturing inside as well as it is home to the Regional Ethnographic Museum. Inside, you can see how people from the region would have lived in years gone by, as well as old costumes, musical instruments, furniture and more. Entry is 6 BGN.
Balabanov House – Built in the 19th century by a rich trader, Balabanov House is one of the most lavish houses in Plovdiv and features a permanent exhibition of modern Bulgarian art, as well as a Revivalist interior that you can admire. Entry is 5 BGN.
Nedkovich House – This house was the home of a fabric merchant and is one of the few houses that still retains items that were owned by the original owners. With unique ceiling carvings, ornate murals and a large collection of period furniture showing the European influence, Nedkovich house is very impressive. Entry is 5 BGN.
Hindliyan House – This house belonged to a very wealthy Armenian family and it has a water fountain inside that is continuously pouring out rose water – now that’s bougie! Landscapes of various cities are painted on the inside walls by hand, depicting everywhere from Stockholm to Venice. Entry is 5 BGN.
You can also visit the nearby city of Bansko to visit even more Revival houses and ethnographic museums if you still haven’t had your fill!
2. Soak up the café culture in the Kapana neighbourhood
Anyone who reads this blog will know I’m a sucker for a well-preserved Old Town, but the artsy Kapana neighbourhood in Plovdiv really won me over and I spent so much time there.
Kapana actually means ‘trap’ in Bulgarian, and you don’t have to spend long in the Kapana neighbourhood to realise how it got its name – its labyrinth of narrow streets definitely make it easy to remain ‘trapped’ in Kapana, as do the dozens of coffee shops, wine bars, antique shops and craft beer bars that line the sunny streets.
Some of my favourite places to grab a drink and watch the world go by in Kapana were Cat and Mouse Beer Bar, Plovdiv’s first craft beer bar with over 100 international craft beers (and even four of their own!) and Central Perk, because like every other 90s kid, I grew up with Friends!
3. Plovdiv’s amphitheatre
In the last decade of the 1st century AD, a beautiful new theatre was built in Philippopolis.
This theatre was used not only for public entertainment however; it also hosted the official meetings of the local governors. Each family had its own row and seats, and their names were engraved in stone. You can actually still see some of the names there today!
In summer, the amphitheatre holds concerts and opera performances, and it can seat a whopping 7000 people!
If you’re lucky enough to visit Plovdiv in the summer, you should definitely try and catch a performance here.
4. Enjoy the view from Nebet Tepe
Follow pretty much any path leading upwards in the Old Town and you will inevitably come to the highest point, Nebet Tepe, or the Watch Tower Hill.
Plovdiv’s first Neolithic settlement was established on the top of Nebet Tepe in around 6000 BC. The remains of another prehistoric settlement can still be seen here, from around 4800 to 4000 BC.
From here you can see sweeping panoramic views over the Carpathian Mountains, the Balkan Peninsula and the other five hills that surround the city.
One of the surrounding hills is home to a statue of a Soviet soldier which is hugely controversial.
Some allege that the statue is a symbol of Soviet oppression and should be destroyed, while others view it as a symbol of winning the fight against the Nazis.
There is also the ‘Hill of Time’. Nowadays the Hill of Time is home to a giant clock tower, but it has actually always been a hill of time, having first been inhabited by a giant sundial.
The seventh hill, the one that was flattened, was done so that the city of Plovdiv could be built in the first place.
And who destroyed it?
Wanting an easy life, they decided to flatten one of the hills and built the city of Plovdiv in its place.
5. Meet Plovdiv’s Casanova
With a big smile and even bigger ears, Miljo was a Plovdiv local who actually died very recently, in the 1980s.
He was not famous for anything in particular other than being a pretty stand up guy, singing to pretty ladies and pulling faces at kids on the street to make them laugh.
Everyone knew him as the local jokester, but he was also known for his sizeable – ahem – asset, resulting in him being somewhat of a local Casanova.
The legend goes that if you rub the knees of his statue, you will be lucky in love!
6. Find all the street art
Both Plovdiv Old Town and Kapana have an abundance of cool and quirky street art, and if you’re anything like me, you will find that one of the best things to do in Plovdiv is to amble around and see how much of it you find!
7. Visit Dzhumaya Mosque
Dzhumaya Mosque, or Friday Mosque, is one of the oldest and largest mosques in the Balkans and harks back to the days of Ottoman rule in Bulgaria.
Its dusky pink facade and Byzantine brickwork are very pretty, and it actually has nine domes rather than just one, which is the norm.
