Veliko Tarnovo, the Medieval capital of Bulgaria, is a popular place to visit from Sofia. We’ve traveled from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo by bus and by car, and we’ve gone as a quick day trip from Sofia and as longer overnight trips.
Here we lay out everything you need to know to easily travel from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo by bus, car, or train.
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Should You Go on Your Own or On a Group Tour?
If you are visiting Veliko Tarnovo as a day trip from Sofia, you may want to go on a guided tour instead of figuring the buses or trains out on your own. While the trains and buses are fairly easy to manage, we love going on guided tours when we only have a brief time somewhere. This way, we learn about where we’re visiting from our tour guide.
If you’re interested in taking a group tour, you can check the reviews and schedule for this Full Day Tour of Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi from Sofia. The tour includes hotel pick-up, transportation, and an informational guide who will teach you about the places you’re seeing.
Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo by Bus
This is my preferred way to travel from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo, because the buses are frequent, fast (as they can be), and you don’t have to deal with parking once you get there.
Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo Bus Schedule
There are two companies that make this journey every day. We traveled with Union-Ivkoni, but Biomet is also reliable. The only difference is picking the company that leaves at the time that you want since they have different schedules.
Buses leave every day around 6:30 am, 7:30 am, 8:00 am, 8:30 am, 9:45 am, 10:30 am, 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:00 pm, 4:00 pm, 4:30 pm, 5:30 pm, 10:30 pm, 11:30 pm, and 12:00 am.
There’s a catch though…buses to Veliko Tarnovo sell out early. If there’s a particular one you want (or you are trying to get there and back as a day trip) you’ll need to book in advance by at least a few days. For example, right now half of all the buses are sold out for the next week.
Where to Buy Bus Tickets
Because tickets sell out early, I suggest you purchase your tickets online ahead of time (at least a week if you’re super picky). I bought my round-trip tickets on Bus Express. I received an email with the ticket information, which I had the option to print or show the electronic version to the ticket window before boarding.
If you buy online, you can use your credit card.
You can also buy your ticket at the bus station in Sofia, but keep in mind that it may be sold out if you show up the day you want to leave.
Bulgarian buses have assigned seats. When you buy online, you can select your seat. For our ride there, the bus was full and we had to sit in exactly our seat. For the ride back, it was practically empty and we had room to spread out.
How Much Do the Bus Tickets from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo Cost?
We paid 30.40 leva for round-trip tickets (about $17.50 USD). One way tickets purchased online are 20.55 leva (about $12 USD).
Finding the Right Bus Station
Sofia has several bus stations, but you’ll want to go to the Sofia Central Bus Station:
bulevard “Knyaginya Maria Luiza” 100, 1202 Tsentralna, Sofia
Double check that your bus doesn’t leave from Serdika Bus Station. While these two stations are next to each other, you won’t have time to get between them if you’re running late.
Checking In Before Your Bus Ride
If you buy your tickets online, you’ll want to show up to your bus thirty minutes early so that you have time to check in with your bus company. They’ll print out your tickets when you show them your online confirmation. If you purchased round-trip tickets, they can print both of them for you so that you don’t have to worry about doing it again when you come back.
When you check in, double check the number of the bus stand you’ll be leaving from. The number on the ticket might change when it’s actually time to leave.
For our trip, the bus didn’t say Veliko Tarnovo in either Latin or Cyrillic. Instead, it said the bus was going to Varna (which was its final destination). If you’re worried, double check the number at check-in and also ask when you get to the bus stand.
The Ride from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo
If the bus fills up, expect it to be crowded and slightly hot. The landscape between the two cities is really beautiful, so there’s a lot to look at. Don’t expect wifi or a bathroom. Since the ride takes three and a half hours, make sure you use the bathroom before you leave!
Tips for Having a Good Bus Ride
If you’ve never taken a bus in the Balkans, then consider our Guide to Balkan bus rides required reading. The cliff notes version? Bring cash to use the bathrooms, have snacks with you, and know there’s a 50% chance your bus will arrive very early or very late.
Arriving in Veliko Tarnovo
Since Veliko Tarnovo won’t be the final stop for the bus, make sure you’re paying attention. Not everyone will get off the bus when you pull into the station.
There are two bus stations in Veliko Tarnovo, and you don’t always know which one you’ll be dropped off at. Our bus went to the South station (Avtogara Yug / Автогара ЮГ). There was only one taxi sitting there, and he wanted to charge us 3x what the price should have been. We chose to walk instead and grabbed a taxi when we were about halfway to our hotel.
The price for a taxi from the South Bus Station to the center should be about 5 leva or less.
The distances are short enough to walk, but we found that the hills make it less than fun to walk if you are carrying your luggage with you.
If you decide to call a taxi and have cell service, we prefer Aleks OK taxi. Their phone number is 062 616 16.
Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo by Train
I don’t like taking trains for domestic travel in Bulgaria since I find the buses are much faster. However, I do like taking the train to Istanbul and Bucharest.
If you do decide to take the train though, here’s what you need to know.
Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo Train Tips
You’ll need to buy your tickets at the train station, and I would personally try to buy them early. The cost is about $11 USD and includes changing trains in Gorna Orjahovica. The ride takes about five and a half hours, so almost twice as long as the bus ride.
Checking in at the Train Station
The train station in Sofia is the Central Railway Metro Station. If you buy your tickets beforehand, make sure to get to the train station at least thirty minutes before your train. You’ll need some cash to use the bathroom.
Tips for Having a Good Train Ride
You’ll want to follow many of the tips in our Guide to Balkan bus rides for your train ride, including making sure you bring snacks ahead of time in case the train gets stuck.
Arriving in Veliko Tarnovo
The trains arrive at the Veliko Tarnovo Train Station:
5003 Индустриална зона, Veliko Tarnovo
The walk to the center from the train station is about thirty minutes, so take advantage of the taxis outside or take the buses that go into town every twenty minutes.
Driving from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo
For our first trip to Veliko Tarnovo, we rented a car and drove there and back in one day. While I wouldn’t do this again (we were so tired coming back at night!) it’s a good option if you have a few days to spend in the city and somewhere to park your car.
Renting a Car in Sofia
We’re working on a guide to renting a car in Bulgaria, but for now I typically just use Kayak or another search engine to find the best deal. Most car rentals are picked up at the Sofia Airport.
How Long Does it Take to Drive from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo?
The roads between the two cities are scenic and easy to drive. The total drive time is about three hours, plus time for stops.
Parking in Veliko Tarnovo
This is where driving gets a bit tricky. The streets of the old city are very narrow and there’s not much parking. I would only drive if you confirm with your accommodations that they come with free parking or if you plan ahead.
There’s a parking lot by Tsarevets Fortress:
5000 ж.к. Асенов, Veliko Tarnovo
However, I didn’t use this one personally (I moved our car every few hours).
Basically, I found the drive excellent and parking a total nightmare.
What to Do in Veliko Tarnovo
Veliko Tarnovo is a charming little city, but there is more than enough to do here to pack a day or two. Check out our guides to the best things to do in Veliko Tarnovo and how to visit the nearby village of Arbanasi.
Guided Tours Mentioned in this Post
If you choose to visit with a guided tour instead of on your own, we recommend booking one of the tours listed on GetYourGuide. The Full Day Tour of Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi from Sofia looks like the best bang for your buck in terms of getting to see as much as possible of the town and nearby Arbanasi.
Where to Stay in Veliko Tarnovo
Budget: If you’re looking for the best hostel in Veliko Tarnovo, there’s one easy answer: Hostel Mostel! Nearly every backpacker who has come through Veliko Tarnovo has stayed here, and for good reason! It has a social but not party-crazy vibe, spacious rooms with plenty of space to spread out, a comfortable lounge and kitchen area to hang out in (and outdoor space to enjoy in the summer), and they even help organize tours and day trips. I stayed here during my overnight in Veliko Tarnovo and loved it. However, I will say that two premium things I love in hostels – privacy curtains and easy access to outlets from every bed – are missing at Hostel Mostel, but everything else (especially the free vegetarian dinners and amazing breakfast spreads!) makes up for it. Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Mid-Range: Brand new and quietly trendy, Base Camp Guesthouse is a sign that things are slowly changing in sleepy Veliko Tarnovo. Comfy and cozy, more a home than a hotel, this guesthouse is the perfect place to stay if you want more privacy than a hostel but you don’t want to pay a fortune for unnecessary things. Travelers love the free breakfast, friendly staff, comfortable beds, and general cleanliness of everything! Keep in mind some rooms have a shared bathroom, and others have private bathrooms, so when booking, make sure you select the right option for the level of privacy you want! Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Luxury: For the nicest place in all of Veliko Tarnovo, don’t miss General Gurko House. This house is, well, literally a house – it can fit up to 6 people, so it’s perfect if you’re traveling with a large group or with a bunch of friends. Complete with a full kitchen (and perks like an espresso machine), several bedrooms each with their own private bathroom, and a large balcony that can easily fit everyone in your party. On a quiet street in a traditional house, this is the ultimate way to experience Veliko Tarnovo! Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Where to Stay in Sofia
If you haven’t already booked your stay in Sofia, here is where we recommend our friends and visitors stay!
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.
Bulgaria Travel Resources
If this is your first trip to the country, start with our travel checklist for planning a trip to Bulgaria. You will also want to check out our overview of Balkan currency, which describes Bulgarian leva and how to tip in Bulgaria.
If you’ll be visiting more of Bulgaria, check out our guides for Sofia, Plovdiv, Buzludzha, and the Black Sea. If you haven’t decided where to go yet, check out our list of the best places to visit in 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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