Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria and is often considered its cultural capital for its thriving arts and music scene — in fact, it is the future European Capital of Culture for the year 2019.
It’s one of the oldest cities in Europe, with over 6,000 years of continuous human settlement. Evidence of its long, richly layered past is present throughout the city, from Roman ruins to Ottoman influences to Bulgarian National Revival architecture. Here are our favorite things to do in Plovdiv, from restaurants and cafes to sites to museums to great photo spots!
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Wander around the picturesque Old Town
Built on a series of three hills, Old Plovdiv is home to cobblestone roads and picture-perfect houses, many of which have now been turned into museums. The architecture of the Old Town of Plovdiv is stunning and unique due to the clear presence of the Bulgarian National Revival, an architectural movement which emerged after the five-century-long Ottoman occupation. With unique features like ornamented windows, jewel-toned paint jobs, curved wooden supports, and painted embellishments like birds and floral designs.
In addition to the houses, the Old Town is also home to the famous Roman Amphitheater (more on that below), some cafés and restaurants where you can rest your feet, and small crafts stores.
Pro tip: Want to dive deeper into the history of Old Plovdiv? We recommend renting an audio-guide from the Visitor Information Center so you can go on a self-guided walking tour at your own pace. Get more information on that here.
See living history at the Roman Amphitheater
Plovdiv is most famous for its massive amphitheater in the center of its Old Town, built nearly 2,000 years ago by the Romans. Despite its age, it’s one of the best-preserved amphitheaters in the world.
Even though the ruins are in excellent condition and enjoy a central location, Plovdiv has what may be one of the least crowded Roman ruins you’ll ever see. When I went in August in the middle of the peak season, there was only a few other tourists there.
Entrance fees are modest — 5 leva, which is 2.50 euro, or 15 leva (7.50 euro) for a combined ticket that includes 5 other sites in the Old Town. Even today, the theater is still in use and is home to concerts and events throughout the year.
Walk through a former Roman Stadium in the heart of downtown
Not to be confused with the amphitheater, there are also the ruins of the Roman stadium in the heart of Plovdiv. The stadium is not as well-preserved as the amphitheater, but you can still see the remains of the “sfendona”, which is the curved part of the stadium with a gate and several rows of seats.
While mostly destroyed today, the stadium once was able to hold up to 30,000 spectators, and it’s one of the largest examples of Roman ruins that has been found in the Balkans. It’s one of many marks from Plovdiv’s past as the ancient city of Trimontium (aka, the “City of Three Hills” that composed what is now the Old Town of Plovdiv).
It’s located right at the foot of the Dzhumaya Mosque – like, literally, right at the foot – so it is quite easy to check off two major things to do in Plovdiv in one go!
Prefer to see the sights of Plovdiv with an experienced guide? This two-hour walking tour of Plovdiv may be a good choice.
Marvel at the last remaining mosque in Plovdiv, Dzhumaya Mosque
The Ottoman occupation of Bulgaria left a visible imprint in the architecture in some of its cities, and Plovdiv is no exception.
The Dzhumaya Mosque is the only mosque left standing in Plovdiv and dates back to 1363. Entrance is free of charge, and modest dress is required (though covers are available in the front in case you’d like to go in and don’t have appropriate clothing).
Take cheesy photos at the Together Monument
Plovdiv’s official slogan as part of its bid to be the European Capital of Culture for 2019 is “together,” which emphasizes the importance of creating and nurturing unity in the city as means of expressing culture and fostering creativity.
According to Plovdiv’s bid to be the Capital of Culture, the meaning of the theme is this: “We firmly believe that the similarities between us – whether among the different groups in Plovdiv, or the different cultures in Europe – are more than the features that separate us. And all our differences are actually the spices in our cultural and social life, which make it so amazing to live… Together.”
You can find the “Together” statue located on one a staircase which features prominently on the Main Street, Knyaz Alexander I.
Stroll down the Main Street (Knyaz Alexander I)
Knyaz Alexander I Street is Plovdiv’s largest pedestrian thoroughfare, the equivalent of Sofia’s Vitosha Boulevard. It’s the main shopping street, with international chains like H&M and Zara if you’re interested in picking up some new clothes while in Plovdiv, or plenty of cafés if you’d like to sit with a beer or coffee and people-watch.
This Main Street also connects several important sites like the Together monument, Dzhumaya Mosque, and the Roman Stadium, and it forms a natural middle-ground between the Kapana neighborhood and the Old City.
