Two Days in Plovdiv
Plovdiv, Bulgaria was everything we were hoping for in our Balkans sojourn, all rolled into one adorable little town and we'll tell you how to have the perfect day there.
Hot Take: Plovdiv is the kinda place you would picture if you closed your eyes and imagined a picturesque Bulgarian town…but in real life it is even better than that. (4.5 stars)
Pro Tip: Stay in the Kapana Area in the city center for the best blend of convenience and local flavor.
Plovdiv is located in the hills of central Bulgaria and is the country’s second largest city, though it only has around 300,000 people today. However, Plovdiv is an ancient city with evidence of habitation dating back to the 6th millennium before Christ (it is said to be one of the oldest cities in Europe). Much like Sofia, Plovdiv has layers like an onion that expose its colorful past (and some pretty amazing Roman ruins). Having already fallen hard for Bulgaria while in Sofia, Plovdiv cemented our love of this country. Plovdiv remains our favorite city in Eastern Europe and is well deserving of its designation as the European Capital of Culture for 2019. With much too little time to stay and enjoy, we made the best of our one full day in this wonderful little city.
Free Walking Tour
A walking tour is the part of any great day in a European city and we got lucky with an excellent from Free Plovdiv Tour that began at 11:00a and lasted for 3 hours. On a bright and sunny summer day, this tour took us through the walkable Old Town area as well as up to the peak of one of the 7 hills that give Plovdiv it’s name. While the entire history of the area was fascinating, we especially enjoyed learning of Plovdiv’s role as a major outpost of the Roman Empire in the area. The Roman influence can be seen throughout the Old Town, including a spectacular gladiator and horse racing stadium that runs underneath the entire length of the main walking street of the city. In fact, you can go into H&M and get an amazing peak at the ancient history uncovered and preserved in the building’s basement. in the Old Town are houses like the Klianti House – built in 1816 and is one of the oldest preserved buildings from the Bulgarian Revival. The tour ends with going to the top of Nebet Hill which has some of the best views of the entire city and is a perfect locals spot for watching the sunset.
The Street Art of Plovdiv
Make sure to check out all the great street art around the Kapana neighborhood. We’ve seen a lot of street art this year and Plovdiv had some of our favorite. Because it is the European cultural capital for 2019 they were really doing their best to liven up the streets and we loved seeing the colorful flags everywhere.
It is no secret that we love to eat and after a long walking tour, we were ready for business. The café scene in Old Town Plovdiv is definitely on point and it seemed that wherever you went in the Old Town there were tremendous restaurants that blended outstanding local ingredients and patient cooking methods with low prices to create our favorite kind of eatery! The pork ribs, cheeses, and eggplant dishes were especially nice in Plovdiv and any visitor should be prepared to eat their fill. We found the perfect spot in the Kapana called Pavaj (which was so good that we ate here for lunch the next day too). A farm to table concept featuring Bulgarian classics updated to modern pallets, Pavaj is our favorite restaurant in Eastern Europe (and Matt still dreams about the fall-off-the-bone ribs). Local wines and a total price under $20 makes this place one of our global favorites. If you plan on visiting call or stop by to make a reservation especially for dinner as they are typically booked in advance.
Shopping and Wandering
The Old Town and Kapana Area of Plovdiv make for an excellent mix of eclectic stores and great values, so shopping while you wander is a great way to spend the afternoon. Walk the Longest Pedestrian Street in Europe – At 1750 metres in length, Plovdiv boasts the longest pedestrian street in Europe. All your tourist staples are on offer (from gelato to clothing) but it feels more intimate and local than ‘big city shopping’.
After a full day of touristing, its dinner time.
Opera at the Roman Amphitheater
After dinner, we strolled over to the cap on a perfect tourist day…a bit of culture under the stars. In Plovdiv, that means seeing an operatic performance while seated alfresco in an ancient Roman theater was built almost 2,000 years ago. Plovdiv’s Roman Theater, located between two of Plovdiv’s hills, was constructed in the 1st century AD then lost to time and buried in dirt before being rediscovered below a housing block. Lovingly restored and modernized, today it is one of the world's best-preserved ancient theaters with seating for about 5000. It is indescribably cool that such a magical place is actually in use for performances which are mostly attended by locals. With tickets purchased earlier that day (for $40 total at the office near end of the walking tour), we had 4th row center seats to 1.5 hours of opera featuring one of the Bulgaria’s leading soloists. (Kelly even got a goosebumps all over hearing Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen for the encore).