Plovdiv (Bulgarian: Пловдив) is the second-largest city in Bulgaria, and one of the oldest cities in Europe. It is located in the large plain between the Rhodope Mountains in the south of Bulgaria and the Balkan Range, or Old Mountains (Stara Planina) that runs through the center of Bulgaria. Both ranges are visible on clear days. The Maritsa River flows through the city on its way southeast before forming the Greek/Turkey border to the Aegean Sea.
Plovdiv is the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe, with a history of inhabitation going back over 8000 years. Originally it had seven tall hills, some of which were used for quarries. When it was controlled by the Romans and it was called Trimontium (the Three Hills - as the city was much smaller in terms of area compared to today). It was also formerly known as Philipopolis from the world "phili" /which means sections/ and "popolis" which means city. There is a statue of Philip in the centre today. During the long occupation by the Ottoman Empire, a large mosque was built, still present in the centre area as well. During Communist times, a statue of the unnamed Russian soldier was erected on one of the three main hills which overlooks the city.
Today, Plovdiv is a famous tourist destination itself and also serves as a gateway to many other points of interest. Plovdiv is well-known for hosting the Plovdiv International Fair twice a year and for its ancient sites.
While you are in Plovdiv, you can get help and more information about the city from one of the two Tourist information Centers in the city. The first one is located in the center of the city, right next to the post office; when arriving in the city via train or bus through "Ugh" or "Rhodopi" stations, this is one of the first buildings you'll come across in the center of the city. The second one is located in the old city, on the main street (Saborna St), a little bit before the Etnographic museum and the Church of Saint Konstantin and Elena.
Tourist information centers can help you with all kinds of information including city maps, information about concerts, bus and train schedules, and finding a place to sleep. There is also free wifi in bus stations and train stations.
There is a bus that goes from the airport to the central "Yoog" bus station after every flight. On the way back to the airport you can take a taxi or bus. A taxi and will cost you about 15 leva /about 7.50 euro. The bus leaves from the "Yoog" station towards Asenovgrad and tell the driver, that you want to go to the airport. Then the bus is going to stop at KCM, and there will be another vehicle waiting to take you to the airport. Update (25.Mar. 2012): If you take the Bus to Asenovgrad you have to walk the last 3 kilometer from the Bus stop to the Airport. The fare is 1.20 leva.
There are many national and international trains from and to Plovdiv.
There are many daily trains to and from Sofia. Duration is from about two and a half hours for the express ones to four hours for the slow ones. There is also one daily train to/from Istanbul in Turkey which takes about 11 hours. As of March 2013, the Istanbul train leaves from the Halkali station outside of Istanbul. The train leaves around 2230 and there is not much easily accessible around Halkali station, so come prepared! Halkali can be reached by buses BN1 and BN2. Tickets plus reservations are around $30.
You can check the timetable on bdz.bg
The railway station is located near the city center, it takes around 10-15 min. walk to the center.
The A1 expressway/motorway connects Plovdiv westward to Sofia and eastward to Stara Zagora and Yambol. It is expected to be fully finished in 2013 and to connect Plovdiv to Burgas.
Plovdiv has 3 bus stations - "Jug", "Sever", and "Rhodopi". There are many buses for cities all around Bulgaria and to some that are outside the country.
Jug station has an ATM located just outside so you can easily get local currency there if you're arriving by bus from abroad.
Buses run approximately hourly from Sofia, and are slightly faster than the trains. Many also have free wifi!
Metro Turizm is a Turkish bus company that runs daily bus service to and from Istanbul in Turkey. Busses going from Plovdiv to Istanbul depart from Jug Station daily at 11:00, 14:00, 19:00, 22:30, and 1:00. The trip costs 40 YTL (as of the summer of 2011) and takes roughly 7 hours, depending upon the vagaries of traffic and the border crossing. Metro busses also depart daily for Bursa, Turkey at 19:00. A second bus line (Alpar) also has a daily bus from Jug Station to Istanbul that departs at 22:30.
There is no boat transportation to Plovdiv.