Inside are ornate decorations and large chandeliers, and it’s free to take a peep.
8. Stroll down the main pedestrian street
Knyaz Alexander I is the longest pedestrian street in Europe and is the place to be in the early evening, when everybody goes for their nightly stroll.
Plovdiv’s main shopping street has all of the international brands you’d expect, as well as local stores, cafes, gelaterias and more.
Shop till you drop during the day before getting a coffee or an ice cream and enjoying the evening stroll with local teenagers, dog walkers and gossiping grannies.
9. More Roman ruins!
At the beginning (or the end) of Plovdiv’s main shopping street are the remains of an ancient Roman stadium.
These partially uncovered amphitheatre ruins used to host gladiators, chariot racing and all of that other fun stuff that the Romans liked to do.
Unfortunately, only the steps at one side are visible as over 50 houses had to be destroyed to uncover just this, and so it wasn’t realistic (or reasonable!) to uncover the whole thing.
10. Get lost in the Old Town
No, I’m not being rude – I’m just telling you that one of the best things do to in Plovdiv Old Town is to put Google Maps away and just get lost!
There are countless archways and gates, narrow passageways and staircases leading to some of the prettiest buildings and gardens you’ll ever see.
Take your camera and get snap happy on the quiet streets of Plovdiv Old Town, and make sure to stop and say hi to some of the resident cats – they’re ever so friendly!
If I had to compare Plovdiv Old Town to anywhere, it would be Berat or Gjirokaster in Albania or Sighisoara in Romania.
11. Buy some souvenirs on the Street of Crafts
Venture through Plovdiv’s Hissar Kapia Medieval gate and you will find Strumna Street, also known as the ‘Street of Crafts.’
The Street of Crafts is a narrow cobblestoned alleyway leading downwards where you will find a handful of open houses selling traditional Bulgarian crafts.
Watch the weavers, potters and woodcarvers at work (maybe they’ll even let you join in!) and consider supporting them by purchasing a little souvenir.
12. Go on a Free Walking Tour!
Free Walking Tours are my favourite things to do in any city I visit because they allow you to see all of the major sites, learn a lot of history, and get an idea of where everything is.
The Free Walking Tour in Plovdiv is organised by the 365 Association, named so because they run tours EVERY SINGLE DAY at 11am and 6pm in summer months and 2pm in low season.
Of course, it is not really ‘free,’ and you are expected to tip at the end.
I usually tip 5 EUR in this part of Europe, but you can of course give more if you like.
13. Visit the Orthodox church of St Constantine and Helena
Built in the year 337 on the site of an old Pagan temple, this is one of the oldest churches in Plovdiv, and like any Orthodox church, it is ornately decorated inside and dripping with gold.
A fun fact about the Orthodox Church of St Constantine and Helena is that the church is surrounded by walls because during the Ottoman rule, churches were prohibited from being seen in the street. Since it has been rebuilt in recent years, the bell tower can be seen standing taller than the surrounding walls.
14. Have a Turkish coffee at Dukiana Coffee Roaster
Although there are certainly lots of choices when it comes to coffee in Plovdiv, Dukiana Coffee Roaster is an impossibly cute little coffee house with almost every type of coffee imaginable, rustic décor and a friendly barista, making it a top choice.
It’s also not pretentious, which, given the above, is quite a feat.
I ordered a sweet Turkish coffee (also known as Bulgarian coffee, Albanian coffee, Serbian coffee…you get the idea) and I was not disappointed.
Best restaurants in Plovdiv
Veggic is a cute vegan café in the Kapana neighbourhood that I went to a couple of times when I visited Plovdiv.
The first time I ordered a simple salad with vegan cheese, and when I went back I had a delicious meal of seitan with porcini mushrooms, brown rice and a sauce made from soy sauce and garlic.
Not only was the food at Veggic divine, but the staff were all super friendly too!
Other goodies on the menu include a grilled tofu doner kebab, tempeh burrito, a jackfruit burger and more.
Whilst on my walking tour, the guide recommended the restaurant Pavaj, saying that it was one of the best restaurants in Plovdiv.
Pavaj is indeed incredibly popular, so it is advisable to book in advance. I popped in in the afternoon and was able to reserve a table for later that evening.
Enjoy dishes such as veal cheeks, horse tenderloin and Balkan trout, and don’t forget to order the Tarator soup to start – a classic Balkan dish.
Veggie options include zucchini balls and fried red peppers stuffed with cheese.
