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 2 nights, with a variety of possible routes and options.  The train times, fares, and how best to buy tickets are all explained on this page.

COVID-19 update:  See COVID-19 updates & travel information.  Eurostar is running a reduced service.  Beyond Paris & Brussels, train service is running normally as far as Zagreb & Bucharest.  The Bucharest-Sofia train is now running again, making the route via Bucharest viable.  However, the Zagreb-Belgrade train is still suspended due to Covid-19, rendering the route via Belgrade non-viable.

Train times, fares & tickets...

small bullet point  London to Sofia by train

small bullet point  London to Veliko Tarnovo

small bullet point  Trains to Sofia from other European cities

small bullet point  Trains from Sofia to other European cities

small bullet point  Sofia Central Station location & facilities

small bullet point  General information about train travel in Europe

small bullet point  Luggage   Taking bikes   Taking dogs

small bullet point  Hotels in Sofia & Bulgaria

Route map:  London to Sofia by train...

Route map:  London to Sofia & Bulgaria by train

large bullet pointUseful 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 2.1 Lev.  €1 = approx 1.9 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:

10 July 2022.  Train times valid 12 December 2021 to 10 December 2022.


large bullet pointLondon to Sofia by train

Which option to choose?

Option 1, Eurostar to Brussels or Paris, sleeper to Vienna, sleeper to Bucharest, day train to Sofia - currently the most viable option...

Going via Romania is a longer way round, but it avoids the vagaries of the Belgrade-Sofia route and the Covid-related service suspensions on that route.

Option 2, Eurostar to Paris, TGV to Munich, sleeper to Zagreb, onward train to Belgrade, overnight hotel, train to Sofia.  This is the fastest and most direct option.

Option 3, Eurostar to Paris, TGV-Lyria to Zurich, sleeper to Zagreb, onward train to Belgrade, hotel stop, train to Sofia.  This is similar to option 1, but via Zurich instead of Munich.  It takes a couple of hours longer, but there's great scenery.

Option 4, London & Harwich to Hoek van Holland & Amsterdam by train & ferry, then train from Amsterdam to Sofia via Bucharest - the ferry alternative.

Option 1, London to Sofia via Vienna, Budapest & Bucharest...

This is currently the most viable route to Sofia, given Covid-related cancellations on the route via Belgrade and the vagaries of the Belgrade-Sofia connection.

London ► Sofia

Sofia ► London

How much does it cost?

 1. London to Paris or Brussels by Eurostar

 From £52 one-way, £78 return 2nd class.

 From £115 one-way, £199 return 1st class.  Child fares 

 

 2. Paris or Brussels to Vienna

 by Nightjet train (per person, each way)

In a seat

In a couchette

In the sleeping-car

6-berth

4-berth

3-berth

2-berth

1-berth

3-berth

+ shower

2-berth

+ shower

1-berth

+ shower

 One way fares from:

€29.90

€49.90

€59.90

€89.90

€109.90

€159.90

€99.90

€139.90

€179.90

 

 3. Vienna to Budapest

 From €19.90 each way in 2nd class, €29.90 each way in 1st class.

 

 4. Budapest to Bucharest

 From €40 with a couchette in 6-berth or €47 with a couchette in 4-berth.

 These are limited-availability advance-purchase fares.

 If you want a private sleeper:

 Budapest-Timisoara in a seat starts at €17.

 Timisoara-Bucharest in a single-bed sleeper costs around €59.

 

 4. Bucharest to Sofia

 €34 each way, full-price.

How to buy tickets

What's the journey like?

1. London to Paris or Brussels by Eurostar...

Eurostar trains link London & Paris in 2h20, London & Brussels in just 2 hours, travelling at up to 300 km/h (186 mph).  There are two bar cars, power sockets at all seats and free WiFi.  Standard Premier and Business Premier fares include a light meal with wine (or breakfast, on departures before 11:00).  There's a 30-minute minimum check-in at London St Pancras (45-minute minimum in Paris, Brussels & Amsterdam) as all border formalities are carried out before you board the train.  More information about Eurostar including check-in procedureSt Pancras station guide.  Brussels Midi station guideIn Brussels, I recommend using the Pullman Hotel bar as your VIP waiting room.

Eurostar e320   Eurostar e320 first class seats

A Eurostar e320 at St Pancras.  More about Eurostar.

 

Standard Premier/Business Premier.  Larger photo.

Eurostar e320 2nd class   Eurostar e320 cafe-bar

Standard class seats.  Larger photo.

 

One of two cafe-bars, in cars 8 & 9.  Larger photo.

2. Paris or Brussels to Vienna by Nightjet:  See the Nightjet guide... 

This is an Austrian Railways (ΦBB) Nightjet train, with sleeping-car, couchettes & seats.  The sleeping-car has 1, 2 & 3 bed compartments with washbasin, plus three deluxe compartments with 1, 2 or 3 beds with private shower & toilet.  The sleeper berths come fully made up with sheets and duvets, all sleeper passengers get mineral water in the evening and a light breakfast served in their compartment next morning.  Towels & toiletries are provided, including shampoo and shower gel in the deluxe sleepers.  In the more economical couchettes, you can book a couchette in a cheaper 6-berth compartment or a less-crowded 4-berth compartment, each provided with sheet, blanket, pillow & small bottle of water, and couchette passengers get a tea or coffee in the morning.  When waiting for the northbound sleeper train in Vienna, if you have booked a sleeper you can use the ΦBB lounge with complimentary refreshments.  More pictures & information about Nightjet trains.

