Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria. They have around 350 000 inhabitants right now and their mother tongue is Bulgarian. About half of the Bulgarians we spoke to were able to respond in decent English, so there will always be someone around to help you out. Compared to most European cities it is really cheap living here, therefore don’t expect an expensive trip.
Fun fact: we were on the first trip ever between Brussels Charleroi and Plovdiv by Ryanair. When we arrived we got ‘baptized’ by a fire truck. At first, we thought it was raining, when we saw the fire truck we thought our plane was on fire…
- Date of visit: October 2017
- City: Plovdiv
- Country: Bulgaria
- Continent: Europe
- Currency: Bulgarian Lev (1 LV = €0,5 = 0,6 USD)
- 8 words or phrases in Bulgarian:
- Здравейте (zdravejte): Hello.
- благодаря (blagodarya): Thank you.
- Довиждане (doviždane): Goodbye.
- Да (da): Yes.
- не (ne): No.
- зеле (zele): cabbage; the Bulgarian version of cheeeeeese when you take a picture.
- айляк (aylyak): For those who speak Spanish it’s their version of Mañana mañana. For those who don’t: “take it easy, relax, everything will be all right”. It’s even a lifestyle invented in Plovdiv.
- Наздраве! (nazdrave): Cheers!
What we’ve learned
- Before you arrive, you should try to learn the Bulgarian alphabet. The letters are really weird, but once you recognize them you’ll understand quite a lot of the language.
- Make sure you get some Lev beforehand otherwise you won’t be able to pay the taxi driver. Don’t bring too much Lev either, the city is really cheap and you can pay by card in most bars, restaurants, and shops.
- When you arrive at the airport of Plovdiv, make sure you get out of the airport fast. Plovdiv isn’t that touristic (yet), so there are no busses and not that many taxis waiting outside. A fair price for a one-way to the city centre from the airport is around 10 Lev.
- Download the area of Plovdiv in your Google maps app if you don’t have a European Sim card with data on it. It’s easy to get lost with those weird street names.
- For the return flight: it’s a really small airport, but you’ll still need to be there like one hour in advance as they haven’t heard of technology yet… 😉
Things you must do or visit in Plovdiv
Free walking tour
Join the ‘Free Tours‘ at 2 pm for a free walk throughout the city. You’ll get to know a lot about Plovdiv and it’s 6000-year-old history. The tour itself is free, but as with any other free walking tour, they’ll ask you for a gift at the end. You can choose the amount you give them, depending on the quality of the tour and the guide.
Our tour guide was Pavel. He had a good level of English with a little Eastern European accent. He told us about the city charm/clown named Millo, the merchants of rose oil throughout the history and much more. Furthermore, he showed us the Friday mosque, the part of the city named Kapana ‘the trap’, the ancient stadium and theatre…
Be sure to do this walking tour on your first or second day in Plovdiv so you can revisit the spots you liked a lot. Your guide can also provide you with lots of ideas for places to eat or drink.
Walking around old town
You’ll visit the old town during the walking tour, but there are many small alleys to visit afterwards. Walking through the old city feels a bit like being teleported back in the Middle Ages. In some places, you’ll also see the different ‘layers of history’.
For example, the wall surrounding the old town has big bricks at the bottom (Roman ages), medium-sized bricks from the time of the Ottomans in the middle and the small bricks from the Middle Ages on top.
Visit the creative district Kapana
In our opinion is the Kapana district the nicest region of Plovdiv. Its nickname is ‘the trap’ as there were many really small roads so you could get lost easily. When everything burned down in the 1900’s the rebuild it with bigger streets, but the area still has something cosy in it.
That’s probably due to the many coffee bars, restaurants and pop-up shops. You could say it’s the hipster part of Plovdiv.
