22 Things to Do in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
As my husband and I drove from our home in Antalya, Turkey, to northern Germany, we had no idea what to expect but knew that this would be an adventure and an experience of a lifetime. My husband planned the route, and I prepared all the sightseeing and activities at each destination along the way.
Our first stop was in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. When most people think of Bulgaria, the only city that comes to mind is Sofia. However, I highly recommend that you visit Plovdiv with its vibrant history, cultural heritage, monuments, and beautiful sights. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, with over 6,000 years of continuous human settlement, from Roman ruins to Ottoman influences, to Bulgarian National Revival architecture. It is also the second-largest city in the country.
Plovdiv was chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2019, making it more appealing for tourists. With that in mind, you would think of seeing crowds of people flocking to this destination, but it is a quiet city as it is still considered off the beaten path from other hot destinations in the world. Therefore, it makes for a perfect place for an enjoyable visit before it becomes overcrowded with tourists.
Plovdiv City Card
First, to make it easier to visit multiple attractions for free and get discounts at various restaurants, shops, I suggest purchasing a Plovdiv City Card. You could buy different options depending on how long you’re staying and who is traveling with you. It also comes with a handy app that gives you up-to-date information about other locations and helps you find the fastest routes to help you plan your trip more efficiently.
Sightseeing in Plovdiv
Ancient Roman Theatre
One of the most symbolic sights of Plovdiv is the massive amphitheater in the center of the Old Town, dating back to the 1st century AD, and is still being used for performances today. It is one of the best-preserved amphitheaters in the world.
Many concerts are being held regularly, especially in the warmer months. The International Folklore Festival, The Opera Open Festival, as well as “Sounds of the Ages’ rock festival are held here. During our visit, we were able to enjoy the rehearsal of the music performance taking place.
- Hours: April – October 9:00 – 18:00; November – March 9:00 – 17:00
- Fee: 5 Leva (which is around $2.50) or Free with a Plovdiv City Card.
- Location is here
Ancient Forum (part of Ancient Philippopolis)
People have inhabited Plovdiv since the 6th millennium BC, but what got it noticed was Philippopolis in Thrace. So don’t skip seeing the Philippopolis forum! The forums were the center of commercial and public life in the city. It is located near the post office and General Gurko Street. The location is here.
Hisar Kapia (Eastern Gate)
It was initially built in the 11th century AD. It was in celebration of Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the city, leading to Byzantium. However, the gate we see today was built in later centuries following invasions of the city by the Goths. Lost for centuries, it was rediscovered in the 1970s. The location is here.
Plovdiv Roman Stadium
Plovdiv Roman Stadium
I know it may be unclear, but the Roman Stadium is separate from the amphitheater and is NOT as well preserved. However, you can see some of the remains of the “sfendona,” which is the curved part of the stadium with a gate and several rows of seats.
The stadium once held approximately 30,000 spectators and was one of the most prominent examples of Roman ruins found in the Balkans region. Unfortunately, it is located right at the foot of the Dzhumaya Mosque, running underneath many shops, so it is pretty easy to overlook. The location can be found here.
Plovdiv is known throughout history as the city built on the seven hills. This means that there are some amazing views from many of the hills, one of which is Nebet Hill near Old Town Plovdiv.
This hill is a massive Roman fortress complex that unfortunately isn’t in good condition and lacks information but is a great place for a panoramic view of Plovdiv. Today, all that remains are the walls and some of the towers. The location is here.
View from Nebet Hill
Sahat Tepe (Hill)
Another of the seven hills, Sahat Tepe (meaning “clock hill”), is crowned with a unique clock tower. Being over 400 years old, the tower has managed to withstand the test of time. Watch the sunset or sunrise from the tower will give you a chance to see the city’s stone walls turn almost golden, showcasing the beauty of the Plovdiv. The location is here.
Kapana (which translates to “the trap”) once was the heart of the town for merchants and craftspeople. It is known as the creative district of the city. Here you will find beautiful street art, decorative cafes and restaurants with delicious food, and other unique and interesting shops to visit. The location is here.
The Old Town
A must-see while in Plovdiv is the Old Town. Included in the UNESCO World Heritage in 2004, the Old Town is an architectural and historical treasure. As you walk the cobblestone streets, you feel the spirit of the Bulgarian revival period throughout history.
Many old wooden houses have been restored to their original design and display a plaque telling their historical background. Some of these homes have turned into museums open for you to admire. The three most famous museum houses are the Balabanov, Hindian, and Nedkovich houses. The location is here.
