Plovdiv is located in southern Bulgaria and is one of the oldest cities in Europe. With a rich history spanning over 8,000 years, Plovdiv has been a significant cultural, economic, and political center throughout the centuries.
As far as European cities go, Plovdiv pretty much has everything you're looking for - beautiful architecture, extensive history, ancient ruins, good food, and wine. It also has something that many European cities don't - a soul.
If you ask anyone from Plovdiv, they'll tell you how different their city is from Sofia, Bulgaria's largest city. They'll tell you Sofia is too big and too metropolitan nowadays, while Plovdiv has a laid-back, dawdling quality to it.
I don't really like making statements like "the best-kept secret in Europe" - they feel like clickbait hyperbole. But after spending a month in Plovdiv, it's hard not to make that declaration about this city. It's only a matter of time until Plovdiv has its moment in the spotlight.
Bakeries and Cafes
- The Family Coffee Roasters makes some of the best coffee in Plovdiv. Go there for an oat milk cappuccino, or buy yourself some of their house-blend beans.
- Dukiana Coffee Roasters also serves excellent coffee. There's a nice area to sit outside and enjoy Turkish coffee on a nice day.
- If you want a croissant or a morning pastry, Kapana Bakery is for you. They also bake some great rustic bread if you're thinking of a picnic or dinner at home.
Restaurants and Bars
- Named after "aylyak," restaurant Aylyakria serves up some of the most delicious food in Plovdiv, hands down. Part of their menu is seasonal, so you can expect to get a sense of what type of food Bulgaria produces.
- For a fun date night spot, try Pavaj.
- Rahat Tepe is a beer garden with expansive outdoor space in Old Town. An excellent place for a casual lunch or watching the sunset on a nice day.
- If you're looking for an affordable lunch, check out Sofra near Kapana.
- Sometimes, we all have pizza crazings. La Casa will make you happy.
- The Reading Room is a quaint little bar to enjoy a quality cocktail and good company.
- Go to Chasha to try some of the best Bulgarian wines around.
- Baba Yaga is a great, no-frills bar for watching a football game.
- Jazz Insights and Kontrabas are two spots for enjoying live jazz music.
- Hit up Wunderbaer for all your craft beer needs. Try the pilsner or very unique Weinbeere.
- Go to Art Club Nylon if want an old-school dive bar. This is the type of place where, as a tourist, all eyes will be on you when you walk through the door. But it's good fun.
- If you're looking for some craft cocktails, Barber & Cat is your spot. Ask for a rakia sour.
Sights and Sounds
- The Ancient Theatre of Philippopolis and Roman Forum of Philippopolisis are some of the most well-preserved Roman ruins you'll find.
- The city of Plovdiv did a fantastic job restoring the Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis. They built a museum over the Basilica, allowing you to walk around and look at the impressive mosaic work.
- Take a beautiful stroll and do some people-watching at Tsar Simeon Garden Park.
- Walk through the old cobblestone streets of Old Town Plovdiv. The Regional Ethnographic Museum is in a beautiful old building and looks into the area's history.
- For something a little different, see if there's a show at the Plovdiv Opera House.
To get to Plovdiv, you'll need to fly into Bulgaria's capital, Sofia. From there you'll need to take either a train or bus to Plovdiv - either is a suitable option, but the bus is a little cheaper. You can use websites like Omio to book your ticket.
Plovdiv itself is a small and extremely walkable city. Most everything you'll want to see - Kapana, the old ruins, and Old Town, are easy to reach by foot. Taxis are also widely available and affordable.
- Aylyak is a word that is unique to residents of Plovdiv. Originally adopted from the Turkish word for idle, the folks from Plovdiv have made it into a way of life. There's no universal definition for aylyak, but for the most part, it can be boiled down to something like "living your life at a relaxed pace and enjoying the moment." Not a bad philosophy, right?
- Sampling some rakia, a fruit brandy famous in the Balkan regions, is a must for drink enthusiasts. Typically made from plums or grapes, but technically can be made out of anything with sugar. When you ask for some, if the bartender pulls out a clear unmarked bottle, you know you have the good stuff. Nazdrave!
- Find any bakery around the city and try some banitsa (sometimes called burek in other Balkan countries) - a flaky, buttery pastry filled with all local cheese, spinach, and sometimes meat. Delicious and affordable.
- Philipopolis was a Roman city that pre-dates modern-day Plovdiv. Somehow this city has managed to preserve and maintain its ruins better than most cities I've been to thus far. Many of the Roman ruins are free to walk around, others charge a small fee.
- Cats are everywhere in Plovdiv. To be fair, stray cats are virtually everywhere in this part of the world. But the difference in Plovdiv is that the city has adopted them - they're part of the city rather than a nuisance. All around the city, you'll see water and food bowls. Some shops and restaurants go so far as to get the cats vaccinated and spayed/neutered. So if you see some cats in Plovdiv, they're probably extremely friendly.