Night Bus from Plovdiv to Istanbul: Everything You Need to Know

Night Bus from Plovdiv to Istanbul: Everything You Need to Know

Night Bus from Plovdiv to Istanbul: Everything You Need to Know

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Getting the night bus from Plovdiv to Istanbul is a really efficient way to travel this route. Go to sleep, wake up at the border, go back to sleep, you’re in Istanbul. Here’s all the information and preparation you might need for taking this bus and crossing the Bulgaria/Turkey border.

Find Accommodation with a Reception Seating Area in Plovdiv

Staying in accommodation with a reception seating area means that you have somewhere to sit before heading to the bus station late at night. Charge your phone, use the toilet, make sure you have your map for Turkey downloaded on Google Maps and Maps.me and your Istanbul accommodation location saved.

Our recommendation would be to stay at Best Rest Guesthouse. It’s a simple guesthouse with a reception seating area, and it is a two-minute walk to Plovdiv International Bus Station.

Ask Around for the Best Price for Your Ticket

Several companies run this route, leaving at different times. The best timing and price that we found was with Huntur. Leaving Plovdiv at 00:30, the bus should arrive into Istanbul at 06:30. The price was 35 BGN or 30 BGN if you’re a student (which of course, we are!). Other companies were charging 45 BGN each, so Huntur was by far the best price.

Bear in mind that they only accept cash and there isn’t an ATM on site, but there is a DSK ATM a five-minute walk away. Also remember to bring your passport, otherwise you will not be issued a ticket.

Return to the Station Twenty Minutes Before the Bus Leaves

The start of this bus journey is not Plovdiv, but it stops at Plovdiv en route to Istanbul. Because of this, the bus won’t just be sat there waiting for passengers to fill it up like it would if Plovdiv was the beginning point.

We always try to get to our transportation twenty minutes before in case of early arrival. Bus companies that have late buses like this will likely have their stand open until their last bus has left, so you can speak to them if you have any questions, the bus is late etc.

Getting on the Bus

Show your ticket and get onto the bus. Your big luggage will be stowed underneath the bus, but smaller bags can be put under your seat or the overhead shelf.

Sit in your assigned seat on your ticket. There is assigned seating for each ticket, but if your bus is anything like ours (only about a third full), everyone will space out once it gets going.

Border Crossing

Kapikule Sinir Kapisi Giseleri is the crossing situated at the point where Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece meet. We arrived at about 02:30.

You have to get off the bus with all of your luggage including the large bags underneath the bus. Carry these across the border through passport control (making sure your visa is in check), and put your luggage through a scanner.

While this is going on, the authorities are checking the bus and it will then drive across the border. Put your bags back on the bus and off you trot.

night bus from Plovdiv to Istanbul

Arrival into Esenler Otogar (bus station)

You should arrive into Esenler Otogar (bus station) between 06:00 and 06:30. The bus station is massive and also pretty far out of the main city centre, so you would likely need to get the metro or a bus to your accommodation. There is metro stop named Otogar which is basically inside the bus station. This is your best bet.

Istanbulkart

To use the public transport in Istanbul, you need to buy and load money onto an Istanbulkart. This can be bought at the Otogar metro station. Full blog post with tips on how to get an Istanbulkart is on its way!

night bus from plovdiv to istanbul

Metro from Otogar to the City Centre

Jump on the red metro line M1a or M1b heading towards Yenikapi. It is worth noting that getting on the M1a line the opposite way will take you to Ataturk Havalimani airport. You can double check bus and metro times using Google Maps. They have a very reliable service throughout Istanbul.

Fancy giving this route a go? Or have you already travelled this way? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations or questions.

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Top Tips for Travelling from Sofia to Bucharest by Bus

Top Tips for Travelling from Sofia to Bucharest by Bus

Top Tips for Travelling from Sofia to Bucharest by Bus

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This was the final (and longest) leg of our bus journey to reach Romania. We started our travel at 08:30 in Pristina, Kosovo; then headed to Skopje, North Macedonia; and now we had just arrived into Sofia, Bulgaria at 21:00. We had booked accommodation in Sofia so that we could get our heads down, and then head from Sofia to Bucharest  by bus in the morning. BUT (and this is where it got interesting), we hadn’t booked our tickets yet.

As with every other leg of this mammoth journey, we were booking the tickets as and when. However, Sofia International Bus Station is an absolute mission and a half: a really stressful place in the evenings. Everyone seems to be panicking. At around 22:30, a woman was running round asking anyone to get her a bus to Vienna this evening. Vienna is a long old bus ride away! And this late in the day and so last minute?! Because it was so stressful, I know that we could have done with a lot more information on this journey and the international bus station to prepare us better. If you are thinking about making this journey, or heading somewhere else from Sofia, I hope this helps out. So, here you go, folks!

