Let’s make a trip to the oldest living city in Europe, and the 6th oldest in the world! It is called Plovdiv, located in Bulgaria. Take a look at Plovdiv by this ultimate guide, and if you want to travel around Europe, don’t skip this unique place!
Usually when we go to a trip somewhere, we are very interested to visit the destination’s landmarks, to know the history, culture, and as more as possible details in it. But in the same time we don’t think too much about our own home cities where we have been born and grew. We just look at them as a normal daily places of our daily life. Plovdiv was a such place for me.
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Plovdiv- a hidden treasure
As I was grew in Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria, long time I didn’t realize this fact. Yes, I knew that Plovdiv is an attractive tourist city with long history, but somehow didn’t think too much about it, while I was just involving in the daily routine life there, for many years.
Then something happened in my mind- it happens usually through an idea, reminder during a trip to other destinations, or just talking or reading something- while I was very interested in the history of the cities that I wanted to visit, I realized that I didn’t know the history of my hometown. In fact, although I have lived there many years, I still “haven’t visited and explored” it. Fortunately it was not difficult to be recover, so now as a citizen of this city, I am glad to introduce it here.
Plovdiv- somehow underrated
Plovdiv is a not so famous and not so well known pearl, located in Bulgaria, which is also one of the less known countries in Europe. When someone wants to travel to Europe, usually the first countries that are in his mind are UK, France, Italy, Netherlands or Germany. If asked about come countries in East Europe- then Poland, Czech republic, Hungary, Slovenia.
If asked about countries of the Balkans- usually first Greece, then Croatia, Romania and North Macedonia. I don’t know why is it like this- maybe bad or weak advertisement or even lack of advertisement. But this has its advantages too- although Plovdiv is an unique city, one of the oldest in the world, you can’t see a lot of crowds on its streets, including its Old town. And it can make a walk around it amazing and even a kind of mystic in some places.
7 facts about Plovdiv
- Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria, currently with population around 380 000 people.
- It is situated in Upper Thrace plain, at about 160 m altitude, between Rhodope mountains in the south and Sredna gora (Middle forest/mountain) and Stara planina (Old mountain) in the north.
- Plovdiv is built on five hills (before they were seven, but two of them (the smallest) were gradually destroyed).
- Plovdiv is the oldest living city in Europe, and one of the oldest in the world, dating back from at least 2000 BCE. You can find remains from all ages of Plovdiv’s life, including Thracian, Macedonian, Roman, Slavic, Turkish and modern Bulgarian.
- Plovdiv is one of the cities with most names in the world. During his history it has names like: Eumolpia, Pulpudeva, Philippopolis, Trimontium, Paldin, and many other names.
- The modern center of Plovdiv is situated over an ancient Roman stadium, hidden beneath its main street.
- The Main Pedestrian street of Plovdiv is the longest one in Europe, with total length of 1,8 km
History of Plovdiv
Plovdiv has more than 4000 years history, passing through many ages. Every age has left something, and you can see remains of it around the whole city. It has been under control of various nations, empires and kingdoms: Thracian, Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, Slavic, Bulgarian and Turkish Ottoman.
So Plovdiv has ancient stone remains from the Thracian age, big ancient stone constructions from Roman age- such as the Roman stadium and Ancient Roman theater, as well as early churches’ remains from Byzantine times.
As such an ancient city, Plovdiv has its Old town complex, located on the Three hills, with a specific Bulgarian Revival architecture and unique atmosphere. Plovdiv has also a newer quarters, from the beginning of 20th century, again with its own taste from that period of time. And Plovdiv of course has a modern taste too.
How to reach Plovdiv
Plovdiv is easy accessible city, since it is situated on a plain, and on the main highway connecting Europe with Asia through Istanbul.
- You can arrive to Plovdiv by plane, to the Plovdiv airport. It is a small airport, but still have connections with some countries, mainly in Western Europe, and used mainly by low tariff air companies.
- The most common way to reach Plovdiv is to arrive first to Sofia, the Bulgarian capital. Then there are regular buses and trains to Plovdiv, for about 2 hours.
- And of course you can reach Plovdiv on land from many roads- first from the main “Orient express”highway Europe-Asia, and from other roads, from every direction- by bus, by train and by car.
Walking around Plovdiv
Plovdiv is not a very big city, especially its central part, where most of its attractions are concentrated. You can walk around the center on foot (and actually it is the most proper way to walk, since many parts of the center, such as the Main street, Central park (King Simeon’s garden) and the Old town are pedestrian areas, with some exceptions closed for vehicles.
For some more distant destinations you can go by bus (1 BGN, in most of the buses sold by a conductor inside the bus, sometimes directly from the driver), by city van (called “marshrutka”)- again 1 BGN, and by taxi (not expensive, usually about 5 to 10 BGN, if you go for example from the south to the north part of the city.
