Plovdiv is an ancient city nestled in the heart of Bulgaria. It is the second largest city in Bulgaria (behind Sofia) and blends ancient history with a vibrant modern culture.
Fun fact: Plovdiv is the oldest living city in Europe and the 6th in the world! The history of this city spans 8 millennia!!
Expect cobblestone streets, Roman ruins, quaint architecture and a bustling art scene. Plovdiv was named the cultural capital of Europe in 2019 and for good reason! Plovdiv is proving itself to be an incredible up-and-coming European destination to capture enthusiasts of history, charming architecture, art and even nature.
The origins of Plovdiv can be traced back to ancient times when it was known as Philippopolis. Throughout its long history, Plovdiv has been influenced by several civilisations including the Thracians, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans and Bulgarians. Making this a destination rich in overlapping and diverse architecture, traditions, customs and cuisine.
The top things to do in Plovdiv are:
- Wander through the Old Town
- Discover Roman ruins at the Ancient Theatre
- See the Mevlevi Hane Restaurant
- Immerse yourself in art & culture in the Kapana neighbourhood
- Watch the Singing Fountains
- The Dzhumaya Mosque
- See Sunset at one of the hills
- The Balabanov and Hindlian Houses
- See the Church of St. Constantine and Helena
- Visit the Regional Ethnographic Museum
- Attend a festival or event
- Sample Bulgarian cuisine
- The Bachkovo Monastery
- Explore the Rhodope Mountains
Keep reading to discover more about the top 14 things to do in Plovdiv that will leave you spellbound.
1. Wander through the Old Town
The Old Town is situated on top of three hills.
If there is one thing you can’t avoid doing in Plovdiv, it is to explore the charming Old Town. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a maze of ancient architecture spanning 2000 years.
Stroll through the cobblestone streets and discover the treasure trove of history waiting for you.
Expect narrow streets, colourful Renaissance houses, ancient Roman ruins, medieval architecture, quaint shops, art galleries, museums and cute cafes to recover in.
The Old Town is what makes Plovdiv the cultural capital of Europe!
Throughout this post, we recommend many specific places to visit inside the Old Town so keep reading to discover more!
2. Discover Roman Ruins at the Ancient Theatre
You don’t have to go to Rome to discover ancient Roman ruins! In Plovdiv, you will find a well-preserved Roman Theatre that dates back to the 1st century. This theatre is steeped in sorted history - it used to hold gladiator fights and theatrical performances.
Today it is used as a venue for concerts, operas and festivals providing a unique opportunity for us modern folk to experience performances in such an historic setting.
The theatre is located centrally on Dzhymaya Square and is also perched on a hill making it an easy place to explore the city’s other attractions.
3. Mevlevi Hane Dervish Monastery
This building (which is now functioning as a restaurant) belonged to the Mevlevi Order of the Sufis. This dervish monastery is the only one of its kind and is very unique in Bulgaria.
The Mevlevi order was around when the Ottoman Empire ruled Plovdiv but died out at the end of the 19th century.
In this building, the hall is left which is where the Sufis performed their famous dances.
4. Immerse yourself in art & culture in the Kapana neighbourhood
Kapana means ‘a trap’ in Bulgarian. It was named this due to the ways the streets cross, change direction and lead to dead ends. Sounds like a fun little spot to get lost!
The centrally located Kapana neighbourhood has been transformed into a trendy area full of art galleries, boutique shops, craft beer and hip cafes. Kapana is considered the creative hub of Plovdiv and is an excellent place to mingle with the locals and soak up the vibrant atmosphere.
Attend exhibitions and workshops, try out the trendiest restaurants and if you are there at the right time of year don’t miss the annual Night of Museums and Galleries. This is a cultural extravaganza that showcases Plovdiv’s art scene on the streets.
5. The Singing Fountains
After the sun goes down at the central Tsar Simeon Garden, the Singing Fountains come to life. On summer evenings the fountain places music with a light and water show. A great reason for an after-dark outing!
6. Dzhumaya Mosque
This is the main Muslim mosque in Plovdiv and is located in the centre of the old town. It was built in place of the Cathedral Church after Plovdiv was conquered by the Ottoman army in the 1300s. This is one of the oldest religious buildings in the Balkans! it is also one of the biggest, making it impressive visually and historically.
If you love Turkish culture, there is a Turkish cafe located next to the mosque where you can enjoy Turkish coffee, tea and treats.
