London to Bulgaria by train, a 48 hour Balkan adventure...

It's not difficult to travel to Bulgaria by train, in fact it's a safe, comfortable and interesting journey.  The train ride from London to Bulgaria takes as little as 48 hours, by Eurostar to Paris, 200mph double-decker TGV to Munich, the excellent air-conditioned sleeper train to Budapest, leisurely daytime train to Belgrade (with an evening to see something of the city) then another overnight train with a couchette to Sofia.  The train times, fares, and how best to buy tickets are all explained on this page.

Train times, fares, tickets & information...

  London to Sofia by train via Budapest in just 48 hours!  Train times, fares & how to buy tickets.

  London to Sofia by train via Zagreb & Belgrade also in just 48 hours...

  London to Veliko Tarnovo

  Video guide: London to Bulgaria by train...

  Trains to Sofia from other European cities

  Trains from Sofia to other European cities

  Sofia station facilities  About Sofia

  General information about train travel in Europe

  Luggage   Taking bikes   Taking dogs

  Hotels & accommodation in Sofia & Bulgaria

 Route map:  London to Bulgaria by train...
Route map:  London to Sofia & Bulgaria by train

Sponsored links...

 


Useful country information

Train operator in Bulgaria:

BDZ (Bβlgarski Dβrzhavni Zheleznitsi), www.bdz.bgSofia-Istanbul by train

     

Eurostar times & fares    All-Europe online train times

Railpasses:

Beginner's guide to European railpasses    Buy a rail pass online

Time zone:

GMT+2 (GMT+3 from last Sunday in March to last Saturday in October).

Dialling code:

+359

Currency:

£1 = approx 2.2 Lev.   Currency converter

Tourist information:

www.bulgariatravel.org    Tripadvisor Bulgaria page

Visas:

UK citizens don't need a visa to visit Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary or Romania.

Page last updated:

15 December 2014.  Train times valid 14 Dec 2014 to 13 June 2015.


London to Sofia by train

Option 1:  London to Sofia via Paris, Munich & Budapest...

This is is the fastest and cheapest option, if you use the option B version show below.  Alternatively, the option A version is the most direct and comfortable way, with a whole day free in Budapest as this uses a new direct Budapest-Sofia train which starts running from 14 December 2014.

London ► Sofia

You now have a choice.

Sofia ► London

How much does it cost?

Each train is ticketed separately, so just add up the price for each leg of the journey...

 1. London to Paris

 by Eurostar...

 From £34.50 one-way, £69 return 2nd class.

 From £97 one-way, £195 return 1st class.  Child, youth, senior fares 

 

 2. Paris to Munich

     by TGV...

 From €39 (£34) each way in 2nd class

 From €69 (£59) each way in 1st class.

 The price varies, book in advance to get these fares, full-price €139.

 If you book at www.bahn.de, accompanied children under 15 go free.

 

 3. Munich to Budapest

 on the Kalman Imre

In a  

seat:

In a couchette

In the sleeping-car

6-berth

4-berth

3-berth

2-berth

single

 Savings fare one-way:

€29 (£25)

€49 (£42)

€59 (£49)

€69 (£59)

€79 (£67) 

€139 (£118)

 Savings fare return:

€58 (£50)

€98 (£84)

€118 (£98)

€138 (£118)

€158 (£134) 

€278 (£236)

 Full price one-way:

€95

€109

€115

€120

€139 

€209

Savings fare = advance-purchase fare, price varies, no refunds, no changes to travel plans. 

Full price = fully flexible, refundable, buy any time.

 4. Budapest to Belgrade

 on the Ivo Andric...

€15 one-way or €26 return in 2nd class. 

This is a permanently-available special offer which you can buy on the day at Budapest or Belgrade stations or online at the Hungarian railways website www.mav-start.hu for one-way or return journeys starting in Budapest.  Not available through UK agencies.  No 1st class offers.

 

 5. Belgrade to Sofia

 by overnight train...

Around €35 each way including couchette, bought at the station.

Around £44 each way +£10 couchette bought by phone in the UK.

 

 Alternatively...

 Budapest to Sofia by

 direct sleeper train...

£150 each way with couchette or £170 with bed in 2-bed sleeper, bought by phone in the UK.  Local price not known. I said option B was cheaper!

How to buy tickets online, the cheapest way...

Anyone from any country can buy tickets online this way, at the cheapest prices with few on no booking fees.

Buy tickets the easy way from europeanrail.com...