Sofia International Bus Station is Intense

The bus station is an outdoor maze of small counters run by different bus companies. Some stay open very late: we were probably there until 23:00, but a lot close earlier depending on the times their company runs buses. Companies operate similar routes with different stops and different prices, so make sure you ask around and check at the train station to weight up all your options. Don’t just agree to the first company that offers your route: you can always come back to them.

Most companies only accept cash as payment, even when they had the stickers in their doors advertising that they accept Mastercard and Visa! Don’t worry though, there is an ATM on site which does not charge withdrawal fees. We withdrew cash using our Starling cards without any problem or fees.

Sofia city views, Sofia to Bucharest by bus

Sofia

Buying Bus Tickets Online

We have visited many websites for bus companies in the Balkans, the majority of which I would not feel comfortable inputting my card details, passport details etc. Many are not user friendly, don’t translate well into English, and some don’t even have the https in the URL. If this is the case, I would not recommend booking your tickets online. However, we found FlixBus that has a great website. We have booked several buses with them through their website; it’s logical and reliable. Buy your ticket, and they send you an email confirmation with a QR scanner. That’s it.

Is It Cheaper to Buy Online or In Person?

For our example of the Sofia to Bucharest that dreadful evening, it was far cheaper to buy the tickets online. The agent initially quoted us 20 EUR each for a seven hour journey which seemed reasonable. Then within about ten minutes, the price had jumped to 36 EUR each. Erm…what?! He told us that we were better off checking the website instead of booking through him. He even gave us his wifi password to complete the booking. It came to 18 EUR booking directly through Flix Bus.

Bus Times from Sofia to Bucharest

There are two buses that head to Bucharest from Sofia each day with Flix Bus: one at 13:15 arriving in at 20:15, and one at 23:30 arriving in at 06:30 the next day. We got the bus in the day from Sofia, and the bus overnight back to Sofia, and we can thoroughly recommend getting the night bus if possible. There won’t be as much mayhem at the border at night, so your journey will be shorter. Also, you save on a night’s accommodation. Win win.

Sofia tram, Sofia to Bucharest by bus

Getting on the Bus

Make sure you arrive at least fifteen minutes early at the international bus station. They will scan you QR code on your tickets and throw your bag underneath the bus. Now, our tickets had a caveat about luggage allowance: certain dimensions, weight etc. We both had huge backpacks that probably weigh 20kg, a smaller backpack we wear on the front that’s got to be coming up 10kg, and a small bag with odds and ends. No one checked anything, so regular luggage should be ok – just don’t bring five suitcases!

Sit in the seat assigned on your ticket. There is space for hand luggage above head and under the seat in front. There is also a flip down table, charging points and wifi.

Breaks Along the Way

There is one designated stop of maybe fifteen minutes at a petrol station that has decent toilets with a little cafe and shop just before Veliko Tarnovo, so about three hours in.

The bus then stops at Veliko Tarnovo if people are booked to pick it up from there, otherwise it will just continue on.

Veliko Tarnovo, Sofia to Bucharest by bus

Veliko Tarnovo

The Border Crossing

This is where the fun starts! The bus crosses the border at Ruse and it is by a long way, the busiest land border crossing we have ever experienced. The bus was crawling along in traffic for about two hours to cross the border.

Once we reached the border, the border police came up on to the bus. They asked everyone where they were heading and took their passports or ID cards in a huge pile off of the bus. It freaks me out when someone takes my passport away, but it’s the way that it works at this border.

The bus pulled over and we had to wait for thirty minutes to get the passports back. There is a small duty free, a currency exchange and toilets here.

We got back on the bus and were handed our passports back, which had been stamped with a Bulgarian exit and Romanian entry.

From the Border to Bucharest

This last part of the journey should only take about an hour, and will bring you to Autogara Militari.

You’ve Arrived!

Flix Bus’s station, called Autogara Militari, is quite a way out of the city centre so you will likely need to get more transport into the centre. We eventually arrived at 22:00.

I would 100% recommend getting a Bolt pick up from the station to your accommodation as it will probably cost you between 2-3 GBP. Otherwise, jump on a bus like us or there is a metro station close by.

There is a taxi layby right outside the entrance to the bus station which is where your Bolt can pick you up from.

If getting the bus, turn right out of the bus station and then turn right when you hit the main road. The bus stops just outside the flower shop. You can tap your Starling card for payment on the bus: 3 RON each.

