Plovdiv, Bulgaria: A Must-Visit Balkan City

In the distance we could see the old town, looming on a cliff above us. Our taxi circled the perimeter of the town, choosing streets to turn down, only to arrive at a dead-end or a one-way. On more than one occasion, the city map was consulted by our driver, while he mumbled in Bulgarian, trying to find a way to penetrate the ancient walls.

Eventually we gave up and decided to walk, rather than drive. The taxi driver felt awful for not being able to get us to our destination, and he didn’t charge us the price on the meter. However, we still decided to give him some money, but the gesture was indicative of what we would experience during the next 5 nights in Plovdiv.

crossing the borders in bulgaria travel in europe
We’ve arrived! Crossing the border from Turkey into Bulgaria was very straightforward

We hoofed it up steep cobblestone streets, which was made easier by the fact that we had no luggage. The airline had lost it en route to Turkey – maybe it was in Puerto Rico where we started our journey, perhaps our layover city of New York, or maybe it was in Istanbul?

Who knew, all we knew was that at that moment, we were happy to only have our day packs.

The little lanes zigged and zagged in all directions, and the high walls made it difficult to see anything up ahead. Seeing our confused faces, a man came over and helped us find our hostel. In fact, he actually walked us right to the door.

From the outside, the Hostel Old Plovdiv was stunning, with its yellow exterior, ornate wooden columns, and beautifully decorated facade.

As we entered the 150 year old home, we were in awe of the high ceilings and wooden floors. Greeting us was a welcome sign! In all of our years of backpacking around the world, never has a hostel had a personal sign for its visitors – a very nice touch indeed.

where to stay in plovdiv bulgaria hostel old plovdiv
The lovely Hostel Old Plovdiv – we couldn’t get over the personalized sign!

Even though this accommodation is considered a hostel, it’s more like a boutique hotel (which we love), and the prices are extremely fair (10 Euros / person / night, including a huge breakfast).

Originally owned by a rich tobacco farmer, this home is somewhat of a museum. While many of the homes from this period have been converted into shops or restaurants, Hostel Old Plovdiv offers guests a glimpse of what households were like in the 1800’s.

The elegant ceilings and antique furniture is lovely, but what really impressed us was the stone wall from the Roman period in the basement!

where to stay in plovdiv bulgaria hostel old plovdiv
A portion of a Roman wall in the basement of the hostel!

There’s just something about old towns that we’ve always been drawn to, and Plovdiv’s was no exception. Just steps from the hostel we could visit a museum, church, art gallery, Roman ruins, and the Rahat Tepe tavern – which we ended up frequenting quite often!

A short walk brought us to the main pedestrian street, which is a feature that all cities should have. Knyaz Aleksandar I is the longest pedestrianized street in all of Europe, spanning 1.7 kilometers.

pedestrian street plovdiv bulgaria
A portion of the pedestrian street in Plovdiv

This was an excellent spot for shopping, people watching, having coffee, and checking out the 240 meter long Roman stadium, which has been partially excavated.

As Canadians, seeing ruins from the Roman period in the basement of our hostel, scattered along a ridge of the old town, and in the center of the city was pretty incredible.

In Canada, the oldest structure we have is from the early 1600’s, while the country of Canada itself wasn’t founded until 1867!

travel to plovdiv bulgaria roman ruins
The partially excavated Roman stadium right in the middle of the pedestrian street!

We joined a free walking tour with some other backpackers which was a great way to get our bearings in the city. We enjoyed the Bulgarian revival architecture, the up-and-coming neighbourhood “the Trap”, and seeing the incredible Roman amphitheater, which is actually still used for various performances.

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Revival style architecture on the walking tour

The surrounding countryside has 40 wineries with local varieties of grapes, which only grow in Bulgaria. Even though we took a wine tour during a chilly January day, it was still stunning, and I can’t even imagine how beautiful the vineyards must be in the spring and summer.