Things to do in Plovdiv
Various people have various taste, style and interests. And Plovdiv can offer much for them:
Explore the ancient history
Plovdiv is full of historic remains. You definitely MUST visit its Ancient Roman theater, which is Plovdiv’s landmark. Beside it, there is the underground Roman stadium, Forum Philippopolis, Trakart complex, Small and the newly-opened Great Basilica, as well as many others. And if you want to really enjoy and make it useful, you have to be familiar with Plovdiv’s history, its really long and interesting.
Plovdiv- the Anctient Roman theater
Enjoy the Old town atmosphere
Plovdiv’s Old town is a great treasure of Bulgarian Revival atmosphere. There are many “Old town” complexes in the world and this one is really worth to visit. While most of the Old towns are usually crowded and full of stalls, shops, cafes and street mess, Plovdiv’s Old town is quiet, in some places even mysterious. And very beautiful.
For art lovers
Plovdiv is full of art and culture. There are many museums and art galleries- in Old town, as well as in the Main street. Kapana quarter (northwest of Old town) is full of art shops too.
Plovdiv has rich music life too. For the classical music lover, there are regular symphonic and choir concerts in the city’s main concert halls. There are a lot of jazz performances too- mainly in the Plovdiv’s clubs. Central square and “Kopchetata” square are often used for open air performances- Plovdiv is a regular host for ethno folk performance groups from various countries, especially in the summer.
And Plovdiv’s Ancient Roman theater is also often used for performances- from classical music to rock music. For example if you like gothic metal music, bands like Paradise Lost and Anathema had live performances exactly there, as the ancient atmosphere fits their music.
There are a lot of night clubs, bars and disco in Plovdiv, as well as pop-folk clubs. They are mostly concentrated in Kapana quarter. If you go there at evening, you can see a lot of young people gathering there for a party.
The Bulgarian wine is one of the best quality wine in the world. Although not so famous as the wine from France and Australia, the Bulgarian wine has its own specific features. And since Plovdiv region is one of the places in the country with the best vineyards, there are many places in the city, where you can try and enjoy the Bulgarian wine.
There are many restaurants with local Bulgarian food. And some of them are situated in the historical areas as the Old town, so you can enjoy the traditional food in the Bulgarian traditional atmosphere, along with the Bulgarian traditional music.
Sport and relax
Plovdiv is famous with its sport attractions too. The Plovdiv’s sport center is situated in the northwest outskirt of the city, called “King’s Island” with its Rowing channel- the best sport outfit of this kind in the Balkans, used for European rowing cup and other sport contests. There are many other playgrounds and stadiums in this park too. There are also many swimming pools, as well as park forests.
Since Plovdiv is situated on few hills, you can climb to their tops and enjoy the splendid panorama to the city, the plain field around it and the distant mountains behind.
For those who love shopping, Plovdiv has a lot to offer too. There are few big malls in the city, although they are not in the center, but you can reach them by city buses or taxis. However the Plovdiv’s Main street is full of shops too. And if you want to buy souvenirs, you can find a lot of places to buy, including the famous Bulgarian rose and its products.
The accommodation in Plovdiv is not expensive, compared with the most developed countries in the world. There are mostly small hotels in the city, as well as few bigger hotels. The prices are average between 30 and 60 BGN (some per room, some per bed). Airbnb.com has some offers in the city too.
Check out your accommodation options in Plovdiv:
If you stay in Plovdiv only for a day, you can use the time to explore the central area with most attractions. One day is enough to walk from Central square, on the Main street, to the Old town, then to Kapana quarter and if you sleep in Plovdiv at night, you can go to a bar-club or restaurant there.
If you have more time, then it is worth to see the central and historic area more slowly, with more details. Also I recommend to climb at least one of the hills and enjoy the panorama to the city. And if you have more more time, you can make some trips to the destinations outside of Plovdiv：
Destinations near Plovdiv
If you have more time, it is worth to make some trips near Plovdiv. The main and the best directions are to the south- to Rhodope mountain.
Asenovgrad and Asenova krepost
Asenovgrad is a nice town in the foot of Rodopi mountain. It is full of Orthodox churches, which are really worth to visit. And its best landmark is the nearby Asenova krepost (Asen’s fortress)- a medieval fortress remains on the deep valley slopes of Chepelarska river, with its old church.
Bachkovo and Dobrostan massif
If you proceed further from Asenovgrad on the main road to Smolyan, 9 km south of the town is the village Bachkovo, famous with its Bachkovo monastery- the second biggest monastery in Bulgaria, in the deep canyon of Chepelarska river.
