With zero driving experience but a hundred percent travel determination, I rely on public transport to get from A to B. So when I hit ground in Bulgaria, I naturally inquired how I would get around. Turns out travelling Bulgaria by busis quite easy. But not entirely without the occasional challenge.
Where to Go in Bulgaria
There are tons of free things to do in Bulgaria and plenty of absolutely charming destinations all over the country. Take for instance, the many hills with Roman ruins in Plovdiv with epic sunset views. Plovidv is under two hours away from Sofia and on the way to the wonderful town of Veliko Tarnovo.
For both Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo day trips are a great idea, such as to Koprivshtica or even up to Bucharest in Romania.
All the way on the Black Sea coast, you can visit the touristy towns of Varna and Burgas. Or you can discover off-the-beaten spots like the Bulgarian UFO Buzludhza, Pobiti Kamini and healing Pink Lakes (you can swim in them!).
[su_note note_color=”#f7f0e5″ radius=”0″]In case you like organising your own trips between various destinations in Bulgaria by yourself but then join small tour groups so you can mingle with fellow solo travellers AND get local insights from a knowledgable guide, there are tons of options for you, too. Here are a few:
- For a full day trip from Sofia to the famous Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery you can check availability here. The tour is super popular and sells out fast, so book in advance. It’s a tad difficult to get to both the lakes and monastery without a car and local road signs are in Cyrillic as well. So a guided tour is the best option.
- While it is popular to piece together a local (train) trip to the historical Thracian Valley, it’s really a hassle and takes way too long. A tour can show you the best places for the famous rose fields (Bulgaria is #1 rose oil producer in the world!) as well as the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak. All in a day trip instead of a trip that takes you a day to get there. You can book the tour here.
- While it is entirely possible to visit Bachkovo Monastery and Asen’s Fortress by bus , you cannot include the Wonderful Bridges rock formations into your DIY trip. If you really are not the keenest on hiking and hitcing a ride, a tour is a good way to go. These local gems aren’t very touristy at all and well worth a visit. Check the affordable tour here.
Trains vs Buses in Bulgaria
Why would you want to take a bus anyway, you may ask. For one, buses in Bulgaria are faster than trains. On top of that, the price difference is minimal and when it takes a few hours to travel between the main cities, why would you want to waste more time than necessary cooped up inside a carriage? You can check the prices online in advance with Rome2Rio, Busradar or Busexpress.
Here is an example: Sofia-Plovdiv: 14 BGN and ~2h (bus), 9 BGN and ~3h (train)
When to Get Your Bus Ticket
What I particularly loved about bus travel in Bulgaria is that there was no price change depending on when you obtained your ticket. You could just rock up at the coach station and get the same price as if you had done that a week in advance. In Germany, Sweden, the US or England you cannot do that, for instance. Just be aware that you might have to get your ticket at least an hour in advance to secure your place.
Where to Book Your Bulgarian Bus Ticket
Your best bet for getting your bus ticket would be in person at one of the many service agents at the coach station. Each company has different routes, times and prices, so it pays to do some background check in advance (maybe ask at your ho(s)tel reception). Booking your ticket online is generally possible as well. It’s just that Bulgarian bus websites don’t provide an English translation and are kinda hard to navigate. Also, you might need to exchange your booking number for a ticket anyway.
Connection to the Bus Station
Coach stations in Bulgaria are often found on the outer rims of the city centre, so you could end up walking thirty minutes until you get to your central accommodation. That’s not much at all, but in the case of Plovdiv, it might include uphill climbs. If you are feeling lazy, take a local bus. Fares are low, you pay the driver directly in cash and there are plenty of stops.
Ask the driver to let you know when you need to get out or keep your eyes peeled on the overhead signal announcements. (Keep a screenshot of your Cyrillic destination names at hand.) Also good to know is that some cities have multiple bus stations and you might have to leave from a different one into which you initially arrived, for example in Burgas or Plovdiv.
Big and Small Buses
For longer distances, big buses not unlike those of tour buses will cart you around. If you’re lucky, you can even get wifi on board. There will be toilet stops as well, such as between Sofia and Plovdiv or Sofia and Bucharest. Should you be travelling the coast and want to visit smaller towns, like Sosopol, then the buses will be more like vans as they routes are not as popular, especially off season. In these cases, you pay the bus driver to get your ticket.
