Following our exploration of the capital of Bulgaria – Sofia, we headed to Plovdiv with the expectation to see a few ruins. We had read in the Lonely Planet that it was one of the oldest cities in the world. We loved all the historic old towns we had seen in Europe, and we were eager to explore another one.
In Sofia, we had spent two active days exploring parks, monuments and churches. We also ate and drank ourselves silly. (As you do when delicious gourmet food is also so budget priced.) In Plovdiv, we expected a couple of laid-back days and an opportunity to see the Bulgarian countryside.
The journey from Sofia to Plovdiv is a pleasant 2-hour bus ride allowing a glimpse of the Bulgarian countryside and rural villages. Arriving at the bus stop in Plovdiv, we decided to walk the 1.3 km to our hostel in the city centre.
Just as we had expected, we found the Bulgaria Tourista Sister had seen 20 years ago on her visit to the country. This consisted of staid communist bloc buildings, broken streets and paving, closed shops and a gritty, grey dullness.
But, as we rounded the corner to enter the esplanade of the city centre, the Bulgaria that’s earned its name as the European Capital of Culture 2019 greeted us. There were well-dressed people, walking on beautiful paving past beautiful cafes and shops. It was a surprisingly cosmopolitan city.
The Budget Travellers Dream
We dumped our backpacks in the upstairs rooms at the Gramophone Hostel. Chosen for its location in the city centre, it is among the shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs and clubs. And, they have a live DJ on Saturday nights. That made it a winner in our eyes!
The first stop was to get dressed up for winter. We’d just come from the Greek Islands where it was still balmy, so the cold weather was new to us. We soon found out Bulgaria is very cheap. We paid $2 for a kebab, drank cappuccino for 1 dollar and greedily gulped 1 dollar beers. Yes, you heard right! And we got gloves, beanies, scarves, socks all for only a dollar or two each.
The main pedestrian area, Knyaz Aleksandar has cosmopolitan shopping. The many Bulgarian tourists flocked to the stores. We had our compulsory coffee and cake with a view of the historic stadium ruins. There is a 3D movie you can watch for around three dollars. But, we didn’t have time to see it as we travel bugs had just received a brochure stating in Cyrillic that the Young Wine Festival was on. Fortunately, we understood the Cyrillic alphabet. And, with the aid of a local shopkeeper, we found out this alluring festival was on that very weekend. How Lucky for us!
The Young Wine Festival in the Old Town
There is nothing more we travel bugs love than touring ruins with a glass of vino in hand. However, touring with like-minded tourists who also have vino in their hands is the most fun.
Bulgaria has a multitude of wine growing regions. In fact, in the ’70s and ’80s, Bulgaria was one of the largest wine producers in the world. Apparently, 90 per cent of the wine went to the Soviet Union.
The Plovdiv Young Wine Festival is an opportunity for Bulgarian wine producers to showcase the new vintages of the season. They set up stalls in the dozen or so historic houses, buildings, museums and galleries in the historic old town.
As its low season, most of the tourists were Bulgarian weekend holidaymakers and locals. We found it a casual and relaxed touring experience. We sampled the wines and delicious Bulgarian foods such as banitsa (feta cheese pastries), kebapche (grilled minced meat kebab) along with platters of mixed grills and fried cheeses. It was an absolute feast.
The afternoon progressed into the evening. The wines sampled, the sights explored, and the traditional foods devoured, we headed back to the hostel to start the night-time festivities.
Both international and local young travellers alike were at the Gramophone Hostel. It was a fun night with international beats. And the room quality with our own private bathroom was more than you would expect from a budget-priced hostel.
Ruins & Old Towns in the European Capital of Culture 2019
We spent the next two days exploring the beautiful old town further, and to our delight, we found the 1st-Century amphitheatre. We also discovered the creative Kapana District. And we spent a few hours exploring cafes and galleries.
It was enthralling to find so many ruins and architecture from the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Renaissance periods.
We didn’t want to leave, but we had the call of a train trip through Bulgaria coming up. And train trips in Eastern Europe are one of our fave things to do.
It has been off the European tourist radar for long enough.
Plovdiv is hands down European Culture Capital 2019.
Don’t miss –
The Archaeological Complex Nebet Tepe – These 4,000-year-old ruins are at the end of the Old Town. We mainly loved it for the panoramic views all over Plovdiv.
The Ancient Theatre – To our delight, Plovdiv has a 2000-year-old well-preserved Roman amphitheatre. We love how it overlooks the old and new town.
The Roman Stadium – The stadium is beneath the main pedestrian street of Plovdiv. There is a short 3D movie recreating Plovdiv in 2nd century A.D.
Check out the lively atmosphere in Kapana District – This creative district has been a centre for craftsmen for centuries. Visit galleries, creative art spaces, cafes, bars and restaurants while trying to find your way around the maze of narrow streets.
The Old Town – Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in the world. Settled in 4,000 B.C.E., the gorgeous old town with its stone cobbled streets was the highlight of our Bulgarian trip. You feel transported in time surrounded by beautiful Renaissance buildings.
Editor’s Note –
Take the Free Plovdiv tour – These free tours are a great way to get an introduction to Plovdiv. They take you to the highlight attractions. It is convenient if you have limited time or prefer a quick tour. That way you have more time for eating, drinking and taking in the atmosphere. Just show up or check out Free Plovdiv Tours.
Eat at Rahat Tepe – It is very close to the Archaeological Complex Nebet Tepe. With stunning views of the city and the Old Town, this restaurant was very crowded when we went. But, it was so worth the wait. We sampled many Bulgarian traditional dishes and feasted until we could fit no more in. We especially loved the grilled meat platter, the salads and the fried cheeses.
Stay at Gramophone Hostel – If you want to stay, drink and Party with travellers from Bulgaria and all over the world, this is the place to stay.
Drink wine – If you’re not there during the Young Wine Festival, there are wine tours that you can go on. For information, there is a Tourist Information Center in the Square or visit www.visitplovdiv.com.
Thanks for reading. We hope you will make it to Plovdiv, Bulgaria before the masses do.
Next up in our 3 part series on Bulgaria is –
Veliko Tarnovo, Ruins, Feasts & the 1st Winter Snow.
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