How To Travel Around Bulgaria
How To Travel Around Bulgaria
Bulgaria has seen an increasing number of visitors in recent years. This has necessitated the State’s continuous investment in transportation infrastructure. Today, the nation has developed practically all modes of public transit, however the quality of transportation services does not always meet European standards. Buses are the most widely used kind of public transit in the nation (less often, trolleybuses and trams). It’s worth mentioning that public urban transportation in major cities, particularly during the tourist season, is sometimes inadequate. As a consequence, trolleybuses, trams, and buses are often packed. Additionally, the technical state of vehicle transport is deplorable.
It’s worth mentioning that Sofia’s public transportation system has been substantially refurbished in recent years, and the capital now boasts a whole new fleet of vehicles. The country’s intercity bus system is highly developed. Despite the fact that the majority of buses are very old, they are still pretty pleasant to ride on, and the ticket price is also quite reasonable for even the most frugal traveler. Additionally, all routes have been meticulously planned to ensure that even long-distance excursions take the least amount of time feasible. Generally, buses operate according to a timetable, which may be obtained at any bus station. If there is a deviation, it might be due to a variety of unforeseeable situations, such as an accident or car failure. It’s worth mentioning that the latter is becoming more common in tiny provincial cities.
Apart from buses, fixed-route taxis and minibuses are also quite popular in the country. They are recognized for making fewer stops, which allows for even greater travel time savings. However, the fare is somewhat more. Sofia has a metro system that is now comprised of just one underground line. The fare is around fifty cents. Additionally, you may book a cab in Bulgaria. They are typically yellow automobiles with checkers, and their side windows are often adorned with a price list containing quotes. There are several air harbors on the country’s territory, but only three of them are international airports. Sofia, Varna, and Burgas are their locations.
Bulgaria has an extensive railway network that connects the nation to neighboring European countries. Six thousand kilometers of railway track are in total. Travel is inexpensive. All trains are classified as either express or passenger. The wagons are classified into two categories based on their level of comfort and availability of supplementary amenities. As a consequence, travel costs vary. Due to Bulgaria’s geographical position, water transport is also heavily used. Ferries, small pleasure boats, and cruise ships make up the majority of the fleet. They go along both the Black Sea and Danube coasts. Bulgaria’s roads are in disrepair, albeit they are continually being renovated. In certain locations, markings are totally gone, just as there are no nightlights. The local population’s driving culture is likewise a long cry from European norms. Simultaneously, certain roadways throughout the nation are toll roads.
The fastest way to travel around the country is by bus. Buses often connect all major cities (you may need to ask for a taxi or have a taxi take you to the bus station). Timetable information in English is available online ([www] or [www]). Always confirm timetables locally as online resources may be incomplete or out of date. Most agents at bus stations (except at the Black Sea and in Sofia) and drivers do not speak or understand any language other than Bulgarian (and, if you are lucky, Russian), and destinations are in Cyrillic script only. You can check the bus timetable for New Sofia Central at the bus station [www].
Travelling from Sofia to the larger cities in Bulgaria by bus is a good means of transport. A single ticket to the Black Sea from Sofia costs about 12-15 euros. Several companies operate regular routes, served by new and modern buses. Timetables and prices in English for some of the major companies can be found on the websites of GRUP Plus [www] and Biomet [www].
There are other bus stations in Sofia and a few private buses depart from their own stations, but for travellers who simply want to leave the city with as little confusion as possible, it may be easier to use the new central bus station.
Buses and minibuses travel from Varna and Burgas along the coast, past or to all Bulgarian Black Sea resorts.
Travelling by train is cheap, but also slower than by bus. Trains are more useful if you travel on the two main railway lines: Sofia – Varna and Sofia – Burgas. You can also travel at night on both lines, but it is advisable to book in advance as these night trains are often fully booked.
You should also be aware that most Bulgarian train carriages are over 20 years old, are a mixture of old Bulgarian and old German rolling stock (mainly old Interregio carriages) and are not always well maintained, especially the toilets, which will seem primitive to most Western users.
Newer and quite comfortable Siemens Desiro trains (identical to those used in the more western countries) are used on the : Sofia to Plovdiv; Plovdiv to Karlovo and Asenovgrad; and Sofia to Blagoevgrad. BDZ has also refurbished some older coaches and is now using them for its top product, the IC, a 2+1 seat fast train with reservations compulsory, even in 2nd class, with quite comfortable and clean seats.
