Is Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s culture capital?
Named the European Capital For Culture 2019, it’s quite likely Plovdiv will surpass Sofia as Bulgaria’s new culture capital.
The second largest city in Bulgaria, we were immediately enamoured with this pretty city. Much in the way Riga, Latvia’s culture capital won our hearts.
Plovdiv’s new art district is creating an exciting social, cultural and economic flow on for the city.
Plovdiv’s main appeal lies in the beautifully restored Old Town.
Cafe’s, bars and restaurants share real estate with Byzantine, Roman and Bulgarian antiquities including; the most impressive Roman amphitheater in the Balkans which is still in use today.
Winding cobbled streets boast museums and galleries where eminent artists are still in residence. A lively and infectious atmosphere of creativity mixed with a laid back, youthful confidence befitting a city sure about its future.
Plovdiv gives you a feeling of wanting to be a part of it, whatever that is, as soon as you arrive. This is the reserve of smaller cities, and even then, it is a small few that hit the mark. An atmosphere the big ticket cities could never emulate.
Five centuries ago, the area of Kapana or “The Trap” in Bulgarian, so named for the many little tangled streets was a centre for craftsmen. Neglected until recently, The Trap is being revived.
Closed to traffic, this pedestrian district of Old Town is now dedicated to creative industries including cool cafe’s and wine bars, a boutique “hipster” hotel, a culinary crafts workshop, studios, fashion and many art, craft and bespoke concept shops.
More than a creative commercial centre, Plovdiv’s new art district is creating an exciting social, cultural and economic flow on for the city with festivals, exhibitions, workshops and so much more.
Plovdiv now also boasts the longest pedestrian zone in Europe. A total length of 1750 meters beats the previous record holder, Copenhagen at 1500 meters.
Competition aside, what this means is fantastic outdoor spaces. The pedestrian strip is full of great shopping, parks, cafes and restaurants and, incredible architecture and artifacts.
Right in the middle of the strip lies the partially excavated remains of The Stadium Trimontium. Built in the beginning of the 2nd century, it is one of the largest Ancient Roman structures in the Balkans. Surrounded by the Turkish Dzhumaya Mosque built in 1363 and a myriad of pretty neoclassical buildings, you get a real sense of Plovdiv’s incredible history.
Head further into the Old Town, past The Trap and you can see why Plovdiv has always been one of Bulgaria’s wealthiest and most cosmopolitan cities.
A history dating back 6,000 years ranks Plovdiv as one of the world’s oldest cities, beautifully preserved and begging to be explored. Splendid Bulgarian Revival style wooden houses dating back to 18th and 19th century tower over narrow and ancient laneways. Antiquated churches and remnants of old trade routes between Europe and Asia blend with museums and art galleries.
Add to this creative and picturesque city a laid back and friendly local attitude and a calendar full of festivals and events and it’s easy to see why Plovdiv has been chosen as the 2019 European Capital Of Culture.
A few days in Plovdiv is great. Time enough to take in the sights, soak up the atmosphere and maybe even indulge in a show or exhibition. Equally, Plovdiv can make a great day trip, especially from Sofia.
Whether one or three days, we highly recommend taking the free walking tour offered by Association 365 a Bulgarian non-profit, non-government organisation for tourism and culture. Association 365 also operate free tours in Sofia and Varna. Much like the free walking tour we took in Oxford, this was highly entertaining and a great way to get your bearings in the city as well as some good local information on where to eat and drink.
While the tour is free, a tip is always appreciated by the very professional tour volunteers, so pop some spare Lev in your pocket. Most hotels will have information on tour times, otherwise pop into the Tourist information centre along the main pedestrian strip.
Bulgaria as a whole is very cheap so expect great value, even in popular tourist areas such as Plovdiv.
A 2 course meal for two including wine in a nice restaurant serving Bulgarian cuisine should not set you back more than ~50 Lev (€25.00). We enjoyed a 3 course meal including drinks at an award winning silver service restaurant for 110 Lev (~€55.00). Local and European beer will set you back as little as €1.00 in a restaurant or bar.
Expect €30.00 – €50.00/night for a mid to high range hotel including breakfast. For the budget traveller, good quality hotels and rooms can be found for as little as €10.00/night.
Plovdiv is less than 2 hours south of Sofia by car making it accessible for day trips.
Buses and trains depart regularly throughout the day from Sofia. Prices start at ~9.00 Lev. Travel time ~2.5 hrs.
Where We Stayed
Hotel Ego – A modern boutique hotel 5 minutes from the Old Town with spacious rooms and all the mod cons. Hotel Ego was both great value and in a great location. There are a number of excellent, well priced Bulgarian restaurants within walking distance, a beauty salon and hairdresser, onsite parking and a very reasonable laundry service.
Expect around €42 /night with a full breakfast included.
There are also some excellent hotels and guest houses right in the middle of Old Town to suit all budgets.
Getting around Plovdiv is easy as the main attractions are all very walkable. There are plenty of local buses and taxis, much like the rest of the Eastern Europe, are a very affordable means of transport.
Want to know more about travel in the Balkans? Check out these Balkan Travel Tips