Plovdiv is one of my favorite places to go as a day trip from Sofia, but I also like going and spending a weekend in Plovdiv to soak up the city’s unique and charming atmosphere. There’s something very special about waking up in Plovdiv and knowing you have the whole day to go out and explore!
Here’s my step-by-step perfect way to spend 2 days in Plovdiv, including how to see the best of the surrounding area. In the first half, you’ll find my Plovdiv itinerary, with maps and tips. Afterward, I’ve listed our most important Plovdiv and Bulgaria travel resources and tips so you can make the most out of your two days!
And yes, two days might not feel like enough time to see everything that Plovdiv has to offer. This 2019 European Capital of Culture is compact but surprisingly full of things to do! That’s why I’ve tried to include the best of the city and region, but if you find yourself wanting to do, even more, check out this list of 40 Fantastic Things to Do in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s Cultural Heart.
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Where to Stay in Plovdiv
In Plovdiv, we love the Stay Hotel!
For this Plovdiv itinerary, it’s nice if your hotel is in a central or easy location adjacent to the majority of the activities. These are the hotels we like in Plovdiv and recommend. I’ve included one for each budget category.
Both the Stay Hotel Plovdiv and the Residence City Garden are near the beginning of the events for day one, while Pijama Hostel is conveniently located for where the night ends.
Budget: When I stay at a hostel, there are a few things that I look for: privacy curtains, personal reading lights, and outlet space for each bed. Bonus points if the hotel lobby is modern and inviting – and if the kitchen is well-stocked and beautiful to cook in to boot, you might as well move in. Pijama Hostel has all of this and then some. Perks include board games, coffee and tea makers, and a central Kapana district location! Check reviews, prices, and availability here.
Mid-range: This is the hotel I chose for my most recent trip to Plovdiv, and I am obsessed with it! The Stay Hotel Plovdiv feels like a luxury hotel but at budget prices, and it’s located at what might be the single best spot in the city. The staff is friendly, the views are great, and the beds are comfortable. I’m seriously in love. My favorite part was that our room had a sleek couch that was a great place to relax after a long day of sightseeing and a long night out. Check reviews, prices, and availability here.
Luxury: The first five-star hotel in Plovdiv, if you’re seeking a spot of luxury in Europe’s 2019 Capital of Culture, you should check out the Residence City Garden. The rooms are refined and stylish – we’re talking spacious rooms and high ceilings (some rooms with chandeliers!), antique-style furnishings, and impeccable attention to detail. The bathrooms are beautiful and extremely modern, with lovely bathtubs that you can soak in to rest your feet after a long day of exploring Plovdiv. Check reviews, prices, and availability here.
Still looking? Check out my full (and not sponsored) review of the Stay Hotel Plovdiv.
Your Plovdiv Itinerary: Day One
Start Your Day with Something Delicious (9:30 am)
If this is your first time in Bulgaria, you need to start your day with some traditional Bulgarian food. A classic Bulgarian “on-the-go” breakfast is banitsa, a filo-dough-and-cheese pastry, though I prefer to sit down and enjoy some mish-mash, which is essentilly scrambled egg cheese heaven.
There are many great breakfast places in town, so you can always get a recommendation from your accommodations for good ones near where you’re staying. However, if you want to eat near the next stop on the itinerary so you can begin your day at a leisurely pace, head to Raffy’s on Stefan Stombolov Square.
The food is more European fusion than traditional Bulgarian, but you can enjoy the view of the square. Plus, you haven’t vacationed in Bulgaria if you haven’t been to a Raffy’s.
If you’re running late for the day and just want to grab a quick cup of Joe, there’s a Costa Coffee that’s also located conveniently near the next stop.
Whatever you choose to do for breakfast, fuel up! You have a lot of sightseeing ahead of you!
Raffy Address: 5, Център, ul. “Patriarh Evtimiy”, 4000 Plovdiv
Visit Stefan Stambolov Square (10:40 am)
The fountain in the square is lovely. Since you need to be at the next stop around 10:50, try to get to the fountain by 10:40 so you have time to take pictures (if you plan on photographing or Instagramming your trip to Plovdiv, that is).
Stefan Stambolov Square Address: Stefan Stambolov Square, 4000 Center, Plovdiv
Head to the Municipality Building for the Free Plovdiv Tour (10:50)
Once you’ve got your pics of the fountain and square (which are even lovelier in person than in our photos), make your way over to the Municipality Building, which is the green building you can see behind the fountain. This is the starting point for the Free Plovdiv Tour.
