Why Travel from Sofia to Plovdiv for a Weekend

Things to do in Plovdiv: visit Sveta Marina Church courtyard
We flew into Sofia Bulgaria for a weekend to reach our travel goal of visiting every country in the European Union. Sofia to Plovdiv is just 2.5 hours by bus making Plovdiv, the 2019 European Capital of Culture and second largest city in Bulgaria, an ideal add on to a Bulgarian weekend city break. Read on to learn about why you should consider travelling from Sofia to Plovdiv for a weekend.

Getting from Sofia to Plovdiv

Several bus companies operate on the route between Sofia and Plovdiv. We opted to take Karat S from Sofia central bus station for just 10 EUR for two tickets. The bus station is located right next to the railway station in Sofia.

We picked up a mystery treat for the bus ride from Sofia to Plovdiv; a roll filled with mystery paste. After several bites, my conclusion was that it was a orange chocolate flavor. Yum! I love picking baked goods at random when there is a language barrier. This one only cost 1.20 Lev or about 0.60 EUR.
Orange chocolate bun for the bus ride from Sofia to Plovdiv

Why Visit Plovdiv

You may be wondering: why visit Plovdiv? There are a number of reasons to consider visiting:
  1. First and foremost, Plovdiv is a 2019 European Capital of Culture. 
  2. Plovdiv Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
  3. Plovdiv is close to the Bulgarian wine growing region. 
  4. The history of Plovdiv dates back to Roman times and you'll find well-preserved Roman ruins everywhere. 
  5. Plovdiv is also incredibly relaxing. There is enough to do but not so much to do that you feel the need to rush around.

Roman Ruins

Start by seeking out Plovdiv's Roman ruins. There are some very cool Roman ruins smack in the middle of pedestrianized Plovdiv with communist-era architecture behind lending an interesting contrast. An old Roman stadium sits in the shadow of the mosque in Plovdiv and is free to poke around. We skipped the ticketed 3D presentation that is associated with the ancient stadium.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Did you know that European Capitals of Culture have been designated since 1985? We've had the good fortune to visit a number of cities in Europe that at one time held this designation. Here are some ideas for the cities that we visited with the year the place was capital of culture listed in parentheses:
  1. Visit Athens Greece on a weekend city break (1985)
  2. Visit the Christmas markets in Berlin, Germany (1988)
  3. Spend 2 days in Glasgow Scotland (1990)
  4. Explore 23 ways to do a day in Dublin Ireland (1991)
  5. Spend a weekend exploring Luxembourg with a Luxembourg Card and don't forget to do some day trips from Luxembourg City (1995, 2007)
  6. Spend a day in Stockholm Sweden (1998)
  7. Eat your way through Bologna Italy (2000)
  8. See Rotterdam in winter (2001)
  9. Drink port as old as you are with 3 days in Porto Portugal (2001)
  10. Learn about awesome things to do in Cork City Ireland (2005)
  11. Head to the Baltics and visit Riga Latvia (2014) or Vilnius Lithuania (2009)
  12. Get off the beaten track with a day in Mons Belgium (2015)

Amazing Gelato

Plovdiv features some amazing gelato. We tried pistachio gelato from Alfreddo Gelateria which is located on Plovdiv's main street followed by a walk through Plovdiv to admire the architecture.

Things to do in Plovdiv Bulgaria
1. Friendly kebab shop
2. Architecture on the main pedestrianizeed street
3. Bulgarian gelato
4. Wooden tower at Sveta Marina Church

Historic Architecture

We were very impressed by Plovdiv's architecture. The wooden tower and art at Sveta Marina Church in Plovdiv was particularly striking.

Plovdiv's Roman Amphitheatre

Plovdiv is most famous for its well-preserved Roman Theatre, the Ancient Theatre of Philippopolis. Pay the admission fee (5 lev / 2.50 EUR at the time of writing) and make your way down the steps and onto the stage. Appreciate the views over Plovdiv from the top of the theatre.
Things to do in Plovdiv: Visit Old Town Plovdiv
Old Town Plovdiv

Old Town Plovdiv

UNESCO World Heritage-rated Old Town Plovdiv also features a number of historic homes, Eastern Orthodox churches and the Ethnographic Museum. Have a wander around the cobbled streets.

Sunset over Nebet Tepe

We took a wrong turn in Old Town Plovdiv and ended up at Nebet Tepe, Roman ruins that are a great spot for watching the sunset over Plovdiv. Embrace the unexpected!

Bulgarian Craft Beer

Head to the Kapana neighborhood of Plovdiv after dark to sample Bulgarian craft beer. We tried a couple brews from Beer Bastards, a Bulgarian microbrewery, at Cat and Mouse Bar. Kapana is buzzing on a Saturday night. Sit outside and enjoy a lovely weekend evening.
What to eat in Plovdiv
1. Molten chocolate cake at Smokini
2. Bulgarian red wine
3-4. Bulgarian Craft beer from Beer Bastards at Cat and Mouse Bar

What to Eat in Plovdiv

Another reason to travel from Sofia to Plovdiv is the great food. We ate a traditional Bulgarian dinner with a modern twist at Smokini in Plovdiv including shopinska salad, tomato and cheese salad, pork parmentier, and trout served with a healthy dose of smooth jazz.
What to eat in Plovdiv Bulgaria
Dinner at Smokini
1. Shopinska salad
2. Tomato and cheese salad
3. Pork parmentier
4. Trout
We had no choice but to order dessert at Smokini. There was leftover melnik (Bulgarian wine) to finish. We enjoyed a delicious chocolate souffle.