The Hindliyan house, impressive with its decorative façade and details covering the walls, belonged to a wealthy Armenian family of traders. Inside the house, you’ll find a water fountain, out of which there is rose water constantly pouring out. The location is here.
This house museum serves as a representation of the life of wealthy traders during the 19th century.
- Fees: Average fee to enter is 5 leva ($2.50 pp) or free with a Plovdiv City Card.
- Tip: If you plan to see multiple of these museum houses, it is wise to buy the “combined ticket” for 15 leva that allow you entry into five different spots in the Old Town. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket booth for the Ancient Amphitheater. The location is here.
Located in Old Town, it is the only dervish monastery of this kind, which is actually Islamic. The monastery has not been used since the 19th century; therefore, all that remains is the dancing hall which has been converted into a restaurant. Some interesting murals to see, and it is an enjoyable building to walk around.
- It is free to enter. The location is here.
The Regional Ethnographic Museum
In Old Town, the Kuyumdzhieva house is also the home of the Regional Ethnographic Museum. The façade is beautifully decorated in Baroque style, and the inside is an accurate representation of the design during its historical times.
The museum covers much of the history of Plovdiv and is one of the best museums to visit if you want to learn more extensively through cultural artifacts. It has six different rooms covering different periods and cultures, with 40,000 various exhibits.
Enjoy the beautiful garden as you enter, with water fountains and sculptures throughout to admire. The location is here.
- Entrance Fee: 5 leva
The Regional Ethnographic Museum
The Church of St. Konstantin and Elena
Church of St. Konstantin and Elena
Although it is one of the oldest churches in Plovdiv, the current structure owes its appearance to nineteenth-century renovations. This church stands on the ruins of the ancient fortress walls of the city. The iconic design is done in the “Vienna style” is worth a visit! The location is here.
Mural Outside St. Konstantin and Elena
Church of the Holy Mother of God
Church of the Holy Mother of God
The Church of the Holy Mother of God, the full name is Cathedral Church of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, is a Bulgarian National Revival church. The church was built in 1844 and was known as the main church of Plovdiv.
It is a beautiful site to see at night! The location is here.
From the Ottoman occupation of Bulgaria, the Dzhumaya Mosque is the only mosque left standing in Plovdiv and dated back to 1363. Thus, the architecture left a visible imprint of the Ottoman era within Plovdiv.
As you enter the mosque, look at the colorful lanterns that align the outside of the café nearby.
- It is free to enter, and a modest dress is required (no shorts or a headscarf is available at the entrance). The location is here.
The Regional Archeological Museum
This museum officially opened in 1882. It houses a collection of 1,500 coins, ethnographic and historical documents, church plates, incunabula from the VIII – XVII c., and 300 icons and paintings by some of the most famous Bulgarian painters. The location is here.
Natural History Museum and the Planetarium
If you are traveling with kids or truly love nature, visit the Natural History Museum. It is filled with hundreds of species of aquatic life, a planetarium to explore space, and a terrarium with spiders, water dragons, turtles, and other forms of terrestrial life. The location is here.
If you want to get another great viewpoint of Plovdiv, visit the Alyosha Monument. The monument serves as a memorial for the Soviet casualties during the Soviet occupation of the country during World War II. Today, Bulgarians do not like to be reminded of this period, and so many have petitioned to have it removed but failed. The location is here.
- Warning: It is a 30-40 minute hike to climb to the top.
Tsar Simeon Garden
Tsar Simeon Garden
Located at the end of Main Street, this ancient garden was designed in 1879 by Swiss landscape architect. It is a beautiful place to walk and enjoy the beds of flowers and the cascading trees that shade the pathways.
In the center are restored fountain and Viennese pavilion. Not only is it a gorgeous place to see during the day it is also a great place to visit at night to view the music and light show of the Singing/Dancing Water Fountains (held every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 21:30). The location is here.
Cultural Center-Museum Trakart
The Roman-era mosaics, dating from the 4th century AD, are some of the beautiful floor mosaics that remain well preserved. The museum is small in size but offers some of the most extraordinary third and fourth-century mosaics to be seen.
Also, you will find glass art, portraits, ceramics, complete figurines, and more artifacts from this region. The location is here.
- Fee: 2 leva or free with Plovdiv City Card
While walking the Knyaz Alexander I Street, stop and take a selfie at the Together Monument. “Together” is Plovdiv’s official slogan in the bid to be the European Capital of Culture for 2019, emphasizing the importance of creating and nurturing unity in the city. The location is here.