If getting the metro, turn right out of the bus station, cross the main road, and the metro station is just on your left.

Google Maps works well in Bucharest so you can see live bus times etc. to keep track of where you’re going.

Romania, Sofia to Bucharest by bus

Welcome to Bucharest

Have you taken this journey? Is there anything else you would add?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations or questions.

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Top 10 Restaurants for Vegetarians in Sofia

Top 10 Restaurants for Vegetarians in Sofia

Top 10 Restaurants for Vegetarians in Sofia

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We spent ten days in Sofia and so we managed to try around a load of the restaurants, cafes and shops to find the best vegetarian food. You’ll find plenty of variety; from traditional Bulgarian to brunch spots to sushi. Here are our top spots and restaurants for vegetarians in Sofia.

Furna

This cafe specialises in all things banitsa. Banitsa is a traditional Bulgarian filo pastry pie, and Furna serves several options that are actually vegan. Sweet varieties include apple and cinnamon or pumpkin and walnut, while savoury options include curried lentil, herby mushrooms, and potato and carrot. We visited multiple times and can without doubt recommend all of them. Grab yourself a bantisa and a coffee (or ayran like the locals) for breakfast, lunch or even a snack.

Bantisa, vegetarian food in sofia

Beautiful Bantisa

Hadjidragana Tavern

This is a traditionally decorated Bulgarian restaurant serving proper Bulgarian food. Try the patatnik (baked cheesy mashed potato), their wide range of dips and spreads with bread, garlic courgettes and of course the classic Shopska salad. Don’t forget to try the homemade wine too!

restaurants for vegetarians in sofia

Traditional decor

Patatnik

Satsanga

A fully vegetarian restaurant serving Indian food canteen style. Grab a plate, load it up and pay by weight. The menu changes regularly, but there will be a variety of curries with lentils, paneer, vegetables, as well as rice, breads, salads, fried starters. Seriously tasty.

Ashurbanipal

A tiny Iraqi restaurant with only five or six tables. This place serves a variety of vegetarian dishes each one costing 7 BGN! Tahini cauliflower, biryani, hummus, babaganoush, ful, okra, breads and salad. It is very much a rough and ready place. You have to go get your own plate and cutlery, and you get your own drinks from the fridge (which didn’t have a door) or from the room temperature boxes of wine on the counter. You get thrown a bag of flat breads and the food comes out when each dish is ready. The food was so good though. Your money pays for the tasty food and nothing more, no frills. We went here for my 30th birthday dinner, and loved it.

restaurants for vegetarians in sofia

Where to start?!

Aubergine

Very much a fancier establishment with higher prices than we would usually go for. The restaurant specialises in, you guessed it, everything aubergine. The salads and veggie options are really good. My favourite was the goats cheese with fig and strawberry. If you have been on the Sofia free walking tour, don’t forget to show your booklet voucher to get a free pot of aubergine jam.

restaurants for vegetarians in sofia

The Sando Shop

Ooohh this place is good. They serve Japanese style sandwiches. You know, the ones where they cut the sandwich in to three to show off the cross section of the filling. We had the truffle egg mayo, the cheese and mushroom, and the truffle fries and it was all beautiful. I’ve seen that they now do a miso and garlic aubergine with pickled onions, walnuts, miso mayo and cheese sandwich. We might have to find our way over to Sofia again.

Truffle fries

cheese and mushroom sandwich, sando shop sofia

Cheese and mushroom

truffle egg sandwich, sando shop sofia

Truffle egg mayo

My Sushi Bar

We bought a mixed vegetarian sushi platter from here with wakame salad and edamame beans. You can eat in, but most people (including us) grabbed a takeaway (twice!). Really nice.

Kebab Shop Selling Falafel Wraps Near Lavov Most

Ok, that’s obviously not the name of the place, but we can’t remember what it was called and it’s not marked on Google Maps. But it was right about here. Not 313, but next door. Grab a falafel sandwich from here. You’ll get four pieces of tasty falafel with chips, salad, creamy sauce, spicy sauce and pickles all wrapped up in a flatbread for 5 BGN.

Cafe 1920

This is a great place for brunch. Omelettes, pancakes, sandwiches. The decor is lovely too and they have an outdoor seating area overlooking Lions’s Bridge (Lavov Most) if the weather is nice.

City Views from the Martyrs' Cemetery

Never to early for Dirty Fries

Sweet and Salty Bakery

Another place that is perfect for brunch. Cooked breakfasts, scrambled eggs, they’ll do a croque madame without the meat. If you have been on the Sofia free walking tour, don’t forget to show your booklet voucher to get 5% discount.

