Plovdiv is 2019 European Capital of Culture, and there’s never been a better time to visit this effervescent Bulgarian city, says Abra Dunsby
The Bulgarian city of Plovdiv is preparing for its moment in the spotlight this year, having been named European Capital of Culture 2019 alongside Italy’s Matera. “While it is Bulgaria’s second city, Plovdiv could be regarded as a bit of a hidden gem,” says Chris Rand, sales and marketing manager at Balkan Holidays, which sells tailor-made trips there.
Did you know, for example, that Plovdiv is Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited city, boasting everything from a wonderfully preserved Roman amphitheatre to numerous examples of Bauhaus architecture?
As well as its impressive Roman stadium and amphitheatre, which is still used as a performance venue, this Balkan city has many plenty more tricks up its sleeve.
Its hilly Old Town is a good place for clients to start their city wanderings, strolling cobbled streets and peeking into 19th-century wooden buildings. There are around 400 or so of the latter, some of which are now house-museums that reveal what life was like for the rich Bulgarian, Greek and Armenian merchants who lived here.
The city is also home to an assortment of Ottoman mosques, most of which date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Perhaps the most famous is the 15th-century Dzhumaya Mosque, located to the west of the Old Town. Clients can further explore the city’s Ottoman influence at Chifte Banya, a former Turkish bathhouse that’s now a contemporary art centre.
The city has strong art and design credentials – it’s home to a good selection of galleries and artist studios, and hosts various arty festivals each year.
Hipsters should head to the cool, creative district of Kapana. Once the bazaar quarter, its cobblestone streets now teem with studios, craft shops and cool bars and clubs – the area is also famed for its nightlife. September 13-15 is a good time for art lovers to visit, as it’s when Night of Museums and Galleries takes over, bringing three days of art performances to the city, taking place in various galleries, cafes and public squares.
For design lovers, there’s One Design Week, held in June, with sister events One Architecture Week taking place in September and One Dance Week in October.
There’s also a whole roster of festivals and events taking place throughout the year to celebrate the city’s Capital of Culture crowning. The inauguration kicks off on January 12, when Plovdiv will throw a giant party incorporating music, light shows and dance.
With its mixture of old and new, Plovdiv makes for an intriguing, alternative city break option this year – and while it’s rich in culture, it’s pleasantly kind on the wallet too.