The Nightjet sleeper from Brussels to Vienna at Brussels

On 20 January 2020, the inaugural Nightjet left Brussels for Vienna, the first scheduled sleeper train to leave Brussels in 16 years.  Above, that inaugural train is seen ready to leave Brussels Midi on 20 January - naturally, the Man in Seat 61 was on board!

Nightjet deluxe 2-berth sleeper   Nightjet deluxe sleeper in day mode   Nightjet deluxe sleeper toilet & shower   Nightjet standard (economy) sleeper

Deluxe sleeper.  Each compartment can be used as a 1, 2 or 3-bed room.  Larger photoVideo of deluxe room

 

The same deluxe sleeper in evening/morning mode with beds folded away, seats folded out.  Larger photo.

 

Deluxe rooms have a compact shower & toilet, towels & hair/body wash provided.  Larger photo.

 

Standard sleeper set up as 2-berth, washstand open.  It can be used as a 1, 2 or 3 berth.  Larger photo.

6-berth couchettes   4-berth couchettes on Nightjet train   Couchette car on Brussels-Vienna sleeper

6-berth couchettes...

 

4-berth couchettes...

 

Couchette car on the Brussels-Vienna Nightjet...

3. Vienna to Budapest by Railjet...

Railjets are ΦBB's (Austrian Railways) premier trains, with economy & 1st class, plus a premium 1st class called business class.  There's a restaurant car, power sockets at all seats & free WiFi.  In 1st & business class, restaurant car orders are taken and served at your seat.  More information about railjets Budapest Keleti station guide.

A railjet train about to leave Vienna

A railjet about to leave Vienna.  More information about railjets...

Business class seats on a railjet train   Railjet restaurant car

Business class.  About.

 

Restaurant car.

Business class seats on a railjet train   Economy class seats on a railjet train

First class.

 

Economy class.

A Railjet train at Budapest

The railjet has landed...  A railjet has arrived spot on time in Budapest's historic Keleti station, built 1881-1884

4. Budapest to Bucharest on the sleeper train Muntenia...

The train has a Romanian couchette car with 4 & 6-bunk compartments, these convert from seats to bunks at night will sheet, pillow and blanket provided.  There are toilets & washrooms at the end of the corridor.  A classic wood-panelled sleeping-car is attached from Timisoara to Bucharest, of a type bought second-hand from DB (German Railways) with cosy 1, 2 & 3-bed compartments with washbasin.

Couchette car on the Ister EuroNight train from Budapest to Bucharest   Romanian couchette car from Vienna to Bucharest

A Romanian couchette car of the sort used between Budapest & Bucharest on the MunteniaCourtesy of @AndyBTravels, DiscoverByRail.com .

 

4 or 6-berth couchettes.  Larger photo.

Romanian couchette car from Vienna to Bucharest   Romanian couchette car from Vienna to Bucharest

A sleeping-car with 1, 2 or 3-bed compartments is attached between Timisoara & Bucharest, of the classic type shown above, bought second-hand from German Railways. Courtesy of @AndyBTravels, DiscoverByRail.comLarger photo.

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

This is the fastest option, London to Bulgaria overland by train, taking 3 days, 2 nights.  It involves comfortable good-quality air-conditioned trains as far as Belgrade, but a more basic series of trains between Belgrade and Sofia.

Incidentally, the line between Budapest & Belgrade is currently affected by work to upgrade the line, and that route will be out of action throughout 2020.  This means that the route via Zagreb shown below is the one to use, until further notice.

London ► Sofia

  • Day 1, travel from Munich to Zagreb on the sleeper train Lisinski, leaving Munich Hbf at 23:20 and arriving Zagreb at 08:32 (day 2).

    The Lisinski has an excellent modern air-conditioned Croatian sleeping-car (1, 2 & 3 bed compartments with washbasin), a modern Croatian couchette car (4 & 6 berth compartments) and ordinary seats (not recommended).  Watch the Croatian sleeper video.

  • Day 2, travel from Zagreb to Belgrade on the daily train, leaving Zagreb at 11:04 arriving Novi Beograd 18:04 & Belgrade Centar at 18:12.

    This train is still currently suspended due to Covid-19.

    This train has two air-conditioned Serbian carriages with comfortable 2nd class seats (no 1st class).  There's no dining-car, so bring along a picnic and maybe some beer or wine.

    Tip:  Although Belgrade Centar is slightly closer to the city centre, you have to rely on a single bus line.  Trams 7 & 9 link Novi Beograd station with the site of the now-defunct old Belgrade station on the edge of the old city every 5-10 minutes so you may prefer to get off at Novi Beograd and take a tram, see the Belgrade station page for more information.

