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 travel information

Train times, fares & tickets...

  London to Sofia by train

  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 Central Station location & facilities

  General information about train travel in Europe

  Luggage   Taking bikes   Taking dogs

  Hotels in Sofia & Bulgaria

Route map:  London to Sofia by train...

Route map:  London to Sofia & Bulgaria by train

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:

2 July 2020. Train times valid 15 Dec 2019 to 12 Dec 2020.


London to Sofia by train

Option 1:  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 train (or, in winter, 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

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 £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 €59 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...

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?

London to Paris by Eurostar:  See the Eurostar guide

Eurostar e320   Eurostar e320 first class seats

A Eurostar e320 about to leave London St Pancras...

 

1st class:  Standard Premier or Business Premier.

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.

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 byxhuew 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 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(!).

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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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 the same type and you see the same wonderful scenery between Ljubljana & Zagreb.  The couchette train between Belgrade & Sofia has been discontinued, you now use the day train.

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Option 2, via the Harwich to Hoek van Holland ferry...

This is a variation on option 1, taking an extra night.  But if you live in East Anglia or prefer a ferry to Eurostar and the Channel Tunnel for some reason, this can be a useful alternative.  It's often cheaper than Eurostar at short notice.  Like option 1, this runs every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

London ► Sofia

Sofia ► London

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Option 3, via Vienna & Bucharest...

This takes 3 nights, so is longer than options 1 or 2.  But it can be a useful alternative.  By all means go out one way and back another.

London ► Sofia

Sofia ► London

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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

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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 set up a private venture and resumed publication of the famous 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-A-Travellers-Railway-Map_9789077899090.htm or (in the Netherlands) for €13 + €5.50 postage from www.treinreiswinkel.nl.

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Recommended 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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Hotels 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.

My 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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Travel insurance & VPN

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

 

Always take out travel insurance...

Never travel without travel insurance with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover from a reliable insurer.  It should also cover trip cancellation and loss of cash & belongings up to a reasonable limit.  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, feedback is always welcome.

In the UK, reliable insurers include Columbus Direct.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

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

        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.

 

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. Use code MAN61 to get £5 cashback after signing up and using your Curve card the first time.

 

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 them myself.

 


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