Plovdiv and its iconic hills have been inhabited for 8,000 years, making it one of the oldest continuously settled cities in the world. The ancient Thracians controlled it for thousands of years before the Romans took over and built a magnificent monument that is still being excavated in this Bulgarian city today.
The Roman Theatre is one of the most complete you’ll ever see, while the city’s hillside Old Town is a sort of outdoor museum filled with ancient churches and mansions built by wealthy merchants from the city’s past that open their doors to the public . This all makes for a fascinating place where Western and Eastern cultures have interacted for centuries.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Plovdiv:
1. Ancient Theater
One of the most complete ancient theatres in the world, the building is still in use nearly 2,000 years after its construction.
Accommodating up to 7,000 people here, the structure cuts into the side of Taksim Stonehenge, one of Plovdiv’s six hills, the city and the Rhodope Mountains behind as you walk up the slopes towards the terraces. The view is amazing.
The theater was not rediscovered until a landslide on the mountain in the 1970s.
If you’re in town in the summer, don’t miss the chance to see an opera or a theatrical performance in this fantastic setting.
2. Plovdiv Roma Stadium
The stadium, built in the 2nd century, once held 30,000 spectators, but today you can only see fragments of the building.
It’s partly underground in Plovdiv’s old town, like the city’s Roman theatre was only excavated in the 20th century.
The best view is from Dzhumaya Square, where you can see most of the stadium seating from the railing.
Going down, you can pass through an arched passage that lies below the North Bend.
Learn about the history of the stadium at the Visitor Center.
3. Plovdiv Old Town
The car-free cobblestone streets of Old Plovdiv are delightful, where traditional houses blend with Plovdiv’s Roman ruins.
Most of the houses in this part of the city, especially those on Ulitsa Saborna, are half-timbered, with some richer examples painted in bright colours.
Take Stepan Hindliyan’s house, which dates back to the mid-1800s, and is blue with a unique, delicate graffiti design around the window frames.
You can enter this lovely old house, as well as several others in the old town, to see the lavish interiors.
The mural in just one room of Stepan Hindliyan’s home took six months to paint by hand!
4. Bachkovo Monastery
Just southeast of Providiv, outside the town of Asenovgrad, is this monastery built in 1083.
Bachkovo is the second largest and oldest Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, bringing together Bulgarian, Georgian and Byzantine religious traditions.
The oldest part of the original complex is the ossuary, a few hundred meters from the main building.
There are frescoes from the 1300s, one of which depicts Ivan Alexander, the tsar of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Inside the Church of Our Lady, there is an icon of the Virgin Mary brought here from Georgia in the early 14th century.
5. Regional Ethnographic Museum
This old town attraction is housed in another merchant’s house built in the mid-19th century, which belonged to Argir Kuyumdzhioglu from Bulgaria.
As you enter, you’ll notice the gorgeous baroque graffiti above the entrance and the undulating curves of the building’s roof.
Over the centuries, the attraction has collected more than 40,000 objects related to Bulgarian folk culture.
You’ll see authentic musical instruments, fabrics, clothing, handicrafts and farm implements.
You can also contrast the country life of a Rhodope room with the urban opulence of a Plovdiv room.
6. Ancient Philippopolis
Next to the Plovdiv Post Office are the remains of the city’s Roman Forum, which intersects the two main streets (cardo maximus and decumanus maximus).
It would have been spectacular at the time, as you entered the plaza through three magnificent arches or arches.
What you will now see are evocative Doric columns. Next door is the Opera House where the Plovdiv City Council meets, underscoring the city’s importance to the region.
Here you can look down on a semicircular arena with rows of seats completely intact.
7. Mevlev Hane
The building belongs to the Sufi Mevlevi Order, which makes it a rarity in Bulgaria.
The Mevlevi order existed during the Ottoman Empire, but disappeared in Plovdiv at the end of the 19th century.
