Alongside Matera, Italy, Plovdiv is the second of this year's EU European Capitals of Culture. Here are five things you should know about this under-rated — and under-visited — Bulgarian city.
It has a vast history
Plovdiv's history spans more than eight millennia, with numerous nations leaving their traces on the city. It's been known by many different names over the years, including Kendrissos, Evmolpias, Philippopolis, Pulpudeva, Trimontsium, Ulpia, Flavia Julia, Plapdiv, Puldin Ploudin, Filibe and others. It's one of the oldest cities in Europe and has more than 200 archeological sites, containing many remains from antiquity. The Ancient Theatre in the old Roman City is probably the best known, built at the end of the 1st century AD. You can explore the city's history at the Archaeological Museum, which dates back to 1882 and contains more than 100,000 cultural artefacts.
It's easy to get to
Plovdiv's prime location has made it an international transport hub so there are plenty of ways to get to the city, with an international airport, a train station and three bus stations. Once you're there, it's easy to get around by taxi or by bus — or simply by walking around the romantic cobbled streets. It has a small downtown area and safe streets, so give yourself time to wander around, stopping for coffee and watching the locals.
Accommodation is plentiful
Since Plovdiv is such a small city, wherever you stay will give you easy access to explore it all. If you're keen to stay in the old town, there are plenty of budget, mid-range and luxury options to suit every traveller. If you're feeling particularly fancy, treat yourself to a stay at the Hotel Imperial, Park Hotel, Sankt Peterburg Park Hotel, or Novotel Plovdiv.
It's great for sports and recreation
If you are a sporty traveller there is no shortage of activities in Plovdiv. At the end of the city lies a rowing base of Olympic size, with options for rowing, running and cycling. You can also enjoy a football game at the Plovdiv Sports complex, or make use of the grounds to play tennis, swim in the pools or take the kids to the playground. If you like to stay healthy, join the locals for a run along the Maritsa River — or on a longer stay, head to the nearby Rhodope Mountains for skiing at the world-class ski resort Pamporova. The city sometimes hosts the Strandzha international boxing tournament, so you may be able to catch a match while you're in town.
It's got great nightlife
When the sun goes down, you need not call it a day — Plovdiv has a thriving nightlife and there are no shortages of options for a great night out, especially in the trendy Kapana district. In summer, the outdoor venue The King's Stables is a great spot to enjoy food, drinks and live music. There are also plenty of clubs, if you're in the mood for dancing. And if you're keen to impress the locals with your karaoke skills, the Marmalad Bar and Diner offers the opportunity on Friday nights.
flies from Auckland to Sofia, Bulgaria. Plovdiv is less than two-hours' drive from Sofia, with regular public buses between the two.