Earth : Europe : Balkans : Bulgaria : Northern Thrace : Plovdiv
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 an ancient city, with a history traced back 8000 years. Originally it had 7 tall hills, some of which were used for quarries. It was controlled by the Romans and was called Trimontium at that time (the Three Hills - as the city was much smaller in terms if area compared to today), and by Philip of Macedonia (father of Alexander the Great), lending the city another old name, Philipopolis. 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.
Plovdiv has a small airport called Krumovo. From 02.11.2010 the airport has one scheduled flight from/to London! Scheduled flight from/to Milan/Bergamo will start at May 7th 2011.
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.
The A1 expressway/motorway connects Plovdiv westward to Sofia. It also extends a short distance to the east. This is one of two true expressways in the country (the other was built north from Sofia to communist leader Todor Zhivkov's birthplace). Other destinations require two-lane roads, such as the most direct route to Pleven, which is the somewhat adventurous Troyan pass road.
Buses run approximately hourly from Sofia, and are slightly faster than the trains.
There are also buses to most other major Bulgarian cities several times a day.
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). 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.
The old center of 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.
To the south of the city there is the Bachkovo Monastery, still in use. 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.
Generally speaking eating in Plovdiv should be cheap for the westerner's pocket. Fast food is available and of high quality (in general).
There is McDonalds (Bulgaria's first) on the main shopping street. Expect western prices.
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 duners
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.