Exploring Europe’s Oldest Inhabited City: Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Exploring Europe’s Oldest Inhabited City: Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv has been continuously inhabited for over 6,000 years, making it Europe’s oldest inhabited city. There have been bloody battles waged in Bulgaria, including Plovdiv, for thousands of years due to its strategic location en-route to Asia and the Middle East. As a result, it’s been conquered by everyone from the Thracians to the Ottomans. Now, it is an emerging favourite amongst budget travellers who love its rich history, attractive old town and ridiculously cheap beers. Here’s 6 things to do if you decide to visit this fabulous little city.

Check out Plovdiv street art

There are clearly some very talented Bulgarian street artists wandering around Plovdiv, because the city has some surprisingly excellent street art. Colourful spray paintings are hiding in all sorts of nooks and crannies if you keep your eyes peeled. The Trap area has some of the most creative work with garage doors to power boxes covered in colourful artworks.

Visit Plovdiv Bulgaria

Relax in ‘The Trap’

Apart from its awesome street art, The Trap (Kapana in Bulgarian) is also jam packed with trendy shops, cafes and bars. It is allegedly called The Trap because the winding streets make it easy to get lost – but we promise it’s not really that hard to get around. It’s a great place to relax with some coffee and cake, or pick up a cute souvenir. We were told that The Trap has been used as a marketplace for decades, but during Communist times the shops and cafes were nationalised. It fell into disrepair after Communism while the city tried to return businesses to their pre-Communist owners, but thankfully it is now a thriving commercial hub once again.

The Trap Plovdiv Bulgaria

Enjoy Bulgarian craft beer and wine

Bulgaria has a great range of local craft beer and wine. The prices are so cheap it would be a travesty to miss out on tasting a few! We recommend BeerStop Pub (ul. Otets Paisiy 16) for craft beer. If wine is more your thing, check out Vino Culture (ul. Otets Paisiy 5).

Stroll through the Old Town

The cobble stone streets of the Old Town are a great place to stroll around for a couple of hours. Make sure you stop by the statue of Miljo, a local hero of sorts. Although Miljo was poor, he was apparently ‘gifted’ in other ways. You will also see Miljo has a rather shiny knee. Legend has it that if you rub Miljo’s knee you will be lucky in love.

Miljo Plovdiv Bulgaria

We also recommend visiting the Roman Theatre of Plovdiv, which is one of the best preserved Roman theatres in the world. The theatre was built in the late 1st century – early 2nd century AD for theatrical performances and gladiator fights. The theatre had capacity for 6,000 spectators who revelled in watching these performances and grisly hunting games.

Roman Theatre Plovdiv Bulgaria

Climb one of Plovidv’s seven hills

Plovdiv is known as the city of seven hills because – you guessed it – the city is built on seven hills. It’s actually just six hills now, since one was destroyed to mine rock for pave stones. We climbed up to the fortress walls at Nebet Tepe, which offers fantastic views across the city. If you’re more energetic than us (which isn’t difficult), tackle Liberators Hill located west of the city centre.

Seven Hills Plovdiv Bulgaria

Go day trippin’

There are also plenty of great day trips from Plovdiv, with most hostels offering pretty reasonable tours. We had picked up a travel buddy, so we hired a car for one day through Old Plovdiv Hostel. Hiring a car worked out much cheaper than a tour between the three of us. The price for 24 hours’ hire was around 30 euro, plus petrol (around 1 euro per litre). We needed our Australian drivers’ licence and International Driving Permit, and provided a 200 euro security deposit.

Our first stop was the ancient hilltop Thracian city of Perperikon. This is believed to be the place where Alexander the Great heard the oracles’ prophecy that he would rule the world.

Perperikon Bulgaria

Our next stop was the medieval Bachkovo Monastery. The frescoes inside the main church were absolutely stunning. Perhaps the most memorable part though was a small plaque dedicated to Patriarch Kiril and Exarch Stefan. These two men played a decisive role in preventing the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to Nazi extermination camps in 1943. The plaque at the Monastery reads: ‘Were the world blessed with more individuals of such valour and nobility as that shown by Patriarch Kiril and Exarch Stefan surely more Jews would have been spared their tragic end.’ You can read more about this incredible story here.

Bachkovo Monastery Bulgaria

Our final stop was Asen’s Fortress. A winding switchback road led to the remnants of a once mighty fortress. All that remains is a small church, but the views offered from the hilltop are incredible.

Asen's Fortress Bulgaria

Have you visited Bulgaria? What did you think? Tell us in the comments below!

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