Have you been to any of these restaurants? Or do you have any other places that you would recommend?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations and questions.

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14 Spectacular Sights in Sofia

14 Spectacular Sights in Sofia

14 Spectacular Sights in Sofia

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Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, is situated in the west of the country, close to the border with Serbia. It is a very grey city in the sense that there are a lot of concrete communist-style buildings interspersed with grander concrete buildings. Bulgaria’s socialist past is evident in its architecture, particularly throughout Sofia. The city feels very different to any other Balkan city that we had visited (including cities within Bulgaria), but this uniqueness is what makes it so intriguing. The closest resemblance, I’d say would be Bucharest in Romania.

Huge, imposing buildings line the paths while Soviet-style trams yoyo up and down the main streets. Street art attempts to brighten up the sea of grey, as do the colourful rooftops of churches studding the skyline. You could easily spend a couple of days exploring the city and eating at the vast array of superb restaurants. And honestly, the vegetarian options we found throughout the city were great! So much so, I have a full blog post just on the restaurants coming soon! Watch this space.

Find all our recommendations on the top sights in Sofia in this city guide.

A Brief History of Sofia

Earliest settlement of Sofia dates back some 7000 years, making it one of Europe’s oldest cities. Known during Roman times as Serdika, Sofia was controlled by several empires – notably Byzantine, Ottoman, Bulgarian – before becoming a socialist republic after WW2. During this period, many buildings were constructed and these have shaped the look and feel of the city you see today. Bulgaria gained independence in 1989.

sofia skyline

Sofia skyline

How to Get to Sofia

Sofia Airport (SOF) is about a twenty/thirty minute bus ride out of the city. It is an international airport connecting Bulgaria to the rest of Europe and some of the Middle East.

Buses and trains connect cities throughout the country and to neighbouring countries. The buses/trains that we have used to and from Sofia are below:

Skopje to Sofia bus: cost £22 and took five hours, leaving Skopje at 15:00

Sofia to Bucharest bus: cost £16 and took nine hours (there was traffic at the border), leaving Sofia at 13:15

Bucharest to Sofia bus: cost £14 and took five and a half hours, leaving Bucharest at 23:30

Sofia to Bansko bus: cost 29 BGN and took three hours, leaving Sofia at 11:30

Bansko to Sofia bus: cost 20 BGN and took three hours, leaving Bansko at 12:51

Sofia to Plovdiv bus: cost 14 BGN and took about two hours, leaving Sofia at 12:10

Plovdiv to Sofia train: cost 8.3 BGN and took about three hours, leaving Plovdiv at 11:20

Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo bus: cost 22 BGN and took three hours, leaving at 11:00

(We spent a lot of time in Sofia!)

Sights in Sofia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral should be at the top of everyone’s Sofia itinerary. It is the iconic picture of Sofia, and with good reason. It is a huge and stunning cathedral with gold and green domes, and with very dark, yet intricate artwork on the interior. The cathedral is an homage to the Russians who fought for Bulgaria to gain independence from the Ottomans.

alexander nevsky cathedral, things to do in sofia

The giantic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Join the Free Walking Tour

Association 365’s, free walking tour goes really in-depth to the history and politics of Sofia and Bulgaria. They will take you around the city showing you all the highlights, and then provide you with a booklet of top tips. Hold on to this! It has some great info on day trips and discounts and recommendations on restaurants.

They also run other paid tours, such as the Communist Walking Tour. The period of communism in Bulgaria is a controversial topic that is rarely discussed. You will find little/no information in museums, so we decided to join the tour and learn all about it. The tour costs 25 BGN.

Step Back in to the Communist Period at the Red Flat

Another way to learn about communism in Sofia is to head to the Red Flat. A typical flat has been decorated and laid out as if it would have been during communism. Grab a headset and walk around the flat to learn how people lived during this time. Entrance costs 18 BGN which includes the headset.

the red flat, things to do in sofia

The Red Flat setup

Sveta Nedelya Eastern Orthodox Church

This almost felt like a smaller version of Alexander Nevsky, but with brighter painting inside. This beautiful church was the site of an attempted assassination of the then King by the communist party. He was fortunately running late to the service at the church, and so was unharmed. Hundreds of others, however, were injured and many were killed.

Disney's Notre Dame-style archway, things to do in Sighisoara

Sveta Nedelya Church

St. George Rotunda Church

This is understood to be the oldest building in Sofia, built in the 4th century. During communism, the church was surrounded on all sides by concrete block buildings in the hopes to hide the religious monument. To reach it, turn left out of the entrance of Sveta Nedelya Church and walk straight until you see an opening in between the buildings to your left.