  • Stay overnight in Belgrade.  I recommend the famous Hotel Moskva, located at the end of Belgrade's main pedestrianised shopping street- see map of Belgrade showing station.

  • Day 3, travel from Belgrade to Sofia, see the Belgrade to Sofia page for timetable, photos, tips & information.

    This route is still currently suspended due to Covid-19.

    From mid-June to late September there should be a direct train from Belgrade to Sofia called the Balkan, but it didn't run in 2021 and may not run in 2022.  If running, it leaves Belgrade Topcider station at 09:15 and arrives Sofia central station at 20:37.  The Balkan is 2nd class only and has no catering car so bring your own picnic and supplies of wine or beer.

    When the direct train isn't running (which could well be all of 2022), you travel from Belgrade to Sofia like this: 

    Day 3, travel from Belgrade to Nis by modern air-conditioned Serbian electric train, leaving Belgrade Centar at 17:30 & arriving Nis at 22:13.  An earlier 13:05 train is available if you'd like more of an evening in Nis.

    Stay overnight in Nis, the inexpensive Vila Nova Hotel is 14 minutes walk from the station with great reviews, with a 24h front desk & free WiFi.

    Day 4, travel from Nis to Dimitrovgrad by air-conditioned Serbian diesel train, leaving Nis at 07:10 and arriving Dimitrovgrad at 10:22.

    Day 4, travel from Dimitrovgrad to Sofia by Bulgarian train, leaving Dimitrovgrad at 15:15 and arriving Sofia central station at 18:36.

Sofia ► London

  • Day 1, travel from Sofia to Belgrade by train, see the Sofia to Belgrade page for full details, photos, tips & information.

    This train is still currently suspended due to Covid-19.

    From mid-June to late September there should be a direct train from Sofia to Belgrade, but this didn't run in 2021 and may not run in 2022.  It leaves Sofia central station at 09:15 and arrives Belgrade Topcider station at 18:29.  It's 2nd class only and has no catering, so bring your own picnic and wine or beer.

    If & when this direct train isn't running (which may well be all of 2022), you travel from Sofia to Belgrade by 3-train combo like this:  Leave Sofia central at 09:00, change at Dimitrovgrad (arrive 10:20, depart 11:25) & Nis (arrive 14:44 depart 15:50), arriving Belgrade Centar 20:59.

  • Stay overnight in Belgrade.  I recommend the famous Hotel Moskva at the end of Belgrade's main pedestrianised shopping street- see map of Belgrade showing station.

  • Day 2, travel from Belgrade to Zagreb on the daily train, leaving Belgrade Centar station at 10:05 & Novi Beograd at 10:19 arriving Zagreb 18:13.

    This train is still currently suspended due to Covid-19.

    This train has two air-conditioned Serbian carriages with comfortable 2nd class seats.  There's no 1st class or catering car, so bring along a picnic and maybe some beer or wine.  You've now time for dinner in Zagreb.

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 £52 one-way, £78 return 2nd class.

 From £115 one-way, £199 return 1st class.  Child fares 

 

 2. Paris to Munich

      by TGV Duplex...

 From €39 each way in 2nd class

 From €69 each way in 1st class.

 Fares work like air fares, cheap in advance, expensive on the day.

 

 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

 Saver fare one-way, from:

€29

€49

€59

€69

€79

€139

 Saver fare return, from:

€58

€98

€118

€138

€158

€278

Saver 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, bought at the station.

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

 

 4. Belgrade to Sofia

      by day train...

 Around €21 bought at the station in Belgrade (recommended).

 Around 45 lev (€22) in other direction, bought at Sofia station.

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

How to buy tickets...

  • Step 1, book from London to Munich at www.thetrainline.comWho are Thetrainline.com?

    Using www.thetrainline.com allows you to book all your tickets in one place, in €, £ or $, international cards no problem, small booking fee.

    Booking opens up to 180 days ahead for Eurostar, up to 120 days ahead for Paris-Munich, and usually 90 days ahead for Munich-Zagreb, see more information about when bookings open.  I recommend waiting until onward trains have opened for booking and times are confirmed before buying a non-refundable Eurostar ticket, unless you're prepared to take a calculated risk.

    Tip:  Click via/avoid and enter Paris as a via station to limit the search to routes via Paris. 

    Tip:  You can book from London to Munich all in one go if you like, but for more control over the connection in Paris, I'd book London-Paris first, add to basket, then book Paris-Munich and add to basket, ensuring at least an hour between trains.  That way you can allow a more robust connection than the system would give you, and you can see if earlier Eurostars have cheaper prices.

    Tip:  If you are making a round trip, London-Paris return fares are cheaper than two one-ways so it's cheaper to book this as a return journey.  All other trains are one-way ticketed so it makes no difference how you book, and it can be easier to book one way at a time!

    Tip:  After booking you can use the Manage booking facility at www.eurostar.com to choose an exact seat from a seating plan, see tips on choosing a seat on Eurostar.

  • Step 2, book the sleeper train from Munich to Zagreb at www.thetrainline.com.

    Use the journey planner to bring up the direct Munich-Zagreb sleeper train marked EN with 0 changes. Booking opens up to 6 months ahead.  You print your own ticket.