The Thracian people (you’ve probably heard of Spartacus?) were from Thrace, an area found in present day Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. They were excellent wine makers and it’s said that the first vines in Europe were brought by Thracians from the Middle East and planted in what is now Southern Bulgaria.

The first winery on our tour was Starata Izba Parvenets, with a gorgeous 19th century estate draped in vines. We sampled wine straight from the Bulgarian oak barrels in a 130 year old cellar! This was one of those “I can’t believe what we’re doing” moments in travel.

At the entrance to the Starata Izba Parvenets Winery, gorgeous!
At the entrance to the Starata Izba Parvenets Winery, gorgeous!

The second, and final, winery we checked out was the more modern Villa Yustina, set on a gorgeous property. We Goats were able to get a sneak peek into the goat pen – they were so cute! We also sampled a wide variety of wines which were grown, aged and bottled right on the estate.

Even though we really enjoyed the goats and wines on offer here, we loved the fact that we were able to experience wine pairings with food.

Villa Yustina winery plovdiv bulgaria
Goats!!

A platter of cheese, meats, bread and blueberry jam was available for us to eat – which was good, as we had about 6 tastings by this point (and the “tastings” were more like full sized glasses).

The wineries were completely different from one another, and we had a unique and excellent experience at both of them.

villa yustina winery plovdiv bulgaria
Krassi pouring us some tasty wine to pair with our appetizers

Plovdiv checked off all of the boxes when it comes to what we look for in a destination. There was wonderful history, great food, beautiful scenery, fascinating architecture and the people were extremely friendly and welcoming. We actually became friends with the owners of Bulgaria Wine Tours (Vasil and Zina). They even took us out on a bit of a pub crawl!

bulgaria wine tours plovdiv
Us with Vasil of Bulgaria Wine Tours – thanks for a great day!

Everyone else we encountered was genuine and didn’t treat us like foreigners or tourists. We felt like friends with so many people in this city. We were also randomly interviewed by a journalist at one of the pubs, check it out here.

The restaurants were excellent and we loved sampling the local Bulgarian food (Nick has discovered he really likes duck heart!) For entertainment, the pubs were a lot of fun, and thanks to our friend Jazza, we were able to find some awesome live music as well… in the basement of a bar.

travel to plovdiv bulgaria live music
The live music was awesome!

The history was mind-blowing, our accommodation was incredible and the overall vibe of the city was super “aylak” (the Plovdiv word for relaxed). This is somewhere we would love to return to in the spring, and it comes as no surprise to us that Plovdiv has been listed as the European Capital of Culture in 2019.

On top of all of this, the cost of travelling in Plovdiv was of a very good value. In a restaurant, meals were between $3 – $5 for a large plate of food, local beers were around $1 and .5L of wine was $2.50. Taxis were also very affordable (they actually use the meter!), and the cover charge for the live music was $1.

There was something about Plovdiv that made us want to linger. This was the first stop on our Eastern Europe backpacking trip, and we instantly wanted to stay put! But, we needed to keep moving and explore more. Stay tuned for our upcoming adventures in this part of the world.

Plovdiv bulgaria travel
Photo by: Jazza of NOMADasaurus

Check out our quick video of our time in Plovdiv 🙂

Have you heard of Plovdiv before? Does it sound like a city you would like to check-out? Tell us below, we’d love to hear from you 🙂 

Like it? Pin it! 🙂

Plovdiv, Bulgaria- A Must-Visit Balkan City

A big thank-you to Hostel Old Plovdiv and Bulgaria Wine Tours for hosting us during our stay in the city, we had a great time! As always, all thoughts and opinions remain our own, despite any complimentary services received. 

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Written by

Nick Wharton & Dariece Swift

Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift are the owners and founders of Goats On The Road. Together they have been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and have more than 20 years of combined experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Their expert advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and they also spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging. Learn more about Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift on their respective author archives on this site and on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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