How to buy tickets by phone...

What's the journey like? 

London to Paris by Eurostar:  See the Eurostar page.

Paris to Munich by TGV Duplex...  Watch the TGV Duplex video guide

Sit back with a glass of red and enjoy the ride - book an upper deck seat for the best views.  The train has power sockets for laptops & mobiles at all seats in both classes, and a cafe-bar serves drinks, snacks & microwaved hot dishes.  First class passengers on this route are given a simple but tasty meal box with a small bottle of beer or wine served at their seat, included in the fare.  The train soon leaves the Paris suburbs behind and speeds across a vast wide open plateau of woods and farmland at up to 200mph, past picturesque French villages of the Champagne region.  After an hour or two, the train leaves the high-speed line and slowly meanders through pretty wooded hills, the countryside eventually flattening out towards Strasbourg.  On leaving Strasbourg, look out for Strasbourg cathedral on the left with its famously missing second tower.  Minutes afterwards you rumble across the river Rhine into Germany, before heading on to Stuttgart and Munich.

TGV Duplex at Paris Gare de l'Est   Upper deck second class on board a TGV Duplex.

TGV Duplex at Paris Est. These impressive 200 mph double-deck trains link Paris & Munich, a relaxing journey with reading book & glass of wine.  Book an upstairs seat for the best views...

 

2nd class seats on TGV Duplex upper deck.  There's a mix of unidirectional seating and tables for 4 like this...

First class on board a TGV Duplex   An TGV Duplex to Munich at Paris Est.

1st class seats on the upper deck, with a 'club duo' on the left, a 'club quatre' on the right.

 

A TGV Duplex.  The red near the door indicates 1st class, pale green indicates 2nd class.

Munich to Budapest by sleeper train Kalman Imre...  Watch the video

Cosy & inviting, a hotel on rails, this is the modern air-conditioned Hungarian sleeping-car of the Kalman Imre at Munich Hauptbahnhof...  The sleeping-car has 10 compartments with washbasin, each of which can be used as a 1, 2 or 3 berth room, with toilets at the end of the corridor.  The fare includes a light breakfast of coffee, juice & croissantWatch the Hungarian sleeping-car video.  There's time for dinner in Munich before boarding, I recommend the typically Bavarian Mongdratzerl restaurant located inside the Hauptbahnhof, open until late.

The sleeper train to Budapest   Sleeper compartment in the Hungarian sleeping-car from Munich to Budapest

The Kalman Imre, about to leave Munich...

 

2-berth sleeper...

6-berth couchettes on train to Budapest   4-berth couchettes on train to Budapest   Couchette car on the Kalman Imre to Budapest

6-berth couchettes...

 

4-berth couchettes

 

Hungarian couchette car at Munich

Good morning Budapest!

City of Budapest & the Danube

If you use the new Budapest to Sofia train, feedback & any photographs would be much appreciated.  The Bulgarian couchette car will look similar to the Serbian couchette car shown below.

Budapest to Belgrade by air-conditioned EuroCity train...

The train to Belgrade uses modern air-conditioned Serbian coaches.  There may be a refreshment trolley, but I'd take your own supplies.  The train travels sedately across the Great Hungarian Plain to the border at Kelebia where passports are checked.  Shortly afterwards it arrives at the Serbian border point, Subotica, where where it's the Serbians' turn.  Subotica is the location for much of the action in Graham Greene's novel Stamboul Train.  If you thought the train was slow in Hungary, wait till you get into Serbia!  Again, you're crossing the great Pannonian Plain, past an occasional pheasant or deer, although wooded hills appear (and the train speeds up a bit) as you approach the Serbian capital.  You enter Belgrade over a long steel girder bridge spanning the river Sava, with two modern illuminated road suspension bridges to your right.  The rail bridge opened in 1883, and originally linked two countries, the Austro-Hungarian empire on one bank, and Belgrade in Serbia on the other.  Below left, a Budapest-Belgrade train is pictured about to leave Budapest.  Below right, 2nd class seats.

Serbian air-conditioned coach   1st class seats in a Serbian air-conditioned train

Belgrade to Sofia by overnight train...

East of Belgrade, you leave modern fripperies such as air-conditioning behind...  The Belgrade-Sofia night train now only has a couchette car, no sleeper.  It's an elderly Serbian Railways couchette car with lockable 6-berth compartments looked after by a couchette car attendant from Zelturist, Serbian Railways' sleeper and catering subsidiary.  But it's comfortable enough, and seldom ever full.  Clean sheets, pillow and blanket are provided.  You'll probably find fellow travellers from Germany, the Netherlands, Australia or Britain on board...

