Bulgaria’s railway network spans over 4000 km of rail track linking most sizeable towns and cities. The main rail hub is in the capital city Sofia, which has connections to Romania, Serbia, Greece and Turkey. Train tickets for trains operating in Bulgaria can be booked in advance. The national railway company is known as the Bulgarian State Railways (BDZ) (БДЖ)
Most trains are antiquated, slower than the buses and soaked in post-communist feel, which only adds to the unique experience. Taking your time to travel from A to B among common locals and flashes of diverse scenery, you get a feel of what life was like back in the Communist times when it was not possible for the Bulgarian passengers to simply continue beyond the country borders like they do today.
Trains are classified as ekspresen (express), barz (fast) or patnicheski (slow passenger). Naturally, the patnicheski trains are used to provide connections to the smaller or more remote towns and would be the better choice for the absolute train travel buffs.
Train travel in Bulgaria is a normally safe and enjoyable experience. Still common sense would always be of use. If you are travelling late at night, it would be a good idea to sit with other passengers rather than in an empty compartment. Also, if you are making a long overnight trip across the border, it would be best to try and book a bed in a couchette.
First-class compartments seat six people. While in the second class, the same-size compartments seat 8 people. The intercity express has individual seats in an open carriage.
Sleepers and couchettes are available between the bigger and more distant Bulgarian cities: Sofia, Burgas and Varna but require a reservation in advance.
Fares for first class class are around 25% higher than for second class, the essential advantage being the extra space.
Travelling by train in Bulgaria is cheap by Western European standards. We are talking about a 1st/2nd class express cross-country trip between Sofia and Varna for approximately 25/30 lv. If you’re travelling in a group (three to six people), ask for a discount.
For frequent train services between the main cities, reservations are rarely needed. You can simply turn up at the station and purchase a ticket for the next train (Tip: allow at least 30 minutes to queue up).
Advance tickets are sometimes advisable on train services such as the intercity express to the Black Sea during a summer weekend. Advance tickets can be bought at specific counters within larger train stations. You can check the BDZ website for additional information.
It is not usually possible to buy tickets for travel that does not start from your current location (for example, buying a Plovdiv–Varna ticket isn’t possible from Sofia).
All tickets are printed in Cyrillic. Apart from the place of departure and destination, tickets also contain the follwoing details:
Central station (“Tsentralna Gara”) in Sofia.
Most international trains go through here. Use the metro to reach Sofia central train station, the airport and the city Centre.
|Plovdiv to Burgas||5 hours||Not required|
|Sofia to Burgas||8 hours||Not required|
|Sofia to Plovdiv||3.5 hours||Not required|
|Sofia to Varna||7.5 hours||Not required|
|Route||Which train?||Travel time||Reservations|
|Sofia to Belgrade (Serbia)||International “Balkan” (INT 490) / International night train “Nusic” (NT 292)||9 hours||Required|
|Sofia to Bucharest (Romania)||International (INT 460)||11.5 hours||Required|
|Sofia to Budapest (Hungary)||Intercity (INT 490, NT 340, FT 340)||20 hours||Required|
|Sofia to Thessaloniki (Greece)||Regional (RE 361)||7 hours||Required|
|Sofia to Istanbul (Turkey)*||International (INT)||13 hours||Optional|
*Due to construction of a new high-speed line, there are engineering works on the train line between the Bulgarian border and Istanbul.
Different rail pass options for Bulgaria and the region are available with the continental railway pass providers:
Also check out:
Top 7 Day Trips from Sofia
How to get to Plovdiv?
How to get to the Rila Monastary?
Author: Free Sofia Tour Guide – Denica Dobreva
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I would like to know
If I buy rail ticket sofia – varna. Is it possible to step down at any inbetween rail stations
and complete with the same ticket the journey later
or even following day?
Thanks in advance,
Hi there! Unfortunately, that is not possible. Your ticket is only valid for a fixed journey, date and time.
Can you rell me how luggage works on trains in Bulgaria? Does it get checked in and put in a luggage car? Or does it stay on my lap if train is full? I am worried it will have to be stored in a public area out of my sight. Thank you.
Luggage size is not checked when you enter trains in Bulgaria. Usually, there is plenty of space in the area above your seat, so there’s no need to worry.
Hi there, I am traveling in May from Istanbul to Bucharest in 24 hour period. I can buy Istanbul to Dimitrovgrad ticket in Istanbul, but then need to buy separate tickets to Ruse then to Bucharest. How can I find out the cost of the tickets so I can get just enough Bulgarian currency to buy the tickets, as I won’t be using local currency when I arrive in Romania.
Hello! Unfortunately, the only way to do this would be by contacting Bulgarian State Railways via phone or e-mail as there is no such information available online. You will find their contact details at http://www.bdz.bg/en/
thank you, they were very helpful. Can you tell me the reliability/ punctuality of the regular trains? We have to take 3 separate trains!
That’s a tricky question. At times they are really punctual and at times really unreliable due to technical issues, weather condition, etc.
Hi! Is it possible to get a train directly from Plovdiv to Varna, and approximately how long would the journey take?
Hello! Yes, there is a direct train that goes from Plovdiv to Varna. The journey takes around 5 and a half hours.