Taxis and buses are prevalent. Downtown has a large pedestrian zone. Taxis are (Summer 2010) as cheap if not cheaper than bus rides when split between 3-4 people in general. A 5-7km of traveled distance was charged at around 5lv (charge for km is 0.75 leva daily and 0.95 leva nightly); an average ride within the city costs around 3 leva. The taxi arrives in about 3-5min. Remember to order the Taxi from the companies that offer the best deals and wait for it. Generally taking the taxi that is already waiting will cost you more (sometimes upto 5-times more) avoid them or ask for flat price that fits you! Learn who offers best prices from the locals who often use taxis. Most of the taxicars has 4-digit numbers on them, remember some and use it if you need a car, for example: 6155, 6142, 9199 and so on.
As of summer 2011, if your taxi ride costs more than 5 leva, you are entitled to a 20% discount off the fare.
Public bus tickets cost 1 lev.
The old Plovdiv is compact and walkable, with the main downtown road blocked to car traffic. There is a good collection of Bulgarian revival buildings in use as museums, hotels, and restaurants etc. and is worth a visit if you have chance. The nearby Roman Amphitheater, discovered in the 1970's during a construction project, is part of the pedestrian zone, and typically has merchants selling art and other items nearby. Wander the cobblestone streets near the downtown to find the centuries old St. Marina church with a unique wooden tower, a mosque from the Ottoman Empire, and on the nearby hill the old town center. The old town center was walled, and has a famous gateway entrance. Nearby Puldin Restaurant has subterranean rooms where the old wall and historic artifacts can be seen. Continuing up the hill several older houses are now museums and the Roman amphitheater with an overlook of the town below is partially restored and still used for concerts and other occasions.
In the new center of the city (at the street heading up into the old town) you will find the Roman stadium which dates back to the late 1st/early 2nd century. It had a capacity of 30,000 people; and as the Roman laws dictate that the city stadium should have seating for at least half the population, it summarily shows the town had 60,000 inhabitants during Roman times. In addition, the ancient theatre is capable of seating 6,000 people at once--again, Roman laws dictated that the theatres should accommodate one-tenth of the population at a time.
When you go to the other end of the predestrian street, next to the Tourist Information Center and the post office, you will see the Roman Odeon and Forum. The forum was to Romans the downtown of today. This one had three sides of 13 shops on each side, and a fourth one for the bank, library, and other institutions of this sort.
Farther into the Rhodope mountains one can find ski resorts and other natural attractions, such as the impressively narrow gorge and caves leading to Trigrad, not far from the mountainous Greek border.
Plovdiv offers many things to do, and most are easily walkable.
On the Mladeshki there is a miniature train that can be ridden up and down. It costs 1 lev. On the Bunardjik Hill you can see the monument of the unknown russian soldier - it's dedecated to all the russian soldiers who died in the russian-turkish war.
You can buy many different souvenirs from Bulgaria that represent the country.
Cutlery made of wood or clay might also be worthwhile to look for.
Or perhaps you might be looking for a painting or even a musical instrument?
Generally speaking eating in Plovdiv should be cheap for the westerner's pocket. Fast food is available and of high quality (in general), though make sure to try Bulgarian cuisine as well. Stewed meats, fresh salads and cheeses, and good local wine.
There are McDonalds, KFC, Kastello, Verde and other popular restaurants.
The cheapest fast food could cost as little 0.50-1.00lv to 2-3lv and can be found along the main street. There are plenty of such places offering pizza, traditional food, and kebabs.
There are some low-end restaurants that will be fairly affordable pay attention to the menu and think about 10-15lv for a full meal (salad, main course, dessert, drink(s)).
Paying more will probably get you a slightly better food than the options above but most of the cost will definitely go towards the overall experience. The priciest places are located in the old town, on top of the hill. Expect to pay a bit more say 20-30lv and above. There are also a few restaurants outside the center.
Club Zanzibar is the ideal place to drink in Plovdiv. It contains a stylish African interior Cocktail Bar which offers the best drinks in the city and at night time offers the largest nightclub in all of Plovdiv.
Generally speaking Plovdiv is a very safe place. Avoid the ghetto area and you will be very safe. Old town and the main street are generally very busy and safe. Parks during the day are safe avoid them at night unless you are with a larger company. Avoid picking a verbal fight with locals! Avoid wearing football shirts or scarves of the Plovdiv or Sofia-based football teams,especially on match days. Overall the city has improved in terms of safety over the past years.
If you are using public transport always keep an eye on your personal belongings. Many pickpockets take advantage of overcrowded buses (like bus line 1, e.g.).