A Plovdiv old town guide showcasing its wonderful Bulgarian architecture.
Plovdiv is famous for quite a few things.
It is one of the oldest cities in Europe.
It has some impressive Roman ruins right in the city centre.
It is incredibly laid back, despite being the second largest city in Bulgaria.
And it has fountains that sing!
Yet for me the highlight of my trip to Plovdiv was visiting the historic houses in its old town.
These houses were built to show off the wealth and good taste of their owners. It is a very pleasing display of great design and splendid craftsmanship.
But there’s more to the Plovdiv old town architecture than beautiful houses. Their style is linked to events and processes that shaped Bulgarian history.
Why does the old town of Plovdiv have such flamboyant houses?
It’s always fascinating to learn about history through architecture.
Have you heard of National Revival Architecture? The name sounds pretty generic, but in Bulgarian culture it refers to the period when Bulgarians started to gain some autonomy from the Ottoman Empire.
Bulgaria was under Ottoman rule for nearly 500 years. The National Revival or Renaissance Period in Bulgaria was a lengthy process that took place in the 18th and 19th century, during which Bulgarians enjoyed both an economic boom and a cultural revival.
Bulgarian architecture benefited from that process, and the houses in the old town of Plovdiv are one of the aesthetic outcomes of it.
I’m not sure where the phrase “money can’t buy taste” comes from, but luckily in Plovdiv’s old town this wasn’t the case.
Bulgarians who accumulated wealth at the time built their lavish houses to show off their wealth and pride.
The old town historic houses are typically named after their owners, affluent merchants who gained their fortune through international trade.
When they returned from their travels, they brought back not only money, but also artistic influences from foreign countries.
That’s why many of the murals you’ll see inside the old town houses depict landscapes from around Europe.
The Plovdiv old town architectural style
So now we know how this particular style of Plovdiv architecture came about, but before I go on to review the houses, some notes about the style of the houses and their interiors.
When you visit the old town houses, you’ll see that each house has a slightly different style and various decorations designed to impress, but you will also notice some recurring motifs.
The characteristic decorations are wood carvings and wall paintings. The ceilings are always ravishing. Paintings inside alcoves are a popular feature.
Symmetrical houses are typical of the Revival Architecture style in Plovdiv (with some exceptions).
They have a big, dazzling central hall, and the other rooms are arranged around that hall, maintaining a symmetrical order.
The most beautiful houses to visit in Plovdiv’s old town
The most famous museum houses that you want to visit in the old town are Hindliyan House and Balabanov House, which ares right next to each other.
I also recommend you visit those two, but don’t miss out on the other ones on the list below. Each house is an experience in itself.
I’ve seen some online reviews of these houses saying that they are too small and there’s not enough to see in them, but I disagree. They may not be as large as other museums, but they are full of small and sometimes subtle details to pay attention to.
I’m starting with this house, because its design is the most interesting of the historic houses I saw in Plovdiv.
When you enter the courtyard, you’ll see the captivating blue facade of the house. Take your time appreciating how beautifully it was restored.
The first thing that struck me when I entered was the somewhat psychedelic ceiling in the entrance hall.
The Hindliyan House represents the symmetrical style typical of Bulgarian National Revival Architecture. You’ll easily see how on each floor the main hall is surrounded by smaller rooms.
All the rooms are lavishly decorated, showing the prosperity of the family and featuring excellent craftsmanship. Don’t forget to look up, each ceiling is different.
The rooms upstairs feature more elaborate decorations than the ones downstairs.
On the ground floor, there is a unique feature to this house – an old bathroom, one of very few in Plovdiv that had hot running water at the time.
Address: ul. “Artin Gidikov” 4, 4000 Tsentar, Plovdiv
When you enter, it isn’t hard to guess that the owner was a wood merchant 😉
And when you go upstairs you realise how wealthy he was and how much he wanted everyone to know that.
Go up the wooden floors to the main hall upstairs and admire the spectacular wooden ceilings.
