I'm currently planning a trip for August/September and my intention is to fly out to Budapest, take around 20-22 days to travel overland by rail to Istanbul and then fly out of Istanbul after spending 8 or 9 days there. I was wondering firstly if anyone has ever done this train journey before and secondly, where anyone would recommend stopping off along the way to stay? My plan was something like this -
Budapest - Szeged - Novi Sad - Belgrade - Nis - Sofia - Plovdiv - Istanbul
Budapest, Belgrade and Sofia or Plovdiv are kind of essential stops, but places like Nis or Szeged I know very little about. Are they worth stopping at? Are there any places I should stay at instead along this route? Any help is appreciated.
Belgrade is great, Plovdiv much nicer than Sofia (which is fine, but in my view slightly odd and lacking a really major "pull"). Szeged and Novi Sad - a big student town - are both fine, but not desperately neccessary. Nis i've been through lots of times, but only ever had a couple of hours (normally around 3am between trains) there and not seen much.
If you are prepared to go a bit off track, you have more options. Instead of direct from Budapest to Belgrade via Subotica, you could go via Lake Balaton and then Zagreb in Croatia.
Further south, if you went East from Sofia, Veliko Tarnavo is gorgeous (and there is a direct train to Istanbul from there as well). The Rila Monastary and mountains amake a good trip from Sofia, as is Koprivshitsa (excuse the spelling). Melnik in the SW is nice, but a bit off track for you, Nesebar worth a look, and there is (or was, at least) a great outdoor museum quite near the Turkish border, but i can't for the life of me remember what it's called, except that it begins with K
Thanks very much for your input, after reading your post I think I'll see a little more of Bulgaria and head up to Veliko Tarnavo for a few days.
Just a note, htere is only 1 hotel in Nis and when I went there it was on strike so check it out (somehow) first.... and I got pick pocketed there at the markets so be careful