Getting on the Bus in Bulgaria
Since coach stations have quite the range of bus stops, you need to know your specific number. Especially if you’re running late or there are no people to ask or who understand English), it’s good to know where to expect your bus to be. Buses leave on time, so don’t expect them to wait for you. It should be printed on your bus ticket. Still, since it’s in Cyrillic and there are many other numbers on there, better ask the ticket seller. Double check if you have an allocated seat number.
When your bus arrives, there commonly are two people to approach. One that helps store your suitcase in the base of the bus and one to check your ticket before you do that. Don’t just get on the bus! (If you travel by bus in Croatia or Bosnia & Herzegovina, for instance, the situation is different.)
Safety tip: Always buckle up. Not only to avoid any fees in case there is a control, as buckling up is mandatory, but to be safe in case of sudden brakings or accidents. It should be a common sense thing but you’d be surprised how it’s not. (Not even most Bulgarians seems to bother with it.)
Be Aware of the Season
I visited Bulgaria in spring and again in autumn. While travelling Bulgaria by bus was easy in spring, it proved to be a bit more difficult in autumn. Not as many buses went, it seemed. That was what my online research told me and seats were limited as well. So it is always a good idea to get your ticket as early as possible if you can.
Is Travelling Bulgaria by Bus Worth It?
If you – like me – rely on public transport and will not have a car at your disposal, bus travel is great. It is easy to get around the main cities in Bulgaria, it is relatively fast and definitely affordable. Getting to lesser known regions is a bit more of a hassle as you have to change between local bus lines, but entirely possible.
Just – as always – make sure to ask for local advice on where to change and what lines to take. Have the Bulgarian names at the ready in case you need to ask strangers for help. While English isn’t widely spoken or understood, Bulgarians will be glad to help if they can.
Got any more questions on travelling Bulgaria by bus? Drop them in the comment section below.
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Julie Sykes says
Really helpful post, thank you. I also prefer travelling by public transport … it was interesting to read how you found it in Bulgaria; as I’ve just come back from doing the same in neighbouring Romania. I love the Balkans and Bulgaria is on my list, so it’s good to know it’s relatively straightforward, Cyrillic comprehension notwithstanding :)
Annemarie Strehl says
How was travelling Romania like? I’d love to hear the comparison.
lena walton says
I’m looking at catching a bus from Sofia to Plovdiv. Busradar.com has online tickets available, have you booked using them before? Also, do I need to validate my bus tickets when travelling in Bulgaria? Do the bus drivers have change if you buy a bus ticket on board? :)
Sorry for all the questions, just trying to be prepared before we travel there!
Annemarie Strehl says
Hi Lena, I don’t think I ever booked through busradar, I used more local sites but why not try them out? Don’t forget to print out your bus tickets. Showing them on the phone doesn’t fly in Bulgaria. I don’t think you need to validate the tickets, but sometimes you need to exchange your booking number to an actual ticket. Your best bet is to walk up to the respective bus company counter. Even if you try the wrong one, they will point you to the correct one. You cannot buy a ticket with the bus driver, from what I remember.
This is a really helpful and well laid out website. Thanks for doing it!
Hi Mike, thank you for saying that. I appreciate it.
Chris Coats says
I have a Assistance Dog International certified service dog. How would I contact a bus company to get permission for him to ride on a bus.
Some buses in Croatia and Slovenia wouldn’t let him on even when I showed the required documents.
That’s a good question and I don’t really have a great answer to this, I’m afraid. I would both email and contact the companies on social media. Twitter is usually good. Facebook responses might take a while. Another thing I would do is jump in Croatia expat or travel groups on facebook and ask people for tips and maybe even text in Croatian to explain your situation in more detail, not just with documents. Maybe it’s a miscommunication thing? I know a lot of people stil ldon’t understand service dogs and that’s a problem in itself. This is a tough situation, I wish I could help you more.
We have a 4 year old. Can booster seats or car seats fit on the buses in Bulgaria?
Good question. It’s been a while since I was on a bus in Bulgaria and I haven’t travelled with kids. So I am not sure. But the bus seats were pretty much like those of any other long-distance bus.