Bulgaria by Train: Start your memorable adventure from Sofia
Travelling by train with 90 km/h in a small coupe with bunch of strangers is so 19th century, right? Not if you have the adventures spark that separates a true explorer form a sight-seeing tourist. Just riding the train from A to B is not that big a deal, it’s rather a cheap cheat move to the adventures spark in you. And you know it. So, let’s raise the stakes a bit.
Can you imagine travelling around a whole country by train? There is news for you - Bulgaria is the right place to do it! Part of the famous Orient Express route, Bulgaria has built upon the tradition of travelling by train. Budapest hotel is incredibly close to the Central railway station in Sofia (that has just been renovated), so going there to get your first taste of this exotic experience will not be an issue.
Nowadays, people travel around the country mostly by their own cars or by buses, simply because they are faster and that is what most people care for these days. This, however, has left a certain old school charm to travelling by train. The people that choose this way of travelling have a special attitude to the process and they observe social traditions of times past that add to the spirit of the experience.
Keep in mind that it is very likely that someone starts a chat with you on the train as this is the norm. You will share the experience with new people that would like to know more about where you are headed, what you’ll be doing there, and after this initial part – the conversation could go anywhere. Having a train buddy like this will be very helpful because they could be the source of lots of interesting information about the place that you are going to, and they will also let you know when it’s time to get off the train as there are no audio announcements and you have to look at the train station names which are in Cyrillic.
A good route that will take you around various different places in the country in a couple of days is Sofia – Plovdiv – Veliko Tarnovo – Burgas. You can get your Sofia – Plovdiv ticket from the train station literally half an hour before the train leaves (you can of course do that well in advance too) for approximately 10 leva (~5 Euro). This is an easy-going, short and sweet trip that will introduce you to travelling with BDZ (Bulgarian State Railways) without distracting you with any magnificent scenery on the way. The icing of this three hour tutorial trip is being in Plovdiv itself, which you will discover is an amazing place. Most people would book their next ticket after they get off the train, so grab a ticket for your next destination – Veliko Tarnovo (approximately 12 leva or 6 Euro) , and enjoy the ancient and modern wonders of Plovdiv.
The Veliko Tarnovo – Plovdiv route is rather picturesque. One of the greatest things about travelling by train in Bulgaria is the scenery which is way more different than the one you’d get when going anywhere by car. If you were in a car, you would most probably be able to just look at the mountains around you, whereas in a train you actually spend lots of time going through them and the view around you revolves like a movie. This trip lasts for about 5 hours in which you will see almost all of it – starting with huge valleys and fields that gradually turn to hills, the way goes through high mountain villages before delivering you to yet another fantastic city – Veliko Tarnovo. The old part of town is a few kilometres away from the train station, so if you want to check it out – take a taxi, it will cost you no more than 5 leva (~3 euro). Don’t forget to book your ticket for the next destination to the East – Burgas (~14 leva – 7 euro).
The way to Burgas is another 5-6 hour trip that will lead you out of the mountainous area, through a vast valley and then you’ll get there – the seaside. Once in Burgas you can enjoy lots of great places, starting of course with the beach, the park next to the beach, the city centre and many more – just ask the people on the train for recommendations. For many young people in Bulgaria the direct route Sofia – Burgas (and Burgas – Sofia) during the summer is a sacred ritual. It takes 7 or 8 hours in most cases and you can also get the night train, but you have to know that it will feel more like party train than a regular one.
During your train travels around the country here you will encounter some of the downsides to old school trains – the of lack modern travelling comforts such as air conditioning and phone chargers for example. With the right mind-set though, you will find out that it is not things such as these that make a trip great. It’s you in the first place, the good people around you, and the incredible scenery outside your window. We are happy to offer the last two - it’s just you that’s still missing, so hop on a train and enjoy the trip.