Billed as the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe, Bulgaria’s second city of Plovdiv is also one of the continent’s brightest upcoming stars. As well as offering archeological treasures by the barrow-load, it is one of the most culturally vibrant places in southeastern Europe, with enough cultural festivals, arty neighbourhoods and cool bars to keep today’s urban explorers more than happy. Here are ten reasons why you should visit Plovdiv.
To explore the charming Old Town
Plovdiv’s hilltop Old Town offers arguably the best preserved collection of traditional architecture anywhere in southeastern Europe. If you want to know what Balkan towns looked like before the twentieth-century, then this is the place to find out. It was here that Plovdiv’s rich Bulgarian, Greek and Armenian merchants built large walled and gated houses, their overhanging upper storeys jutting out above narrow cobbled streets. Furnished in an opulent mixture of eastern and western styles, many are now open to the public as museum houses. If you only have time for one of them, visit the ornate Kuyumdzhiev House, now home to the Ethnographic Museum.
To seek out alternative Plovdiv
A great way to delve into other sides of the city is to follow the suggestions provided by the Alternative Map of Plovdiv, a fascinating exercise in cultural tourism that tells you where to find Bauhaus-influenced architecture, industrial heritage, and communist-era street mosaics – along with all manner of overlooked architectural gems.
To visit Roman remains
Not every city has a Roman stadium bang in the middle of its main shopping street, and while only one end of Plovdiv’s stadium is actually visible (the rest is still underground), it’s still a pretty dramatic sight, with its curve of terraced seating sitting in a hollow beneath a busy pedestrian precinct. Recently re-landscaped to form an attractive archeological park, it's the perfect place to start your stroll of discovery through Roman Plovdiv. A little way uphill, on the fringes of the Old Town, is a beautifully-preserved Roman theatre that is still in use as a spectacular open-air performance venue. Roman streets and mosaics can still be seen in situ thanks to ongoing excavations around the forum, next to today’s Central Post Office.