  • Step 3, Zagreb to Belgrade cannot be booked online, just buy at the station in Zagreb, this won't be a problem.

  • Step 4, the Belgrade-Sofia train cannot be booked online, so buy it at the station in Belgrade when you get there, always  places available.

  • Alternatively, you can book London to Paris at www.eurostar.com, then Paris to Munich at the German Railways website www.bahn.de, then Munich to Zagreb at the Austrian Railways website www.oebb.at.  This is more work on multiple websites, sometimes more fiddly, the prices should be the same, but no booking fees.

How to buy tickets by phone...

  • If you'd prefer to book all your tickets together by phone, just call International Rail on 0844 248 248 3, lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday. 

  • Alternatively, you can call Deutsche Bahn's English-speaking telesales line on 00 49 (0)30 311 68 29 04 (lines open 08:30-20:00 Monday-Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday & Sunday UK time, 1.5% fee for phone bookings).

Have your trip professionally arranged...

  • If you want a custom-made trip with train travel, hotels & transfers all arranged for you, contact Railbookers.  Tell them what you want and they'll advise you on the best trains, routes & hotels and sort it all out.  They get positive reviews and look after their customers very well.

    UK flag  UK call 0207 864 4600, www.railbookers.co.uk

    US flag  US call free 1-888-829-4775, see website.

    Canadian flag  Canada call free 1-855-882-2910, see website.

    Australian flag  Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, see website

    New Zealand flag  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 000 554 or see website.

What is the journey like?

1. London to Paris by Eurostar...

Eurostar trains link London & Paris in 2h20, travelling at up to 300 km/h (186 mph).  There are two bar cars, power sockets at all seats and free WiFi.  Standard Premier and Business Premier fares include a light meal with wine (or breakfast, on departures before 11:00).  There's a 30-minute minimum check-in at London St Pancras (45-minute minimum in Paris, Brussels & Amsterdam) as all border formalities are carried out before you board the train.  More information about Eurostar including check-in procedureSt Pancras station guide Paris Gare du Nord station guide.

Eurostar e320   Eurostar e320 first class seats

A Eurostar e320 train.  More about Eurostar.

 

Standard Premier/Business Premier.  Larger photo.

Eurostar e320 2nd class   Eurostar e320 cafe-bar

Standard class seats.  Larger photo.

 

One of two cafe-bars, in cars 8 & 9.  Larger photo.

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

In Paris it's an easy 7 minute 500m walk from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de l'Est for the TGV to Germany.  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.  The train soon leaves the Paris suburbs behind and speeds across a vast wide open plateau of woods & farmland at up to 320 km/h (199 mph), 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.  Paris Gare de l'Est station guideMunich Hbf station guide.

TGV Duplex at Paris Gare de l'Est

TGV Duplex at Paris Est. These impressive 320 km/h double-deck trains link Paris & Munich, a relaxing journey with reading book & glass of wine.  Book an upstairs seat for the best views...

TGV Duplex cafe-bar   TGV Duplex upper deck 2nd class seats

Cafe-bar on upper deck in car 4, serving tea, coffee, soft drinks, wine, beer, snacks & microwaved hot dishes.

 

2nd class seats on the upper deck.  There's a mix or tables for 4 and unidirectional seating.  360Ί photo.

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

1st class on upper deck, a club duo on the left, a club quatre on the right.  360Ί photo.

 

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

3. 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.

The 'Lisinski' sleeper train from Munic to Zagreb, boarding in Munich

Above, the air-conditioned Croatian sleeping-car from Munich to Zagreb is boarding on platform 12 at Munich Hbf.  It has 10 compartments with washbasin, each of which can be used as 1, 2 or 3 berth, with toilets at the end of the corridor.  Compartments convert to a private sitting room for evening or morning use.  A light breakfast is included in the sleeper fare.

The Croatian couchette car is the next vehicle to the right, also modern & air-conditioned with 4 & 6 bunk compartments, ideal for families.  Couchettes convert from bunks to seats for evening or morning use.

Sleeper compartment in the Croatian sleeping-car from Munich to Zagreb   Sleeper compartment in the Croatian sleeping-car from Munich to Zagreb   4 or 6-berth couchettes on train from Munich to Zagreb

1, 2 or 3 bed sleeper.

 

Set up as a single-berth.

 

4 or 6-berth couchettes. 360Ί photo.

Scenery between Ljubljana, Zagreb & Belgrade

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

4. Zagreb to Belgrade by 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 go into town, perhaps visit the fortress overlooking the confluence of Danube and Sava.

2nd class seats in a Serbian air-conditioned train   The train from Belgrade to Zagreb

5. Belgrade to Sofia by Balkan Express More photos & information...

This train has only two carriages, it's old and graffitied but comfortable enough.  Power sockets, WiFi, even catering?  Forget those!  Bring your own picnic and bottles of beer, and buckle up for an old-school ride through the Balkans on the route of the Orient Express.  If you get any more photos of this particular train or especially the scenery please let me know!  In summer this train runs direct, in winter it's a series of connecting trains, one even has air-con(!).  This train may not be running in 2022, you may need the 3-train all-year option, see the Belgrade to Sofia page for more information

The Belgrade to Sofia train

The Belgrade-Sofia train, currently summer-only, at Topcider station in Belgrade.  Just two coaches, one Bulgarian, one Serbian, but comfy enough in spite of the graffiti.  Bring your own food & drink and enjoy a scenic run across the Balkans.   Photo courtesy of Matthew Woodward - see more photos & an account of this journey on his blog.