17. Rahat Tepe Beer House
Rahat Tepe Beer House is a Bulgarian BBQ grill and beer house on the top of Nebet Tepe.
Offering gorgeous panoramic views and with both indoor and outdoor seating, Rahat Tepe also has the largest range of beers in the city.
Culinary delights include slow cooked pork ribs, veal meatballs and chicken skewers.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can order duck heart, tripe in butter, grilled chicken giblets and even tongue.
Their veggie BBQ includes eggplant, marrow, carrots, onion, mushrooms, peppers and tomato, served on a hot clay plate.
Smokini was also recommended by my tour guide, and considered one of the best restaurants in Plovdiv.
Smokini is very reasonably priced for the quality of food they offer, and their menu includes slow roasted veal cheeks, lemon risotto with salmon and sea bass fillet with crispy broccoli.
Veggie options include pasta with green pesto, zucchini and cherry tomatoes, chickpea meatballs and salad with figs, blue cheese and sunflower seeds.
I went for quinoa with pesto and roasted veg and it was gorgeous.
Another great restaurant I went to in the Kapana neighbourhood, Amsterdam is very focused on meat (I had smoked slow-cooked pork ribs and my friend went for three types of sausage with spiced mustard), but there are some vegetarian options on the menu too, albeit mostly in the starters section.
These include spinach and cheese tartlets, baked eggplant stuffed with goat’s cheese and baked polenta with pepper butter and mixed greens.
Where to stay in Plovdiv
If you’re visiting Plovdiv, you just have to stay in the Old Town.
Plovdiv Old Town has tonnes of accommodation options, from luxury hotels and quaint guesthouses to budget hostels.
Here are my picks for Plovdiv hotels and other accommodation in the Old Town:
Luxury – Gallery 37 – Gallery 37 is an elegant 5-star hotel offering all the facilities you could possibly want and décor that is traditional yet modern. Tufted window seats, charming views and plush carpets make this an excellent choice.
Click here to view rates and availability at Gallery 37
Quirky – Saborna 25 – Saborna 25 Guest House is delightfully quirky. Every room has a totally different design and colour scheme, with total attention to detail. Exposed brick, solid oak furniture, Turkish lamps are just some of what you can expect in this guest house. The Executive Queen Room even has its own private sauna!
Click here to view rates and availability at Saborna 25
For families – Blacksmith’s House – Blacksmith’s House is a 3-bedroom townhouse in Plovdiv Old Town with a bohemian interior and private terrace. Have your home away from home in Plovdiv.
Click here to view rates and availability at Blacksmith’s House
Traditional – Guest House Old Plovdiv – Step back in time at Guest House Old Plovdiv. With carved wooden ceilings, Bulgarian Revival furnishings and plenty of rich mahogany, you will feel like a Bulgarian aristocrat in Guest House Old Plovdiv.
Click here to view rates and availability at Guest House Old Plovdiv.
What to know before visiting Plovdiv
The currency in Bulgaria is the Bulgarian lev. 1 BGN is about 0.50 EUR.
Plovdiv is a very safe city. Of course, you should always exercise common sense and keep an eye on your valuables, but generally Plovdiv is safe, especially for solo female travellers.
With that said, if you’re planning a trip to Plovdiv, then I strongly recommend buying travel insurance. I NEVER travel without insurance, and I’ve seen so many others get landed with huge medical bills as a result of not having had insurance, that it’s something I’ll never neglect to buy. My recommendation for great travel insurance is World Nomads
Most people working in bars, restaurants and cafes will speak English very well.
Bulgaria as a whole is pretty cheap, but Plovdiv is one of the cheapest places. Most attractions cost just a couple of EUR, you can get a nice meal for 7/8 EUR and a pint of beer will cost just over 1 EUR.
Plovdiv is a very walkable city and you can see all of the major Plovdiv attractions on foot.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria – Final Thoughts
Plovdiv is an absolutely charming city.
It is quaint, it is quiet and it is beautiful.
Its people are impossibly cool, yet super friendly.
There are artists, musicians, and writers, but yet nothing feels pretentious.
Everyone is just ailyak, relaxed, and that is a vibe that I can get down with.
Whether you’re a backpacker on a budget, a couple looking for a romantic city break, or even a family, Plovdiv will not disappoint.
As always, if you have any questions then please leave them in the comments section below!
Until next time,
P.S. If you are planning a trip to Bulgaria and are looking for ideas of where to visit, check out this post for 25 places to visit in Bulgaria!
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