If you’re heading to Bulgaria, you may land yourself in the capitol for a few days. Sofia has a lot to offer, but you shouldn’t sleep on surrounding towns like Plovdiv. You’d be missing out!
Plovdiv is only a 2 hour bus ride away from Sofia. It’s a small town, easy to see in a day… but you won’t want to leave. I had a really hard time taking the return bus to Sofia after a day of exploring.
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You’ll want a full weekend in Plovdiv to delve into it all. You don’t even have to be stingy – entrance fees are extremely reasonable.
When you book that weekend getaway, check out these things to do:
*Hint: you can purchase a ticket for 15 lev (8 USD) that will allow you to visit 5 qualifying places in the city.
1. Visit Old Town Plovdiv
Plovdiv is one of the oldest towns in Europe, dating back to 4000 BC. It’s also the oldest consistent city in Europe despite many reclamations by various empires and eras.
If you’re a serious traveler, that should peak your interest. Plovdiv insanely old and resilient. This town is the diamond in the rough.
Old town refers to ancient Plovdiv and the architectural reserve. You can find most of the ruins and museums here. You’ll find mostly Roman and Ottoman influence.
2. Visit Ancient Ruins
Roman Theatre of Philippopolis
This is one of the main attractions to Plovdiv, but when I went, it was completely empty (aside from the resident cats).
Philippopolis was an ancient cultural center of the Roman Empire. Its theatre was build in 1st century AD.
They still use it for events, which is definitely a bucket-list item. It sits on a hill, so you get great views aside from the stage itself.
For a regular visit, the entrance is about 3 USD.
Roman Forum and Odeon
There’s also a Roman Forum in Old Plovdiv consisting of a library, theatre, Odeon, and multiple public buildings for Philippopolis. The Odeon was a city council for the people of Philippopolis – that means this ancient city was once very, very important to government affairs.
Small Basilica Archeological Site
This one’s a bit outside of Old Town, but if you have time, it may be worth the detour.
The basilica was found during a dig to build a road. Now, the archeological site has become a museum for the ancient floor mosaics.
The mosaics are exceptionally preserved for their age, making this a huge attraction for Christian and non-Christian tourists alike.
Entrance is about 5 USD for a family.
Gate “Hisar Kapia”
It’s one of three medieval fortress gates into Plovdiv’s Old Town. The gate is ancient. It was used by Romans, Goths, and Ottomans.
The gate is one with the stone walls lining the alley, which the Ottoman empire used to build their homes.
3. See the Views at the Danov Hill
Get views of the town! Plovdiv is surrounded by a hilly landscape, and this hill is arguably one of the best.
From the hill, you can see most of Plovdiv including the famous clocktower.
When I went, it was winter. The weather was not cooperative and the fog was ridiculous. It made for a mysterious view of the town, sure, but we didn’t see much.
We did meet a very friendly cat who loved to cuddle, though!
4. Check Out Some of the Religious Buildings
The Church of St. Constantine and Helena
One of the oldest and smallest churches in the city, this building holds some lengthy Bulgarian history dating back to 1st century AD.
If you’re curious to see what it holds, you can go in for free!
The Assumption of the Holy Virgin
Yet another old church, however this one is also part of a monastery.
We did enter, but it didn’t have too much to see. The best part about the church (to me) was its location on Nebet Tepe, one of the hills around Plovdiv.
Bishop’s Basilica of Philippopolis
The outside of the church is beautiful, but wait until you walk inside.
The exterior of the church protects the ruins on the interior. The ruins were once part of the most significant and well-decorated churches in the Balkan region. In fact, much of the preserved art belongs to the ancient Romans.
The church now serves more as a museum than anything. You can enter for 12 lev or 6.5 USD, less if you’re a student.
The mosque is located in the middle of Plovdiv. Just like many religious buildings in the region, it’s been built, demolished, then reclaimed many times in the past.
Since the mosque sits right in the center of Old Town, it’s an excellent landmark to remember as you explore.
5. Go into the House-Museums
Balabanov’s House – Historical Museum of Bulgarian Renaissance
You can’t miss this one. This museum is a giant reddish-orange house in the middle of Old Town. The interior gives you a peak of Renaissance-era life in Bulgaria. It’s prized for it’s great exhibits of the time period.
The outside itself is worth checking out, so don’t ignore it. I honestly don’t know how you could.
Entry is 4 lev or 2 USD.
This was probably our favorite! The cats around the house helped rank it pretty high on the list, but the history was very unique.
You’ll find all sorts of pharmaceutical tools and bottles, and even an herb garden in the back.
Maybe it’s my medical background, but this one was worth the visit. I believe the price was 5 lev or about 3 USD.
The House of Hindliyan
If you liked Balabanov’s house, you’d really like this one.
This house belonged to a very rich Armenian merchant in the spice and silk trade. He had some lavish preferences, and that’s probably an understatement. You’ll see.
6. Wander the Town, Take Pictures with Statues, and Make Friends
Usually, the best memories of the places you visit are completely unplanned.
The best way to see Plovdiv is to wander around. Maybe write down some of those cool places I listed, but you have to let yourself drift through the streets and see where you end up.
You might end up taking pictures with all the bronze statues in the town. Or, maybe you find some picturesque cobblestone streets full of cats.
The best thing you can find is a friend. I walked into a teeny-tiny antique store to find this older gentleman selling the coolest trinkets. He sold me some pre-soviet era song books and a whiskey decanter. He sang some of the songs to me so I could understand how they sound. The songs meant so much to him that he didn’t need the lyrics in the booklets – he sang them from memory.
We talked for so long that I had to get his picture to remember him!
Some of my pictures look chilly, I know.
But don’t let some winter weather get in the way of visiting such a charming town brimming with ancient history. You’d be passing up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Headed to Europe in the winter? Make sure you pack accordingly!