Plovdiv – Discovering the Ancient Bulgarian City
This summer was special, for many reasons but I’ll talk about only one in this post as it needs real special attention. It’s called Plovdiv.
A trip to Plovdiv has been on my list since I remember. Being so far from my home city in Bulgaria, it wasn’t as easy to visit when I was a kid or equally when I was going home for the holidays. This July however me and my parents decided it was time to explore the south of Bulgaria and visit the ancient city. I call it the ancient city as it’s believed that Plovdiv is one of Europe’s oldest cities. Pretty cool!
Where is Plovdiv?
The one thing I probably love the most about Plovdiv is its location. Being right at the bottom of 7 hills, the city has the best views over the Bulgarian Rhodope mountains. Regardless of which way I turned, I was seeing the mountains, spanning from one side to the other. I remember thinking over and over again how I could see myself waking up to these views every day. Coming from London, I was so grateful to see that even in a big city, I could still find undisturbed nature. Plovdiv is only 2 hours on a bus from Sofia so it’s pretty easy to reach by public transport.
What’s There to See?
We had only one and a half days to spend in Plovdiv before we had to head up north so we had to squeeze everything in a day. But don’t worry, it actually is manageable.
We started our tour at the city’s Old Town. This was the place I knew I would love the most so we rushed to see it first thing in the morning. I was sooo right. This place got me wondering whether I was still in the Bulgaria I knew. The place was stunning, so different from anything I had seen back home. In fact the Old Town is a historic preservation site which made it into the UNESCO preservation list in 2004. It’s mostly known for its Renaissance architecture, the Roman amphitheater, Nebet Tepe and its remarkable craftsmen shops where we could still see craftsmen weaving rugs, making jewelry and finishing off traditional ornaments.
What amazed me about the theatre was not so much the fact that it’s one of the best preserved ancient theaters in the world but the fact that being as old as it is (built in 90s of the 1st century AD), the theater is still in use today. In fact we saw a band rehearsing for a performance that evening and I was only wishing I could be there to see it. Being able to take a seat at a place built so many years ago, enjoying a Bulgarian theater performance, whilst indulging in the mountain views just behind the theater, is something I will be back in Plovdiv for.
This is one of the hills you’ll find in the Old Town and is where the first people of Plovdiv used to live. Aside from the remains we saw at the top of the hill, this place opened up to incredible panoramic views of the city. In fact this is one of two places in Plovdiv where you can see the best free views. Nebet Tepe can be easy to miss so make sure to walk up the hill until you reach Rahat Tepe restaurant first and then the stunning views. Rahat Tepe by the way offers amazing views of the city if you’re looking to have a dinner with a view.
If you haven’t hiked to the top of Bunardzhik hill, it’s like you haven’t seen Plovdiv. Quite literally! Hiking to the top can be a challenge as you have to go up quite a few steep slopes and stairs but the views are simply astonishing. From here not only can you see the whole of the city but you can also get that bit closer to the highest hill in Plovdiv called Dzhendem hill which stands at 143 meters above the city level. It’s the perfect spot in Plovdiv for a romantic moment or just a quiet one as the people who make it to the top surprisingly don’t seem to be a lot. Even a better reason to reach the top!
OK! What Else?
There is a lot you can do it Plovdiv once you get out from the Old Town and head into central downtown.
A walk along the main street ”Knyaz Alexander I” is an absolute must. The one thing that I love about Bulgarian cities is that they all have a central pedestrian street where all you can find are shops, restaurants, souvenier shops, nightclubs, street musicians and hotels. Pretty much any time apart from the cold winter, you can find a lot of Bulgarians on the main street just strolling along not really going anywhere. This is ideal in the evenings after a day of exploring so definitely have some strolling whilst in Plovdiv.
On the main street you will find the Dzhumaya Mosque. Built in 1363, the mosque is one of the oldest on the Balkans and certainly among the largest. The temple is active not only on holidays but daily as well and surprisingly to me, muslims are happy for tourists to go in and take a peek into the building, as long as you cover yourself. This was the first time I went into a mosque and I definitely did not feel unwelcome or anything like that. So if you’re curious, go in and take a look around. Put away the camera though 🙂
Your walk along the main street will lead you to the gorgeous singing fountains right at the heart of Plovdiv’s Garden of Tsar Simeon. They’re the perfect end of a nice long day of touring around. Grab a drink, have a seat on the benches in the garden and enjoy the free performance.
Favourite Places to Eat?
My absolute favourite is a place called Central Park. It’s actually in the Garden of Tsar Simeon, close to the fountains. If you ever go there, have some houmous if you’re into cheakpeas 😀 That was the best houmous I’ve had in Bulgaria so definitely worth the try. Oh and the place is not pricy despite the prime location.
Another good place to check out is called Restaurant Dayana also close to the central garden. It’s ideal in the summer as you can sit in the outside garden which has a very traditional feel and is surrounded by trees and plants all around. Definitely makes up for a very relaxing athmosphere for lunch or dinner. Food is not as nice as at the Central park though, at least from my experience!
Last but not least, make your way to Kapana, The Trap. This is a pretty cool district where you’ll find a lot of places to have dinner or just a drink. To find the area, which can be a bit tricky even though it’s very near the center, look for the corner between Georgi Benkovski street and Yoakim Gruev street. One place you must definitely check out is the ‘Happy pancakes workshop’ (in Bulgarian Работилница на Веселите Палачинки). I’ve tried their pancakes in Sozopol and they’re simply the best.
My time in Plovdiv was simply wonderful. It’s definitely worth the time and money so don’t just stay in Sofia when you visit Bulgaria. Venture out of the capital and see what the country really is like – green, picturesque and welcoming 🙂
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