The Serbian couchette car on the Belgrade to Sofia train   A 6-berth couchette compartment on the Belgrade to Sofia train

Option 2:  London to Sofia via Paris, Munich, Zagreb & Belgrade...

This is the quickest option, London to Bulgaria overland by train in 48 hours!  It involves comfortable high-quality air-conditioned trains all the way to Belgrade, but a more basic overnight train between Belgrade and Sofia which currently only has 6-berth couchettes, not private sleepers.  That's the only drawback, but the couchette car is comfortable enough, I've used it myself, see the video guide!  If you'd prefer a private sleeper for both nights and don't mind the journey taking 2 nights, 3 days including a day at leisure in Budapest, rather than 2 nights & 2 days direct, see option 2 below.

London ► Sofia

Sofia ► London

How much does it cost?

Each train is ticketed separately, so add up the price for each leg of the journey.

 1. London to Paris

     by Eurostar...

 From £34.50 one-way, £69 return 2nd class.

 From £97 one-way, £195 return 1st class.  Child, youth, senior fares 

 

 2. Paris to Munich

      by TGV Duplex...

 From £34 one-way, £68 return in 2nd class

 From £53 one-way, £106 return in 1st class.

 Limited availability, book in advance to get these fares.

 Full fare £81 one-way, £142 return.

 

 3. Munich to Zagreb

 on the Lisinski...

In a

seat:

In a couchette

In the sleeping-car

6-berth

4-berth

3-berth

2-berth

single

 Savings fare one-way, from:

€29

€49

€59

€69

€79

€139

 Savings fare return, from:

€58

€98

€118

€138

€158

€278

Savings fare = Advance-purchase fare, price varies, no refunds, no changes to travel plans.

Berths are sold individually, so one ticket means one bed.  The other beds in your compartment will be sold to other passengers.  For sole occupancy, simply book 1 ticket in a 1-berth sleeper or 2 tickets in a 2-berth sleeper or 4 tickets in a 4-berth couchette & so on.

 3. Zagreb to Belgrade

      by day train...

 Around €30 each way in 2nd class, if bought at the station.

 Around £43 each way in 2nd class, bought by phone in the UK.

 

 4. Belgrade to Sofia

      by night train...

 Around €35 including couchette, if bought at the station.

 Around £44 each way +£10 couchette bought by phone in the UK.

How to buy tickets...

How to buy tickets by phone:  In the UK call 0844 248 248 3...

Have your trip professionally arranged...

What are the trains & scenery like?

From London to Paris by Eurostar: See the Eurostar page for photos & information about Eurostar.

Paris to Munich by TGV Duplex...        Click for video guide

Sit back with a glass of red and enjoy the ride - book an upper deck seat for the best views.  The train is equipped with power sockets for laptops & mobiles at all seats in both classes, and a cafe-bar serves drinks, snacks & microwaved hot dishes.  First class passengers on this route are given a simple but tasty meal box with a small bottle of beer or wine served at their seat, included in the fare.  The train soon leaves the Paris suburbs behind and speeds across a vast wide open plateau of woods & farmland at up to 200mph, past picturesque French villages of the Champagne region.  An hour or two later, the train leaves the high-speed line and slowly meanders through pretty wooded hills, the countryside eventually flattening out towards Strasbourg.  On leaving Strasbourg, look out for Strasbourg cathedral on the left with its famously missing second tower.  Minutes afterwards you rumble across the river Rhine into Germany, before heading on to Stuttgart & Munich.

TGV Duplex at Paris Gare de l'Est   Upper deck second class on board a TGV Duplex.

TGV Duplex at Paris Est. These impressive 200 mph double-deck trains link Paris with Nice, Marseille, Munich, Barcelona & Switzerland...

 

2nd class table for 4 on TGV Duplex upper deck...

First class on board a TGV Duplex   An TGV Duplex at Paris Est.

1st class seats on the upper deck, with a club duo on the left, a club quatre on the right.

 

A TGV Duplex.  The red near the door indicates 1st class, pale green indicates 2nd class.

Munich to Zagreb by sleeper train Lisinski...   Watch the video

This modern sleeper train is a pleasure to travel on, whether in the privacy of your own sleeper or in economical couchettes.  There's time for dinner in Munich before boarding, I recommend the typically Bavarian Mongdratzerl restaurant located inside the Hauptbahnhof, open until late.

