Planning a trip from Burgas to Sofia, Bulgaria, and wondering what the best way to make the trip is? I’ve gone from Sofia to the Black Sea every summer since moving here, and the return journey is always slightly more difficult than I anticipated. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your route from Burgas to Sofia, including how to make the trip by train, car, and bus!
Before we dive in, one word of advice. Book EARLY. No matter whether you want to buy train tickets, bus tickets, or to book a rental car, getting from Burgas to Sofia in the summer is an insanely popular route. Do not wait until the last minute (or you might get stuck in a sweaty hotbox like I did this year).
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Where to Stay in Sofia, Bulgaria
If you’ll be spending time in Sofia after being in Burgas, here are our favorite Sofia hotels!
Budget: For a hostel, we always recommend Hostel Mostel. I have never stayed at the Sofia location but several of my friends have and have always spoken highly of it. I stayed at the one in Veliko Tarnovo and it was excellent. Perks include a free vegetarian dinner in addition to breakfast included in your stay! Check rates and availability here. If you are traveling in peak season, be sure to book online, as Hostel Mostel is popular and tends to get booked up.
Mid-range: For a trendy new boutique hotel that is shockingly affordable, we recommend R34 Boutique Hotel. The location is fantastic, near the Ivan Vazov National Theater in central Sofia. It has gorgeous, loft-inspired details like exposed brick, giant windows, and streamlined but modern décor. It’s a great bargain, too – check rates, reviews, photos, and availability here.
Luxury: As far as we see it, there’s only one option for the best hotel in town: Sense Hotel. We go to their upscale, beautiful rooftop bar all the time when we have guests in town – it has one of the best views in the entire city and they make fantastic cocktails. With beautiful views over Alexander Nevsky, Sofia’s most iconic landmark, the hotel couldn’t be in a better location. Sense Hotel also boasts a state-of-the-art fitness center, an art gallery in the lobby, an excellent spa with luxe treatments, and an indoor pool. It’s truly the best choice in town. Check rates, reviews, photos, and availability here.
How to Get from Burgas to Sofia by Car
While renting a car in Bulgaria can be a headache at times (especially if you have to pick up your car at the airport after you’ve already started your trip) the easiest and most hassle-free way to get from Burgas to Sofia is to rent a car and drive. I’ve taken this drive twice, once from Sozopol and once from Sunny Beach, each time via Burgas to Sofia.
Renting a Car in Burgas
Reserve your rental car early, as prices can go up precipitously the closer you get to the date of travel. If you plan on dropping your car off in Sofia instead of returning it to Burgas, make sure to specify this before your trip.
I’ve rented cars dozens of times in Sofia with a US Passport and driver’s license. One time a car company refused to rent to me for not having an international driver’s license. While this is atypical, you should be aware ahead of time. Double-check with your rental car company if you have questions.
I haven’t rented a car in Burgas, so I can’t speak to whether they will rent to you without an international driver’s license, but I would personally call ahead to check.
How Long Does it Take to Drive from Burgas to Sofia?
Google Maps says the trip from Burgas to Sofia by car should take about 3.5 hours, but I would budget closer to five hours with stops for fuel and bathroom breaks. Of course, if you want to see one of the places mentioned along the way, your trip will take longer.
Add an additional hour if you also need to pick up your rental car. Sometimes this process goes quickly but I find it typically takes at least forty-five minutes, plus time to get to the pick-up location.
Things to See Along the Way
There are many great Bulgarian landmarks that you can stop and see along the way. My top three are Buzludzha, Shipka Memorial Church, and the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Each of these stops would take about an hour to see plus additional drive time to go out of the way.
Another option is to stop in Plovdiv for a few hours, but I wouldn’t recommend that. Instead, I’d plan a separate trip to Plovdiv so there’s so much to do there.
Tips for Having a Good Road Trip
Make sure to bring all your documents with you to pick up your rental car. I’ve forgotten my passport (more than once) and had to go back to get it. You also need your driver’s license and the credit card you used to reserve the car. They will use this for your deposit as well.
The roads in Bulgaria are generally pretty good, especially on the major roads that run between Burgas and Sofia.
In Bulgaria, you’ll drive on the right side of the road like the rest of continental Europe.
There are gas stations (Petrol stations) relatively frequently along the highway. There are not many restaurants or fast food options along the way, so pick something up in Burgas unless you want to eat gas station snacks on the way. (Some do have sandwiches, but not all of them do).