Make sure to try flaky cheese bread from a hole-in-the-wall vendor dotted around Plovdiv city.

Another great place to eat in Plovdiv is Паваж. I love the ability to dine al fresco in Kapana in Plovdiv. We started with cold yogurt soup and Buffalo yogurt with dill, cucumber, and walnuts. Homemade meatballs and veal and pork sausage with lyutenitsa (pepper and tomato spread) followed washed down with a bottle of Bulgarian Mavrud. Паваж is popular so stop by in the afternoon to reserve a table for dinner to avoid disappointment.
What to eat in Plovdiv Bulgaria
Dinner at Паваж
1. Buffalo yogurt with dill, cucumber, and walnuts
2. Cold yogurt soup with beetroot
3. Homemade Bulgarian meatballs

Colorful Fountains in the Park

We rushed the end of dinner to see the singing fountain in Plovdiv. Color me unimpressed. We saw lots of colorful water but definitely no singing. The singing fountain seems to be a seasonal phenomenon that doesn't extend to October. It was really hard to find any definitive information on the dates and hours for the show.

Roman Mosaics at Trakart Archaeological Museum

Check out well-preserved Roman mosaics and other artefacts from antiquity at Trakart Museum in Plovdiv.

Things to do in Plovdiv Bulgaria: Trakart Archaeological Museum
Exhibits at Trakart Archaeological Museum in Plovdiv.

Walk the Longest Pedestrianized Street in Europe

Knyaz Aleksandar I is the main pedestrian street in Plovdiv. Did you know that Plovdiv features the longest pedestrianized street in Europe? Walk Knyaz Aleksandar I (sometimes spelled Knyaz Alexander) from end to end. Grab a delicious chicken kebab at one of the many kiosks along the street. Take a coffee break at The Family coffee roasters. The street continues across the river over a bridge lined with inexpensive shops. We were rewarded for our efforts to walk Knyaz Aleksandar I from end to end when we spotted an absolutely adorable kitten at the terminus!
Things to do in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
1,3. Plovdiv architecture
2. Plovdiv kitten

Explore Kapana Street Art

The Kapana neighborhood in Plovdiv is a bit like Temple Bar in Dublin; a neighborhood focused on revelry and nightlife.  We went back to the Cat and Mouse craft beer bar only to learn that Bulgaria doesn't serve alcohol while the polls are open on election day. We'd unknowingly timed our visit to coincide with the election and city was dry (at least in theory) until the evening. We went to scope out some street art in Kapana instead.
Things to do in Plovdiv Bulgaria: Look for Plovdiv street art
Plovdiv street art in the Kapana neighborhood.

Take A Day Trip with Bulgaria Wine Tours

Another great reason to travel from Sofia to Plovdiv is the great day trip opportunities. We embarked on a private wine tasting tour with Bulgaria Wine Tours. We sampled 5 Bulgarian wines (served with homemade spelt bread) at Zagreus Vineyard.
Things to do in Plovdiv Bulgaria: Visit Zagreus Winery
We feasted on Bulgarian food for lunch at Джамура near Bachkovo Monastery by a burbling river. Sour cabbage bites, potato cake with cornmeal and cheese, and spicy meatballs really hit the spot. We got some great ordering advice from our tour guide Krassi.
What to eat in Plovdiv Bulgaria
Lunch at Джамура
1. Sour cabbage bites
2. Potato cake with cornmeal and cheese
3. Spicy meatballs
We finished our day trip from Plovdiv with Bulgaria Wine Tours at Bachkovo Monastery. Bachkovo Monastery is an Eastern Orthodox Monastery founded in 1083. Check out the artwork inside the church and the historic jujube tree in the courtyard.
Plovdiv day trips: Bachkovo Monastery

Plovdiv day trips: Bachkovo Monastery
1-3. Bachkovo Monastery
4. River near Bachkovo Monastery

Where to Stay in Plovdiv

Plovdiv is a rather chill destination. We decided to rent an apartment for a few days rather than staying at a traditional hotel. We paid a total of around 80 EUR for THREE nights. We had lots of space and were situated in a convenient location near one end of Knyaz Aleksandar I. Renting an apartment means we also had access to a freezer. We picked up some ice cream in a clay pot at the supermarket in Plovdiv. I love trying local treats when we travel.
What to eat and where to stay in Plovdiv Bulgaria
1-2. Supermarket ice cream in a clay pot
3. Our apartment in Plovdiv

Private Transfer from Plovdiv to Sofia Airport

We needed to travel from Plovdiv to Sofia Airport to catch an early afternoon flight back to Dublin. Buses don't run frequently in the morning. Our only option would have been to take a bus before 6 am or we'd be too late for our flight. With this in mind, we hired a private car and driver instead for 65 EUR. We did discover that driving in Bulgaria can be a risky proposition. Holy crap! The speed limit on the motorway is 140 km per hour in Bulgaria. Our driver kept going even faster. I'll admit that the ride from Plovdiv to Sofia was more of a white knuckled experience than I would have liked. Fortunately, we made it to Sofia Airport in one piece but I was definitely glad to be out of the car!

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: Why Travel from Sofia to Plovdiv for a Weekend
Why Travel from Sofia to Plovdiv for a Weekend
Travel from Sofia to Plovdiv Bulgaria for a weekend. Discover things to do in Plovdiv, 2019 European Capital of Culture. Spend the weekend in Plovdiv sightseeing before returning from Plovdiv to Sofia.
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