Bachkovo monastery is full of history and culture. From there, if you like hiking, you can make a trekking to Dobrostan massif and Marciganitsa chalet. The path to there is really exciting, first passing by meadows in a deep canyon, by a waterfall, by baptisterium (baptism pool) and by hermit caves. Then it is climbing on a narrow steep valley until the Dobrostan karst plateau- you can climb there for about 3-4 hours, and back for 3 hours to Bachkovo.
Zdravec, Byala cherkva
It is another favorite place for relax and hiking for the Plovdiv citizens. Zdravec chalet is about 28 km south of Plovdiv and there are few buses every day from bus station Rodopi. The area is between 1150 and 1600 m altitude, with a lot of pine, mixed forests and meadows, as well as many other chalets, villas and small hotels. There is a small monastery on its highest point- Byala cherkva (White church).
Sitovo and Lilkovo villages
Sitovo and Lilkovo are two picturesque villages, situated about 40-45 km south of Plovdiv. The area is very beautiful (between 1300 and 1600 m altitude), with fur and pine forests and beautiful meadows,excellent for hiking. You can sleep in some of the few guesthouses in the villages, or just in a camping, somewhere in the forest around.
Moreover, here you can find some mysterious historical gems. One of them is the Sitovo petroglyphs stone, with signs written in deep ancient past from unknown people, remained unrecognized until today. And the other place is Shtuda grada- a high rocky summit over the place with the petroglyphs stone with rocks that are probably artificially shaped and used as an ancient worship place.
It is another nice place for walk. Varhovrah is an old chalet, but there are few other newer option for sleep one night there. There is a small village Churen nearby, and from there you can walk for about 2-3 hours to the remains of Tamrash village. Tamrash was an old Turkish village during the Ottoman age. But after the liberation of Bulgaria, it was abandoned. Now you can see its ghostly silent remains inside the forest.
It is a special place in Rhodope mountain- a karst peak with a rocky holed terrace. Since the ancient times there has been a Thracian shrine, and actually there are remains from the most ancient history times, since few thousand years ago. There are also some magnetic anomalies detected here, which seems has been known to the ancient people too, and their remains follow these points of anomalies.
There are many legends related with this place. It is about 55 km from Plovdiv. There is no bus going there, but if you are few people, you can rent a car to go there. Or you can go by bus to Topolovo village, just below the mountain, then you can reach Belintash by few hours walk. There are few small villages around, as well as few guesthouses and small hotels. You can sleep there or camp in the forests around.
Other points of interest south of Plovdiv
You can also go to Kuklen and its Kuklen monastery, to Sveti Kirik monastery near Asenovgrad, to Perushtitsa town or Hrabrino village- all these are nice places for walk and relax. Or you can take a bus from bus station Rodopi- to Smolyan.
The road to Smolyan offers many places for mountain hiking and relax. The bus passes by Asenovgrad and Bachkovo, and after Bachkovo you can stop in any of the following points: Slivovdol waterfall (a small stop after the third tunnel), from where a path leads to one of the highest waterfalls in Bulgaria; then- Yugovo restaurant, Narechenski bani (mineral spa complex), Hvoina, Sinia Han- starting poinst to Persenk and the Wonderful bridges; then Chepelare (a small mountain town) and Pamporovo- a famous mountain resort.
Places to visit north of Plovdiv
The Plovdiv Plain is wider north of the city, and it looks like there is nothing special in it, but from the place where it merges with the mountains, you can find a lot more places- both natural and human-made.
Hissarya Mineral baths
Hissarya is a small mineral spa town-resort in the northern part of the Plovdiv plain, about 40 km from Plovdiv. Besides the spa mineral complex, Hissarya has a rich history, left a lot of remains, from the Thracian age to the modern days.
Banya Mineral baths
It is another spa resort, 45 km north of Plovdiv. It is notorious not only with its mineral waters, but also as one of the starting points to the famous Bulgarian rose areas.
It is a village, about 55 km from Plovdiv, famous with its ancient history. It was an important Thracian settlement after 5th century BC and now you can visit its Thracian Shrine complex.
Karlovo, Sopot, Kalofer
These three towns are situated about 50-60 km north of Plovdiv, on the foot of the highest part of Stara planina (Old mountain). They are famous with its Revival history and the national heroes, born there. They are also famous with its rose oil products and as starting points for Stara planina hiking, which is rising over the towns from 400 to 2300 m altitude.
So, if you plan a visit to Bulgaria, don’t skip Plovdiv! It is one of the most important and representative destination in this Balkan country, and the mysteries that you can see and experience there are a unique part of the European image.
Get more impressions of Plovdiv from the video below!
Check out some travel books about Plovdiv and Bulgaria:
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Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.