This is one of the most famous Plovdiv old town sites and it really has a special, old fashioned atmosphere.
As the house was restored, based on its original plans, it was furnished with plenty of period style furniture and carpets, as well as framed works of art.
The house has a symmetrical layout, with four lavish rooms, one at each corner of the main hall.
I think the carved ceilings in every room are the best features of the house.
After visiting the second floor, go back to the ground floor. It is used as a gallery for local contemporary art and design.
When you leave, if the weather is nice, you may want to spend some time in the garden. I found it very calm.
Address: ul. “Konstantin Stoilov” 57, 4000 Tsentar, Plovdiv
I had a strong authentic feeling in this house. At first I thought it was thanks to the dim lighting. Later I found out that some objects in the house actually belonged to the original owner.
The ground floor has a big entrance hall and four rooms, each decorated and furnished in a way that lets you imagine what life used to be like in the days of the Nedkovich family.
Go upstairs to see another elegantly furnished hall and more restored rooms.
Take your time observing the details on the walls, the upholstery, the carpets, the ceilings and the preserved artefacts.
Address: ul. “Tsanko Lavrenov” 3, 4000 Staria grad, Plovdiv
Allow a bit more time for the visit to this house, as there’s a short film to watch, after you enter the house through a covered courtyard where the ticket office is.
The film is about the restoration of the house, with some interesting before and after photos that show its transformation.
It also gives you little teasers of what you’re about to see inside the house.
When you go into the house upstairs, you’ll notice This house is different to the others in that it has an asymmetrical layout.
In other aspects, Klianti House has all the elements you’d expect from a National Revival style building: the stunning rooms with magnificent ceilings, murals, period furniture and carpets.
The wall paintings in this house are so elaborate that I found myself spending quite a bit of time noticing all the nuances.
Address: ul. “Todor Samodumov” 3, 4000 Tsentar, Plovdiv
House of Stambolyan
Used as a fine art exhibition space, this house offered a different experience.
A visit inside this spacious two-level house lets you appreciate the architecture and interior design, as well as the oil paintings on the walls.
You’ll notice elements similar to the other Plovdiv old town houses, such as the symmetrical layout, the decorated ceilings, murals and some period style furniture and carpets.
Address: ul. “Kiril Nektariev” 15, 4000 Tsentar, Plovdiv
The Plovdiv Regional Ethnographic Museum
The museum is inside another typical restored house that used to belong to a rich merchant.
It’s bigger than the other houses and serves as a perfect home for the museum’s collection of Bulgarian folk culture items.
The museum’s facade is one of the most beautiful ones in Plovdiv’s old town.
The exhibition inside has explanations in English that are easy to follow.
It features traditional garments and costumes with colourful patterns, furniture, carpets, musical instruments, a room of in old Plovdiv home and a fancier 19th century one, and many traditional crafts, such as pottery and ironworks and jewellery making.
There are a couple of interactive screens at the museum. One has a map of Bulgaria that shows traditional costumes by region.
Another lets you listen to folk music and read about the traditional instruments.
I highly recommend visiting this museum as part of your visit to the old town in Plovdiv.
If you’re on a short visit to the city (I got the impression that many tourists only stay for a couple of days), this would be one of the attractions I recommend you include in your Plovdiv itinerary.
Address: ul. “Doctor Stoyan Chomakov” 2, 4000 Tsentar, Plovdiv
Tickets to old town attractions in Plovdiv
There is an entrance fee for each house, normally 5 BGN (about €2.5).
You can get a combined ticket at any of the Plovdiv historic houses that costs 15 BGN and lets you visit five historical attractions for the price of three. These include the Roman Stadium and the Ancient Theatre in Plovdiv as well as other sites.
A ticket to the Regional Ethnographic Museum cost 6 BGN at the time of writing.
For info on more historic sites in the old town, visit the Ancient Plovdiv website.
For more things to do in Plovdiv, check activities and tours here.