Are you one of those people who are not looking just to the famous and popular destinations to travel? If yes, then you probably know that there are thousands of hidden gems around the world. And indeed, there is much more to see, beyond London, Paris, New York and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Some of these hidden gems are in the ends of the world, but others are just “one step from you”. Among them is Plovdiv, an ancient and modern city in Bulgaria, in the Balkans. Let’s make a journey to Plovdiv and see how a perfect one-day trip there would look like.
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A Perfect Day in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Plovdiv in the morning
No matter what time of the year you have arrived in Plovdiv, the city is always sleepy, silent and relaxed in the morning. In winter it can be freezing cold and iced, and in summer- fresh and cool. Sometimes it could be rainy (mainly in spring or autumn), but not for too long. But each new days is full of good expectations and you should start preparing for your Plovdiv day tour, preferably- earlier (8:30 am would be a good time to leave your hotel). And first, you should have some delicious local breakfast.
Where to eat breakfast
If you want to feel like a local, it would be better to try what the locals like to eat in the morning. And one of the best traditional breakfast meals is “Banitsa” (баница). It is a kind of pastry, usually filled with cheese and eggs, sometimes with some meat. There are also sweet versions of the banitsa, filled with fruit (apple, strawberry or other) jam or even by chocolate.
There are fast food stalls with banitsa and some other kinds of breakfast everywhere around Plovdiv. You most likely could find it near the bus stops or squares. When you buy your banitsa, add a drink. There are two kinds of drinks that the local people like. The first one is called “ayran” and it is a kind of yoghurt mixed with water. And the other drink is called “boza”. It is sweet with slightly sour taste, made by fermented wheat. Both are well combined with the banitsa.
Top things to do and places to visit in the morning
After your breakfast, it would be time to start your Plovdiv tour. The best starting point is the Central Square and the bus stop at Trimontium Hotel. Plovdiv has a very long history with a lot of remains, so it would be proper to start your day with ancient historical sites.
The Roman remains at Central Square
You can see the first ancient remains immediately when you start your tour. They are dated between the 1st and the 4th centuries AD and presented the center of the ancient Philippolis (the old name of the city) during the Roman era. There are two sites in and beside the Central Square- the Roman Forum and the Odeon of Philippopolis. The Roman Forum ruins can be seen between the boulevard Tsar Boris III and the Central Post building. And the Odeon is located on the north side of boulevard Maria Louiza.
The Forum has been the main area of the Roman government managing the city, and the Odeon has served as the main cultural center. Just like in ancient times, now there are often various cultural events held there, such as drama, musical concerts and many more.
From the Central Square, your Plovdiv day walk can proceed to the last subway under Tsar Boris III boulevard before the tunnel on the north. You will notice the ancient stoned floor of the subway, and on your left, you will see a small museum, called Trakart. It is a remnant of an ancient noble house with a high-class mosaic decorated floor and many other artifacts.
Great Basilica and Ancient Synagogue
When you cross on the other side of the subway, there is the next important site- the Great Basilica and the Ancient Synagogue (currently in renovation and soon will be opened!). These two religious buildings have been important worshipping centers, flourished during the period from the 2nd to the 6th centuries AD. And the new tourist site which represents them is designed to show their full glory to the visitors soon.
Right north of the Great Basilica, you can see the Catholic Cathedral of St. Louis. Bear in mind that Bulgaria is a Christian Orthodox country, and the presence of Catholicism in Plovdiv only emphasizes the city’s rich cultural variety. So, if your Plovdiv tour is on Sunday, you can take a look at the local service.
Proceed on your Plovdiv day walk eastward on the left side of Maria Louiza boulevard. After 10 mins you will see the artistic architecture of the Minor Basilica Museum. It is another ancient religious center, again dated from the late Antiquity (late Roman and early Byzantine era). There you can see interesting remains from the ancient building, and watch a movie about the ancient glory of Plovdiv.
After the Minor Basilica visit, you can back to Central Square. The estimated time for the first walk can be around 2 hours. And now you are ready for the next part of your Plovdiv day.
Walk on the Plovdiv’s Main Street
The Main Street of Plovdiv (called by the locals „Glavnata”- „Главната”) is one of the most important faces of the city. It is a pedestrian street, starting from the Central Square, and heading northward to Maritza River. The street has two main sections, divided by the historic Dzhumaya Square. In your morning time, you can walk in its southern section.