Buying train tickets is relatively quick, although most people buy a ticket 10 minutes before departure, as your ticket is usually valid for a specific train. If you don’t know which train you want to use, you can also buy a ticket on the train without having to pay a penalty. If your journey starts at the same place as the train, you can also buy a reservation for a specific seat on a specific train for a very small extra charge (0.30 leva). Although this never seems to work from intermediate stations.
First class usually costs about 30% more than second class and is usually not much more comfortable (3 seats in a row instead of 4).
If you buy a return ticket, you can benefit from a 30% discount for the entire journey, compared to buying two separate tickets. In this case, you must have the ticket stamped at the station counter before the return journey, otherwise it may be invalid.
There is a discount for group travel.
Those interested in railways should visit the Rhodope train, which departs from Septemvri and travels via Bansko to Dobrinisthe. This narrow-gauge railway (760 mm) travels through a very picturesque landscape, climbs the Rhodope Mountains, reaches the summit and then descends 125 km in 4.5 hours (average speed 30 km/h). It takes some time, but it is a very good experience to see some aspects of Bulgarian country life.
Many taxi drivers can only speak English to a limited extent. It is therefore useful to write down the destination or carry a map. In winter 2008, some newer taxis in Sofia have GPS devices on the dashboard. Taxi fares in Bulgaria are standardised in the larger cities. You should be extremely careful when using a taxi in Bulgaria. Especially if you are a foreigner, you can become a target of unscrupulous taxi drivers. If necessary, familiarise yourself with the best-known taxi companies in your area, your itinerary and the expected bill.
In general, it is safest to order a taxi by phone. Some fraudulent taxis even imitate the logos and signs of other taxis on their vehicles. Avoid using waiting taxis at airports and train stations at all costs! Sofia and Varna airports are an exception, as these two airports have recently signed contracts with licensed taxi companies. Currently, only these companies can enter the airport premises and pick up passengers – the prices are uniform.
If you are travelling by car, it would be helpful if you could read at least a little of the Cyrillic alphabet. Most signs on main roads show the direction in Latin letters, but the signs on the internal road network are exclusively in Cyrillic script. If you are planning a road trip, it is therefore advisable to use GPS navigation or a road map.
If you are a foreigner, it is better to rent a car. If you decide to rent a car, remember that if there is any dent or scratch on the car, whether it is a third party or not, you must immediately call the police to come and assess the damage for the insurance companies, otherwise you will find that your insurance will not cover the damage.
Driving in Bulgaria can be a little precarious – many roads do not have clearly defined lanes as they are not well marked and are in poor condition with bumps and holes. On all but the most important roads, expect large potholes and uneven surfaces. Due to the poor condition of the road, you will often find cars driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid these holes, so be careful when turning. Residents often disregard speed limits, fail to signal when changing lanes, engage in dangerous manoeuvres and are very nervous behind the wheel. Be very careful when driving on the Sofia-Greece road. There are many reconstructed roads and you may encounter some really dangerous drivers.
If you follow the rules, the police will not bother you. The Bulgarian police have white Opel Astra patrol cars with „POLICE“ written in blue letters – remember this, because in the past there have been several cases of fake policemen stopping cars and stealing from passengers. If you ever have doubts about the arresting authority, you have the right to ask them to identify themselves with a certificate issued by the Ministry of Interior (Министерсво на вътрешните работи – МВР).
Never drink and drive in Bulgaria! It is always dangerous and in Bulgaria it is a serious crime: Your first offence will result in a long prison sentence or at least a very heavy fine. The once common practice of bribing a police officer to avoid a speed or parking ticket is now the exception.
Car theft is not a big risk, but should not be underestimated. In rural areas it should be safe to leave your car, but in big cities or tourist areas it is advisable to be careful and park either on the main roads or in guarded garages, where prices vary from 6 leva (3 euros) per day to 2 leva (1 euro) per hour. If you plan to spend more time in a city, it may be better to rent a parking space, which costs an average of 60 leva (30 euros) per month. Most hotels have their own parking space and private accommodation often allows you to park your car in the garden or elsewhere, just ask.
Air transport is not yet widespread in Bulgaria, as the distances are relatively short.
Bulgaria Air, the national airline, flies daily from Sofia to Varna and Burgas. Off-peak offers are available for 25 EUR/t after taxes.
WizzAir flies four times a week between Sofia and Varna. Off-peak journeys can cost up to 20eu r/t after taxes.
The schedules can be found on the official websites or on BGrazpisanie.com [www].