First-Time Visitor’s Guide to Plovdiv

A Guide to Plovdiv: I’ve been living in Bulgaria now for 7 years and I have to say it’s captured my heart. The scenery is breathtaking, the people friendly, and the fresh produce you can buy or grow is like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. I’ve found myself in several cities while living here but the city at the top of my list of places to visit has to be Plovdiv. It’s Bulgaria’s second largest city and was once its capital. If you’ve never been before keep reading. I’m sure you’ll be adding it to your bucket list of holiday destinations.

By Dawn Cowles

A Guide to Plovdiv: Getting There

Plovdiv has its own international airport and flights arrive there every day. It’s a quaint little airport and most definitely not busy. I, for one, love arriving at this airport. There’s nothing to spend your money on, no crowds of noisy tourists, and you’re in and out in a flash.

You can fly from Izmir, Belfast, Moscow, London Stansted, and Tel Aviv.

The airport is located several kilometres from the centre of Plovdiv, but there’s a bus that leaves after every flight and countless taxi drivers offering to take you there. 

That being said, most visitors to Plovdiv have to fly to Sofia first. From Sofia, the capital city, you can catch a train, travel by bus, or hire a car.   

Finding Your Way Around

If you spend time in the central part of the city, all you need is a good pair of shoes. Plovdiv is a pedestrian city so you won’t be too worried about transport. 

Those of you who want to travel further afield or explore attractions away from the city centre have the option of traveling by bus, hiring a taxi, or renting a car.

One word of warning, however, if you head out on the highway under your own steam. I’m not sure how to put it without causing offense, but ask a wide selection of Bulgarians about their driving skills and some might well agree they’re not the best of drivers.   

Currency and Payments

The currency used in Bulgaria is the Bulgarian lev. The lev (lv) is linked to the Euro so you don’t have to worry about whether you’re getting the right exchange rate. One Euro is equivalent to 1.95582 lv. There are exchange offices across the city, but pay attention to the rate you’re being offered. Better still, always change currency at a local bank. 

You’re probably better off using one of the many ATMs dotted around the city and most major retailers and large restaurants accept credit or debit card payments. 

If your travel plans take you away from the city to more rural locations, it’s best to have a pocket full of the local currency. 

So, how much do things cost in Plovdiv? Compared to more rural areas, Plovdiv is a little on the expensive side, but that’s much the same whatever city you visit. Visitors coming from countries such as the UK, Germany, and France will find it a relatively cheap and affordable destination. 

As a general rule of thumb, allow yourself EUR 30-40 per day, excluding the cost of accommodation.  

What’s the Weather Like?

Plovdiv from above, the Guide to Plovdiv
Beautiful from every angle, A Guide to Plovdiv

Ask Google this question and you’ll be told it’s a moderate continental climate with four seasons. I’ve been living in Bulgaria for several years now and I have to disagree. Temperatures have changed here over the last few years and now it might be considered a little more than moderate. 

I totally agree, however, there are four very distinct seasons.

  • Winter (December-February): temperatures can drop as low as -15 degrees Celsius, although not so much in recent years.
  • Spring (March-May): cool evenings and mornings, but warm during the day with temperatures ranging from 8-30°C.
  • Summer (June-August): hot throughout the day and night with temperatures often reaching 40+°C.
  • Autumn (September-November): much like spring with cool evenings and mornings and similar temperatures. 

The best time to visit, in my opinion, is spring or autumn. This is when the city and surrounding areas abound with colour. The lower morning and evening temperatures mean you can explore without having to worry too much about wrapping up to stay warm or keep out of the sun.

Plovdiv’s Commitment to a Sustainable and Renewable Urban Environment 

2019 saw the city embrace the concept of sustainability. Recycling has been a long time coming to Bulgaria, but I’m pleased to report the country is now taking the idea on board. 

It started in Plovdiv last year with a WeRecycle2019 campaign that included the creation of educational materials and dissemination of practical advice for residents. The idea behind the initiative was to motivate citizens to separate their waste and send it for recycling.

As well as approaching individuals on the street a clean up of several city areas was organised. The initiative was launched with a symbolic cleaning of a city centre park.  

Top  Attractions

Tall red apartment buildings, the Guide to Plovdiv
Incredible Architecture, A Guide to Plovdiv

In 2019, Plovdiv was the European Capital of Culture so there was plenty going on. It might not have the title this year but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to do. The city abounds with beautiful green spaces, historical attractions, cobbled streets, Roman ruins, brightly painted 19th-century mansions, and artsy neighbourhoods.

