There are a few reasons why Plovdiv is one of our favorite new European cities. First, its rich history as one of Europe’s oldest cities can be witnessed all over town. There are historical ruins from its occupation by both Ancient Rome and the Ottoman Empire. You can actually go to live music performances in an Ancient Romand Theatre!
We also love the distinct differences between Plovdiv’s different neighborhoods. In the Kapana neighborhood, the colorful street art and slew of coffee shops give off a hipster vibe. Yet in Old Town, the cobblestone streets and dated architecture transport you back in time. Each of the neighborhoods have amazing things to do, but they’re still close together and very walkable.
But most importantly, Plovdiv speaks to the very reason why we are traveling: to discover hidden gems. Plovdiv may be the second largest city in Bulgaria and the European Capital of Culture for 2019, but it’s still a relatively undiscovered city.
We spent a week in Plovdiv and still wish that we had more time! Here are 21 amazing things to do in Plovdiv, Bulgaria:
1. Walk through Kapana (the arts district)
Kapana is one of the coolest areas in all of Plovdiv. Bulgarian for “The Trap,” Kapana is lined with great restaurants, cafes, and shops. We especially love how colorful everything is–there is street art everywhere!
This area wasn’t always so beautiful. Back in the early 1900s, a fire burned down the entire area. Then, when communism spread through Bulgaria, many of the shops were closed in favor of a centralized mall. It wasn’t until 2012 that Plovdiv began to revitalize the area.
2. Catch a sunset from atop Nebet Tepe
Plovdiv is also known as the city of seven hills, although only six remain today. Arguably, the hill with the best view is Nebet Tepe. Climb to the top of the hill for a spectacular view of the city during sunset. Bonus points if you bring a bottle of wine to enjoy (like we did!) while you take in the views.
Don’t worry, it’s not too steep of a hike. The main way to get to the top of Nebet Tepe is through Old Town. This means that there are plenty of shops and restaurants where you can take a break if you get winded.
3. Try Authentic Bulgarian Food at XIX Century
We LOVE trying different foods…especially when that food is unique to a country or culture. Since Bulgaria has ties to both the East and the West, we were very excited to try their unique cuisine. It didn’t disappoint. The food is hearty and delicious, and we love the massive family-style dishes that tables can share.
XIX Century came at the recommendation of Vasil, our wine tour host, who was born and raised in Plovdiv. He says the food is very authentic, which is a plus. We loved everything about this restaurant, from the delicious food to the traditional decor.
4. Go inside the Dzhumaya Mosque
The Dzhumaya Mosque is one of the oldest cult Ottoman buildings in the Balkans. Located in Plovdiv’s pedestrian zone, this mosque is easily recognizable by its minaret. Admission into the mosque is free, you just can’t enter during religious services.
To enter, women are required to wear a scarf that covers their shoulders/head. If you don’t have a scarf, there are a few at the door that you can borrow so that you can enter.
5. Do A Wine Tasting Tour
Our wine tour was one of our favorite things that we did in Plovdiv. The tour was organized by Bulgaria Wine Tours, an awesome wine tourism company with lots of experience and knowledge of Bulgaria’s wine industry.
The tour takes you to wineries that are on the outskirts of Plovdiv, so you get to see more rural areas in Bulgaria. The wine that we tried was delicious and it was great learning about Bulgaria’s growing wine industry.
6. Walk through Old Town
Plovdiv’s historic old town neighborhood gives you a blast from the past. This picturesque neighborhood features old cobblestone streets that wind through historic architecture. It really gives you a taste of what life was like in Plovdiv hundreds of years ago.
7. Do a Free Walking Tour
Plovdiv’s Free Walking Tour is a free English tour offered every day, 365 days a year! It’s an awesome way to learn all about Plovdiv on a backpacker’s budget. It’s also a great way to meet fellow travelers. Our tour guide, Adi, explained all about Plovdiv’s history while still keeping it light and funny. The stories she told were incredible!
The tour is every day at 11am and 6pm (from May to September) and at 2pm (from October to April). The meeting place is in front of the Municipality building on Plovdiv’s main street. It was easy to find the group since they hold up an orange clipboard. Our picture with our tour group is above! See if you can spot us 🙂
8. Visit a House Museum
When we first heard the term “house museum,” we weren’t exactly sure what it meant. But during the Free Walking Tour, our guide explained that they aren’t typical museums. They are meant to preserve exactly how the people who used to own them once lived.
Many of the biggest, most beautiful houses were once owned by Plovdiv’s wealthiest merchants. These merchants were constantly showing off and trying to outdo one another. One of them even put a fountain of rose water in his living room–just because he could afford it!
9. Enjoy a cup of coffee on a café patio
Bulgarians are like most Europeans: they enjoy sipping a nice espresso on a café patio! We stopped by a cute café in Plovdiv’s Kapana district. After perusing all the caffeine selections on their menu, we settled for two cups of espresso.
As we slowly sipped our espresso on the patio, we noticed what a great way it was to get a feel for the city. We watched as people bustled by, sometimes stopping to say hello to a friend on the patio. And if that doesn’t sell you, did we mention that the espresso comes with a little piece of chocolate? Yum!