Gas stations take credit cards. You may be required to pay to use the bathroom if you aren’t a customer. In this case, you’ll need some small cash to pay to use the restroom. Expect this to cost between fifty stotinki and one lev.
If this will be your first time driving in the Balkans, check out some of our additional Balkan road trip tips.
Burgas to Sofia by Train
While certainly not the easiest way to get from Sofia to Burgas, the train is great for someone who doesn’t want to deal with renting a car and driving, but also doesn’t want to be cramped on a bus. Since you can opt to buy a first-class ticket, you can ensure yourself a bit of extra room if you want.
However, make sure to check out everything in this post about taking the train to Sofia, because even after taking Bulgarian trains to Istanbul and Bucharest, I found navigating the system infuriating at times.
Train Schedule for Burgas to Sofia
Use the BDZ website to find out the schedule. Pay special attention to the difference between the fast trains and ones that are more local or go through Karlovo. You’ll have VERY different experiences depending on which you choose. (Hint: take the fast train or sleeper train whenever possible).
Where to Buy Train Tickets
Tickets sell out early, so do not wait to buy your tickets (like we did) and get stuck on a slow train.
You can buy SOME tickets for the Burgas to Sofia line online on the BDZ website, but not tickets for every option. Also, sometimes the people at the train station will tell you the trains are sold out when there are still tickets available online. So…yeah…welcome to Bulgaria.
I had to buy my tickets from Sofia to Bulgaria online and my tickets from Burgas to Sofia at the Sofia train station, on the same day, because they told me that they were sold out (but I found them online) and the return ticket was sold out online but NOT in person.
Avoid this hell by buying tickets online early.
If you don’t buy online tickets, you will most likely get stuck on the slow line that goes through Karlovo. That added over an hour to the trip and meant we were in an insanely crowded car instead of a faster (though by no means high-speed) train with fewer regional stops.
If you have to buy tickets in person in Burgas, the ticket window is on the left side of the train station once you’ve entered through the main doors (pictured at the top of this section).
How Much Do Train Tickets from Burgas to Sofia Cost?
There are different prices depending on what class and train you select. Our second-class tickets were 19 leva each (or about $11 USD). We had first-class tickets for the Sofia to Burgas train that cost 26 leva (about $15 USD each). Considering how cramped the second class cars are, if you can afford the first-class tickets then I would suggest going with those. You can find pricing for all trains online.
Checking in Before Your Train Ride
Trains leave exactly on time (or a minute or two late), so get to the station early enough to find your train and settle in. The train will be there early, and you can have a much more pleasant experience if you get on at least twenty minutes early (or as early as possible if the train gets there later).
Some passengers will buy hallway tickets without assigned seats, and it makes it very difficult to move around the train once it starts to fill up.
We were unable to find our correct seats and had to stand in the area near the bathrooms waiting for someone to come along who could assist us. We couldn’t easily move through the corridors as people will buy hallway tickets and crowd the hallways up and down the train. If you think you’ll need any assistance finding your seats, start loading as soon as you can.
Tips for Having a Good Train Ride
Finding your actual seat can be a nightmare, as there are train cars labeled 1, 2, and 1A. Since conductors come around to take tickets forty-five minutes after leaving Burgas, they won’t be able to assist you to find your seats right away.
Get on the train early so you can find your seats. If the train fills up, you will get bumped if you sit in a seat that’s not yours.
Always bring train snacks, hand sanitizer, and your own toilet paper or Kleenex. If you get motion sickness, bring non-drowsy motion sickness pills so that you can make sure you don’t get carsick if the ride is extra stuffy.
The fast train takes about six hours, while the long train takes closer to seven hours. Some cars have outlets, but not all do. Make sure your devices are charged so that you can stay connected on your trip. Otherwise, have something to read.
If you bought your tickets online, you can use the online version. Otherwise, have your hard copy tickets ready if you purchased them at the window. The conductors will come around to check your tickets, but not for almost an hour after the train pulls out of the station.
Arriving in Sofia
Sofia is a city where 90-95% of the taxi drivers are wonderful, and 5-10% of the time you’ll end up with a scam artist. The taxi scams at the Sofia bus and train stations are some of the worst in the city. Read our Sofia taxi guide on how to get a taxi without getting scammed from this part of town.
Burgas to Sofia by Bus
There are MANY bus companies that go from Burgas to Sofia multiple times a day. If you go down to the bus station, you’ll find that almost everyone has at least some options. I know because I was trying to find tickets for a specific day and went stand to stand.
