Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s fascinating second-largest city, offers you more than enough reasons to visit and then keep going back for more. In fact, what better reason than that ‘love’ is almost part of the city’s name, pLOVEdiv?
In a lively city of some 340,000 comfortably situated in the lowlands of Thrace, just north of the first foothills of the Rhodope Mountains, Plovdiv’s ancient history flirts with modern artistic trends. Indeed, beating the stiff competition of Sofia, Varna and Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv was recently elected the European Capital of Culture for 2019. What’s more, Lonely Planet included Plovdiv in its list of top 10 cities in the world to visit in 2015!
Before the crowds have arrived and changed it forever, kashkaval tourist gives you 7 reasons to love Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s artistic second city.
1. Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in the world
Founded according to various estimates between 8000 and 6000 years ago, Plovdiv ranks right there among not only the oldest cities in Europe, but in the entire world. And this millennial history isn’t only on paper either – traces of Plovdiv’s ancient existence are to be found all over the place, from Ancient Roman theatres to Ottoman mosques.
Established by the local Thracians, Plovdiv was conquered by Alexander the Great’s father, who selfishly named it Philippopolis after himself. For the Romans who came after, Plovdiv was among their most important Balkan possessions. In the Middle Ages, the Bulgarian and Byzantine empires fought over it for centuries… only for the Ottomans to arrive and rule it for more than 500 years until Bulgaria’s independence.
2. Plovdiv’s Museum Night is an absolute blast of inspiration
Though it may have started in Berlin and it may also be taking place in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia, Plovdiv’s Night of Museums and Galleries – these days called just The Night – definitely eclipses Sofia’s rival event in the country’s cultural calendar.
Each year in September, Plovdiv’s historic streets come to life as crowds of young and old explore the city’s ancient heritage and hippest new cultural locations. All museums and galleries are free and stay open well into The Night, offering locals and visitors a unique glimpse into Plovdiv’s beating heart of inspiration.
3. Plovdiv’s romantic Old Town is one-of-a-kind
Situated atop three of Plovdiv’s seven hills, in some way above the “regular” (but not quite) streets of the city, Plovdiv’s Old Town is perhaps the perfect place to slow down and unwind. Have a relaxing walk among the neighbourhood’s colourful architectural masterpieces from the 18th and 19th century or enjoy a fresh local meal in one of the classy restaurants.
The Old Town’s cobblestone streets, fortress gates, bourgeois mansions and historic churches give it an atmosphere that cannot be replicated by any other city in Bulgaria or indeed further away.
4. Plovdiv is a fascinating mix of cultures and influences
Plovdiv’s position on the main road from the West to Istanbul, on a literal crossroads of Europe and Asia, has given it a particular multicultural character that few other places in Bulgaria boast. As a result, nowadays one can find Ottoman mosques, an Armenian church, a Baroque Catholic cathedral and a Gothic Protestant place of worship dotting the city’s skyline.
Shared for centuries by Bulgarians, Turks, Greeks, Roma, Armenians, Jews and so many other nationalities, Plovdiv retains its charm of antique cosmopolitanism to this day.
5. Plovdiv is Bulgaria’s hippest cultural destination
A lot of talk about Plovdiv may be about its past, but there’s so much to look forward to in the present and future too. In recent years, Plovdiv has turned into a major rival of Sofia for the title of Bulgaria’s cultural capital. Indeed, some of the nation’s prime cultural events, like the design, architecture and dance weeks organized by One Magazine have tended to prefer Plovdiv rather than Sofia.
These days, thanks to the efforts of its artistically-minded residents, Plovdiv’s bohemian neighbourhood Kapana is reimagining itself as a hipster mecca. Furthermore, once abandoned locations like the communist era Cosmos Cinema, a tobacco warehouse and a former Turkish bath have turned into fashionable exhibition spaces.
6. Plovdiv is bustling with entertainment, by day and by night
If all the talk of history and cultural has got you tired and you feel like getting a beer (or something stronger) already, then you’d be happy to learn that Plovdiv is a great place to enjoy yourself in more casual ways too… whether by day or by night!
Cult bars, pubs and clubs like the rough and bohemian Nylon, the classier Rorschach’s Blot and the refreshing summer stage The Tsar’s Stables have turned into local institutions where residents of Plovdiv mingle late into the night. And if you’re into football, don’t miss the excitement of perhaps Bulgaria’s wildest city rivalry, the heated derby between Botev and Lokomotiv.
7. Plovdiv’s seven hills are a natural retreat from urban life
Exactly like the much more famous Italian capital Rome, Plovdiv lies on seven hills. Each of these rises a few hundred metres above the city and boasts incredible panoramic views of its surroundings. Still known under their traditional Turkish names, Plovdiv’s seven hills with their greenery are particularly attractive in the hot summer nights.
Each hill is quite distinct too. Dzhendem Tepe, the highest of the seven, may have once been topped by a huge bronze statue of Apollo… though to compensate the second highest, Bunardzhik, has a gigantic monument of a Soviet soldier still standing!