Plovdiv is a city with a long and rich history. It has been occupied for 6,000 – 8,000 years (depending on who you ask), giving it claim to the longest continuously inhabited city in Europe! Over those millennia, it has been conquered and re-conquered by the Macedonians, Romans, and Ottomans, each empire leaving its own unique marks. Exploring the ruins of these empires is a major attraction of visiting Plovdiv, but it is by no means the only thing to do here. As the 2019 European Capital of Culture, Plovdiv is a very vibrant city with lots going on and a surging tourism boom in recent years.
Read on to find discover some ideas for fun things to do in Plovdiv. We also made a visual map showing you a lot of the important landmarks and other places mentioned in this series:
This article is part of our Plovdiv, Bulgaria series. For more information, check out our other related articles:
- Plovdiv, Bulgaria: What to Know Before You Go
- Daily Life in Plovdiv, Bulgaria as an Expat or Nomad
- Best Places to Eat in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Hike the Hills
Plovdiv is known as the city of seven hills, and even its official coat-of-arms displays this proudly. Today only six remain, as one was leveled to extract stone. Most of these hills offer fantastic views of the city, especially at sunset. Even better, they are close to the city center and manageable for just about anybody to summit.
If you’re passing through the old town anyway, you may as well pop up to Nebet Tepe, the closest and easiest hill to visit. It’s pretty incredible to imagine King Philip of Macedon building his namesake stronghold (Philippopolis) around this hill in 342 B.C. The bits of vandalism you unfortunately see here feel a bit extra offensive in this context. Still, Nebet Tepe offers a great view of the Maritsa River and North Plovdiv.
Besides Nebet Tepe, the other main hill to hike is Bunardzhik Tepe (better known as Alyosha Hill). This hill is much bigger and taller than Nebet Tepe. A gigantic statue of an unknown Russian soldier (Alyosha) dominates the top, visible from all around town. The statue alone is worth the hike up, but the views here are also even better than Nebet Tepe as you can see Plovdiv from all 360 degrees.
See a Show at the Ancient Theater
Without a doubt, the Ancient Theater of Philippopolis is the most iconic landmark in Plovdiv. Constructed around the year 90 A.D., this magnificent Roman venue had been buried for over a thousand years before being re-discovered in the 1970s. Today, the city hosts many live drama, dance, and music shows here that often pack the 7,000-seat stands to capacity.
One could certainly enjoy walking through the theater during the daytime, even getting a better look at the architectural details. However, we believe the best way to enjoy the theater is by attending a live performance. We attended a concert there in the summer of 2019, and it was simply magical.
The transition from late afternoon sunset to darkness was beautiful, as was the lighting of the stage once night fully descended. Just be aware that, if you’re planning on seeing a very popular show, organizers will allow hundreds of people to squeeze in to every nook, cranny, and aisle available. This may come as a shock to those coming from countries with stricter safety standards governing these sort of events.
Singing Fountains at the Garden of Tsar Simeon
The Garden of Tsar Simeon is one of the prettiest, most well-manicured public parks we’ve ever visited. It is simply a pleasure to walk through at any time of the day. The shade of the giant trees and the free public drinking fountains offer a welcome respite from the midday heat. But the best time to visit is at night, when (during the summer months) a wonderful light and music show brings the fountains at the southwest corner of the park to life.
As of 2019, the light show starts at 21:30 every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night and lasts 15 minutes. However, we recommend checking with the tourist info center as this schedule may change in the future. They will also know the starting and stopping dates, which change from year to year.
Get there 15-20 minutes early if you want to secure a bench with a good view. Even better, watch the show from the upper balcony of the Morado Bar at the far side of the pool. From here you can enjoy a cool summer cocktail from the best seat in the house!
Free Walking Tour
It seems that free walking tours are all the rage these days, and Plovdiv is no exception. 365 Association puts on an excellent daily English language tour starting from the Municipality Building on the central square. The tour covers the highlights of Plovdiv’s history and takes you directly to many important historical monuments.
Starting from Stefan Stambolov Square, the tour winds up the main walking street, through the Ancient Stadium, Kapana neighborhood, and finally to Old Town and the Ancient Theater. Our tour guide was a delight, both funny and super knowledgeable.
We love attending these walking tours soon after arriving somewhere to learn the important context behind what are clearly major landmarks. This particular tour lasts about two hours and 365 Association offers two daily tours from May – September and one daily tour from October – April. Just don’t forget to tip your guide!
Main Walking Street & Kapana
It’s hard to miss Plovdiv’s main walking street (“ul. Knyaz Alexander I”), especially if you took our advice and went on the free walking tour. In fact, it’s the longest pedestrian street in all of Europe! Almost as impressive as its length is how wide it is, with room for open-air restaurant seating side-by-side with kiosk vendors, performers, and of course hundreds of pedestrians.
There is so much happening on this street, which is effectively the cultural hub of Plovdiv. Here you’ll find everything from bars and cafes to hip shops to Roman ruins to churches and mosques. It is simply a pleasure to stroll down and catch whatever is happening that day.
The walking street runs from the Roman Forum all the way up to and beyond the Maritsa River. But perhaps the most interesting area it passes is the trendy Kapana district about halfway up. You have to sidestep a block to the east of Dzhumaya Mosque to arrive in Kapana, but once you do it may feel like you’re in an enchanted little world. The city revitalized this formerly derelict area in recent decades. Now it is home to dozens of boutique shops, art galleries, and some of the best restaurants in town. We enjoyed the street art and the overall artsy vibe, making it our #1 hang out spot in Plovdiv.