Top 16 Things to do in Plovdiv Bulgaria [Capital of Culture]
Updated on November 14th, 2020
Plovdiv is one of the up and coming cities in Eastern Europe and for good reason. Chosen as the 2019 European Capital of Culture the city will have an exciting schedule for visitors and locals alike. You only need to ask anyone who has been to Bulgaria recently and they will certainly be gushing, ‘Did you go to Plovdiv? How amazing is it!’
As one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in all of Europe, which dates back over 8000 years there are many reasons to visit. Firstly, explore the adorable walkable old town full of historic buildings from different era’s. Secondly, you’ll love the many cute bars and restaurants which often have live music. Furthermore, the ancient ruins and friendly laid back locals add to the cities unique vibes.
After I have been on the road for a couple of months I like to slow down and stay in one place to recharge. For that reason, I chose Plovdiv as my recharge zone and stayed here for 2 weeks. Read on for …
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Top 16 things to do in Plovdiv
1. Free walking tour
I’m a big advocate for free walking tours. If a city or town has them that’s where you will find me on one of my first days. Free walking tours are great because they orientate you to your surroundings, you get a brief history lesson, you can ask any questions you have and then you get an insiders knowledge of tops bars and restaurants to try.
The Free Plovdiv Walking Tour is run by volunteers to the 365 Organisation and runs at least once a day, year-round and twice during the summer months. Meet your guide outside the Municipality Building and learn about the particular style of architecture, the ‘Trap’, see local street art, remnants of the cities historic past and Bulgaria travel tips.
2. See Plovdiv’s Old Town Churches
Wander through the cobbled street of the Old Town until you spot the three main churches. Consequently, each one depicts unique architecture from the era of its construction. Begin at the southern end and visit The Saint Marina Church and The Holy Mother of God Church built in the 1700s and 1800s respectively. After that, continue north and upwards to The Saints Konstantin and Elena Church which is the oldest church in Plovdiv. This church plays a significant part in the long history of the city and is visited on the free walking tour.
3. Add the many museums and art galleries to your list of things to do in Plovdiv
For a city the size of Plovdiv, there are more museums and galleries than imaginable. As a result of the long history, you will come across a museum in an unsuspecting building around every corner. Further, these buildings form an important significance in the cities past and future.
If you are a student make sure you visit on a Thursday and bring your student card for free entry! However, for everyone else, you can grab the Plovdiv city card for €10 for 24 hours or €15 for 72 hours. This card grants you access to 9 different museums which usually cost €2.5 each.
Other benefits to the card: The card also includes discounts of up to 20% to a lot of restaurants and bars around town. You can also score 10 – 15% off bowling, karting and an escape room.
The Regional Ethnographic Museum is a special one to note. This ornate building was built in the 19th Century as a home to a merchant. It now houses over 40,000 items depicting the history of Bulgarian folk culture.
4. Walk along the Maritsa R
To the north of the Old Town and the Kapana District is the Maritsa River. Although the waterfront has not been done up there is a footpath running parallel to the river. On a lovely sunny day, it’s nice to break up your sightseeing in town for some fresh air and nature.
5. See the Rowing Channel
Did you know that Plovdiv is home to international rowing competitions? Just to the west of the city centre is the 2,200m rowing channel. Check out online if there are any events coming up and spend an afternoon exploring a different neighbourhood of Plovdiv. The rowing channel is surrounded by a walking and cycling track and has many parks and restaurants nearby. Certainly, add this to your list of things to do in Plovdiv.
6. Conquer the 7 hills
One of Plovdiv’s nicknames is the city of 7 hills. While none of these hills
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Close to the centre are Liberators Hill and Nebet Hill. You will find Nebet Hill at the top of the Old Town and has fortress ruins from the 12th Century remaining. On the free walking tour ask the guide about the 7th hill and see if you can find it.
7. Discover the street art
When walking through Plovdiv keep your eyes peeled for some incredible street art. There are numerous large murals which cover entire sides of buildings in the Kapana and Old Town districts. You’ll notice that rocks and other ordinary objects have been painted over in a tasteful way. Each year the city runs street art festivals for artists. As a result, the city is covered with stories either personal to the artist or about the cities history. If you are interested in great graffiti and would like to go on a tour check out Enjoy Plovdiv to book yourself on one.