St. George Rotunda Church, things to do in sofia

Historic St. George Church surrounded by blocks of flats

Regional History Museum

We didn’t actually go inside the museum but just admired the architecture from the outside. This has to be my favourite building in Sofia because of all of its detailed paintwork and arched entrance way. The building used to be a functioning mineral bath before it was turned in to a museum.

Tirana book market on a bridge

The architectural beauty of the History Museum

Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle Maker

This is a small Russian church with gold domes, green roof tiles and tall spires, made in a similar style (yet more understated) to those in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

church of st. nicholas, sofia

Church of St. Nicholas the Miracler Maker

Saint Sofia Monument

This is a controversial one amongst Sofia residents. The city of Sofia is named after St. Sofia Church, near Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. However, the city planners decided that a monument of a scantily clad woman be hoisted up high to look over the city and to be named ‘Saint Sofia’.

Women’s Market

The Women’s Market is where you can find loads of fresh produce as well as souvenirs and coffee shops. Our friend, Nasia, runs a shop selling great coffee for great prices. Find her here at Dream Story.

the women's market, sofia

Saying goodbye to Nasia after our long stint in Sofia

National Palace of Culture

Wander over to NDK, as the building is also known. There is a huge park with water fountains where people congregate to chat, walk their dogs, skateboard etc. Now used as an exhibition centre, the National Palace of Culture is a communist era building that is particularly striking with its contrasting black and white panels.

Ivan Vazov National Theatre

This is an extravagant building with pillars and sculptures in neoclassical style. It is a stunning piece of architecture still used as a functioning theatre.

ivan vazov theatre, sights in sofia

Ivan Vazov Theatre

See the Ruins of Serdika in the Metro Station

When construction of Sofia’s metro station was being carried out, the ruins of Serdika were discovered. Serdika was the name, from back in Roman times, of the settlement where Sofia is today. The ruins are displayed in and around Serdika metro station.

Street Art

You will find street art all over the city, murals covering the whole side of buildings, electrical boxes. Keep an eye out while you’re wandering the city and you are sure to stumble across plenty of great pieces.

Guards Protecting the Bulgarian Flag

From St George Rotunda Church, you will be able to see the flag behind the glass walls of the building, being protected by guards. Around the front of the building will also be two guards. If you get here at the right time, you might even be able to see the changing of the guards ceremony.

Have you been to Sofia? Is there anything else you would add?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations or questions.

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Top 10 Budget European City Breaks

Top 10 Budget European City Breaks

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Top 10 Budget European City Breaks

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Looking to book a European city break? You want to avoid the big crowds of tourists like those you find in Rome, Paris, Madrid? And you don’t want to pay extortionate prices for local transport, entrance fees and a local meal at a restaurant? You’re looking for more of an adventure off the beaten path?

This top ten list of budget European city breaks will give you a flavour of the vibrancy and beauty that the Balkans has to offer. A generally overlooked region when tourists consider ‘Europe’, the Balkans deserves so much more recognition as a tourist destination. Stunning landscapes, local hopsitality and friendliness, charming towns full of rich history, and some great restaurants (catering surprisingly well to us veggies). And everything is SO much more affordable than the likes of your classic Western European city. Have a read below and get planning your Balkan city break!

Sarajevo

The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo is steeped in history, culture and character. Wander the cobbled streets of the Ottoman bazaar, take the cable car up to Mt Trebevic for panoramic city views, explore the abandoned Olympic bobsled track, and walk a preserved section of the historic Tunnel of Hope. Order a traditional Bonian coffee served in a proper copper coffee pot, gorge yourself on flaky burek and explore the various vegetarian options at restaurants throughout the city. The general way of life in Sarajevo is slow-paced, so you are sure to feel relaxed and recharged.

Transport: Fly into SJJ Sarajevo International Airport serviced by Wizz Air from Europe

We spent £25 per night for a small apartment with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and lounge.

We spent an average of £20 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including coffees, ice creams, bakery stops, at least one meal out per day, and grocery shop visits.

Sarajevo - abudget European city break

Sarajevo Tea House

Shkoder

Shkoder, in north Albania, is somewhere that is usually overlooked by tourists who see the city as a stopover point for venturing into the mountains or nearby Kosovo or Montenegro. This really is somewhere that I didn’t have high expectations for, but I was so so wrong. If you’re a street photography fan, you will absolutely love exploring all the residential backstreets with dilapidated buildings and characterful doors. Hire a bike and cycle down to Rozafa castle for panoramic views, and then on to the peaceful lake. Gorge yourself on Albanian slow food, and take part in an evening xhiro.

