We haven't been able to take payment
You must update your payment details via My Account or by clicking update payment details to keep your subscription.
Act now to keep your subscription
We've tried to contact you several times as we haven't been able to take payment. You must update your payment details via My Account or by clicking update payment details to keep your subscription.
Your subscription is due to terminate
We've tried to contact you several times as we haven't been able to take payment. You must update your payment details via My Account, otherwise your subscription will terminate.

Europe’s oldest city is magical — and isn’t where you’d expect

Arty Plovdiv in Bulgaria has plenty of surprises up its sleeve including bold street art, Roman ruins and temperatures that stay in the mid-twenties until autumn

Plovdiv has existed for over 6,000 years
Plovdiv has existed for over 6,000 years
The Sunday Times

There’s a Narnia-esque quality to ivy-strewn Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s oldest, artsiest city. Descend into an underpass and the old town’s leafy tranquillity is replaced by the district of Kapana’s hipster buzz, delicately patterned mansions switched out for street-art shopfronts.

While neighbourhood borders can be as deeply etched as the Communist-era artworks that haunt the fountain-filled parks, a Balkan take on la dolce vita prevails in this former European Capital of Culture: highs of 25C deep into autumn, gelato flavours in Cyrillic, a love for the delicious regional wines. Bulgarians even say “ciao”.

But here all roads lead to vibrant Kapana, a glut of bars and restaurants that was once a 16th-century warren of artisan workshops. Translated as “the Trap”, it’s easy to lose your bearings. For some perspective, hike up Bunardzhika Hill, the burr of crickets rising as the bagpipe buskers’ keening wanes. At its cacti-ed peak, dwarfed by the gun-wielding Alyosha Monument, survey a city that, in one form or another, has existed for over 6,000 years.

Kapana is the one of Plovdiv’s coolest districts
Kapana is the one of Plovdiv’s coolest districts

Day one

Morning: Old town
Lunch: Pavaj
Afternoon: Kapana neighbourhood food tour
Drink at: Tea House Plovdiv
Evening: Plovdiv Opera
Dinner: Cork & Fork

Day two

Morning: See street art and visit the City Gallery of Fine Arts
Lunch: Hemingway
Afternoon: Bishop’s Basilica of Philippopolis
Drink at: Hardware Store Bar
Evening: Explore Knyaz Alexander I St
Dinner: Megdana


What to do

● The old town is a preserve of quiet antique shops, galleries, and top-heavy Bulgarian revival piles. Peer inside the Ethnographic Museum, which doubles up as both architectural marvel and museum (£3.50; ethnograph.info). Then find your way to the Street of Crafts to learn how to restore antique weapons with the magnificently moustachioed Dimitar, among other traditional skills on show in this artisan collective.

● Discover the flavours of Kapana on a food tour with the knowledgeable Iliya (£30pp; plovdivwalks.com). Taste the highlights of this street art-adorned culinary quarter, including the owner Vanya’s punchy blends in Coffee Craftex (espresso £2; craftexcoffee.com) as well as Plovdiv’s largest selection of craft beers at Cat & Mouse (pint £4; catandmouse.bg).

● Take in a warm-weather performance by the Plovdiv Opera (tickets from £13) at the remarkably intact Ancient Theatre. A daytime tour of this Roman amphitheatre is almost disorienting — hewn from the hillside, it seems barely tethered to the urban panorama below (entry from £2; ancienttheaterplovdiv.eu).

● Take an (unofficial) art walk through the centre. The old town’s epic murals depict Greek myths, surreal street art illuminates Kapana and busts of revolutionary polyglots mingle in the mixed woodland of Tsar Simeon Garden. For a more contained, cohesive take on Bulgaria’s artistic heritage, step into the old town’s City Gallery of Fine Arts (£2; galleryplovdiv.com).

A Roman mosaic at the Bishop’s Basilica
A Roman mosaic at the Bishop’s Basilica

● The Bishop’s Basilica of Philippopolis was the flagship project of the city’s Capital of Culture turn in 2019. Its modern, air-conditioned interior is home to mosaic birdlife that once ornamented two floors of a Roman-era basilica. The menagerie is brought to life in multimedia exhibits that entertain young and old (£5; plovdivmosaics.org).

● There’s no Bulgarian equivalent for the Italian concept of “passeggiata”, but that’s exactly what you’ll experience during sultry evenings on Knyaz Alexander I St — one of Europe’s longest pedestrianised streets. Pick up a gelato and join the easygoing stream of Plovdivchanins. Beneath your feet, the remains of a Roman stadium gallop as far as the 14th-century Dzhumaya Mosque.