8. Enjoy coffee in the Kapana district
If you’ve been following my journey for awhile you will know I’m a bit of a coffee snob. My favourite app is Bean Hunter where I can search for the best coffee ‘near me’. The number one cafe in Plovdiv is Monkey House. The narrow building has two levels, cute decor and tasty coffee worth stopping for. Due to the narrowness of the building like others in the Kapana, if you’re not careful you may walk straight past it. Find Monkey House at, 3 Zlatarska St., Plovdiv, Plovdiv.
Fun Fact: Kapana means Trap in Bulgarian and takes its name from the times when there were more than 900 wooden stalls lining the narrow streets. These stalls made up the trade quarter of the city and customers would come and get ‘trapped’ shopping within the maze of streets. During the early
9. Watch a performance at the ancient theatre
The ancient theatre is located in the Old Town and attracts both local and international acts to its stage. Last year Sting performed here and sees the annual Rock, Opera and Folklore Festivals. This old Roman amphitheatre would be a really great place to watch a concert or event when you imagine the 6000 spectators who used to sit here watching gladiator events.
10. Check out the underground ancient stadium of Philippopolis
There is a running joke between the locals of Plovdiv. They say never to go digging in your backyard. Due to the immense history of the city, so many historical monuments have been buried over the years. For example, the ancient stadium of Philippopolis was first discovered under the main road through Plovdiv in 1923. In 1995, initial excavations were started and you can now see partial uncovering of the stadium along what is now the main pedestrian way.
Due to its length of 240m, the money required to excavate the entire stadium was too high. Certain buildings, including H&M along the shopping strip, have glass viewing platforms and basement floors where you can descend down to see more of the stadium.
11. Learn the Plovdiv lingo
One thing you will learn on the free walking tour is local lingo. Plovdiv has a few words which are unique to the city. One, in particular, is Aylak (Айляк), although untranslatable it can be described as Hakuna Matata or no worries man. For example, you will notice the locals love to live this way and are very laid back and happy to chill out. Follow suit and live like a local!
Afterwards, you will need to learn to say cheers. Nazdrave pronounced
12. Indulge in the Bulgarian local beer
Now that you know the meaning of Aylak, drinking the local Aylak beer will have much more meaning. During your stay, sit back in the Kapana watching the
13. Visit the Dzhumaya Mosque
After spending a month in Turkey it was nice to see the differences in architecture between the mosques here in Bulgaria. The original structure used to be a church before the Ottomans took over the city and converted it to a mosque.
Around the mosque, you will also find a Turkish presence including cafes selling baklava and čay (Turkish Tea) and a few Turkish restaurants.
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14. Sample traditional Bulgarian food
Bulgarian food is typical of Eastern European cuisine and consists of hearty meals of slow-cooked meats, fresh vegetables and local dairy products. Firstly, try the Meshana Skara a mixed grill often with pork. Next, find gyuvech on the menu. This stew comes in a pottery pot full of beef, mushrooms, peppers and onions. So popular it is, this pot traditionally gets passed down through generations and can be found in most households.
A couple of great restaurants we tried were Smokini and Hemingway. Both restaurants are located in the city centre and are moderately priced. For the vegetarians out there both serve meat-free options.
15. Take a day trip to Smolyan
If you only have limited time in Bulgaria making a trip out to the Smolyan area is well worth it. Ideally, spend a night out here as it is 2 hours away from Plovdiv, but can be done in a day. Make sure to visit the Wonderful Bridges and the Waterfall Canyon. However, if you have more time head over to Devil’s Bridge and the town of Devin where you will find stunning walks and hikes. In addition, in the wintertime, Smolyan has a small ski resort.
Other cool places to visit in Bulgaria are the Buzludzha Monument (think cool communist UFO statue), Sofia, Burgas and Varna.
16. Check out a festival in Plovdiv
Finally, the Bulgarian summer is full of festivals. Make sure if you are visiting during this time to factor in time for one of these events. During November the wine festival season kicks off around the country. Spend a day in Plovdiv enjoying a wine walk through the Old Town while sampling local grape varieties.
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