Transport: Fly into TIA Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza which connects many other European destinations to Albania. From here, it’s a two hour bus ride north. If you have time, you could visit both cities – Tirana and Shkoder!

We spent £27 per night for a double room with ensuite and a beautiful courtyard outlook. Plus a freshly cooked breakfast each morning.

We spent an average of £28 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including at least one meal out each day, grocery shop visits, cafe stops, and plenty of ice cream.

Shkoder - affordable European city break

Shkoder lake

Sibiu

Sibiu, located in Romania‘s Transylvania, is a beautiful pastel-coloured town with cobbled streets, green spaces, narrow staircases and plenty of bakeries. You’ll find the medieval old town split into the upper town (that is fancier) and the lower town (where the peasants used to live), and plenty of traditional houses that look like they have eyes!  Grab yourself a perfectly crisp yet still soft gogosi, and wander the town, spotting the guild towers and exploring the hidden passages between streets.

Transport: Fly into SBZ Sibiu International Airport which connects many other European destinations to Romania.

We spent £28 per night for a small apartment with a kitchen and washing machine in a traditional Romanian shared courtyard.

We spent an average of £24 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including one meal out each day, grocery shop visits to cook back at the apartment, bakery stops, and coffees out.

Sibiu - budget European city break

The houses have eyes, Sibiu

Plovdiv

Our favourite city in Bulgaria, Plovdiv has such a friendly and energetic atmosphere compared to other Bulgarian cities we visited. See the street art, grab a coffee at a quirky cafe, eat a great vegan meal at Veggic, explore the old town with its traditional tiered houses, take in the view from the top of all of the six hills of Plovdiv, and explore the hipster Kapana arty district.

Transport: Fly into PDV Plovdiv International Airport which connects the UK and Ireland to Bulgaria. Otherwise try to get a flight connection at Sofia International Airport, or get a two hour bus ride from Sofia to Plovdiv.

We spent £27 per night for a small apartment with a kitchen and washing machine.

We spent an average of £31 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including at least one meal out each day, grocery shop visits to cook back at the apartment, bakery stops, coffees out, and several stops for rakia!

Plovdiv - affordable European city break

Hilltop views across Plovdiv

Brasov

One of Romania’s medieval fortified cities, Brasov has all the beauty of a traditional old town, while also being the perfect hub for day trips. Hike up to the Brasov ‘Hollywood’ sign, see the Gothic Black Church, and Disneyland-style Caterina’s Gate, try some of Romania’s best gelato, and head out for day trips to Dracula’s castle and tranquil Sinaia.

Transport: Fly into SBZ Sibiu International Airport, and then take a two hour train or bus ride to Brasov. Or fly into OTP Bucharest Henri Coandă International Airport and take a two and a half hour train to Brasov. Maybe visit two cities during your Romanian break – Sibiu and Brasov, or Bucharest and Brasov!

We spent £27 per night for a double room with ensuite and a beautiful courtyard outlook. Plus a freshly cooked breakfast each morning.

We spent an average of £28 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including at least one meal out each day, grocery shop visits, cafe stops, and plenty of ice cream.

Brasov - budget european city break

Brasov street photography

Tirana

What a gem. If you are looking for a really different and intriguing destination, the Albanian capital city of Tirana is the ticket. Learn all about the ex-communist dictatorship at the city’s many museums, go street art hunting, rummage for books at the market, and wander down the pedestrian street at xhiro time.

Transport: Fly into TIA Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza which connects many other European destinations to Albania.

We spent £24 per night for a small apartment with a kitchen.

We spent an average of £22 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including going to fancier restaurants (with non-local food which is definitely more expensive than regular restaurants), plenty of coffees at quirky cafes, and grocery shop visits.

Tirana

Colourful Tirana

Mostar

Mostar is probably Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most visited city and with good reason. It has all the aspects of a historic Ottoman town within a day trip’s distance from Dubrovnik. Cobbled streets, Ottoman-style arched bridges, a little old town and the blue waters of the Neretva river all make this a hotspot for tourists. But there is more to this city than just its old town. Explore the newer part of town and search for street art, head up to city viewpoints, venture out to ancient Pocitelj and Blagaj Dervish house as day trips.

Transport: Fly into SJJ Sarajevo International Airport serviced by Wizz Air from Europe, and then jump on a bus or book yourself a transfer to Mostar. The bus journey will take an hour and a half to two hours and a half. Maybe even have a double city break and see both – Sarajevo and Mostar!