What remains is the hall or “tekke”, where Sufis perform their famous ceremonial dances. It dates back to the Renaissance, but also shows Ottoman modifications.
Hane deserves a special mention as it is backed by the fortifications of the old city, and some artifacts from the excavations can be seen in the Puldin restaurant downstairs.
8. Clock Tower
Sahat Tepe is one of the six hills in Plovdiv, one of the strong towers and symbols of the city.
You can reach here within a few minutes of the Roma Stadium, a gallery with a tapered lead roof that is at least 300 years old.
Over the years, we’ve made some small changes: in 1883, the great clock you see today was installed and purposely made in Vienna.
9. Assen Fortress
Drive or take a bus from southeast Plovdiv and you’ll arrive at a medieval castle teetering on the edge of a ridge of the Asenica River.
As you approach the road, you will see this impressive building, which contrasts with the landscape of limestone and pine groves.
The fort’s walls meander down the steep hillside and guard a 6,000-year-old stronghold dating back to the time of the Thracians.
What you see today is from the 1200s and the best preserved part is the Church of Our Lady of God with beautiful but partially damaged frescoes from the 14th century.
10. Church of St. Constantine and Elena
Part of the Acropolis is one of the oldest Christian heritage in Plovdiv; a church dating back to the 4th century.
Records show that the church was erected some 30 years after the martyrs Severin and Menos were beheaded here for their Christian beliefs, when paganism prevailed.
The interior is from the Bulgarian National Revival of the 1800s and is decorated in a luxurious Neo-Baroque style.
11. Jumaia Mosque
After the Ottomans occupied the city in the 1300s, they built the mosque on top of a cathedral that once stood here.
Hundreds of years later, the building was updated during the reign of Sultan Murad II, and this is what you see today.
In the 1800s, the north side of the mosque was renovated with a wooden pavilion, which is small but striking.
12. Plovdiv Aviation Museum
After a day or two of exploring ancient ruins and historic churches, you may want to change your pace.
The attractions at the city’s airport will appeal to anyone interested in Bulgaria’s communist past and Cold War history.
Here’s a great collection of outdoor MiGs and Yaks that you can get up close to.
But without a doubt, the most valuable aircraft is the Arado 196 A-3, a German seaplane built in 1938. It is the last surviving model in the world.
13. Walk the Plovdiv Hills
The six hills of Plovdiv rise like giant humps from the main body of the city.
There used to be 7, but one of them was Markovo Tepe, which mined syenite in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In fact, most of the paving around Plovidv is made of this orthoclase, so if you’re walking down a city street, you can say you’re walking on Markovo Tepe!
The higher one of the remaining six mountains is covered in forest, and locals will tell you that you have to climb all of them to see the sunset on each one.
You may not have time, so try Dzhendem Tepe, a natural landmark with its highest elevation exceeding 300 meters.
14. Traditional Bulgarian cuisine
For international food and fast food, Plovdiv definitely holds its own, but since you’re here, you should go to an authentic restaurant.
While dining at the Bulgarian Mehana restaurant, there are traditional dance performances on the stage or courtyard.
It’s not just for tourists; it’s exactly how many people in this part of the world dine. Megdana in Plovdiv is one of the best.
Dinner means chunks of chargrilled meat, claypot rice, mushroom skewers, halloumi cheese, yogurt and a fresh shopska salad made with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and peppers.
15. Mavrud Wine and Rakia
There are two local drinks in Plovdiv, one has to be said to be more refined than the other.
First up is the mighty Rakia, which is “enjoyed” throughout the Balkans and tends to vary slightly depending on where you go.
This stuff has been brewed in Bulgaria since at least the 1000’s and is best served with a typical light shopka salad.
There are also tour operators in Plovdiv offering tours of the Thracian lowland wine regions around the city. You can find a list of available tours here.
Local Mavrud red grapes are grown here, usually blended with other grapes, but their own varieties are also made and served in restaurants in Plovdiv.
Where to Stay: The Best Hotels in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
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