Hosted by the 365 Association, the Free Plovdiv Tour is held every day at 11 am and at 6 pm from May through September. For this itinerary, it’s important you go to the 11 am tour so that you can enjoy other Plovdiv nightlife activities.
Note: Since most tourists come to Plovdiv during the high season, we are choosing the 11 am timeslot since 6 pm would be too late. If you’ll be visiting Plovdiv in October through April, the tour starts at 2 pm, in which case you can move the afternoon activities to the morning for this itinerary. The tour is held every day, rain or shine, even on holidays, making it one of our favorite things to do in Plovdiv in winter.
Another option if you’ll be coming during the fall and winter and you prefer to do your walking tour in the morning is to book this walking tour of Plovdiv that starts at 9:30 and goes over most of the same sites. Alternatively, you could do this Plovdiv audio tour on your own.
The tour is a great overview of the most important sites in the city. It lasts about two hours (though we think it usually goes longer). So have snacks and drinks if you get hungry or thirsty easily.
Here are a few of our favorite stops on the tour (though not all of them!).
The Plovdiv2019 Sign
Everyone wants to stop and take a pic in front of the Plovdiv2019 sign (and we’re no exception). Luckily the tour goes right by it! If you don’t get the perfect pic, don’t worry, it’s part of another tour on this itinerary as well.
The Milyo Statue
The story behind this statue is one of our favorite pieces of Plovdiv gossip. You’ll learn all about it on the tour, and you’ll have time to grab some pics.
Some of Plovdiv’s Street Art Scene
You won’t get to see all of our favorite Plovdiv street art, but you will get to walk by some great pieces!
The Hisar Kapia Gate
One of the most famous points in the city! The houses behind it have been completely repainted since I took this pic in 2017. Now they’re a beautiful blue and orange – they’re even prettier now!
The Old Town (Stari Plovdiv)
Since we first started traveling to Plovdiv in 2017, nearly every historic home and building has been restored so that they can show off their heritage during their year as a European Capital of Culture in 2019. Seeing the Bulgarian National Revival Style Houses in the Old Town, especially this beautiful one that now serves as the Ethnographic Museum is an absolute Plovdiv can’t-miss!
Free Plovdiv Tour Tips
First, make sure you’re on time. You don’t want the tour to leave without you! Since you don’t need to purchase a ticket or make a reservation, they won’t know you’re on your way!
Second, wear comfortable shoes and don’t carry too much with you. The tour is two to two and a half hours of walking and much of it is on cobblestone streets and up Plovdiv’s hills.
Third, though the tour doesn’t cost any money, make sure to tip your tour guide. Ten leva (about five Euros) is a good tip. I would not tip less than 5 leva (about 2.5 Euros), and you can always tip more.
Fourth, if you need to take a bathroom break or duck out of the tour early, let the tour guide know.
Finally, make sure your camera and cell phone are charged. You’ll probably want to take eleventy billion pictures (if you’re like me, anyway).
Address for the Start of the Free Plovdiv Tour: pl. “Stefan Stambolov” 1, 4000 Center, Plovdiv
Wander Around Plovdiv’s Roman Theater (The Ancient Theater of Philippopolis) (1:30 pm)
The Plovdiv Free Tour ends near the Roman Theater, but it doesn’t go inside. When the tour is over, use your next bit of free time to go in and explore the theater on your own.
This offers the best of both worlds since the tour will cover a lot of the history (though not all of it), so when you get inside you can just relax and wander at your own pace. You can even go up on the stage!
Tickets can be purchased at the small kiosk and cost 5 leva (2.5 Euros).
The theater is part of the “Ancient Plovdiv” UNESCO Tentative World Heritage Site. According to UNESCO:
“The most valuable expression of the antique layer is the Antique Theatre – one of the most imposing examples of the theatric architecture of Roman provinces. The fortification system of the city acropolis is spread between the Nebeth Tepe and the Ancient Stadium.”
Roman Theater Address: улица Цар Ивайло 4, 4000 Center, Plovdiv
Grab Lunch in the Old Town (2:30 pm)
At this point, you’ll have worked up quite an appetite from walking and climbing all over Plovdiv all morning! You can grab a snack at the cafe right outside of the theater (not too exciting but the views are pretty unequaled!).