We spent £27 per night for a double room with ensuite with a communal courtyard.

We spent an average of £30 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including coffees, ice creams, bakery stops, at least one meal out per day, and grocery shop visits.

Mostar

Stari Most, Mostar

Sighisoara

Literally a fairy tale city in Romania. Walking the medieval old town of Sighisoara, we honestly felt like we had stepped on to the set of Beauty and the Beast. Head up to the 14th century clock tower for views over the city, eat your body weight in fried dough (both savoury langos and sweet papanasi), stop for plenty of coffees with a view, walk the cobbles, and find all the traditional guild towers.

Transport: Fly into SBZ Sibiu International Airport, and then take a two hour train to Sighisoara. See two of Romania’s fairytale cities in one trip  – Sibiu and Sighisoara!

We spent £31 per night for a small apartment with a kitchen and washing machine.

We spent an average of £24 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including at least one meal out each day, grocery shop visits, coffees out, and stops for papanasi and langos.

Sighisoara

Sighisoara’s pastel-coloured buildings

Two wild cards that you’ll need to travel a little further for, but are definitely worth it!

Gjirokaster

One of Albania’s UNESCO listed cities, Gjirokaster’s historic old town is unique. Take tours of traditional old mansions, hike to Ali Pasha bridge (a remaining section of an Ottoman aqueduct), find the spot for the ultimate coffee with a view, shop for trinkets at the bazaar, explore the castle and the museum, and try all the local food!

Transport: Fly into TIA Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza, and then take a four hour furgon to Gjirokaster. Add a visit to Tirana on to your Gjirokaster trip for the perfect Albanian city break.

We spent £24 per night for a double room with a view and shared outdoor space, plus freshly cooked breakfast each morning.

We spent an average of £23 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including at least one meal out each day, grocery shop visits, coffees out, and stops for ice cream and trilece.

Gjirokaster - affordable European city break

Gjirokaster city view from the castle

Korca

Korca, in Albania, isn’t really on the tourist radar yet, but it is the perfect for fans of street photography. You could spend hours just wandering the backstreets exploring with your camera. Head to the Korca brewery, find the city viewpoints, explore the medieval art museum (which really was fascinating!), hike to Shën Ilia Church, and visit the pazari.

Transport: Fly into TIA Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza, and then take a three hour furgon to Korca. Spend some time in the capital city and make your trip a double destination break – Tirana and Korca!

We spent £23 per night for a double room with kitchenette with washing machine an balcony.

We spent an average of £20 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including at least one meal out each day, grocery shop visits, coffees out, and stops for Korca beer.

Korca - alternative European city break

Korca’s traditional buildings

Do you have any other favourites? Or have you been to any of these locations?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations or questions.

Thanks for reading!

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Things to Do in Plovdiv: Bulgaria’s City of Hills

Things to Do in Plovdiv: Bulgaria’s City of Hills

Things to Do in Plovdiv: Bulgaria’s City of Hills

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Plovdiv is Bulgaria’s second largest city, located in the southern central part of the country. The city was named Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2019 and provides a significant contrast with Sofia. It has an old town with uneven cobbled streets and Ottoman-style architecture, as well as a modern city centre with a hipster area full of street art, cafes and restaurants. Plovdiv is very often visited as a day trip from Sofia, but if you have more time, stay a while. This was our favourite place in Bulgaria, and I would thoroughly recommend you stay for at least two days to explore all the things to do in Plovdiv.

A Little Bit of Background on Plovdiv

Plovdiv is understood to be one of Europe’s oldest cities at 8,000 years old. Originally a Thracian settlement, the city was conquered by Philip II of Macedon and named Philippopolis in his honour. The city has since been part of the Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian and Ottoman Empires. Within the Ottoman Empire, southern Bulgaria was split into a separate, autonomous region known as East Rumelia, with Plovdiv as its capital. The reunification of East Rumelia into Bulgaria occurred in 1885.

Dzhumaya mosque, things to do in plovdiv

Amphitheatre ruins in front of the mosque

How to Get To Plovdiv

Plovdiv Airport (PDV) has some direct flights to Europe – Ireland, UK and Germany. Otherwise a connecting flight from Sofia airport is the next best option.

Plovdiv is very well connected by bus and train to the rest of the country as well as neighbouring countries.

These are the bus/train journeys we got in and out of Plovdiv.

Sofia to Plovdiv bus: cost 14 BGN and took about two hours, leaving Sofia at 12:10.

Plovdiv to Sofia train: cost 8.3 BGN and took about three hours, leaving Plovdiv at 11:20.