2nd class seats on day train from Belgrade to Sofia   Scenery from the Belgrade to Sofia train

2nd class seats in the Serbian car.  Photos courtesy of Remco van der Kort.

 

The train snakes through a gorge east of Nis.  Courtesy of Matthew Woodward.

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Option 3, London to Sofia via Paris, Zurich, Zagreb & Belgrade...

This is similar to option 1, but instead of TGV to Munich and Croatian sleeper train from Munich to Zagreb, you taka a TGV-Lyria to Zurich and Croatian sleeper train from Zurich to Zagreb.  It's the same as option 1 east of Zagreb.  There are two disadvantages of this option compared to option 1:  First, you need to cross Paris by taxi or metro from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon, in option 1 it's a 7 minute walk from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de l'Est next door.  Second, with this option you leave London around the same time, but arrive in Zagreb a couple of hours later, not that this matters when heading onwards on the same train to Belgrade.  There's one advantage, you can board the sleeper in Zurich much earlier, for a 20:40 departure, whereas in Munich you have to wait up for a late-night 23:20 departure.  There's also lovely scenery in the morning on the way to Zagreb along the Sava river.

London ► Sofia

  • Day 1, travel from Zurich to Zagreb by Croatian sleeper train, leaving Zurich HB at 20:40 and arriving in Zagreb at 10:40 next morning (day 2).

    The train has an excellent air-conditioned Croatian sleeping-car (1, 2 & 3 bed compartments with washbasin), a modern air-conditioned Croatian couchette car (4 & 6 berth compartments) and ordinary seats (not recommended).  Watch the Croatian sleeper video.

  • Day 2, travel from Zagreb to Belgrade on the daily train, leaving Zagreb at 11:04 arriving Novi Beograd 18:04 & Belgrade Centar at 18:12.

    This train is still currently suspended due to Covid-19.

    This train has two air-conditioned Serbian carriages with comfortable 2nd class seats (no 1st class).  There's no catering, so bring along a picnic and maybe some beer or wine.

    Tip:  Although Belgrade Centar is slightly closer to the city centre, you have to rely on a single bus line.  Trams 7 & 9 link Novi Beograd station with the site of the now-defunct old Belgrade station on the edge of the old city every 5-10 minutes so you may prefer to get off at Novi Beograd and take a tram, see the Belgrade station page for more information.

  • Stay overnight in Belgrade.  I recommend the famous Hotel Moskva, located at the end of Belgrade's main pedestrianised shopping street- see map of Belgrade showing station.

  • Day 3, travel from Belgrade to Sofia, see the Belgrade to Sofia page for timetable, photos, tips & information.

    This train is still currently suspended due to Covid-19.

    From mid-June to late September there should be a direct train from Belgrade to Sofia called the Balkan, but this didn't run in 2021 and may not run in 2022.  If running, it leaves Belgrade Topcider station at 09:15 and arrives Sofia central station at 20:37.  The Balkan is 2nd class only and has no catering car so bring your own picnic and supplies of wine or beer.

    When the direct train isn't running (which could well be all of 2022), you travel from Belgrade to Sofia like this: 

    Day 3, travel from Belgrade to Nis by modern air-conditioned Serbian electric train, leaving Belgrade Centar at 17:30 & arriving Nis at 22:13.  An earlier 13:05 train is available if you'd like more of an evening in Nis.

    Stay overnight in Nis, the inexpensive Vila Nova Hotel is 14 minutes walk from the station with great reviews, with a 24h front desk & free WiFi.

    Day 4, travel from Nis to Dimitrovgrad by air-conditioned Serbian diesel train, leaving Nis at 07:10 and arriving Dimitrovgrad at 10:22.

    Day 4, travel from Dimitrovgrad to Sofia by Bulgarian train, leaving Dimitrovgrad at 15:15 and arriving Sofia central station at 18:36.

Sofia ► London

  • Day 1, travel from Sofia to Belgrade by train, see the Sofia to Belgrade page for full details, photos, tips & information.

    This train is still currently suspended due to Covid-19.

    From mid-June to late September there should be a direct train from Sofia to Belgrade, but this didn't run in 2021 and may not run in 2022.  It leaves Sofia central station at 09:15 and arrives Belgrade Topcider station at 18:29.  It's 2nd class only and has no catering, so bring your own picnic and wine or beer.

    If & when this direct train isn't running (which may well be all of 2022), you travel from Sofia to Belgrade by 3-train combo like this:  Leave Sofia central at 09:00, change at Dimitrovgrad (arrive 10:20, depart 11:25) & Nis (arrive 14:44 depart 15:50), arriving Belgrade Centar 20:59.

  • Stay overnight in Belgrade.  I recommend the famous Hotel Moskva at the end of Belgrade's main pedestrianised shopping street- see map of Belgrade showing station.