If you want to stay close by, feel free to duck into any restaurant you see. Restaurants in this part of town tend to be a bit overpriced but the food is solid. Otherwise, if you want something a little more special, walk the 5-10 minutes to Smokini for a real treat. Their lunch menu is well-priced and a delicious pick-me-up!
Smokini Address: 12 Otets Paisiy Street
Climb Up to the Alyosha Monument (4:00 pm)
During the Free Plovdiv Tour, your tour guide will no doubt point out the Alyosha monument on Bunardzhik Hill. The walk to the top is not too steep, the views are amazing, and it’s one of the most interesting pieces of socialist artwork left over from the Communist era.
You can either walk to the hill and then go up, or you can take a taxi to the base. We used a taxi to get there and then walked back on our own.
Here’s my guide to how to visit Alyosha Monument and Bunardzhik Hill with more information and tips. Except to spend about two hours visiting plus travel time to and from the statue.
Alyosha Monument Address: Bunardjika Бунарджика, 4000 Halm Na Osvoboditelite, Plovdiv
Enjoy Dinner at Hemingway’s (7:00 pm)
If you’ve eaten traditional Bulgarian food for breakfast and lunch, then you’ll be excited to mix it up a bit. My favorite restaurant in downtown Plovdiv is Hemingway’s. While it’s still Bulgarian, it has lots of international options as well. The wine selection is wonderful, and I love sitting outside on the patio and soaking up Plovdiv’s pedestrian atmosphere.
While they state they are a BBQ and grill, the food here is upscale and sophisticated. However, they know what they’re doing when it comes to meat.
Hemingway’s Address: Пловдив, ул. Ген.И.В.Гурко 10
Alternatively, if you want something purely traditional Bulgarian, head to Pavaj. This is Allison’s top pick for where to eat dinner in Plovdiv. The restaurant offers inventive and updated takes on traditional Bulgarian cuisine and is very vegetarian-friendly.
Pavaj Address: Pavaj, ul. “Zlatarska” 7, 4000 Kapana, Plovdiv
Check Out Plovdiv’s Nightlife (9:00 pm)
If you want to enjoy your time in Plovdiv to the fullest, then you need to get out and enjoy a bit of Plovdiv’s nightlife.
My top pick for your evening in Plovdiv is to join the Plovdiv Cultural Pub Crawl. If you’ve never gone on an organized pub crawl on your travels, the concept might be unfamiliar. A local guide shows you four or five of the most interesting bars in the city, teach you about local alcohol and drinking customs, and shows you how to have a good time in the city.
During the tour, you meet other travelers, so by the end of the night, you’ve made some new friends, learned a ton, and get to skip that awkward feeling of trying to figure out where to go in a new city at night. I
I have been on quite a few, but it was the first time my fiance went on one. He had a blast (especially playing Foozball).
You will want to book your tour online ahead of time. Unfortunately, they only run on Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturday nights.
>>Book the Plovdiv Cultural Pub Crawl online or check tour reviews.<<
If you will be in Plovdiv on a different night or you aren’t the pub crawl type, you can check out our entire Plovdiv nightlife guide with an additional twelve ideas for how to enjoy your evening in Plovdiv!
Plovdiv Cultural Pub Crawl Meeting Point (though double-check with your reservation!): Next to the statue of Milyo, ul. “Knyaz Alexander I” 30, 4000 Center, Plovdiv
Your Plovdiv Itinerary: Day Two
One of the things we love about Plovdiv is that its compactness means that you can see a great deal fo the city in just one day. This leaves day two open to go on a day trip. There are three-day amazing day trip options to choose from. I list them in order of popularity, but they’re all pretty amazing days.
Option 1: Visit Rila Monastery
The spiritual heart of Bulgaria, this is probably the most popular day trip in Bulgaria from either Plovdiv or Sofia. (If you’ll also be spending time in Sofia, here’s how to visit Rila Monastery from Sofia). I’ve been to Rila Monastery four times myself, and each trip was perfect. There simply isn’t a more spiritual place in Bulgaria.
This monastery is located two to three hours outside of Plovdiv. There are two main ways to see the Rila Monastery from Plovdiv:
Rent a Car and Drive
This is my favorite way to visit. Because we’ve been to Rila Monastery so often, we try to also add something new to our trip itinerary each time we go, though the unofficial junk museum in Kocherinovo and the hidden-gem pyramids of Stob are my favorites.