Veliko Tarnovo to Plovdiv train: cost 13.7 BGN and took five hours, leaving Plovdiv at 07:15.

Plovdiv to Istanbul night bus: cost 30 BGN and took five and a half hours, leaving Plovdiv at 00:30.

city views, things to do in plovdiv

Plovdiv city views

Explore the Old Town

Wander the cobbles to discover all the traditional Ottoman-style buildings. Make sure you don’t miss the ancient theatre of Philippopolis and the archway in the old city wall.

theatre of philippopolis, things to do in plovdiv

Ancient theatre of Philippopolis

ottoman buildings plovdiv

Ottoman-style buildings

Spot the ‘Gossip Rooms’ Around the Old Town

These are small rooms built into walls that overlook the main walkways around the old town. These were used by the rich so that they could keep themselves entertained by people watching. Essentially the ancient version of social media!

gossip room in plovdiv

Gossip room

Wander the Kapana District

Kapana, literally meaning trap, used to be a district where crafts were sold. To bring this part of the city alive again, real effort has been put into to turn it into an art space. You will find street art everywhere, hipster cafes, live music, art galleries. This is the place to be in Plovdiv.

See St Konstantin and Elena Church and its Tower

This church has beautiful artwork at the entrance way and a striking tower out the front surrounded by the green leaves. This is recognised as one of the oldest churches in Plovdiv, the current church was built in 1832, but the site itself has had a religious building since the 4th century.

st konstantin and elena church, plovdiv

Intricate murals all along the church facade

st konstantin and elena church, plovdiv

Church tower

Admire the Luxury Buildings of Ethnographic Museum and Hindliyan House

Both are ornately decorated on the inside and out. You can walk around the courtyard of both for free, but there is a fee to enter both (and an extra fee to take photos at Hindliyan), so we politely declined and just took photos from the outside which are spectacular anyway. If you have been inside, let me know how it is.

ethnographic museum, plovdiv

Ethnographic museum

See the Ruins of the Roman Forum

You can see different parts of the forum all around the city. The ruins appear to run underneath the entire city, but because of the buildings in place at the moment, the full extent of the ruins obviously cannot be excavated. Head down to the end of town near the post office and the area near the mosque to see the best parts – H&M even has some ruins in their basement.

roman forum, things to do in plovdiv

Roman forum

Coffee and Veggie Food Spots

Dzhumaya Cafe

Named after the mosque, this places serves THE best Turkish coffees. My favourite is the cardamom flavoured. Turkish coffees are served with a small glass of rose syrup (which makes it even better). The cafe also serves classic Turkish sweets like baklava and kadaif. They only accept cash here so keep that in mind.

turkish coffee, dzhamaya cafe, plovdiv

Veggic

Our favourite place in the whole of Plovdiv. Fully vegan everything. I love it when you find a restaurant that actually knows how to cook vegan food well. Try the tofu doner, the ‘this isn’t chicken’ curry, the mushroom meatballs with roasted potatoes and ajvar, avocado bruschetta, and the veggie burrito. (As you can tell, we went there many times!)

vegan meal at Veggic, plovdiv

Mushroom meatballs

vegan meal at Veggic, plovdiv

Loaded burrito

Restaurant Yerevan

Just outside of the main city centre, this restaurant serves really tasty Armenian food. Order a salad, dips, the deep fried cheese, the garlic mushrooms (or two plates because these are amazing). Create an Armenian tapas and gorge yourself. Restaurant Yerevan only accepts cash.

armenian restaurant, plovdiv

Armenian tapas

Rahat Tepe

Several vegetarian options and inexpensive rakia. Grab a plate of fried courgettes (it’s huge) and a drink and sit outside overlooking the city.

Kasem Foods

Kasem Foods always seems to have a queue outside. They serve a MASSIVE falafel wrap full with chips, salad, pickles, mayo, chilli sauce, the works. There was so much food, I couldn’t eat it all (and that is saying something). Chris finished it off though. Dusty bin.

Kasem foods falafel wrap, things to do plovdiv

That really is a hefty falafel wrap!

Mekitsa and Coffee

Mekitsa is a Bulgarian dish often served at breakfast but can also be eaten throughout the day. It is essentially a big flat donut, and can be eaten plain or topped with sweet or savoury flavours. Try a classic fig jam or maybe mix things up with a chilli and cheese topping!

mekitsa, things to do in plovdiv

Mekitsa with chocolate

Have you been to Plovdiv? Is there anything that you would add to the list?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations or questions.

Thanks for reading!

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