There are many attractions on Main Street. First, there are a lot of cafes, clothes and souvenir shops. And there are two notorious landmarks. The first one is Stefan Stambolov Square with a fountain pond on it.
In fact, almost nobody in Plovdiv knows this name of the square, but everybody calls it “Kopchetata” (“Копчетата”), which means “The Buttons”, due to the button-like seats installed beside the pond fountain. There are often some activities in this square, mainly folklore performances by artists from all over the world.
And the next place is „Kamenitsa” („Каменица”), a smaller square with stairs leading to the nearby Sahat Tepe hill. It is a good instagrammable place, and there you can notice a statue of a man with a cap, sitting beside the stairs, with his left hand on its ear.
This is the Milyo statue, dedicated to Milyo- a man with some brain sickness, lived in Plovdiv during the last century, regularly walking on Main Street and giving flowers to the passing ladies. He died some 40 years ago, but the people of Plovdiv remembered him with warm feelings and an artist made this statue of him.
The Roman Stadium
Finally, you will reach Dzhumaya Square, which is on the northern end of the Roman Stadium. Dzhumaya Square is not a „normal” square, but with a large „hole” on it, covering most of its territory. This hole is a part of the Roman Stadium and you can descend to its bottom, sit on its ancient terraced seats or watch a movie about it.
Then, on the northeastern side of the square is another historical building- Dzhumaya Mosque, dating from the Ottoman Empire era. However, it is an active Muslim religious center and if you want to enter inside, you have to follow the rules for entering. But its architecture is very attractive from the outside too.
At that point, it would be eventually time for lunch. The whole southern section of the Main Steet can be walked in 10-15 mins without stopping, and with stops, you can plan at least 30 mins. And when you reach Dzhumaya Square, you can choose a place to eat.
Where to eat lunch
Once you reach Dzhumaya Square, you have plenty of options for lunch. If you are looking for a longer, relaxing and luxury restaurant, you can try Smokini, just on the neighboring Otets Paisiy street. And for a more budget choice, proceed to the northern side of Dzhumaya Mosque. There are a lot of fast food options, bars and other kinds of restaurants in the area. This area is called “Kapana”, and it can be your main destination for the evening.
Top things to do and places to visit in the afternoon
After your lunch, it would be time for the Old Town of Plovdiv- a must-see area of the city, full of landmarks, mystery, old-time atmosphere, and beauty. It is established on a triple hill, called Trimontium. So, back to Dzhumaya Square and head eastward on Saborna street. Soon you will walk on stoned alleys among old traditional houses from the Bulgarian Revival era.
Your route gradually turns northward and after 10 mins walk you will arrive in Hisar Kapiya Square- an emblematic place in the Old Town of Plovdiv. On your right side, you will see the oldest Orthodox church in the city- „St Constantine and Helena”, surrounded by an ancient wall.
Turn left. After the next square, you will see two of the best old houses in Plovdiv- Balaban and Hindliyan. They are turned into museums, representing the life of the wealthy families once lived there, some 150 years ago. Now you can see all the furniture, decorations and art pieces from that time.
Then back again to Hisar Kapiya Square, and this time proceed northward, to the highest point of Trimontium, called Nebet Tepe. Here you can see the oldest remains of ancient Plovdiv, dated back to 1000-1500 BC, from the earliest Thracian era. These are remains of the oldest fortress on the hill. You can also easily recognize the much later Roman wall remains in the same place. And maybe the most important reason to be on this spot is the stunning view to Plovdiv from above- one of the best panoramic views to the city.
Back again to Hisar Kapiya Square. Right on the northeast angle of the square is one of the most important museums of Plovdiv- the Ethnographic Museum, a must-visit site in your Old Town walk. It is established in one of the most beautiful Revival houses in the area and exhibits artifacts of all sides of the Revival era life in Plovdiv and the surrounding area.
Finally, before you leave this square, take some photos in one of the most instagrammable places in Plovdiv- Hisar Kapiya itself, from which the square has its name. It is an arc gate on the remains of the Medieval fortress wall and is one of the Plovdiv’s symbols.
Pass through the gate, turn right and follow the wall, then proceed on the narrow alleys of the Old Town southward. Finally, you will reach the most significant site of the Old Town and the whole Plovdiv- the Ancient Roman Theater.
