Abstract Eight plum cultivars (four dark-purple and four yellow) were harvested at the commercial ripening stage, and changes of fruit quality properties were evaluated during cold storage and subsequent shelf-life, with special emphasis on bioactive compounds (phenolics, anthocyanins and carotenoids) and antioxidant activity (TAA). From the eight plum cultivars, four showed the typical climacteric ripening pattern (‘Blackamber’, ‘Larry Ann’, ‘Golden Globe’ and ‘Songold’) while four behaved as suppressed-climacteric types (‘Golden Japan’ ‘Angeleno’, Black Diamond’ and ‘TC Sun’), the latter being described for the first time. At harvest, large variations in phytochemicals and antioxidant activity were found among cultivars in peel and pulp tissues, although phytochemical concentration and antioxidant activity were higher in the peel than in the flesh (2–40-fold depending on the bioactive compound). During storage, increases in total phenolics for all cultivars (peel and pulp), in total anthocyanin content in the peel of the dark-purple plums, and total carotenoids in the peel and pulp of the yellow cultivars were observed. This behaviour of the bioactive compounds was reflected in TAA changes, since hydrophilic-TAA (H-TAA) was correlated with both phenolics and anthocyanins, while lipophilic-TAA (L-TAA) was correlated with carotenoids. L-TAA comprised about 30–50% of the TAA in plum tissues. Carotenoids and phenolics (and among them the anthocyanins) could be the main lipophilic and hydrophilic compounds contributing to L-TAA and H-TAA, respectively. No significant loss of bioactive compounds and TAA occurred during prolonged plum storage. Moreover, for a better evaluation of the antioxidant potential of plums, the contribution to carotenoids should not be overlooked.