Plovdiv or Sofia? I Chose Sightseeing in Plovdiv And Loved It!

To make a long story short: back when I was a student, I needed to leave Turkey to renew my visa. I only had one day to spend in the nearest country, Bulgaria. I was visiting Bulgaria for the first time and had a hard time deciding where to go. Plovdiv or Sofia? My Bulgarian friend told me to skip Sofia and go sightseeing in Plovdiv instead. 

She made this advice because:

  • Plovdiv size is a good fit for a day trip to Bulgaria
  • She is originally from Plovdiv and had tonnes of local information for me to visit her hometown. You’re lucky; I wrote them down (including her list of the best restaurants!) so I could share them here!

 

Are you staying in Sofia? You can book a day tour from Sofia here*.

 

I considered that I’d probably get other opportunities to visit Sofia later in my life. And I was curious about sightseeing in my friend’s hometown. I had no time to plan, and she had sent me a great itinerary to explore her town as if she were with me. Too easy!

So I caught a night bus from Istanbul to explore by myself the second largest city in Bulgaria in one day. 

Sightseeing Plovdiv Ancient Theatre“Plovdiv is the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe.”

I like finding superlative facts about places. So this is the one for Plovdiv. Telegraph UK listed it in the 20 oldest cities in the world. Plovdiv ranks number 8, and all the older cities are in the Middle East. As a comparison, Plovdiv’s earliest inhabitants settled in 4,000BC, a long time before Athens (1,400BC).

 

Why I loved sightseeing in Plovdiv

Plovdiv BulgariaPlovdiv has many different facets. From Roman ruins to National Revival houses. From red to blue to yellow. From the mosque to churches and temples… And on top of being diverse, it’s beautiful! I was surprised there were only a few tourists when I visited Plovdiv – which I always appreciate. It was late in the year so the season may have helped.

I was a solo woman traveller in Plovdiv. The beginning was a bit chaotic: I got dropped by the bus too early – in the middle of the night. That’s when I realised my friend’s map was in English and they use a different alphabet in Bulgaria. That was a bit of an adventure to start the day, but I ended up meeting nice Bulgarian people. I had coffee with two local young girls who were excited to practice their English, and we spent a couple of hours walking around their town together. It was great to interact with that many locals; I had a blast. That’s someing I love about travelling solo.

Of course, one day was only enough to taste the potential of Bulgaria. I’d love to go to Bulgaria again for longer. I do want to explore Sofia in the future, and I’ve heard many great things about the Black Sea coast.

If you are in Plovdiv for more than one day, there are a few things to explore in the region, including wineries. Have a look at all these day tours available* and these photos were taken only two hours away, in the lavender fields of the Rose Valley, best-explored mid-June to the end of July.

What are Plovdiv’s Best Sights?

Plovdiv BulgariaIf you are planning a trip to Plovdiv, you’ll be interested in this free guided walking tour. I did not join the tour, but it seems to cover the city well, and I like to learn from a local guide!

I loved the historic heart of the old town. The cobbled stoned streets and coloured buildings make it look very picturesque. It’s very different from the atmosphere in the city centre. The roman Ancient Theatre is a real must-see, I’d travel across the world for such a view! (more info below)

List of things to see in Plovdiv in one day:

There’s a map at the end of the article with all the attractions and the restaurants I mentioned in the article.

Sightseeing Plovdiv Ancient Theatre 02The Roman ruins, especially Plovdiv’s Ancient Theatre

The Stadium and the Forum are interesting, but if you only have time to see one thing, check out the Plovdiv Ancient Theatre. I’ve seen beautiful Roman ruins during my travel, like Aphrodisias in Turkey, but Plovdiv Ancient Theatre was particularly breathtaking. Built in 1st century AD, it looks almost intact and is still used to host events where 7,000 people can seat! I wish I travelled during the summer months to watch a performance there. Not only is it incredible to wander in a theatre that’s almost 2,000 years old, but the place also offers fantastic views in the background. Indeed, the Romans built the theatre at the top of one of the many hills of the city.

The lovely views from the hills

There are a few hills to choose from to get a bird’s eye view of the city. No doubt you can guess which one was my favourite…! But I also recommend taking the time to check out Danov Hill and Nebet Hill.

Sightseeing Plovdiv - Hill view 01
Sightseeing Plovdiv - hill view 02

The historic houses and museums

The beautiful houses were built in the 19th century. The most famous ones are Lamartine’s house (the only one on my list that cannot be visited), Balabanov’s house, Kuyumdjiev’s house, Hindliyan’s house, Nedkovich’house.

The Ethnographic Museum is inside Kuyumdjiev’s house and an excellent opportunity to learn more about the way of life in this region of the world.

Plovdiv Lamartine House
Plovdiv historic houses

Dzhumaya Mosque

Coming from Istanbul, I wasn’t that impressed – Local Td by Dzhumaya Mosque, but it’s worth noting it is one of the oldest and largest in the Balkans, built in the 14th century.

Kapana

Kapana is the place to find arty shops and lovely cafes.

 

Check what’s on while you’re in Plovdiv! As I am writing this article, the Festival of the Old Town is on. Also, if you are planning a lot ahead, it will be the Capital of European Culture in 2019.

The Best Restaurants in Plovdiv – Local Tips

There’s a map at the end of the article with all the attractions and the restaurants I mentioned in the article.

The main street is Glavna. It is lively with many shops and restaurants to choose from.

My friend told me to get lost in the adjacent streets and particularly advised to stop at the Art News Café. There are many options for food, and it was cheap! As per her recommendations, I chose what she said is the best restaurant in Plovdiv for my budget: the unique and cosy Veda House. I ordered many Bulgarian specialities, almost the entire menu. A bit too many – each one was quite big… As it was only 10€ for three meals, I expected something smaller. I felt ashamed as I could not finish it all – it was delicious, but the portions were huge!

I had no idea the Bulgarian cuisine was that good.

For drinks, the Ale House had great home-made beers.

If you’re looking for something fancy, you may be tempted by PhilippopolisRestaurant Megdana is also a good option for tourists as they offer folk dances to transform your dinner into a show (booking recommended).

Plovdiv Best restaurants - Bulgarian Food 03
Plovdiv Best restaurants - Bulgarian Food 02
Plovdiv Best restaurants - Bulgarian Food 01

 

Where to spend the night in Plovdiv? Unfortunately, I did not spend a night in Plovdiv. I took a night bus back to Istanbul. But I’d recommend staying in Plovdiv for longer than just one day and choosing a hotel in the city centre.  If that’s your plan, you can click here to view hotels*.

 

Where is Plovdiv?

Zoom in to see the pins for all the places mentioned in the article!

Plovdiv is in the middle of the south of Bulgaria. It is about 2 hours from the capital Sofia. Buses and trains are also going from Istanbul to Plovdiv. Plovdiv has an international airport including direct flights from London with Ryanair.

If you’re planning a trip to Bulgaria, you’ll want to have a look at these tips written by a local that lists 15 charming places in Bulgaria. I bet you haven’t heard of them all and you’ll want to check every single one of them! And if you’re not convinced yet you should travel to Bulgaria, check out this article on why Bulgaria is going to be Europe’s next big thing, and you may change your mind!

 

 

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Plovdiv or Sofia? I chose Plovdiv!
Plovdiv or Sofia - Sightseeing in Plovdiv - one day
Plovdiv or Sofia - Sightseeing in Plovdiv - what to see
The Best Restaurants in Plovdiv - Bulgaria - Local Tips

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