The Ancient Roman Theater
It is one of the most emblematic sites, not only in Plovdiv, but in the whole Balkan Peninsula! The Ancient Roman Theater is built on the southern slopes of Trimontium, which makes a natural terraced slope for the theater’s seats. Like in ancient times, now it is used for theater plays, folklore performances, symphonic and even rock concerts. And all this is combined with a stunning view to the city and the Rhodope Mountains behind it.
The whole Old Town walk would take at least 2 hours, but to fully enjoy it, I would recommend to explore it for at least 3-4 hours, visiting all these spots slowly and in detail. Finally, you can back to Dzhumaya Square, preparing for the coming evening.
Where to eat dinner
Head to the Kapana neighborhood; not only for dinner but for the whole evening, if you like this kind of nightlife. Many of the best restaurants, bars and night clubs are located in Kapana, and the whole atmosphere there is quite a party at night.
Kapana (Капана) is a small neighborhood, located just beside the northern section of Main Street. Its name means “The Trap” because most of its streets are quite short and designed as a network like a maze, in which you could „get lost”. It is a quite attractive and nice place during the day (that’s why I suggest it for your lunch too), and the night.
So, dinner in Kapana could be a good idea. Among some of the best places to eat are the restaurants Pavaj, Aylyakriya, and Terzo Mondo, where you can try Bulgarian traditional cuisine in its best quality.
Then, you can move to some of the bars and the night clubs. Here are the names of the best of them: No Sence, Cat & Mouse, Monkey House, Central Perk and The Nylon. I would especially recommend the last two of them. Central Perk is designed to recreate the popular environment from “Friends” TV series. And The Nylon has a more authentic and art atmosphere. Finally, if you like dancing, the best place nearby is Club Marmalad.
Above is the best evening and nightlife recommendation in Plovdiv. But if you are not into such kind of activities and would like something different and unusual, I have another suggestion. Plovdiv is built on and around several hills. One of them is called Bunardzhika (or Alyosha, as you can see in Google Maps). This is the one that you can easily recognize with the monument of the “Soviet Soldier” (there are a lot of controversies about this monument because it represents the Communist past of the city, but history is history, so it has already become one of the Plovdiv’s landmarks).
You can hike to its top and watch the city and all of its noises in the night. It is not the highest hill of Plovdiv, the neighboring one, called Youth Hill (or Dzhendem Tepe, as the locals know it) is the highest one, but it is farther from the Plovdiv’s center.
Where to stay (a few budget, middle, splurge)
Plovdiv is a tourist city, so there are hotels, hostels, and guesthouses for all kinds of budget. Here are some options.
The prices in Plovdiv for budget hotels are between 50 and 70 BGN. Here are some good hotels:
Downtown Plovdiv Family Hotel- northwest of Danov Hill (Sahat Tepe). If you sleep there, you can walk on Main Street to Central Square early in the morning, but it has its own charm too.
Riverside Apartments Plovdiv- a nice property with a good view to Maritza River. Located in the northern part of Plovdiv, so you have to cross the river through the covered bridge, which is the northern end of the Main Street. Otherwise, just take a taxi to “Trimontium” bus stop.
Nord Hotel- located in the same area as Riverside Apartments, it is actually a luxury part of Plovdiv, with some good evening and nightlife options.
Saborna 25 Guesthouse- its location is excellent, in the western part of the Old Town, and near Kapana. Besides, it is designed and ornamented in folk traditional style.
The middle range hotels in Plovdiv are between 70 and 200 BGN. See some options below.
Business hotel Plovdiv- a beautiful hotel, located not far from the Railway Station.
The Stay Hotel Central Square- is located at an excellent location- right beside the “Button Square” at Main Street.
Expo Hotel- it is a popular hotel for tour groups. Located near the “Alyosha Hill”.
Hotel Dafi- it is located in Kapana, so it is great if you spend your evening in this area.
Prices of the splurge hotels in Plovdiv start from 200 BGN and above. They are not too many, but among them, I would mention the following:
Residence City Garden- located near Central Park, which is great if you visit Plovdiv in summer and enjoy “The Singing Fountains” in the evening.
Grand Hotel Plovdiv- located in the luxury northern area beyond the river. It offers a lot of entertainment, including Spa, Sport and swimming centers, casinos nearby, bars and clubs.
