Have you heard of Plovdiv in Bulgaria? I had not before planning our trip through Bulgaria. How Plovdiv stays unknown I am not sure. I think that is about to change in 2019 when Plovdiv is one of Europe’s Capitals of Culture. So before everyone discovers it, here’s 4 great reasons why you need to visit Plovdiv.
Within Bulgaria, Plovdiv is the cool, creative town- hosting international events such as One Design Week, One Dance Week and One Architecture Week.
And it does have an infectious vibe about it. The main part of town features a beautiful, wide, pedestrian street with lots of cafes, shops and public spaces.
Kynaz Aleksander I (The Pedestrian Street) in Plovdiv
Kynaz Aleksander I is the main pedestrian Boulevard from the Maritza River in the north of town to the Garden of Tsar Simeon Park in the south. There is a bit of everything along this wide, beautiful street.
If you are looking for street side cafes, shopping or a place to just relax and enjoy watching the world go by, this is the place. Bustling for much of the day and into the evening, Kynaz Aleksander I is definitely the heart of Plovdiv.
Free Plovdiv Tour
Like Sofia, Plovdiv also has a free walking tour run by the local, university students and volunteers. It is a great way to learn the history of the city and is highly recommended when you visit Plovdiv. It runs daily and will take you through the center of town, the highlights of the Roman ruins and into the Old Town.
There is also a self paced walking tour available online, if you prefer exploring on your own.
Ancient History in Plovdiv
Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe, with settlement here for over 8000 years! The center of Plovdiv provides easy access to astoundingly, well-preserved, Roman ruins and this alone is one of the reasons to visit Plovdiv. Some of the highlights:
The Mosaics are near the train station just off the pedestrian street (it is marked on the tourist map). These mosaics, while not huge are well preserved and worth a look. Very similar to the mosaics and work (albeit on a much smaller scale) that we saw in Cyprus.
The Roman Forum
While nowhere near the size of the ruins of the Forum in Rome, it is astounding these ruins of the Roman Forum are so central in Plovdiv. You can see the similarity to the layout of the Forum in Rome.
The Roman Hippodrome
The ancient hippodrome runs under Kynaz Aleksander I, the main pedestrian street. Part of it has been excavated and you can visit it (entry is near the old Mosque- just look for the minaret). You can also see the remains of the hippodrome in one of the basement shopping complexes near the museum entrance. The columns have been preserved and incorporated into the current shopping complex.
The Roman Ampitheater
The highlight of the Roman ruins in Plovdiv is the old Roman ampitheater overlooking the town. The views are spectacular from here. And if you are there in summer, don’t miss the opportunity to see the opera in the theater. This was very affordable and an experience of a lifetime. Imagine sitting in an old Roman ampitheater, overlooking the city watching one of the world’s great opera’s. This has been one of the highlight of all of our travels. Just amazing!
The theater was built in the 2nd century AD and originally held 6000-7000 people. It was “discovered” in the 1970’s, and has since undergone extensive excavation and restoration.
The Old Town of Plovdiv
The architecture and buildings in the Old Town reflect Plovdiv’s wealth. Prosperous merchants from Bulgaria, Greece and Armenia built large walled and gated houses in this part of town.
The upper stories of the buildings feature elaborate painting and trim and buttress out over the cobble stone streets. (Make sure you wear comfortable shows as these streets are not even!)
The Ethnographic Museum (Kîyumdzioglu House) is in one of these mansions in the Old Town of Plovdiv. It is a good museum to gain an understanding of the culture and customs of Bulgaria. It is a small museum full of information.
We had noticed a lot of people smoke in Bulgaria and it turns out Bulgaria grows a lot of tobacco and always has!
Plovdiv is surrounded by seven historical hills (like many Roman cities) you can walk to the top of several of them for spectacular views of Plovdiv. Perhaps the easiest viewpoint to reach is in the Old Town. (You will go there on the free walking tour.)
If You Visit Plovdiv
During our visit we stayed in an apartment we found on AirBnB. If you have not used AirBnB you can find out tips for using AirBnB to find great accommodation all over the world. You can use this link for a credit off your first stay.
We also recommend Booking.com if you prefer to stay in a hotel while you visit Plovdiv. There is a range of hotel options in Plovdiv. Staying within walking distance of the pedestrian street provides walking access to all of the activities referenced in this post.
Like Sofia, it is a very affordable destination. Bus transport between Plovdiv and Sofia is easy, cheap and frequent on modern buses. Once in Plovdiv you can take a taxi from the bus station to your accommodation. Most things you will want to visit can be reached by walking or a quick taxi ride.