Get your culture on (for free) with a free walking tour
Sofia is home to countless free (albeit tip-based) tours, probably the most of any city in the world! The same organization which operates many of Sofia’s excellent free tours, 365 Association, also offers a daily walking tour in Plovdiv.
The tours operate twice daily in peak season (May to September) at 11 AM and 6 PM, and once daily off-season (October to April) at 2 PM. The free tour meets in front of the Municipality Building on Knyaz Alexander I (Main Street).
On the tour, you’ll see many of the attractions on this list, including the Old Town and its Bulgarian National Revival architecture, the Roman Amphitheater, the Roman Stadium, and more, while hearing about the 6,000-year history of this fascinating city from locals who love Plovdiv.
If you prefer a paid walking tour, we recommend this one.
Get “trapped” in the streets of Kapana
The neighborhood of Kapana (which translates to “The Trap” in Bulgarian) used to be the heart of town for merchants and craftspeople. The same artsy, DIY vibe now applies to the hipster restaurants, cafés, bars, galleries, and studios which make up Kapana.
This neighborhood has been renovated massively from its former neglected state, as part of the preparations for being the European Capital of Culture in 2019. Now, it’s home to cultural festivals, movie screenings, theatre shows, and other events (see the schedule here).
Eat a world-class meal at Pavaj
One of my favorite restaurants in Plovdiv is Pavaj, which serves Bulgarian food with a modern twist in the Kapana district. It’s well-loved, so it’s best to reserve a table if you want to be seated, or maybe you’ll get lucky and snag a table last-minute like I did when I visited.
If you manage to snag a seat, you’ve got to try the stuffed aubergine — it’s absolutely delicious — and don’t forget to wash it down with a glass of their excellent rosé. Their shopska salad is also delicious.
I recently went back for a second meal there and was blown away by their Bulgarian braised ribs – they were simply delicious, so tender and falling off the bone. Their curry and bean appetizer was also fantastic, and this time I saved room for dessert. Whatever you do, try to save room for their fantastic carrot cake topped with pomegranate seeds – truly delicious and not too sweet (my normal gripe with desserts).
Enjoy a fantastic craft beer at Cat & Mouse
Plovdiv is becoming someone of a hipster mecca, especially the neighborhood of Kapana, and one of the best-loved bars in the cities for aficionados of craft beer is Kotka & Mishka, aka “Cat and Mouse.”
They brew their own “Cat & Mouse” beer but they also feature brewers from Bulgaria, the Balkans, and beyond, including Kabinet (Serbia), White Stork (Bulgaria), Dogma (Serbia), Beer Bastards (Bulgaria), and so many more. It’s a great place to try something new and has a fun atmosphere both indoors and outdoors in warm weather. More info on their offers, check it out here.
Get a coffee (or drinks) at Monkey House
Monkey House serves up some of the best coffee in Kapana, let alone all of Plovdiv. The indoor decor is awesome, with a wheelbarrow seat that is definitely more fun to look at than it is to sit in!
While it’s known for its coffees, Monkey House is also great for a mid-afternoon drink (or several). They have a great selection of Bulgarian craft beers (I may or may not have spent too long sampling these beers and missed the last bus back to Sofia my first time there — oops) as well as cocktails.
Watch the sunset on one of Plovdiv’s hills
Plovdiv was built on seven hills (although there are only six hills today). This means that there are awesome views from many of the hills, and these views get even more awesome at sunset. Head up and wait for nightfall to get some amazing pics.
The most common hill to watch from is Nebet Tepe (Nebet Hill), which is part of the Old Town, but there are plenty of others with excellent views should you want a different vantage point.
Check out the Ancient Forum (part of Ancient Philippopolis)
People have inhabited Plovdiv since at least the 6th millennium BC, but it’s the ancient city of Philippopolis in Thrace that really gets the party started when it comes to historic tourism in Plovdiv. Most tourist will make sure to see the stadium and the theater, but don’t skip Philippopolis forum!
Like the forums in Rome and Athens, the ancient forum in Plovdiv was the center of commercial and public life in the city. It is located near the post office and General Gurko Street, so it’s not quite as visited by tourists, but it is worth a visit a l the same if you are intrigued by Thracian history.
Walk through the Eastern Gate
Originally built during the reign of Emperor Hadrian to celebrate his visit to the city, the Eastern Gate was the gate that leads to Byzantium. However, the gate we see today was built in later centuries following invasions of the city by the Goths. Lost for centuries, it was rediscovered in the 1970s. It’s a quick stop, but make time to see this ancient spot.
Just be warned that you’ll likely have to fight off a hoard of Instagrammers to get a rare people-free shot, as this has become one of the most Instagrammable places in Plovdiv.
