Reasons to visit -or live in- Stara Zagora
The green city full of history in the middle of Bulgaria
Written by Claudia Pecoraro, edited by Lindsay Martin, photos by Andrea Vushkova and Marta Valverde
If you think of Bulgaria’s most popular places, I bet Stara Zagora isn’t on your top list. In this article, you’ll discover why this green and lively town is an excellent choice for those who want to enjoy a slow-paced life or relax for a couple of days.
A short history of Stara Zagora
Stara Zagora is one of the most ancient cities in Europe. Evidence shows that the first dwellings date back to the 6th millennium B.C. During the Roman Empire, the town was known as Augusta Trayana (the name comes from the emperor Traianus), and it was the second largest town in the Thracian region after Philippopolis (Plovdiv). The city has changed names several times throughout history — among them, Beroe, which gives the name to the stadium and the local football team.
After the Romans, the town alternated periods under Byzantine domination and the Bulgarian empire. Afterwards, it was under Ottoman rule until becoming independent in 1897.
Traces of the ancient past are visible all over the city, and the Roman Forum in the center is a reminder of the town’s glorious history. Taking a walk there is suggestive, especially at sunset or dawn or when there’s almost no one around. With a pinch of imagination, you can still hear the voices of Roman actors spreading through the area. You can fantasize about how many plays this region has witnessed, how many people have walked the ancient Roman road during the centuries…
Why move to Stara Zagora?
With around 135,000 inhabitants, Stara Zagora is a cozy and quiet place to live. People are more relaxed than in the bigger cities (like Sofia or Plovdiv), and generally, they’re friendly and laid-back.
As far as I know, there isn’t a large foreign community there. Still, you can meet several international students who come to study at the Medical University. I didn’t meet any while I was there. But okay, that's probably because of the pandemic!
The cultural offer is vast, with various plays and musicals at the Opera theater (mostly in Bulgarian). In summer you can enjoy classical music concerts in the old Roman forum.
If you love nature, I have great news for you. Stara Zagora is one of the greenest cities I’ve ever lived in. There are many parks and green spots where you can take a short break from the city vibes. And it’s impossible not to love the streets in the center. They’re quite picturesque, as trees line both sides of the streets creating a sort of “green ceiling.” This is so characteristic of Stara Zagora that the town is also known as the city of linden trees.
So far, I’ve mentioned only the positive aspects. If I had to tell a flip side, I’d say that it can be difficult to find English speakers in shops or public offices. But that’s not 100% negative; it can be an excellent way to practice and improve your Bulgarian!
People move to Stara Zagora mostly to work, and there isn’t that much tourism. But I believe it's a very cool place to head to when you want to spend a relaxing weekend. If you decide to spend a couple of days in Stara Zagora, you can:
- Relax in Ayazmoto park. Ayazmoto is one of Bulgaria’s largest parks (with an approximate area of 240,000 square meters). It’s perfect for everyone — families with children (there is a zoo and several playgrounds in the area), sports people (many sports facilities), hikers (lots of trails, and you can even reach the nearby village of Dabrava).
- See the city from above at Samara monument (formally known as The Defenders of Stara Zagora 1877 monument). It’s a beautiful view, especially at sunset.
- Visit the Regional History Museum and the Neolithic Dwellings Museum. If you love history, you can’t miss these places. They hold lots of artifacts and remains that witness the history of the town and the whole Thracian valley.
- Enjoy a beer at the Zagorka factory. Zagorka beer is produced in Stara Zagora, as its name may suggest. There isn’t a single bar or restaurant where you can’t find the town’s beer, and you can also visit the brewing factory to see how it is produced (and taste it, of course!). If you don't have time to do that, I suggest you grab a Zagorka and drink it at the lake right in front of the factory, which is called, indeed, the Zagorka lake.
If you love living in quiet places, Stara Zagora is the perfect choice for you. The city isn’t too small, so you can find everything you need. But it isn’t that big either, so you can go everywhere on foot without getting stressed with cars or public transportation. If you get bored, you can easily travel in your free time. Being in the center of Bulgaria, there are several connections to Sofia, Varna, or Burgas. You can go to Veliko Tarnovo in around two hours, and Plovdiv is around the corner.
So, what are you waiting for? Are you ready to head to Stara Zagora?