7. See the sunset at one of the hills
Like Rome, Plovdiv was built on seven hills (only 6 remain). Climb any of the hills before the sun goes down to watch the sunset over Plovdiv. One of the three hills located in the Old Town is the closest and easiest to reach for most.
Gebet Tape is the highest hill in the old town and a great choice as you can also see the remains of the ancient Thracian Fortress.
These prehistoric ruins date back to the Neolithic era 8000 years ago! Watch the sunset with a side of one of the oldest ruins known to man.
8. Visit the Balabanov and Hindlian Houses
These two houses used to belong to rich merchants and feature interesting baroque furniture and carved wooden ceilings. They are a great way to get an interesting glimpse into how the other half lived in the 19th century.
9. See the Church of St. Constantine and Helena
This church dates back to 337 AD, making it one of the oldest in Plovdiv. It has been reconstructed over the years with the current building and baroque interior dating back to 1832.
10. Visit the Regional Ethnographic Museum
A visit the Ethnographic Museum is a must for all history buffs visiting Plovdiv! The museum is centrally located in a 19th-century house and offers a fascinating insight into the lives of the people who have inhabited Plovdiv for hundreds of years.
Explore an extensive collection of costumes, household items, and crafts and discover the traditions and customs that have shaped Plovdiv into what it is today.
11. Attend a festival or event
Being the Capital of Culture for 2019, it is no surprise that Plovdiv has an array of cultural and artistic events on its calendar each year.
The calendar is packed with festivals, including the Plovdiv International Fair, the Opera and Ballet Festival and as previously mentioned the Night of Museums and Galleries.
Plovdiv is also a musical city with a range of concerts and musical performances throughout the year, many of which are hosted in the ancient Roman Theatre.
12. Sample Bulgarian cuisine
Plovdiv is one of the best places in Bulgaria to sample the best food the country has to offer. Bulgarian cuisine is a blend of Balkan and Mediterranean food with hearty meat dishes, cheesy pastries as well as fresh Greek-style salads.
You can’t indulge in Bulgarian cuisine without washing it all down with a glass of rakia, Bulgaria’s version of brandy.
13. The Bachkovo Monastery
The Bachkovo Monastery is an impressive Eastern Orthodox monastery located near the town of Bachkovo. The monastery is located in the Rhodope Mountains about a 30-40 minute bus ride from Plovdiv.
It is one of the oldest and largest monasteries in the country and has a rich history and architectural significance.
This monastery has cultural and religious significance in Bulargia and has served as a place of refuge during times of political unrest. It is also seen as a centre of preservation of Bulgarian Culture throughout history that had many different rulers.
Throughout its existence, the Bachkovo Monastery has played an important role in the religious and cultural life of Bulgaria. It served as a refuge during times of political unrest (Bulgaria was under communist rule from 1946 - 1989) and a centre for preserving Bulgarian culture and spirituality during periods of foreign rule.
14. Explore the Rhodope Mountains
Plovdiv is not only a cultural and historical gold mine, but it is also the gateway to the magnificent Rhodope Mountains.
Lovers of nature and adventure can take a day trip from Plovdiv to enjoy outdoor pursuits in this gorgeous mountain range.
When you’re sick of exploring the old town, switch it up! Enjoy an abundance of hiking trails, mountain biking and beautiful landscapes. Explore the Bachkovo Monastery as mentioned above or check out Asen’s Fortress perched on a cliff.
In winter you can even go skiing (for less £) at the Mechi Chal Ski Resort located in these mountains!
How long do you need in Plovdiv?
It’s possible to see all of the main attractions listed above in 1-3 days. However, staying for 3-5 days will give you enough time to really soak up all that Plovdiv has to offer and to really get to know what it would be like to live there.
Factor in an extra day or two if you would like to explore the nature of the surrounding Rhodope Mountains.
Remember that Bulgaria is budget-friendly so don’t shy away from an extended stay to make the most of it.
How much does it cost to visit Bulgaria?
Bulgaria is one of the most affordable countries in Europe and therefore travelling to Bulgaria will fit into most budgets.
You can find budget accommodation from £9 per night and private rooms from £18. You can get by spending £7 per day on food and there is very affordable public transport and taxis available. Entry fees for attraction start from £2.50 and guided tours start from just £14.
Daily budget: £20 - £30 per day on a backpacker budget
When is the best time to visit Plovdiv?
June to August are the hottest months with the best weather but are the busiest & most expensive. It is a great destination in the shoulder season from April - May and September - October for the best weather & prices.
Don’t forget to pack your St Christopher pendant or travel talisman with you before you jet off to explore Plovdiv!!