Drool over the museum houses of the Old Town
With the restoration of many of the Bulgarian Revival Style houses in Plovdiv has come a plethora of houses being open for tourists. Some are full museums like the Ethnographic museum, while others are more informal open houses where you pay a small fee (usually 5 leva) to tour the restored houses and period furniture.
The three most famous museum houses are the Balabanov, Hindlian, and Nedkovich houses.
Pro tip: If you plan to see multiple of these museum houses, it is wise to buy the “combined ticket” for 15 leva that allows you entry into five different spots in the Old Town. We found these tickets at the ticket booth for the Ancient Amphitheater.
Have a gab with the Statute of Milyo
Milyo was a beloved citizen of Plovdiv. He was a prankster and the town gossip, and he was always trying to get info on the townsfolk.
Today, the statue is a memorial to his memory, and tourists and locals alike come to give him the latest rumors going around the city.
Get historical at the Archaeological Museum
This museum houses the artifacts associated with ancient Philippopolis and the history of Plovdiv, including icons, coins, documents, and pottery. There are over 100,000 objects spanning the history of the city and region.
Learn at the Natural History Museum and the Planetarium
Great for kids and science lovers, the national history museum boasts an aquarium with hundreds of species of aquatic life, a planetarium to explore space education, and a terrarium with spiders, water dragons, turtles, and other forms of terrestrial life.
Head out to Asen’s Fortress
A great idea for an excursion out of town, Asen’s Fortress is an ancient fortress with a storied past.
Archeological findings go all the way back to the Thracians, but its most exciting chapter might be when it was captured by the armies of the third crusade. Make sure to see the beautiful Church of the Holy Mother of God while you’re there. Bulgarian castles and fortresses are beautiful, and Asen’s Fortress is no exception.
Note: This is best enjoyed on a tour that combines Asen’s Fortress & Bachkovo Monastery, minimizing your transport time and giving you historical context. We recommend this highly-rated tour from Plovdiv Trips that combines the two sights plus also shows you some unique rock bridges found in the Rhodope Mountains.
Check out the beautiful Bachkovo Monastery
If you’re going to tour Bulgaria, you really must go to one of our beautiful monasteries. The one nearest to Plovdiv is Bachkovo, and it’s the second most important monastery in the country after Rila Monastery, with Troyan Monastery in the Central Balkans coming in third.
Combine this with Asen’s Fortress for a great day trip on one like this one, as both are near Asenovgrad. While there, make sure to see the famous Ossuary, which is the only part of the monastery to survive from the original structure.
Go on a day trip to the eerie Red Church
Another great day trip from Plovdiv, the Red Church is the current name for the ruins of a late Roman/early Byzantine basilica that is left in the open air. Closed for much of this century, it was reopened in 2013 after being restored. It’s a stunning place for astrophotography when the light and clouds are right.
See the beautiful Church of St. Konstantin and Elena
The oldest church in Plovdiv, it stands on the ruins of the ancient fortress walls of the city with a distinctive bright yellow color.
Christians have used this spot as a house of worship since the fourth century, although the current structure owes it’s appearance to nineteenth-century renovations. The iconostasis here is unique and done in the “Vienna Style,” and one of its icons of Constantine and St. Helena (St. Konstantin and St. Elena) is believed to perform miracles by locals. Worth a shot!
Check out the controversial Alyosha Monument
Like many of the important sites in Sofia, this statute speaks to the complicated and evolving relationship between Bulgaria and Russia. Alyosha is a giant statue of a Soviet soldier which stands on Bunarjik Hill and is visible across much of the city.
At the time it was erected, Bulgaria was a communist country squarely inside the political block of the Soviet Union. However, today, Bulgarian’s do not like to be reminded of this period and how Russia’s domination kept them from the economic prosperity experienced in Western Europe. You can read about the political situation and how to access the statue here.
Take a street art tour
Street art in Plovdiv is vibrant and, more importantly, it seemingly is everywhere, ranging from the kooky, quirky, and cutesy to more deep and political pieces.
You’ll see some on the free tour, but if you’re interested in the techniques, history, and talents behinds Plovdiv’s street art scene, we recommend that you book a dedicated tour.
Meet up with friends at Central Perk
Named after the coffee shop in the television show Friends, Central Perk is a great place to come and people watch over a cup of joe in the funky bohemian neighborhood of Kapana.
Despite the clear copyright infringement, it almost always has a buzzing crowd – though don’t be disappointed if Gunther isn’t the one serving the drinks.