Kynaz Alexander I Street
Knyaz Alexander I Street
Knyaz Alexander I Street is also known as the Main Street of Plovdiv, the largest pedestrian thoroughfares. It is the main shopping street, with international chains, many cafes, and restaurants to choose from while visiting the city.
The Main Street also connects several important sightseeing attractions such as the Together Monument, Dzhumaya Mosque, the Roman Stadium, and the Kapana neighborhood to the Old Town. The location is here.
A stunning waterway, the Maritsa River, runs down the middle of the city. The river separates central Plovdiv from the more residential part of Plovdiv. If the weather is nice, it is a great place to stroll or rent a bicycle and ride alongside the river for some great sightseeing. The location is here.
Where to Eat in Plovdiv
Central Perk, named after the coffee shop in the television show Friends, is a great place to watch people sipping a cup of coffee within the Kapana neighborhood.
Pavaj is a favorite Bulgarian restaurant offering a modern twist located in the Kapana district. It is best to make a reservation to ensure you a table. Otherwise, be prepared to wait.
Cat & Mouse is a hipster place to enjoy craft beer brewed locally. It is a great place to try something new and has a fun atmosphere.
Monkey House serves up some of the best coffee in Plovdiv. The indoor décor is fun, with wheelbarrow seats making it a unique experience.
Dayana Restaurant offers authentic Bulgarian cuisine. It is spiced and grilled meats, Bulgarian draft beer, and much more. The atmosphere is homey, and the service is friendly.
Gusto Restaurant, located near Main Street, offers some fantastic pizza made with a crispy crust and a delicious salad. The service was excellent.
Niko Sweet House offers some unique ice cream flavors to taste. The day we visited, it was quite hot outside, and looking for something cold to eat, we ordered black cherry ice cream, which was yummy!
If you are considering travel to Bulgaria, I highly recommend making Plovdiv one of your destinations. I was surprised at the beauty this city had to offer, along with so many historical sites to explore.
Wine Tour: Although you wouldn’t think of Bulgaria when you think of wine, they produce some delicious wine in Eastern Europe. With over 32 internationally recognized wine cellars, wine tours in Plovdiv are a must-do! In addition, I recommend Bulgarian roses from the Thracian Valley.
Walking Tour: Although I have never been a fan of tour groups, I recommend taking a FREE Plovdiv Walking Tour. This will give you a great perspective of the city along with historical information that you may not get otherwise.
- Duration: approximately 2 hours
- Offered every day: May – September 11:00 – 18:00; October – April: 14:00
- Meeting point: Municipality Building of Plovdiv (the Town Hall)
- Fee: Free, but I recommend tipping the guide.
Kapana Tour: This is a creative district of the Plovdiv tour. Here you will learn the stories, get to know its inhabitants and their crafts, witness a few workshops, and even get the chance to create something for yourself!
- Duration: 2 hours
- Offered Every Saturday and Sunday; May-September: 11:00; October-April: 14:00
- Meeting Point: Municipality Building of Plovdiv )the Town Hall)
- Fee: $10 (18 leva)
I am a big fan of street art, and Plovdiv is vibrant with street art throughout the city. You will find a range of kooky, quirky, and cutesy to more profound and political pieces.
Plovdiv offers a free street art tour if you are interested and want to get some amazing photographs. During the tour, you will get more in-depth information about the artist, techniques, and history of the artist, as well as about Plovdiv.
Where to Stay in Plovdiv
Hill House Plovdiv is a well-designed boutique hotel located in the heart of the city, making it easy to walk to any of the major sightseeing spots in the city. We enjoyed visiting with the owner Suavi, who directed us to places to see and was very helpful. Delicious breakfast is included!
Hotel Evmolpia is a gorgeous antique furnished and elegantly decorated hotel that fits in the 19th-century vibe of the Old Town. Bathrooms have been modernized and give you a sense of both worlds.
Residence City Garden is a luxury hotel with spacious rooms and high ceilings, decorated with antique-style furnishings. The bathrooms are beautiful and extremely modern, with lovely bathtubs (very unusual for Europe) to soak in after a long day of sightseeing.
Here is another blog about Sofia, Bulgaria: Travel Guide to Sofia, Bulgaria
Enjoy your travels! Please read my blog about other exciting places around the world at Traveling Lens Photography.
Inshallah! ( God willing)