Plovdiv, Bulgaria makes a wonderful base to live for an extended period of time. The word that comes to mind most when thinking back on our time here would have to be “pleasant.” Easy living, pleasant life, minimal stress. Just the way we like it! We lived in Plovdiv from May to July 2019 and loved it so much that we included it in our Top 3 Best Value Cities worldwide after four years of travel.
This article will help you figure out what to know before you visit Plovdiv. We also made a visual map showing you a lot of the important places mentioned in this series:
This article is part of our Plovdiv, Bulgaria series. For more information, check out our other related articles:
- Daily Life in Plovdiv, Bulgaria as an Expat or Nomad
- Best Places to Eat in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
- Things to Do in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Why Stay in Plovdiv?
As we alluded to earlier, Plovdiv is a great place to spend time if you’re looking to relax and take it slow for a while. Even though it’s the second largest city in Bulgaria, the population is only about 350,000. We’ve found that this is about the perfect size for us, and it strikes a good balance between walk-ability, peacefulness, and things to do. Just going out your door and walking down the street is so dang enjoyable.
The people here live by the philosophy of “aylyak,” which means relaxed and absolutely free to enjoy the pleasures of life. We believe this extends to how Plovdivians treat one another. They are very friendly, polite, and hospitable. One aspect that really stuck out to us was how respectful drivers were to pedestrians: patiently waiting while you cross the street, etc. Maybe it was just the stark contrast to the crazy antics of Albanian drivers after four months in Tirana! Things like this may seem small, but really affect one’s stress level on a daily basis.
Although it can be quiet, Plovdiv didn’t feel boring. As the European Capital of Culture for 2019, there were lots of events going on all the time – at least in the summer while we were there. We attended some great music festivals and shows at the spectacular Ancient Theater and other venues. And as the oldest continuously occupied city in Europe (6,000 – 8,000 years!) there are an abundance of historical treasures around town.
It’s a bit tricky to fly into Plovdiv. At the time of this article’s publication, there was only one direct flight option from outside the country to Plovdiv: Ryanair from London’s Stansted Airport. There are more options if you fly into the capital city Sofia first, then take a bus, shuttle, or train to Plovdiv.
We arrived overland from Albania via bus, which required a bus transfer at the Central Bus Station in Sofia. Sofia’s bus station was fairly organized and easy to navigate. And the final leg to Plovdiv only takes about two hours and costs just 14 leva ($8 USD) per person.
Finally, you can take a train to get to Plovdiv. If you’re coming from the west, you’ll probably have to stop in Sofia, after which the last leg will take 3 hours. Compared to the two hour bus option, this doesn’t make much sense unless it is part of a continuous itinerary. If you’re coming from Istanbul in the east, however, the train is both more affordable and faster than buses. There is just a single stop at Kapikule at the Turkish border, which breaks up the seven-hour trip at about the halfway point.
Although Bulgaria is a fairly mountainous country, Plovdiv is located in the central valley of the country. With an elevation of just 164 meters above sea level, the climate is a bit warmer compared to nearby regions. The temperate climate has highs of about 6°C (43°F) in winter and 30°C (87°F) in summer. Lows range from -3°C (28°F) in winter to 17°C (62°F) in summer.
While we were there during the summer, it did feel uncomfortably hot under the direct midday sun. Under the shade, however, Plovdiv felt downright pleasant even in July. Plus, you can wear a t-shirt and shorts to a night performance at the beautiful Ancient Theater! And air conditioning did seem to be fairly common with apartment rentals.
Rainfall year-round is relatively flat and averages about 45 mm per month. The driest months are August and September and the wettest months are May and June. We experienced some very intense thunderstorms while staying there in June!
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Plovdiv is the shoulder months of Spring and Fall. These months are the sweet spot because you avoid the heat and the throngs of tourists in the summer, while also dodging the winter cold. Accommodation during this time will also be more affordable as well.
However, most special events, concerts, and festivals do take place during the summer. So if you want to catch the peak of tourist activities, a summer visit will still be your best bet.
From a subjective point of view, we felt very safe in Plovdiv. According to Numbeo, the overall level of crime is “low” with an index of 32.35/100. Violent crime is lower still with an index of 18.38/100. This is better than nearby Sofia and Burgas.
We never worried about walking around during the day or night, especially a near the main walking street. Only once, when we were walking around the outskirts of the city at night, did we feel a little apprehensive. This had nothing to do with actual danger, but rather with the poor street lighting in some of the outskirt neighborhoods. This one street in particular was very dark and it was nearly impossible to see others shuffling towards us on the sidewalk.
There were a decent number of homeless/beggars on the streets in Plovdiv. Our sense was that they tended to be a bit more pushy than average when asking for money. It’s fine to be respectful and politely decline when approached, and we never had a problem employing this method.
Where to Stay
Not surprisingly, the best play to stay in Plovdiv is near the city center (Stefan Stambolov Square). The good news is that the main walking street (ul. Knyaz Alexander I) passing through the square is the longest one in Europe, so there’s plenty of space along it to find accommodation! The zone further north, closer to the Maritsa River, is a nice area with quick access to the delightful Kapana neighborhood. If you stay near the main walking street, you’ll be able to easily walk to the best restaurants, bars, and shops in Plovdiv. And frankly, the outer neighborhoods of Plovdiv are not nearly as charming – sometimes having that dreaded “ex-Soviet” vibe.
You may be tempted to stay in the old town proper, but we would advise against it. The Old Town is its own distinct area located on the hills to the east of Boulevard Tsar Boris III and south of the Maritsa River. It’s a nice area to visit, but it’s fairly hilly and you’ll have to climb back up if you take a trip down to the main walking street. Also, this area gets pretty dead/boring at night and rental prices are inflated due to it being the most historic part of town.
We had a good experience with Airbnb in Plovdiv. However, if you want to go through the effort of finding a better deal, you could try searching for relevant facebook groups or looking at the listings on Bulgarian Properties.