  • Day 2, travel from Belgrade to Zagreb on the daily train, leaving Belgrade Centar station at 10:05 & Novi Beograd at 10:19 arriving Zagreb 18:13.

    This train is still currently suspended due to Covid-19.

    This train has air-conditioned Serbian carriages with comfortable 1st & 2nd class seats.  There's no catering car, so bring along a picnic and maybe some beer or wine.

  • Day 2, travel from Zagreb to Zurich by Croatian sleeper train, leaving Zagreb at 18:38 and arriving in Zurich HB at 09:20 next morning.

    The train has an excellent air-conditioned Croatian sleeping-car (1, 2 & 3 bed compartments with washbasin), a modern air-conditioned Croatian couchette car (4 & 6 berth compartments) and ordinary seats (not recommended).  Watch the Croatian sleeper video.

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 £52 one-way, £78 return 2nd class.

 From £115 one-way, £199 return 1st class.  Child fares 

 

 2. Paris to Zurich

      by TGV Lyria...

 From €29 each way in 2nd class

 From €79 each way in 1st class.

 Limited availability, book in advance to get these fares.

 

 3. Zurich to Zagreb

 by sleeper train...

In a

seat:

In a couchette

In the sleeping-car

6-berth

4-berth

3-berth

2-berth

single

 Saver fare one-way, from:

€29

€49

€59

€69

€89

€129

Saver 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, bought at the station.

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

 

 4. Belgrade to Sofia

      by day train...

 Around €21 bought at the station in Belgrade (recommended).

 Around 45 lev (€22) in other direction, bought at Sofia station.

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

How to buy tickets...

  • Step 1, book from London to Zurich at www.thetrainline.comWho are Thetrainline.com?

    Using www.thetrainline.com allows you to book all your tickets in one place, in €, £ or $, international cards no problem, small booking fee.

    Booking opens up to 180 days ahead for Eurostar, up to 120 days ahead for Paris-Zurich, and usually 90 days ahead for Zurich-Zagreb, see more information about when bookings open.  I recommend waiting until onward trains have opened for booking and times are confirmed before buying a non-refundable Eurostar ticket, unless you're prepared to take a calculated risk.

    Tip:  Click via/avoid and enter Paris as a via station to limit the search to routes via Paris.

    Tip:  You can book from London to Zurich all in one go if you like, but for more control over the connection in Paris, I'd book London-Paris first, add to basket, then book Paris-Zurich and add to basket, ensuring at least an hour between trains.  That way you can allow a more robust connection than the system would give you, and you can see if earlier Eurostars have cheaper prices.

    Tip:  If you are making a round trip, London-Paris return fares are cheaper than two one-ways so it's cheaper to book this as a return journey.  All other trains are one-way ticketed so it makes no difference how you book, and it can be easier to book one way at a time!

    Tip:  After booking you can use the Manage booking facility at www.eurostar.com to choose an exact seat from a seating plan, see tips on choosing a seat on Eurostar.

    Tip:  If you're travelling from a town or city north of London, see advice about buying domestic tickets to London to connect with Eurostar.

  • Step 2, book the sleeper train from Zurich to Zagreb at www.thetrainline.com.

    Use the journey planner to bring up the direct Zurich-Zagreb sleeper train marked EN with 0 changes.  Booking opens up to 6 months ahead.  You print your own ticket.

  • Step 3, Zagreb to Belgrade cannot be booked online, just buy at the station in Zagreb, this won't be a problem.

  • Step 4, the Belgrade-Sofia train cannot be booked online, so buy it at the station in Belgrade when you get there, always  places available.

  • Alternatively, you can book London to Paris at www.eurostar.com, then Paris to Zurich at the French Railways website www.sncf-connect.com, then Zurich to Zagreb at the Austrian Railways website www.oebb.at.  This is more work on multiple websites and sometimes more fiddly, prices should be the same, but no booking fees.

How to buy tickets by phone...

  • It's better to book online, but if you want to book by phone, just call International Rail on 0844 248 248 3, lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday, a phone booking fee applies.

  • Alternatively, you can call Deutsche Bahn's English-speaking telesales line on 00 49 (0)30 311 68 29 04 (lines open 08:30-20:00 Monday-Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday & Sunday UK time, 1.5% fee for phone bookings).

What are the trains like?

1. London to Paris by Eurostar...

Eurostar trains link London & Paris in 2h20, travelling at up to 300 km/h (186 mph).  There are two bar cars, power sockets at all seats & free WiFi.  Standard Premier & Business Premier fares include a light meal with wine (or breakfast, on departures before 11:00).  There's a 30-minute minimum check-in at London St Pancras (45-minute minimum in Paris, Brussels & Amsterdam) as all border formalities are carried out before you board the train.  More information about Eurostar including check-in procedureSt Pancras station guide Paris Gare du Nord station guideHow to cross Paris by metro or taxi.

Eurostar e320   Eurostar e320 first class seats

A Eurostar e320 train at St Pancras.  More about Eurostar.

 

Standard Premier/Business Premier.  Larger photo.