Climb one of the seven mountains
Plovdiv is a city that is built on 7 mountains. You can still walk on 6 of them, the 7th mountain was broken down when they needed bricks to build the roads…
We hiked to the top of the Alyosha mountain. You’ll see about 80% of Plovdiv from that point so it really has an astonishing view. You’ll also find a 6-metre statue of a Soviet soldier there. Some of the locals lay flowers from time to time, others want to take it down as it’s a reminder of their communist era.
Things you must eat or drink in Plovdiv
If we had to summarise the Bulgarian kitchen in one sentence it’d be: “Lots of meat and white cheese, combined with sweet stuff“. Something you’ll often see on the street, for example, is pancakes with a sausage in them, just like a hotdog…
The cheese Bulgarians use the most is called Sirene (сирене). About 80% of the salads on the menus have this cheese amongst the ingredients. They’ll even ask you if you want grated Sirene on top of your French fries…
You’ll see that many of the locals eat ‘Shawarma Duner’ as well. The duners are some of the Turkish influence still visible in Plovdiv today. The main reason why you’ll see them so often is because they are super cheap: we paid 5 Lev for 2 of them which is about €2,5 or 3 USD.
One of the typical Bulgarian sweets is Kurabiiki (Курабийки). They have these biscuits in all sizes, shapes and flavours. We tried the chocolate, coconut and gingerbread ones. Their taste was delicious, but they were a bit too dry in our opinion.
Our favourite restaurant: Pavaj
Pavaj is located in the heart of the Kapana area. They produce part of their products in their own garden, that’s why they always have a short menu with fresh and local products. Furthermore, they won lots of prices for the quality of their dishes so the winner is a no-brainer for us.
You won’t see ‘Pavaj’ on the outside of their restaurant but the Bulgarian logo which looks like ‘NAW’ and ‘BAM’ underneath. We were lucky there was one table free when we went there, but normally you’ll have to make a reservation.
Price for 2 main dishes, 3 drinks, and 1 dessert? 32Lev / €16 / 19 USD.
Our favourite bar: Cat and mouse bar
Just like Pavaj, the Cat and mouse bar is located in the Kapana area. Just around the corner of Pavaj actually. The bar has its own ‘cat and mouse beer’, but also offers around 150 different Belgian, Bulgarian, Czech, German and Serbian beers. The bartenders know a lot about the beers they sell so be sure to let them make a suggestion, based on your favourite flavours.
Where did we stay in Plovdiv?
We stayed in an Airbnb close to the Tsar Simeon Park. It is a nice neighbourhood with a lot of shops and places to eat. Our host was named Lidia, but we haven’t met her in person. The apartment has 2 double beds, 1 single bed, and a baby bed. The WiFi wasn’t that great, but other than that everything was just perfect. Too bad for us a lot of the shows on the TV were dubbed in Bulgarian and Netflix was in low quality…
You can find her place as ‘Great located architect’s penthouse apartment’ on Airbnb.
The odd duck
What did we find interesting, intriguing, special or unique?
You can find coffee machines on almost every street. For 0,40 – 0,80 Lev you can get yourself a lovely coffee, espresso or cappuccino whenever you want it. You’ll have to learn your Bulgarian alphabet first though as Katrijn couldn’t figure out which buttons to press on the first day.
You can literally find cats & kittens in every park or near every restaurant. Whenever we had some leftovers at home we took it with us to feed the ones who were starving, but there were just too many of them. Those lovely fluffy hairballs.
The city will be featured as European cultural capital in 2019. One of the reasons why is because they unveiled lots of ruins in their city. Some of them are just squares, but for example underneath the shopping street lays an ancient stadium. Some shops have uncovered these for you to visit (H&M and the Excelsior shopping mall). The far end of the stadium has been uncovered as a whole and you can enjoy some rays of the sun whilst sitting on these 2000-year-old seats.
Day and night there are people cleaning the streets and water of Plovdiv. They are always with the 2 of them and always smiling. Be sure to say hi to them and tell them what a great job they’re doing.
The last thing that struck Yentl is that there are lots of ‘Lada’ cars still driving around in Bulgaria. No other oldtimers, just Lada.