Where to eat and drink

The popular Pavaj falls under Bulgaria’s relatively indiscriminate “gastropub” label, however it leads with wine and offers modern European flavours alongside hearty national classics. With its tables spilling across Kapana’s cobbles, the fortunate few with reservations savour dishes such as tripe soup, duck-stuffed grape leaves and multistorey wedges of Napoleon cake (mains from £8; fb.com/pavaj.plovdiv).

Tea House Plovdiv
Herbal tea has a significant legacy in Bulgaria and Tea House Plovdiv is the city’s oldest purveyor of fragrant blends. Softly spoken Adrian will open his tins and let you huff the camomile and mint goodness as you browse. Steep your blend of choice outside at the seats shared with the whisky bar next door (from £1.50; teahouseplovdiv.com).

Cork & Fork winebar
Cork & Fork winebar


Cork & Fork
In the stone-walled basement of the art deco Atlas building, the upscale wine bar Cork & Fork offers a deep dive into Bulgaria’s homegrown grape varietals. Get to know your mavrud from your gergana with a 300-strong wine list, paired with indulgent tapas in the vein of dates stuffed with truffle cream (tapas from £5; 41 Knyaz Alexander I St).

“A Farewell to Diets” quips the cover of Hemingway’s menu. It’s a fair bet, as the most moreish elements of French, Italian, and US cuisine have been distilled on to the plates of this classy side-street restaurant. Bring the flavours back to Bulgaria with one of the city’s best regional wine lists (mains from £6; hemingway.bg).

The Hardware Store Bar
As the name, the leather aprons, and ornamental trowels hint, this cocktail bar inhabits what was once a neighbourhood hardware shop. The DIY ends there, fortunately, and beneath the repurposed-bucket light shades you’ll watch the bartenders craft vivacious signature cocktails. Reserve an outside table beneath the grape vines (cocktails from £6; kapanabar.com).

On a road behind the bus station, enter Megdana’s courtyard and be swept up in its patriotic theme. When it comes to traditional cuisine Bulgar Gastro Bar in Kapana may edge it, but Megdana ups the ante with its Friday and Saturday night folk dancing shows (an extra £2pp) to go with your tangy shopska salad and seared meats (mains from £9; megdanabg.com).

The Roman theatre of Philippopolis
The Roman theatre of Philippopolis

This article contains affiliate links, which can earn us revenue

Where to stay

Hotel Evmolpia
Old Town ambience
The dimensions of this purpose-built boutique blend in sympathetically with the old town’s historic hauteur. Traditional furnishings add warmth to the clean, comfortable rooms, while the modern windows successfully dampen the sound of crack-of-dawn cobble sweeping. Extend your knowledge of Bulgarian cheese beyond the city’s omnipresent “white cheese” at the hotel’s free wine and cheese bar. Evmolpia is situated a few minutes’ stroll from Kapana too (B&B doubles from £57; hotelevmolpia.com).

Gallery 37
Night in the gallery
Gallery 37 sits in a plum spot a mere 15 metres from the Ancient Theatre. Art is everywhere in this lavish boutique: you’ll be torn between admiring the museum piece on your wall, gazing up at the bespoke old town-inspired ceiling light and taking in the sweeping views of the city from your window. Book one of the deluxe rooms with balconies and you’ll be rewarded with the glorious sight of the Ancient Theatre below (B&B doubles from £88; hotelgallery37.com).

The Emporium Plovdiv
The Emporium Plovdiv


The Emporium Plovdiv
Champagne communism
This MGallery five-star inhabits a former communist-era shopping mall a short stroll from Central Square. Within you’ll find a champagne bar with a garden for summertime aperitifs and a mint-fragranced wellness area with Anne Semonin-anointed treatments. Select a different floor of its Torro restaurant for either steaks, sushi, or burgers, as well as melt-off-the-bone traditional meat dishes. The stylish rooms offer bespoke fittings, deeply comfortable beds and just the right amount of tech (B&B doubles from £182; emporiumplovdiv.com).

Getting there

Fly direct to Plovdiv from London Stansted or Manchester with Ryanair, while Wizz Air flies direct from Luton. Take a cab (£10) for the under-15-minute journey to the city centre. Direct flights are also available from the UK to the capital, Sofia. Driving from Sofia takes about 90 minutes, while the train takes twice as long (first-class single from £5).

Getting around

With the compact city centre, the sights are all within walking distance. Taxis are competitively priced for transfers to buses or trains.
Chris Allsop was a guest of the Emporium Plovdiv (emporiumplovdiv.com)

Have you visited Plovdiv? Let us know your suggestions on where to go in the comments below

Sign up for our Times Travel newsletter and follow us on Instagram and X

Previous article
How to holiday in the footsteps of the Danish royals
Previous article
Next article
25 amazing new hotels for the year ahead — for all budgets
Next article