Sunday, December 10, 2023

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Visiting Europe’s Oldest City: Plovdiv

Plovdiv in Bulgaria is a must-visit for history buffs, lovers of European culture, and travelers looking for something special for their next trip.

As Europe’s oldest city, and one of the oldest cities in the world, Plovdiv offers a wealth of experiences. The city may be less well-known than other European destinations, but for travelers looking for something unique, Plovdiv has so much to offer.

If you’re considering Plovdiv as your next vacation destination, here are some top tips for visiting one of Europe’s hidden treasures.

A group of people sitting on a stone wall overlooking a city

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Source: Pexels

What to pack

What clothes to pack depends on the weather and time of year you plan to visit. Winters in Plovdiv are pretty cold. It’s not unusual to see heavy snow, so thick gloves and warm sweaters are a must. Summers are hot, so remember to take sunscreen. Cool layers (t-shirts, shirts and long pants) will prevent you from feeling sticky and uncomfortable. 

Even in the height of summer, you can expect some drizzle, so it’s a good idea to bring a light raincoat or a small umbrella.

You’ll be doing a lot of walking around ancient, cobbled streets, so sensible shoes are a must! A sturdy pair of sneakers, winter hiking boots with soft rubber soles, or a pair of Chelsea boots should do the trick. Just remember to break them in before you travel to avoid any nasty blisters. 

If you plan on visiting a religious site like Bachkovo monastery (around a 40-minute drive from Plovdiv), you’ll need to pack modest clothing to cover your knees and shoulders.

Plovdiv’s must-see historical and cultural sites 

Source: Pexels

Plovdiv is a mine of ancient historical and cultural sites. The city was founded in 6,000 BCE and conquered by many tribes and empires. As such, you can expect to see buildings and landmarks from the Romans, Ottomans, Thracians, Byzantines, and many more.

Some of the must-visit historical landmarks include:

  • The Roman Theatre of Philippopolis. The Romans built this ancient amphitheater in the first century AD and it is considered to be one of the best ancient theatres in the world. The theatre still seats thousands and, during the summer months, you can enjoy concerts, and even performances by the Plovdiv Opera.
  • Plovdiv Old Town. Put on your comfiest shoes and explore the cobbled streets of the Old Town, which is home to a Thracian settlement dating back to 4000 BC. You’ll also find Roman and Hellenic settlement, and brightly colored revival houses.
  • The Chifte Banya. Also known as the Old-Time Baths, this Ottoman bathhouse was built in the 16th century. Used as public baths for men and women until the 1980s, it is now an art center, but the original architecture is still there. 
  • Hisar Kapia. A medieval gate built in the 11th century; it is regarded as one of the symbols of Plovdiv.
  • The Dzhumaya mosque. During the 15th century, a church that was originally on the site was destroyed under the reign of Sultan Murad I. In its place now sits the Dzhumaya Mosque. Inside, you will find a large prayer hall with nine domes and paintings dating back to the 18th century.
An aerial view of a city

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Cultural events and festivals

The cultural life in Plovdiv is rich and exciting. Visitors can experience the culture of this ancient city by attending one of the many festivals held throughout the year.

There’s the International Folklore Festival, held in the Ancient Theatre in July. Performances, concerts and parades celebrate folk groups from around the world, and, best of all, entrance is free!

Beer lovers can sample the Plovdiv Beer Fest and enjoy live music, craft beers and tasty food. If you prefer grapes to hops, there’s the Young Wine Festival in Old Town.

For those who wish to plug back into the city’s ancient roots, you can enjoy the Opera Open in the Ancient Theatre. This event runs from June through to August.

Must-try local food and drink

The food in Plovdiv heavily influenced by Greek and Turkish cooking, which makes for some pretty spectacular meals.

If you want to eat a full day of traditional local food, why not start with a breakfast of Banitsa? This dish of thin layers of pastry scrunched up with egg and cheese is sure to fill you up. 

If you’ve arrived in the summer, then stay cool with a shopska salad. This refreshing salad made with Bulgarian white sirine cheese is hailed as the national dish of Bulgaria. If it’s winter, then warm up with a supa topcheta, which is a classic Bulgarian meat soup. 

Still hungry? 

They try a moussaka (different from the Greek version, it’s made with potatoes instead of eggplant) and finally indulge your sweet tooth with kurabiiki, a sweet cookie popular during the holidays.

Thanks to the climate and geography of the area, Plovdiv is the perfect spot for making wine. There are plenty of local vineyards in the area to visit. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try boza, a fermented drink with a reputation for being a bit smelly! However, if you want a true taste of Bulgaria, try rakia, which is like a fruit brandy.

Safety and Security

Plovdiv is generally a safe city, but taking some precautions when traveling is still sensible.

Protect yourself from pickpockets by keeping your phone and camera hidden away while walking around the city, especially in busy areas.

Instead of putting your phone or money in your back pocket (which is an easy target), use a pocket inside your jacket, in the front of your pants, or keep them in a sturdy shoulder bag.

There are some common tourist scams to be aware of when traveling in Bulgaria, like taxis overcharging or fake policemen demanding to see ID. Ask your hotel for reputable taxi services and ask any police that stop you for their ID.

When exploring the Plovdiv bars and restaurants, remember to drink responsibly. You’re on vacation and want to enjoy yourself but getting drunk means you’re more likely to get lost and end up in a dangerous neighborhood.

If the worst happens and you need to call the police in Bulgaria, call 166. Or dial 112 to report an emergency. You can use this number anywhere in Europe to contact fire, medical, or police emergency services. 

And there you have it. Five tips to help you get the most out of your visit to Plovdiv, Europe’s oldest city. From what to pack to where to go, we’ve got you covered.

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