Let’s give you some suggestions on how you can best spend your time in this glorious Bulgarian city.

Roman Amphitheatre

An amphitheatre, the Guide to Plovdiv
The Roman Amphitheatre, A Guide to Plovdiv

No visit to Plovdiv is complete without visiting the Roman amphitheatre. It’s one of Plovdiv’s most iconic and cultural landmarks. The theatre is still in use today, 2000 years after its construction. 

The structure cuts into one of Plovdiv’s six hills and has a seating capacity of up to 7,000. The view from the terraces is amazing. Not only do you get a good view of what’s happening on the stage, but also the Rhodope Mountains in the background. The Roman’s certainly knew what they were doing when they built this theatre, the acoustics are breathtaking. 

You can pay this attraction a visit to just look around, but it’s worth finding out whether there are any performances taking place. Some very famous musicians have graced the stage in recent years, including Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull fame and Sting.  

Old Town

The Old Town is one area in Plovdiv that’s pedestrianized. The streets are cobbled and traditional homes blend in with some of the city’s Roman ruins.

Many of the houses are half-timbered and some richer examples are painted in rich and vibrant colours.  

The Roman Stadium

Plovdiv was once under Roman control and at the time was named Philippopolis. You can see remains from this time all over the city, but one of the most striking is the Roman Stadium. It sits underneath parts of the Old Town and the city’s main street. 

Kapana – The Trap

Kapana is a district in Plovdiv that’s become synonymous with arts and crafts. The name means ”a trap” and you’ll soon understand why. Spend a few hours wandering around the criss-crossing streets and soak up the atmosphere. It won’t be long before you feel sucked in and not want to leave.

Until the 1990s it was merely a parking zone full of houses that were falling into disrepair. Funding from the European Capital of Culture Foundation allowed a transformation to take place in 2014 and it’s been getting better ever since.  

Tsar Simeon Garden

The heat can get very oppressive if you find yourself in Plovdiv during the summer months. There are, however, places you can go to cool off. One fine example is the Tsar Simeon Garden. This beautiful green space has plenty of cafes where you can enjoy a cool drink and numerous park benches where you can sit back and people watch.

The Singing Fountains are located in the park and can be considered one special reason to visit the park at night. During the summer months, the fountains play music and there’s a special light and water show after dark.  

Climb the City Hills

Plovdiv was originally built on seven hills, although now there are only six. One disappeared because it was quarried for materials with which to construct the city.

The most popular hill for tourists is Nebet Tepe, one of the three hills of the Old Town. Archaeological remains found in this area date from 4,000BC. Another hill that’s special is Bunardzik Tepe. Looming at the summit is a huge Soviet soldier statue.

Talk to the locals and they’ll tell you that you have to climb all six hills and experience a sunset from each one. I’m currently on number two. 

Surrounding Area

There’s plenty to see and do if you ever want to visit Plovdiv but it’s also a great place from which to explore the area. Other attractions nearby include:

  • Bachkovo Monastery: the second largest and oldest Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, bringing together Bulgarian, Georgian, and Byzantine religious traditions.
  • Asen’s Fortress: a medieval castle that teeters on the edge of a ridge overlooking the Asenitsa River.
Rocky alcove in the hills
  • Starosel Thracian Temple Complex: dates back over 2,500 years and is where Thracians buried their elite in underground tombs under mounds. They are the oldest royal tombs to be discovered.
  • Perperikon: one of the most ancient monumental megalithic structures entirely carved into the rocks. It has been used for religious activities since the 5th century BC. Over the years the structures grew and became a town with fortified walls, palaces and suburbs. It is thought to have been a royal residence for the Thracian tribe Bessie.
Lookout platform high in rocky hills
  • Buzludzha: perched on top of a hill in the mountains of Bulgaria is Buzludzha. It’s now fallen into disrepair but is, nevertheless, a striking building. It was opened in 1981 as the Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party. When the country transitioned to democracy, the building was abandoned. There’s an atmosphere here that I just can’t explain and the views are to die for. 
Giant carvings, Plovdiv artwork
Incredible Buzludzha, A Guide to Plovdiv

I hope this guide to Plovdiv will pique your interest in what for me is a beautiful and interesting city. I’ll be extolling the virtues of other locations in this country I’m now proud to call my home.