Check out mosaics at the Cultural Center-Museum Trakart
Dating from 4th century AD, the Roman-era mosaics at the Trakart Cultural Center-Museum exist just as they were found, in situ and gorgeously preserved. Third and fourth-century mosaics make up the majority of the exhibition floor and are the main draw, but there are other reasons to visit this stunning museum.
The rest of the museum is filled with glass art, portraits, ceramics, complete figurines, and more. This one-of-a-kind museum is one of the best in Bulgaria for art history lovers and does excellent work to preserve these priceless mosaics. It’s a must-visit attraction for anyone visiting Plovdiv.
Walk up Nebet Hill
Keeping with the theme of Roman history, one of the seven hills of Plovdiv is known as “Nebet Hill.” This hill is the site of a massive Roman fortress complex that unfortunately isn’t in as good of shape as some of the other Roman ruins in Plovdiv.
Today, all that remains is the walls and some of the towers. Hidden beneath these is a secret tunnel and nestled nearby is an ancient water reservoir. The location of the former gate can be seen as well, but the real reason to visit Nebet Hill is for the stunning views of Plovdiv.
Walk along Plovdiv’s main river, Maritsa
Whereas Sofia has very little in the way of waterways, Plovdiv has a beautiful river going down the middle of the city, called the Maritsa River. The river separates central Plovdiv with more residential Plovdiv, but it’s definitely worth walking past.
If the weather is nice, you could rent a bicycle in Kapana and then take it for a ride alongside the river on the dedicated bike paths for a relaxing day combining sightseeing and some light exercise.
Learn about Bulgarian culture at the Regional Ethnographic Museum
Built in the former home of a merchant, this museum covers much of the known history of Plovdiv and is one of the best museums to visit if you want an extensive overview of the history of Bulgaria explored through cultural artifacts.
With six different rooms covering different time periods and cultures, the 40,000 different exhibits paint a nearly complete picture of the region’s history. The most interesting pieces in the collection are various clothing and tapestry, dating back hundreds of years.
Relax in the Tsar Simeon Garden
At a little over 130 years old, the Tsar Simeon Garden is relatively new in a city as old as Plovdiv. It was designed in 1879 by a Swiss landscape architecture, who was invited to design a garden fit for the Knyaz (Prince) Aleksandar Bogoridi.
While it fell into disrepair during the Communist era and subsequent years, it has since been renovated using archival photos. The end result properly reflects Bulgaria’s golden age, with a restored fountain and a Viennese pavilion. While it’s lovely to visit the garden during the day, it is perhaps best viewed during one of the music and light shows, which occur every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night at 9:30 PM.
See a vestige of the Ottoman past at Mevlevi Hane
The only known Dervish monastery in Bulgaria, the Mevlevi Hane reflects the Ottoman influence on the city.
However, it’s been in disuse since the 19th century, and all that remains of the monastery is the dancing hall which has been converted into a restaurant. The archeological finds from the area are displayed under the complex itself, allowing both the modern and ancient to exist together.
Still, there are some interesting murals to see and it is an enjoyable building to walk around, and it’s free to enter provided there are no events taking place at the time.
See the 400-year-old clock tower on Sahat Tepe
Another of the seven hills, Sahat Tepe is crowned with a unique clock tower. At over 400 years old, the tower has managed to stand the test of time. Watching the sunset on the tower gives a chance to witness the stone turning almost golden, showcasing the beauty and simplicity of the design.
Taste Bulgaria’s finest on a wine tour
While not known well internationally, Bulgaria produces some delicious wine, and Plovdiv is no exception. Available throughout the area are wine tours that allow tourists and locals alike to taste and enjoy the fruits of the region. With over 32 internationally recognized wine cellars, wine tours in Plovdiv are a wino’s dream.
We particularly love Bulgarian rosés from the Thracian Valley, but truly – it’s hard to find a bad Bulgarian wine!
Note: Planning a wine trip to Plovdiv? We recommend this wine tour that visits three wineries and includes a traditional Bulgarian lunch and transportation.
Try Bulgarian food at Dayana restaurant
If you want to try authentic Bulgarian cuisine without any outside influence, be sure to make a stop at the famous Dayana restaurant, of which there are three in the city.
Simply spiced and grilled meats, Bulgarian draft beer, food that represents the history of Bulgaria, and a homey atmosphere all make for an incredibly enjoyable experience. If you aren’t sure what to try, ask your waitress and prepare for a delicious, albeit meat-heavy, meal.
See a show in the Roman Amphitheater
Of all the events that a history buff could enjoy, this might take the cake. Enjoy a concert, play, or even a movie inside of the Roman Amphitheater that still sits within the city center. While modern facilities and upgrades have been added to the structure, the majority of it is original.