Eurostar e320 2nd class   Eurostar e320 cafe-bar

Standard class seats.  Larger photo.

 

One of two cafe-bars, in cars 8 & 9.  Larger photo.

2. Paris to Zurich by TGV-Lyria...

All TGV-Lyria trains are now 320km/h (199 mph) double-deck TGV Duplex like the one shown below.  TGV-Lyria trains have 3 classes:  Standard class (2nd), standard premiere (1st class) and business premiere (1st class with hot meal & drinks included in the fare).  There's a cafe-bar car selling drinks & snacks.  There are power points for mobiles & laptops at all seats in all classes.  Lyria is a consortium of the French and Swiss national railways.  More information about TGV-Lyria.

TGV-Lyria to Geneva at Paris Gare de Lyon

TGV-Lyria TGV Duplex train at Paris Gare de Lyon. More information about TGV-Lyria

TGV Duplex cafe-bar   TGV Duplex upper deck 2nd class seats

Cafe-bar on upper deck car 4, serving tea, coffee, soft drinks, wine, beer, snacks & microwaved hot dishes...

 

2nd class seats on the upper deck.  There's a mix or tables for 4 and unidirectional seating.  360Ί photo.

First class on board a TGV Duplex   A TGV-Lyria Duplex at Paris Gare de Lyon

1st class on the upper deck, with a club duo on the left, a club quatre on the right. 360Ί photo.

 

A TGV-Lyria for Geneva, boarding at Paris Gare de Lyon.  You enter on the lower deck, with 9 stairs up to top deck.

3. Zurich to Zagreb by sleeper train...  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 Zurich before boarding at a local restaurant, try the Brasserie Federal inside Zurich HB.

The Zurich to Zagreb sleeper train boarding at Zurich HB

The Zurich-Zagreb sleeper train boards at Zurich HB as the sun sets on a summer day.  That's the Croatian couchette car on the right, the Croatian sleeping-car on the left.

Sleeper compartment in the Croatian sleeping-car from Munich to Zagreb   Sleeper compartment in the Croatian sleeping-car from Munich to Zagreb   4 or 6-berth couchettes on train from Munich to Zagreb

1, 2 or 3 bed sleeper.

 

Set up as a single-berth.

 

4 or 6-berth couchettes. 360Ί photo.

Scenery between Ljubljana & Zagreb

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

4. Zagreb to Belgrade by 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 go into town, perhaps visit the fortress overlooking the confluence of Danube and Sava.

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

5. Belgrade to Sofia by Balkan Express More photos & information...

This train has only two carriages, it's old and graffitied but comfortable enough.  Power sockets, WiFi, even catering?  Forget those!  Bring your own picnic and bottles of beer, and buckle up for an old-school ride through the Balkans on the route of the Orient Express.  If you get any more photos of this particular train or especially the scenery please let me know!  In summer this train runs direct, in winter it's a series of connecting trains, one even has air-con(!).  This train may not be running in 2022, you may need the 3-train all-year option, see the Belgrade to Sofia page for more information

The Belgrade to Sofia train

The Belgrade-Sofia train, currently summer-only, at Topcider station in Belgrade.  Just two coaches, one Bulgarian, one Serbian, but comfy enough in spite of the graffiti.  Bring your own food & drink and enjoy a scenic run across the Balkans.   Photo courtesy of Matthew Woodward - see more photos & an account of this journey on his blog.

2nd class seats on day train from Belgrade to Sofia   Scenery from the Belgrade to Sofia train

2nd class seats in the Serbian car.  Photos courtesy of Remco van der Kort.

 

The train snakes through a gorge east of Nis.  Courtesy of Matthew Woodward.


Option 4, London to Sofia via Hoek van Holland & Bucharest...

This is the ferry alternative, a version of option 3 that substitutes rail & sail for Eurostar.  If you live in East Anglia or prefer a ferry to Eurostar and the Channel Tunnel for some reason, this is a useful alternative.  It's often cheaper than Eurostar at short notice.

London ► Sofia

  • Day 2, travel from Amsterdam to Vienna by Nightjet sleeper train, leaving Amsterdam Centraal at 19:30 and arriving Vienna Hbf at 09:19.

    This comfortable Austrian Nightjet train has an air-conditioned Comfortline sleeping-car with nine 1, 2 & 3-berth standard compartments with washbasin and three 1, 2 or 3-berth deluxe compartments with shower & toilet. There are toilets & a shower at the end of the corridor for passengers in the regular sleepers.  The sleeping-car attendant can serve drinks, snacks & light meals from a room service menu.  The train has couchette cars with 4 & 6 berth compartments, and ordinary seats.  A light breakfast is included in sleepers & couchettes, served in your compartment.  See the Nightjet page for a guide to on-board accommodation, travel tips, photos & video.

    Fares start at €49.90 in 6-berth couchettes, €59.90 in 4-berth couchettes, €89.90 in a 3-bed sleeper, €109.90 in a 2-bed sleeper or €159.90 in a single-bed sleeper, all per person per berth.

    Book this train at www.thetrainline.com (in €, £ or $, overseas credit cards no problem, small booking fee) or Austrian Railways own site www.oebb.at (same prices, in €, more fiddly).  Booking opens up to 6 months ahead.  You print your own ticket.