We’re both pretty comfortable with driving in the Balkans, so we don’t mind the… quirks, shall we say… of driving in Bulgaria. Drivers here can be a bit aggressive, turn signaling is rare, and road quality varies. We think that the trip from Sofia to Rila Monastery and back is a relatively good starter course for people driving in Bulgaria: the road quality is good and it’s mostly highway or country roads, so once you’ve made it out of Sofia it’s pretty smooth sailing.
Local Tip: Renting a car? We’ve rented cars dozens of times in Bulgaria through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental in Bulgaria here.
Go on a Guided Day Tour
For my first trip to Rila Monastery, I went on a guided day trip. This is a great way to see it because you also get the benefit of learning from your tour guide about the monastery’s history and artwork. Plus, you don’t have to worry about driving back at the end of the day when you’re tired or in inclement weather.
This Rila Monastery Day Trip includes hotel pick-up and lunch, so all you have to worry about is getting up on time! Though I would personally bring snacks and drinks because lunch is typically served late on these tours.
>>Book the Rila Monastery Day Trip online or check tour reviews.<<
Tips for Visiting Rila Monastery
Whether you choose to rent a car or go on a tour, here are some things you need to know before your visit to Rila.
First, bring some cash. There’s no fee to enter the monastery, but there’s a small fee to enter the tower and the museum (if you choose to). You also need cash for any Bulgarian souvenirs you buy at the monastery. If you are renting a car and driving, bring enough cash for lunch and additional stops at the Junk Museum or the Stob Pyramids.
Second, there’s no wifi at Rila. If you don’t plan on getting a data plan or picking up a Bulgarian sim card, prepare to be able to navigate on your own (if you’re driving).
Third, you need to dress modestly. Men should avoid shorts and take off their hats. Women should have their elbows and knees covered.
Option Two: Visit Asen’s Fortress and Bachkovo Monastery
Bachkovo Monastery and Asen’s Fortress are a popular combined day trip from Plovdiv. The fortress dates back to the thirteenth century and is located on a picturesque hilltop in the Rhodope mountains. Bachkovo Monastery is the second largest and most important Bulgarian monastery after Rila.
The benefit of visiting these two sites is they are located much closer to Plovdiv, so the tour will take less than four hours. This is perfect for someone who doesn’t have a full second day to spend in Plovdiv or if you want to spend a little more time in the city itself while still getting out and seeing the area.
>>Book the From Plovdiv: Bachkovo Monastery & Asen’s Fortress Tour online or check tour reviews.<<
Option Three: Hike the Seven Rila Lakes
If you’re the outdoorsy type, you might want to spend your second day exploring some of the beauty of the Rila Mountains instead of being cooped up! If so, check out our guide to How to Do Bulgaria’s Gorgeous Seven Rila Lakes Hike. While I haven’t done them (I am not a hiking kind of gal), Allison has and loved them. I mean, isn’t this photo she took advertisement enough?!
>>Book The 7 Rila Lakes: Full-Day Guided Hike from Plovdiv online or check tour reviews.<<
5 Things to Pack for Plovdiv
We have a complete Bulgaria packing list, but here are a few things you don’t want to forget!
– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Bulgaria & Romania for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.
– A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in big cities in Bulgaria is drinkable, such as in Sofia and Plovdiv, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.
– Motion sickness pills. Bulgarian bus rides can be hot and stuffy in the summer and cause motion sickness! If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.
– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment (and germs!) and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.
– Travel safety items. We think Bulgaria is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack. It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.
More Bulgaria Travel Resources
If this will be your first time in Bulgaria, we have some resources to help make your first trip here a breeze. Check out our guide on how to plan your trip to Bulgaria, which goes over everything from visas to ground transportation to budgeting your trip.
Don’t forget to check out our Bulgaria packing list which has details of everything you’ll want for your trip.
Make sure to check out our guide to things to do in Plovdiv, Plovdiv Instagram sites, and our Plovdiv nightlife guide. If you’ll be coming during the winter, we have a special Plovdiv winter activities guide.
If you will also be spending time in Sofia, check out things to do in Sofia and Sofia itinerary posts to help guide your way through the city we call home. Make sure to check out our guide to avoiding taxi scams in Sofia as well.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance
Finally, make sure you always travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. The country is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses. Recently my aunt fell on a train in France and needed surgery, but luckily her travel insurance covered the costs in full. Thank goodness!
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
Pin this Plovdiv Itinerary for Your Trip to Bulgaria!
Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.