Hi – I am wanting to travel from Sofia to Istanbul to Sofia in August 2019 (weekdays) on the Sofia Express overnight train – but realise that I cannot buy tickets online from outside Bulgaria (I am in UK). I can buy from the International ticket window at Sofia Central station on the day of travel (my flight arrives the same day)- but, I am worried that the train may be sold out, especially during August. Please can you tell me whether this could be likely and is there any other way I can buy tickets for this train in advance ?
Hi Ralph! It is true that you can only buy tickets at the train station. Bulgarian trains are rarely sold out. Usually that can happen on long weekends and big national holidays. You might have a better chance at buying tickets online for the bus. There are buses going from Sofia to Istanbul at least 5 times a day, the journey is several hours shorter than the train journey and just a bit more expensive.
Hi, sorry for delay in replying – but, thank you for your response, which is very helpful.
Can a couple stay in there own cabin with beds I have tried to book with my partner won’t let us pick beds etc. Any advice or are the cabins gender decided happy to pay what ever class.
Hi Brian! There are cabins with 2 beds only, so you can book one of them. Most tickets are bought in person at the railway station.
Hi – five of us have just travelled by train from Sofia to Burgas . We bought monthly return tickets and want to return to Dofia from
Burgas August 2. We have been told we must return to Burgas train station tomorrow to reserve the return seats and get the tickets stamped as the counter doing that is now shut for the day . Is it correct we have to get the tickets stamped to get back ? Seems odd as we have the return tickets . Can you advise? Thank you .
Hello Abbie! Yes, return tickets have to be stamped before your return journey.
I am trying to book 2 seats for Sofia to Belgrade on Thursday, 5 September, but can’t get confirmation that there is even a train scheduled for that Thursday. I’ve read somewhere that the service runs for only five days each week. Is this the case? I’ve tried Trainline and Rome2Rio, but am getting nowhere. Can you advise me the best way to get tickets (daytime travel??) from Sofia to Belgrade on 5 September?
Hello Bill! Unfortunately, the online booking system of the Bulgarian State Railways has its flaws and it’s best to buy your tickets from the Central Railway Station the day before or even on the day of your journey. Usually there are enough spots on the trains for last-minute purchases.
So, there is definitely a daytime train from Sofia to Belgrade on Thursdays in September? Buying a ticket on the day before or on the day itself is no problem. Thanks for your information.
Sorry for the confusion, but my last comment was a question, not a statement of fact. Can you tell me for certain if there is a daytime train from Sofia to Belgrade on Thursdays in September?? Thanks again for your response.
I want to go from Thessalonika to Sofia and stay for a day or so and then hear to Bucharest. Please tell me the trains I need and the approximate cost. I can not find any information on how to do this.
Hello Thomas! It seems like there is indeed no information available on the current timetamble on the website of the Bulgarian Railways. We have also tried calling their customer hotline for you but they are not picking up. You can also try calling them in a few hours 0700 10 200.
Hello! I want to travel by train from Bucharest to Istanbul in May. I will have to change trains in Ruse, Gorna Orjahovica and Dimitrovgrad where I will take the night train that comes from Sofia. Will it be possible to make a reservation for the night train at the railway station in Gorna Orjahovica where I have 80 minutes time to change trains? Or can I board the night train at Dimitrovgrad without reservation and pay for a free sleeper or couchette place on the spot? Thank you!
Hello Marcus! We reccommend that you reserve your spot for the night train at the railway station in Dimitrovgrad. You need to have the ticket before boarding the train.
Thank you very much indeed for your very helpful replies to others. We are very grateful as we are also traveling from Bucharest to Istanbul in May, making the same connections and train changes as Marcus, at Ruse, Gorna, and Dimitrovgrad.
We would be be very grateful for your advice on:
1) when we go to buy tickets and ask about our onward train it possible we will find train officials who will speak English, at the Bulgarian train stations?
2) is it possible to buy the all of the train tickets, all the way to Istanbul, at Bucharest, Gara de Nord? Especially the tickets for the sleeping car berths for the Sofia Express, as there is not a lot of time to buy these tickets at Dimitrovgrad?
3) do we have to change trains at Ruse, or does the same train continue into Bulgaria?
4) if the connecting train from Gorna is late, does the Sofia – Istanbul Express wait at Dimitrovgrad?
with many thanks
Unfortunately, we don’t have definite answers to either of those questions as we have experienced both officials who speak English and also officials that speak Bulgarian only. Same goes for changing trains in Ruse and trains waiting for other trains to arrive. We have seen all possible outcomes through the years. That’s why it is impossible to predict. Possibilities to buy tickets all the way to Istanbul can also vary. However, we would assume that you will not be able to buy all tickets in Bucharest. You would most probably need to buy tickets for the Bulgarian routes in Bulgaria.
Hi! Do you have any inormation, what kind of train goes from Sofia to Burgas? There is one direct train every morning, and I wonder how modern it is? There seems to be very little pictures online! 🙂
Hello Ellie! It is hard to predict how modern your train would be as they vary greatly from journey to journey. However, in general, trains in Bulgaria are quite old and at times unreliable.
Thanks Ted. I would hope it s better in England? In all fairness, Bulgaria much better in terms of train travel than most of the Balkans. At least they have trains and some are modern!