    Tip:  If you have a sleeper ticket and/or 1st class ticket for the onward train to Budapest, you can use the ΦBB lounge at Vienna Hbf between trains, with complimentary tea, coffee, snacks & free WiFi.

Sofia ► London

  • Day 2, travel from Vienna to Amsterdam by Nightjet sleeper train leaving Vienna Hbf 20:13 & arriving Amsterdam Centraal 09:59 next morning.

    This comfortable Austrian Nightjet train has an air-conditioned Comfortline sleeping-car with nine 1, 2 & 3-berth standard compartments with washbasin and three 1, 2 or 3-berth deluxe compartments with shower & toilet. There are toilets & a shower at the end of the corridor for passengers in the regular sleepers.  The sleeping-car attendant can serve drinks, snacks & light meals from a room service menu.  The train has couchette cars with 4 & 6 berth compartments, and ordinary seats.  A light breakfast is included in sleepers & couchettes, served in your compartment.  See the Nightjet page for a guide to on-board accommodation, travel tips, photos & video.

    Fares start at €49.90 in 6-berth couchettes, €59.90 in 4-berth couchettes, €89.90 in a 3-bed sleeper, €109.90 in a 2-bed sleeper or €159.90 in a single-bed sleeper, all per person per berth.  Fares vary like air fares, so book ahead.

    Book this train at www.thetrainline.com (in €, £ or $, overseas credit cards no problem, small booking fee) or Austrian Railways own site www.oebb.at (same prices, in €, a little more fiddly).  Booking opens up to 6 months ahead.  You print your own ticket.

    Enjoy a day in Amsterdam.

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large bullet pointLondon 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

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large bullet pointEuropean 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 set up a private venture and resumed publication of the famous European Rail Timetable in March 2014.  You can buy it online at www.amazon.co.uk (UK addresses) or www.europeanrailtimetable.eu (shipping worldwide).  More information on what the European Rail Timetable contains.

Rail Map Europe is the map I recommend, covering all of Europe from Portugal in the west to Moscow & Istanbul in the east, Finland in the north to Sicily & Athens in the south.  Scenic routes & high-speed lines are highlighted.  See an extract from the map.  Buy online at www.europeanrailtimetable.eu (shipping worldwide) or for £9.67 at www.amazon.co.uk (UK addresses).

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large bullet pointRecommended guidebooks

Lonely Planet Eastern Europe - buy online at Amazon.co.ukRough Guide to Poland - buy online at Amazon.co.ukTo 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.

Click the images to buy online...

 

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large bullet pointHotels in Sofia & Bulgaria

Suggested hotel in Sofia:  Hotel Favorit

For an inexpensive hotel with great reviews just 10 minutes walk from Sofia station with great reviews, I recommend the excellent Hotel Favorit.

Find hotels at Booking.comMy favourite hotel search site: www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally prefer booking my hotels all in one place here.  You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.  I never book hotels non-refundably.  I have also come to trust their review scores - you won't be disappointed with anything over 8.0.

Tip:  It can pay to compare prices across multiple hotel sites:  HotelsCombined.com is a price comparison site which compares hotel prices on Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, Accor, Agoda and many others.  Though if there's not much in it, I prefer keeping all my bookings together in one place at www.booking.com.

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large bullet pointTravel insurance & VPN

 

Staysure travel insurance

 

Confused.com logo

Always take out travel insurance...

You should take out travel insurance with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover from a reliable insurer.  It should cover trip cancellation and loss of cash & belongings up to a reasonable limit.  These days, check you're covered for covid-19-related issues, and use an insurer whose cover isn't invalidated by well-meant but excessive Foreign Office travel advice against non-essential travel. An annual policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I use an annual policy myself.  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, I get a little commission if you buy through these links, feedback always welcome.

UK flagwww.staysure.co.uk offers enhanced Covid-19 protection & covers you even if the FCDO advises against non-essential travel.

UK flag

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see www.JustTravelCover.com.

UK flagYou can use www.confused.com to compare prices & policy features across major insurance companies.

 US flag If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

 

Curve card

Get a Curve card to save on foreign transaction fees...

Banks often give a poor exchange rate, then charge a currency conversion fee as well.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, £500 per month as I write this.  The balance goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.  And you can get a Curve card for free.

How it works:  1. Download the app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to most European addresses including the UK.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, just like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance onto whichever of your debit or credit cards you choose.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I use a Curve Blue card myself - I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I'm recommending it here because I think it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card - they'll give you £5 cashback through that link, too.

 

Express VPN

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  VPNs & why you need one explained...

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN means your connection to the internet is encrypted & always secure, even using unsecured WiFi.  In countries such as China where access to Twitter & Facebook is restricted, a VPN gets around these restrictions.  And lastly, you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geographic restrictions which some websites apply - for example one booking site charges a booking fee to non-European visitors but none to European visitors, so if you're not located in Europe you can avoid this fee by browsing with a UK IP address using a VPN.  VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy and I use it myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with expressvpn.com using the links on this page, you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription, and I get a small commission to help support this site.

 


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