Plovdiv, the second-largest city in Bulgaria, is getting ready to cement its status on the European city break circuit as one of two European capitals of culture for 2019. (The other is the rocky city of Matera, Italy.)
Known for its Roman ruins, Plovdiv was also the onetime stomping ground of Greeks and Ottomans. Its east-meet-west location means there’s a mix of cultural influences, on show at places like the approx 600-year-old Dzhumaya Mosque and the Ottoman-era Chifte Banya — a 16th century bathhouse that now houses modern art exhibits.
In the summer months, Plovdiv’s cobbled streets transform into a bustling festival hub. In June and July, the Opera Open festival is in full swing and visitors can catch performances at the city’s incredible Roman amphitheater. In the hipster Kapana district, which translates as “the Trap,” Kapana Fest offers cultural entertainment in the summer and fall. Wandering Kapana, you’ll spot nightclubs neighboring craft shops and plenty of places to soak up the bohemian, laid-back vibe.
Don’t miss: The Roman ruins — from the Stadium, commissioned by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD to the ruins of the Roman Forum that was once Plovdiv’s administrative center. The highlight of the Roman relics is the city’s ancient theater, which was restored in the mid-20th century and is the perfect spot to watch a performance or two.