Throughout the year, various experiences are offered within the theater, welcoming visitors to step back in time and enjoy the Amphitheater as it once was.
Attend one of Plovdiv’s countless festivals
Every month there is something going on in the city, but perhaps some of the most interesting things to do in Plovdiv are the events and the local festivals. Often centered around Orthodox holidays or important Roman events, the city hustles and bustles with merchants, performers, and more. Folk festivals, Easter celebrations, and even jazz and wine festivals are some of the highlights available throughout the year. One event that I’m looking forward to is the Young Wine Festival at the end of November!
Check the official calendar to see when the next event is, and try plan your visit to Plovdiv so that you can make one of these special events. It’s the future Capital of Culture for a reason!
Purchase some local souvenirs in the Old Town
While the Old Town of Plovdiv of course has plenty of kitschy souvenirs, it also has a lot of authentic Bulgarian souvenirs you can buy. Forget magnets and postcards. What you should bring back from Bulgaria include products made with rose oil, local textiles, hand-crafted and hand-painted pottery, and Bulgarian spirits like rakija or Bulgarian wines.
We love the Old Town for having the best-stocked souvenir stops, such as this gorgeous ceramics shop pictured above.
Find gorgeous hidden green spaces
One thing we love about Bulgarian cities is that a beautiful, quiet green space is never far away. While you’re walking throughout Plovdiv, you’ll find several parks and green spaces that offer shade, peace, and solitude – a great way to rest your feet, take a break, and reflect on all the beautiful things you’ve done in Plovdiv that day.
We found this little peaceful alcove in the Old Town not far from the Tourist Information Center in Old Plovdiv.
Take a day trip to little-visited Thracian tombs
The Thracians were an important part of Bulgarian history and yet so little is known about these mysterious people, as the later Roman and Ottoman occupiers figure so much more prominently in accounts of Bulgarian history.
One of the most interesting things that the Thracian inhabitants of Bulgaria left behind are their one-of-a-kind Thracian tombs, purposely designed to look like burial mounds, The ones near the village of Starosel are over 2,000 years old and unique to this part of the world. Perfect for history buffs!
Note: You can book this day trip here!
Explore the museum town of Koprivshtitsa on a day trip
Koprivshtitsa is, in my opinion, one of Bulgaria’s best-kept secrets, and it’s not far from Plovdiv! Visiting this beautiful museum town is definitely well-worth a visit on any Bulgaria itinerary and since it’s an easy day trip from Plovdiv either independently or on a guided tour, it’s definitely worth the trip.
They have gorgeous museum houses, cobblestone streets, colorful houses, and play a hugely important role in Bulgaria’s uprising against the Ottoman occupiers.
Note: While it’s possible to visit on a public bus, we recommend taking an affordable day tour to Koprivshtitsa to fully understand the context of this beautiful, historic museum city!
Where to Stay in Plovdiv
If you’re still not sure where to stay in Plovdiv, don’t worry – we’ve done the legwork for you! Here are our top picks for each budget category in Plovdiv.
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: A budget-friendly, highly reviewed hotel in the middle of Plovdiv’s historic UNESCO Old Town full of gorgeous Bulgarian National Revival architecture? Yes, please! Hotel Evmolpia is a true hidden gem in Plovdiv, with gorgeous antique furnishings and elegant decor that is fitting to the 19th-century vibe of the Old Town. Meanwhile, the bathrooms are modern and newly renovated, so it’s really the best of both worlds. Note that because it is inside the Old Town so you may have to walk a bit from your taxi, but the hotel will help you with directions. 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.
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.
We have a guide to Instagramming Plovdiv you might want to check out. If Sofia is next on your list, check out this guide to getting between Plovdiv and Sofia, and what to do in Sofia when you get there.
You will also want to check out our overview of Balkan currency, which describes Bulgarian leva and how to tip in Bulgaria.
Planning a Trip to Bulgaria? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Make sure you always travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. Travel here includes outdoor activities and travel to highly touristed sites. You need to be covered in case you have an accident or fall victim to theft. Travel insurance will help you recover your expenses and continue to enjoy your trip.
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.
Have you been to Plovdiv? Share your tips and favorite things to do in Plovdiv below!
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Originally from California, Allison has been living in Bulgaria for the last two years and is obsessed with traveling around the Balkans. She has been published in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, Matador Network, and the Huffington Post. She loves befriending dogs, drinking coffee, geeking out about wine, and cooking food from around the world.