I had this image about Bulgaria, that only small towns and ethnic villages – Veliko Tarnovo, Balcic, Sozopol, Nesebar, Arbanasi – or the natural sites scattered all over the country are worth visiting.
I was never into visiting any big city because I had traveled for work in Sofia twice, and I did not like it! What would a big city bring other than ugly communist buildings?
But Plovdiv, the second largest Bulgarian city, is a whole different world.
We knew only a thing or two about it, but we decided to give it a shot for our Bulgarian car trip and we discovered it is full of wonders!
Read more from our road trip to Bulgaria:
Plovdiv will be European Capital city in 2019
This title along gives you hints there must be something special about it. It shares the title with Matera, a beautiful Italian town that we also visited.
A mind blowing fact about Plovdiv
It is one of the oldest living cities in Europe, over 8000 years old, built by the Thracian people that populated the Balkan peninsula! They even claim to be older than Athens!
So it comes as no surprise there are many beautiful vestiges thousands of years old. Surprisingly, most of them were discovered in the last half of the century only, so the face of the town is still changing a lot even now.
Central Plovdiv is made of three parts:
First part – Main Town Square and the longest pedestrian street in Europe
The main town square with the Town Hall and the singing colored fountains is the starting point of the longest pedestrian street in Europe, 1700m long, ending with a colored bridge over the Maritza River. The first part of this street is the most beautiful, it is bordered by good looking, pastel colored renaissance buildings and it’s the main shopping area.
Close to the main Town Square, there are the remains of the Roman Forum (Ancient Philippopolis) and then not too far is a small but really nice and inexpensive museum, opened a few years ago, containing mosaics dating back to the Roman rule called The Cultural Center Trakart. Entrance is only 3 Leva.
It fascinates me how modern cities were build on top of the old settlements. This is perfectly showcased in Plovdiv by the huge Roman Stadium, buried under the main shopping street.
Plovdiv was under Ottoman rule for half a millennium until 19th century, so there are a few oriental vestiges as well. The Dzhumaya Mosque, from 15th century is located near the Roman Stadium. There’s also a small pastry restaurant on one side, where you can have inexpensive Turkish sweets.
Second part – The Kapana center, translated as “The Trap”
It used to consist of a few important and very animated commercial streets dating back to ottoman rule. Then in communist times, the quarter lost its importance and many buildings and small family businesses were closed. In recent years however it has been brought to life again, and many pubs and shops with handcrafted goods were opened.
This new fame is also due to the annual festival, Kapana Fest, that tries to revive the lost atmosphere. Without being aware of this festival, we got to Plovdiv in that exact weekend. We felt at first overwhelmed by the loud music shows, the crowds of people that were coming and going on the narrow streets, but it was fun in the same time to be part of it.
The Third part – The Historic Town – A UNESCO Site
This is what I’d call the quintessence of Plovdiv, the heart and soul of the city! A really beautiful and unique place.
It lays on top of 3 of the 6 hills of Plovdiv – there used to be a total of 7 hills but one of them was razed to the grounds by local authorities to build the main city mall. Dear people, what are we doing to our Earth?!!!
The Revival Quarter is entirely made of colored, well preserved and decorated houses that seem to tangle to one another over the narrow cobblestone streets. Most of them date from the 19th century, built by wealthy commerciants.
Nebet Tepe hill, one of the 3 hills in the old town has the ruins and stone walls of the ancient town, over 6000 years old and although is not the highest of the hills you get a spectacular view over the whole Plovdiv.
The Roman Theater is the best kept and the most beautiful Roman vestige, used today for concerts due to its impeccable acoustics.
It’s also very interesting how it was discovered, only 4 decades ago. On these grounds there used to be houses for living, but someday one of the owners made works to his backyard and found marble steps, he announced the authorities and this impressive theater was brought to life.
Other Travel Tips
I recommend you to take a guided tour of Plovdiv. We went with the Free Walking Tour of Plovdiv and the guide explained really nice the hot spots of the town inserting here and there some funny stories.
Spring and Autumn are the best times to visit, Summer gets way too hot.
I’m sure I convinced you to add Plovdiv among your next travel places. It’s a beautiful, inexpensive and fast developing Bulgarian Town with so many interesting sites.