The 'Lisinski' sleeper train from Zagreb to Munich, at Zagreb main station   Sleeper compartment in the Croatian sleeping-car from Munich to Zagreb

The sleeping-car on the Lisinski:  The modern air-conditioned Croatian sleeping-car of the Lisinski from Munich to Zagreb has 10 compartments with washbasin, each of which can be used as a 1, 2 or 3 berth room, with toilets at the end of the corridor.  Above left, the sleeper arrived at Zagreb.

4-berth couchettes on Munich to Zagreb train   Couchette car on Munich to Zagreb train, at Munich

The couchette car on the Lisinski has modern air-conditioned 6-berth and 4-berth compartments.  Above right, the westbound train is seen boarding at Zagreb. See panorama photo.

Scenery between Ljubljana, Zagreb & Belgrade

Wake up to scenery like this between Ljubljana & Zagreb, along the river Sava...

Zagreb to Belgrade by air-conditioned train...

This is a spacious and comfortable air-conditioned Serbian train, with modern 2nd class seats - there's no 1st class.  There's no restaurant car, so take a picnic and some beer or wine with you.  On arrival in Belgrade, you have time to wander into town, perhaps visit the fortress overlooking the confluence of Danube and Sava, have a coffee at the Hotel Moskva (free WiFi!) and perhaps dinner at the basic but remarkably cheap Zelturist restaurant in the corner inside Belgrade station.

2nd class seats in a Serbian air-conditioned train   The train from Belgrade to Zagreb & Zurich, about to leave Belgrade

Belgrade to Sofia by overnight train...

East of Belgrade, you leave modern fripperies such as air-conditioning behind...  The Belgrade-Sofia night train now only has a couchette car, no sleeper.  It's an elderly Serbian Railways couchette car with lockable 6-berth compartments looked after by a couchette car attendant from Zelturist, Serbian Railways' sleeper and catering subsidiary.  But it's comfortable enough, and seldom ever full.  Clean sheets, pillow and blanket are provided.  You'll probably find fellow travellers from Germany, the Netherlands, Australia or Britain on board...

The Serbian couchette car on the Belgrade to Sofia train   A 6-berth couchette compartment on the Belgrade to Sofia train

Watch the videoLondon to Bulgaria by train...

The video shows what a train ride from London to Bulgaria is like.  There's a slight variation from the journey shown above, the video shows a journey by TGV from the Gare de Lyon to Zurich, then Croatian sleeping-car to Zagreb, instead of a TGV from the Gare de l'Est to Munich, then Croatian sleeping-car to Zagreb, but the sleeping-car is identical to the Munich-Zagreb one and you see the same wonderful scenery between Ljubljana & Zagreb.

 

London to Veliko Tarnovo

Click for map of Veliko Tarnovo showing station

Bulgaria's ancient capital, Veliko Tarnovo is well worth a visit.  Below left, the main gate to the Royal hill and old cathedral.  Below right, the old town.  The station is at the foot of the hills on which the city is built, it's a longish walk up to the town, you may want to take a taxi.

To reach Veliko Tarnovo from London or Paris,  you have two main options:

Veliko Tarnovo's Royal Hill   Church frescoes   Veliko Tarnovo old town

Sofia central station

Sofia central station, a grand monument to former times...

Sofia's main station is a grandiose structure, like a giant monument left from an empire long-gone.  Which in a way, it is.  Indeed, cash-strapped BDZ (Bulgarian Railways) is apparently struggling with the cost of heating such a huge space in winter!  Map of Sofia showing station.

Cash dispensers, left luggage, food & drink...

On arrival, you'll find cash dispensers (ATMs) in the great hall at the west end - coming into the great hall off the platforms, turn sharp right and you'll find them under the departure boards on that end wall, roughly behind the photographer in the photo below right.  There's a left luggage office in the great hall towards the east end, see here for left luggage opening times & prices.  You'll find plenty of kiosks selling snacks & drinks all over the station.

Buying tickets...

Domestic tickets can be bought at the ticket office in the great hall.  However, international tickets and reservations must be made at the Rila agency office, which is down the passageway off the west end of the great hall (again, the passageway is right behind behind the photographer in the photo below right).  The Rila office is open 08:30-20:20 every day of the week.

Sofia station, main entrance   Inside Sofia station

Sofia station, main entrance...