Oh, I wasn’t able to buy the time and date I wanted because…they sell out early.
I personally would start by looking at Karats, Martu, and Union Ivonki, but in my experience, most of them are pretty much the same.
Where to Buy Bus Tickets
Since there are many companies that offer this route, I would also check the website Rome2Rio for schedules. They typically link out to the different websites where you can purchase bus tickets for the specific routes you are looking for.
If you are in town, you can also come to the South Bus Station (Avtogara Yug) directly and purchase it in person. The bus station is next door to the train station. You purchase tickets for each bus company from their individual stand, so it can be a bit of a nightmare comparison shopping between schedules and companies.
Do not wait to try to buy your ticket on the day you’re leaving (or even the day before) as they will likely be sold out.
How Much Do Bus Tickets from Burgas to Sofia Cost?
Different companies charge different amounts for these tickets, so it can be very hard to discern between prices and timetables to determine the best option for you. Looking now, a ticket purchased a week out (but slightly off-season) would cost about 28 leva (about $16 USD), so just a tad bit more than a first-class train ticket.
Checking in Before Your Bus Ride
If you purchased your bus tickets online, you will want to come to the bus station at least forty-five minutes early. You will need to go to the window for your bus company and show them your online tickets. They will give you printed versions to use onboard.
Tips for Having a Good Bus Ride
The bus ride is about five hours, so make sure to use the bathroom before you leave. You will need a few coins to use the bathroom at the bus station (the cost is either one lev or half of a lev…I can’t remember but you always have to pay). To get into the bathroom, you pay a coin-operated turnstile.
There typically aren’t bathrooms onboard buses in Bulgaria, but there are sometimes exceptions. I believe there is a stop on the way, but do not plan on it. Instead, go before you leave and bring everything you need with you (snacks, etc).
Like with the train option, bring hand sanitizer and your own toilet paper or Kleenex. If there is a bathroom on board you’ll need them, and if not you may still need them in the bus station bathroom.
If you get motion sickness, bring non-drowsy motion sickness pills so that you can make sure you don’t get carsick if the ride is extra stuffy.
Make sure to check out my full list of tips for surviving bus trips in the Balkans. Trust me.
Arriving in Sofia
The official OK Taxi stand is in front of the bus station. This part of town is notorious for taxi scams, so read our Sofia Taxi guide to make sure you don’t get stuck with a scam taxi.
5 Things to Pack for Bulgaria
If you’re planning a trip to Bulgaria, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more, check out our complete Bulgaria packing list.
– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Bulgaria & Romania for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.
– A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in big cities in Bulgaria is drinkable, such as in Sofia and Burgas, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.
– Motion sickness pills. Bulgarian train and bus rides can be hot and cause motion sickness! If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.
– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans on trains and buses tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment (and germs!) and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.
– Travel safety items. We think Bulgaria is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Allison or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack. It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.
Where to Stay in Burgas & the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast
Still finalizing your travel plans? We’re in the process of creating a comprehensive guide on where to stay in Burgas, but for now, we recommend checking out Booking.com as early as possible. While Burgas is underrated by international travelers, many of the best places can book early during the high season because Bulgarians know where to go.
More Bulgaria Travel Resources
If this will be your first time in Bulgaria, we have some resources to help make your first trip here a breeze. Check out our guide on how to plan your trip to Bulgaria, which goes over everything from visas to ground transportation to budgeting your trip.
Don’t forget to check out our Bulgaria packing list which has details of everything you’ll want for your trip.
If you’ll be spending time on the coast, you’ll also want to check out the best beaches in Bulgaria and if you haven’t picked your hotel yet, you can check our favorite beach resorts in Bulgaria here.
We have a guide to the best Instagram spots in Sunny Beach and Nessebar so you can take incredible photos of your trip! You’ll also want to set aside time to visit the stunning Pink Lake just outside Burgas.
Next, check out our guide to avoiding taxi scams in Sofia. We don’t have taxi guides yet for Varna and Burgas, but the information about common scams and how to avoid them is the same.
You will also want to check out our overview of Balkan currency, which describes Bulgarian leva and what to tip in Bulgaria.
Headed to Bulgaria? Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
Finally, make sure you always travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. The country is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses. Recently my aunt fell on a train in France and needed surgery, but luckily her travel insurance covered the costs in full. Thank goodness!
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
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Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.