In my 'Bulgaria section' you can find many more places to travel to!
There's plenty more roadtrips to make in this country as well!
"This seems like a pretty cool city", I recall myself thinking upon strolling through the center of Haskovo. Against all expectations, it really is. It was a Friday night and I had taken a bus from Sofia at 16:30. Three hours later I was in Haskovo. The stretch of 228 kilometres was traveled completely by highway, making the trip both comfortable and fast. At the bus station of Haskovo, I directly noticed it was considerably warmer than in Sofia. More influence from both Greece and Turkey, I suppose. Haskovo is surrounded by plains, whilst Sofia is located more inland and surrounded by mountains.
To be honest, I expected little of Haskovo. I also had not heard anything good about it. None of my acquaintances had visited. However, as is so often the case during travel, one may get pleasantly surprised by a place. And so it was with Haskovo. It was already dark as I arrived and without any reservation, I decided to stroll through the center in search of a hotel. Directly I noticed the newly paved streets and renovated buildings - and, above all, how perfectly clean the city was. Nothing on the streets, no leaves, no gum and no cigarettes. I might have just come after they cleaned but it was very noticeable. Apart from that, I was pleasantly surprised by the people. Purely appearance-based, as I had not talked to anyone yet. They just seemed very conciously dressed and stylish. It was Friday night though, yet I couldn't help but notice it.
My good impression of Haskovo really got confirmed that night. I passed some nice hotels offering rooms for decent prices. At the Hotel Oazis, where I decided to stay, the very friendly lady at the desk was in a good mood and gave me a large room. After freshening up, I decided to look for a restaurant and first went for, what is said, to be the city's best. Alafrangite is what it's called. I did take pictures but I would like to keep it for your imagination, as it was just stunning. A revival-style mansion, very nicely lit and so well-decorated. Truly an eye-catching masterpiece. There was live music and, not totally unexpected, there were no free tables. I decided to try my luck at another place, the mediterranean restaurant Uno Piu. A wide variety of dishes and absolutely friendly service. This time in a stylish, modern setting with along the walls seemingly Thracian, temple-like ornaments. The restaurant is situated right beneath the stairs leading up to the Monument of the Holy Mother of God. This is worldwide's tallest statue of the Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus. It's not situated too far up, so it makes for a pleasant walk after dinner. Apart from the statue and nearby bell tower, the platform offers a wide view over the city. This way, you get a good first impression of the city's layout. Should you pass during the day, both the statue (having a chapel with a stone altar) and the bell tower can be entered. From the top of the bell tower, you will have the most magnificent view over the area. It's one of the tallest bell towers on the Balkans.
Being Bulgaria's seventh city, the pedestrianized streets are full of people enjoying their evenings and the general quiet pace of life. Haskovo has no lack of (nightlife) venues, of which the main ones are located along San Stefano Street in the center. You can enjoy a good coffee during the day or cocktails at night. Besides modern-day entertainment, Haskovo has many other sides. The first settlement at this exact location dates back to 5000 years B.C. The city of Haskovo itself celebrated its 1000th anniversary in 1985, when a clock tower was constructed in the very center. The name Haskovo has a story as well, even though it remains unsure which is the real origin. It could be that "has", Arabic for possession, was its basis. Also, the Turkish "has", rooting back to "clean", could have been the origin of the city's name. Upto 1830, the Thracian name Marsa was used and from 1830 the Turkish Hasköy. After the city became Bulgarian again, -köy was replaced by -ovo (Source: Wikipedia). Another sight dating back thousands of years is the Thracian tomb of Aleksandrovo, 20 kilometres from Haskovo. The fertile plains in these parts have always been an attractive place to live - and who knows what more history is still covered by a layer of earth. Lovers of history will find many more places to visit, in the city or in the surrounding Haskovo area.
Due to its central location, Haskovo is quite easy to reach. Coming from Sofia, it's best not to go by train but rather by car or bus. These are the fastest and most reliable options. Especially go by car if you want to see more than just the city. Minibuses do go to nearby villages, however sights are not always at walking distance from the villages. It's very well possible to make a deal with a taxi driver to show you around as well. There are many awaiting you at the bus station and remember - always negotiate!
Buses from Sofia leave regularly, some going to Haskovo only, others continuing, for example to Zlatograd. As far as I'm aware, there are two companies operating on the line Sofia - Haskovo. Union Ivkoni and Kristal. Best to ask at the bus station. I asked for a ticket at the Union Ivkoni counter and there were no seats. I tried my luck at the main counter, opposite of the smaller ones, and they offered me a ticket for Kristal. I had a good experience, patient and competent drivers - I also continued to Zlatograd with them. Timetables may change and are available at the Central Bus Station website.
A visit to Haskovo can easily be combined with - well - almost every place in Southeastern Bulgaria. Think of Chirpan, Kardzhali, Perperikon and the Devil's Bridge, the abandoned villages of Southeastern Bulgaria or the abandoned village Zherka (should this interest you), Svilengrad (where you could have a good lunch at the famous Ottoman bridge), the Rhodope mountains (Zlatograd for example), Sliven and Yambol, or the eastern regions including Strandzha and the city of Burgas. Let me know in case of any questions!