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:
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Author: Free Sofia Tour Guide – Denica Dobreva