Art & Culture Villa- it is located in Kapana, and is designed and decorated in old traditional style and art.
Best time to visit Plovdiv
All the seasons are good for visiting Plovdiv, but in my opinion, summer is the best, because you can find most activities at that time. Folklore performances (not only Bulgarian, but from all over the world), Singing fountains in the Central Park, rock concerts and many others are usually places in summer. The only uncomfortable thing at that time is the heat at noon and early afternoon, which sometimes can reach up to 36-38 C, even more.
Another good time to visit Plovdiv is around Christmas and New Year. At that time the city is richly decorated and there are usually a lot of open-air market stalls on the Main Street.
5 fun facts about Plovdiv
- Plovdiv is the oldest constantly living city in Europe. It has passed through a lot of destruction and rebuilding. When people rebuilt it, they did it on the old ruins, so the history in Plovdiv is layered. No wonder when you see most of the Roman remains a few meters below the modern ground.
- The Main Street of Plovdiv is the longest pedestrian street in Europe and one of the longest in the world.
- The Roman Stadium is located and hidden under Main Street. You can see only 5% of it in Dzhumaya Square. But if you want to see more, you can visit some of the malls on Main Street, such as HnM and Excelsior. There you can see something of it under the floor.
- Don’t Ask For Directions!?! Many places that you can see in Google Maps (as you maybe already noticed) are actually unknown for the people of Plovdiv (so don’t ask them for directions, they don’t know). Instead, these places have other local names which you can’t find in Google but are very popular there. One of them is Main Street. It is officially named in Google as “Knyaz Alexander I” (for the southern section) and “Rayko Daskalov” (for the northern section). Almost nobody knows these names. So just ask for “Glavnata” (Main Street in Bulgarian).
- Plovdiv has been called “The City of the Seven Hills”. Now there are only six hills (the smallest one has been gradually destroyed in the past). And three of the hills are united in “Trimontium”, so in fact, you can see only four hills. Nevertheless, the sobriquet “Seven Hill City” still remains.
Foods you must try in Plovdiv
Plovdiv has a typical European cuisine. But there is one meal which has an oriental origin. It is a soup, called „Shkembe Chorba” (Tripe chorba). The soup is made by tripes and usually, such ingredients like vinegar, garlic and chili peppers are added. As a result, it has a very strong taste. It is great for the cold weather and can literally make you feel warm. But for summer, you can try it just for attraction, and you can find it only in some bigger restaurants.
You can’t miss the wine of Plovdiv
Yes, the Bulgarian wine is not the most famous one in the world, but it is ranked as one of the highest quality wines. And the best of it is produced in the region of Plovdiv. It is called “Mavrud” (which comes from this local kind of grapes, growing mostly on the northern foot of the nearby Rhodope Mountains) and it is well presented in Plovdiv. So, when you go for dinner in Kapana, don’t forget to order a glass of the best Bulgarian wine!
Day Trips from Plovdiv, Bulgaria Top Tours
I love to do a combination of exploring on my own as well as a few organized tours when I travel. I love to learn about the history and culture in a new location and tours with local experts is a great way to do this. I recommend Get Your Guide because you can cancel most bookings for free up to 24 hours before they start and their customer service is available 24/7 in multiple languages.
A few Top Tours in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Recommended Travel Resources
- Travel Insurance: World Nomads.
- Transport: AirfareWatchDog and Skyscanner (Best Sites to Research Flight Prices)
- Accommodation: Hotels.com and Orbitz
- Airbnb, Sign up here for a $40 credit.
- Top Plovdiv Hotel Reviews: TripAdvisor
- How to Pack for 2 Weeks in Europe (in one suitcase)
- Cheap Flights to Europe with Condor Airlines
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KRASEN JELYAZKOV is a traveler from Bulgaria. He has visited countries in the Balkans, Middle East, Middle Asia, East and Southeast Asia. Currently, he is living in China with his wife and travel mate Ying Ying and his children, and currently working as an English teacher. This year they started a new travel blog, called Journey beyond the Horizon. The main idea of the blog is to share and give valuable information about the geographical and historical side of destinations, lands, and also to provide travel tips, related with exploratory type of travel. Find his blog at www.journeybeyondhorizon.com