10. Have dinner with a view at Rahat Tepe
If you’re searching for the restaurant in Plovdiv with the best views, look no further than Rahat Tepe. This authentic Bulgarian restaurant is situated near the top of Nebet Tepe. This gives it panoramic views of Plovdiv’s city center.
The outdoor patio is the place to be (weather permitting). But there is a good bit of seating indoors, as well. We ordered a caesar salad, stuffed cabbage leaves, and a potato pie. Everything was delicious and very filling!
11. Admire the colorful street art
We’ve seen a lot of cities with cool street art, but Plovdiv’s might be the best we’ve ever seen. Especially in the Kapana district, colorful and creative street art covers almost every blank surface. It makes every street feel like an art gallery!
12. Visit the Ethnographic Museum
The Ethnographic Museum is one of the prettiest places in Plovdiv’s Old Town neighborhood. It is located in the Kuyumdzhiouglu house, which is the virtually unpronounceable last name of the man who used to own it.
Today, the house holds artifacts portraying the culture and history of Bulgaria. Visitors can see everything from old textiles and clothing to musical instruments and furniture. You’ll leave with much more knowledge of Bulgarian history and traditions.
13. Visit Plovdiv’s Ancient Roman Stadium
Plovdiv’s Ancient Roman Stadium is one of the best preserved relics from the Roman Empire in the entire Balkan peninsula. This beautiful piece of history sits in Plovdiv’s city center, with free admission so anyone can go and see it.
The stadium’s back story is actually very interesting. When the Roman Empire announced Christianity as it’s main religion, this stadium was covered up. This was because the stadium had hosted gladiator fights and other events that didn’t abide by Christian principles.
The stadium wasn’t discovered again until the early 1900s. Today, only a very small portion of the stadium is visible–the rest remains fully intact below the streets of Plovdiv!
14. Catch a live music performance in the Roman Stadium
In addition to having an interesting history, the Roman Stadium is also home to live music performances. How cool is it to see a performance while sitting where the Romans once sat hundreds of years ago!? We’ve heard that there are music performances on most weekend nights during the summer.
15. Try the street food in Kapana
Thai food in Bulgaria? Yeah, that’s what we thought at first, too. But when we saw a delicious looking Thai food truck in Plovdiv’s Kapana district, we couldn’t resist! The name of the food truck is Wok and Load.
It was actually super delicious! We ordered a chicken/veggie noodle dish, and then some “golden bags with shrimp.” Both were fresh, warm and tasty! Plus, the guy working in the food truck was really nice and friendly.
16. Check out Stefan Stambolov Square
Stefan Stambolov Square is one of the main areas in Plovdiv’s city center. The square is located along the pedestrian walkway, so you don’t have to worry about any cars. Shops, bakeries, restaurants and cafes frame the square. In the middle of the square, there is a beautiful fountain.
17. Take a stroll through Park Tsar Simeon
Park Tsar Simeon is one of the prettiest parks we’ve visited in the Balkans. Located just of the main pedestrian area in Plovdiv, it’s very convenient to access visitors staying in the city center. In the park, there are fountains, flowers, statues, and plenty of benches.
One of the main attractions in the park are the singing fountains. Every night, the fountains light up with a water and light show. It’s no Bellagio fountain show, but it is pretty cool!
18. Try a Craft Beer at Cat & Mouse
Craft Beer is a new addition to the nightlife scene in Plovdiv. Cat & Mouse was the very first craft beer place to open up, and it’s a pretty cool spot. It’s located in the Kapana district, which is probably our favorite part of Plovdiv. They have a fairly big selection of craft beer and plenty of comfy places to sit and enjoy your beer.
We sat out on the patio so we could enjoy the beautiful summer weather. There are a couple other bars with patios right next door, so it’s just a great street to be on.
19. Visit the The Ancient Theatre of Philipoppolos
The Ancient Theatre of Philipoppolos is yet another historic relic from the Roman Empire. It is one of the best preserved ancient theaters in the entire world. The theatre is still used for its original purpose today–live music and theatre performances.
When we visited the theatre, they were setting up for a show. Our guide mentioned that there is a box office at the top of the theatre. Here, you can check the schedule for shows and buy tickets if you’re interested in attending.
20. Rub the knee of Miljo the Crazy to improve your love life
This one is a little silly, but tradition is tradition! Supposedly, if you rub the knee of the statue of Miljo the Crazy, it will bring good luck to your love life. Here you can see Jack rubbing Miljo’s knee–hopefully he was thinking of me! 😉
21. Take a picture with Plovdiv’s “Together” monument
The “together” monument commemorates the slogan for Plovdiv’s campaign for European Capital of Culture 2019. Since the campaign won, Plovdiv erected a sign in its honor. You can see the sign in Plovdiv’s main pedestrian walking area. We were excited to be able to take a picture with this sign in 2019!
There is no shortage of amazing things to do in Plovdiv. This undiscovered hidden gem is one of our favorite cities that we have visited in all of Europe! Make sure you take a trip before it gets more crowded.
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