 

The great hall at Sofia's central station...

Rila office at Sofia station   Sofia metro

The Rila office at Sofia station.  International tickets must be bought here, open daily 08:30-20:20.

 

The impressive Sofia metro will take you from the station to Sofia city centre, www.metropolitan.bg/en.


Sofia

Click for map of Sofia showing station

The most modern thing about Sofia is its excellent metro system, which will take you from the station into the city centre.  The Sofia metro website is www.metropolitan.bg/en.  Or you can walk, it takes about 20 minutes.

Sofia national theatre   Sofia cathedral

Sofia's national theatre...

 

Sofia's Alexander Nevsky cathedral...


The European Rail Timetable & maps

Thomas Cook European Timetable -  click to buy onlineTraveller's Railway Map of Europe - buy onlineThe European Rail Timetable (formerly the Thomas Cook European Timetable) has train & ferry times for every country in Europe plus currency & climate information.  It is essential for regular European train travellers and an inspiration for armchair travellers.  Published since 1873, it had just celebrated 140 years of publication when Thomas Cook decided to pull the plug on their entire publishing department, but the dedicated ex-Thomas Cook team have set up a private venture and published the first edition of a reborn European Rail Timetable in March 2014.  You can buy it online with worldwide shipping at either www.stanfords.co.uk or www.europeanrailtimetable.euMore information on what the European Rail Timetable contains.

A Traveller's Railway Map of Europe covers the whole of Europe from Portugal in the west to Moscow & Istanbul in the east, Finland in the north to Sicily & Athens in the south.  On the back are detailed maps of Switzerland, Benelux & Germany, plus city plans showing stations in major cities.  Scenic & high-speed routes highlighted.  Buy it online for £14.50 + postage worldwide (UK addresses £2.80) at www.stanfords.co.uk/Continents/Europe/Maps--Atlases/Europe-A-Travellers-Railway-Map_9789077899090.htm or (in the Netherlands) for €13 + €5.50 postage from www.treinreiswinkel.nl.


Recommended guidebooks

Lonely Planet Eastern Europe - buy online at Amazon.co.ukRough Guide to Poland - buy online at Amazon.co.ukThe Man in Seat 61 book - click to buy onlineTo get the most from your visit, you should take a good guidebook.  For the independent traveller, I think this means one of two guidebooks, either the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide.  Both series are excellent.  You can buy an in-depth guide for Bulgaria or a guide covering all the countries in Eastern Europe.  Lonely Planet Eastern Europe - Rough Guide Bulgaria.  My own book, an essential handbook for train travel to Europe based on this website called "The Man in Seat 61", was published in June 2008, and is available from Amazon with shipping worldwide.

Click the images to buy online...

 


Find hotels in Sofia & Bulgaria...

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.


Travel insurance & health card...

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Take out decent travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel without proper travel insurance from a reliable insurer with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover loss of cash & belongings (up to a limit), and trip cancellation.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year - I have an annual policy myself.  However, don't expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, see the advice on missed connections here.  Here are some suggested insurers, Seat61 gets a little commission if you buy through these links, and feedback from using insurance for rail & ferry travel is always welcome.

In the UK, use www.confused.com to compare prices & policy features across major insurance companies.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get an EU health card, it's free...

If you're a UK citizen travelling in Europe, you should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card, which entitles you to free or reduced rate health care if you become ill or get injured in many European countries, under a reciprocal arrangement with the NHS.  This replaced the old E111 forms as from January 2006.  The EHIC card is available from www.ehic.org.uk.  It doesn't remove the need for travel insurance, though.

Carry a spare credit card, designed for foreign travel with no currency exchange loading & low/no ATM fees

Taking out an extra credit card costs nothing, but if you keep it in a different part of your luggage you won't be left stranded if your wallet gets stolen.  In addition, some credit cards are better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

Get an international SIM card to save on calls & mobile data...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, so consider getting a global pre-paid SIM card for your mobile phone which can cut call & data costs by up to 90%.  At the time of writing, www.roamsure.com claims a definite 25% saving within the EU and up to 90% saving in the rest of the world.  Incoming calls are free in 73 countries, including all of the EU, the USA, Australia & South Africa.  There's no contract or commitment, and at time I write this Roamsure is offering a global SIM card for free when you buy £20 of call credit.  Seat61 gets some commission to support the site if you buy airtime from Roamsure.

 


Back to 'Rail travel to Europe' general page

Back to home page