I’ll admit, I did not have high hopes for going from Sofia to Belgrade. Years of Balkan bus experience has taught me that several things can and likely will go wrong. So my recent bus trip from Sofia to Belgrade was so pleasant, it almost felt like a hallucination.
Don’t believe me? Look how relatively untraumatized we look (taken about halfway through our Sofia to Belgrade ride). If you’ve seen any of our other border-crossing selfies, you’ll know how good we had it.
How to Get from Sofia to Belgrade Direct by Bus
It can be maddeningly difficult to find out Balkan bus routes in advance. Typically, it’s best to just show up at the bus station and ask around until you get the information you need. I initially thought the only way I could go between Sofia and Belgrade was by making a stop in Nis to transfer. Luckily, I had found an old TripAdvisor forum that indicated that there was a direct option using Florentia Bus.
We booked our tickets online. The web interface is simple and a little confusing at times, but it did the trick.
TIP: You can save quite a bit of money by booking in advance, and by booking a return ticket if you plan to return to Sofia by bus the same way. For example, a ticket that would have cost 29 euros one way ended up costing 21.50 euros, and I was able to get a roundtrip ticket for a mere 39 euros — a big discount considering the in-person price of 29 euros. We booked about 3 days prior to our trip.
The bus departs daily at 2:30 PM from the international bus terminal, which is located in between Sofia’s Central Train Station and Bus Station. We left promptly on time. Be aware that if you have a bag, you will have to get a sticker for it from the surly but relatively efficient office attendants. Be sure you arrive about 10-15 minutes early so that you can get your sticker for your luggage. One under-bus piece of baggage is free of charge; more bags may incur an additional charge.
On Board the Florentia Bus
As someone who prefers buses to planes, yet still hates buses, I was super pleased with Florentia Bus. For one – and this is important for all my fellow small bladdered ladies out there – there is a bathroom on board, and it was surprisingly clean, albeit a strictly BYOTP affair.
The seats were comfortable and very spacious, likely because the bus goes all the way from Bulgaria to Italy, making stops in Belgrade, Zagreb, and Ljulbjana on its route.
As a result, the bus has a few more perks that other more short-distance buses may not have. I was pleasantly surprised that each seat had its own USB outlet so that I could charge my phone while doing important things like listening to old How Did This Get Made Podcasts and playing Candy Crush. There was also an outlet near the bathroom for charging electronics.
There were 2 TVs on board the bus playing classics such as My Life in Ruins with Bulgarian subtitles. The bus was about 50-70% full on a random weekday so it was pretty easy to get a comfortable seat. There are assigned seats but no one seemed to really care about where exactly their seat was.
Crossing the Border from Bulgaria to Serbia
We reached the Kalotina-Dimitrovgrad border about one hour after leaving Sofia. We all exited the bus and went into the building for passport control. The line moved quickly and our entire bus’s passports were processed in about 10-15 minutes.
We then got back on the bus and drove about one minute to the Serbian side of the border, where we did the same. Passport control was even quicker in Serbia and we were stamped into the country in a matter of minutes. This has got to be on the record for one of the fastest land border crossings I’ve done.
From the Serbian Border to Belgrade
Not long after leaving the Serbian border, we made our first stop: a 15-minute stop at a roadside café with a restroom (pay-per-use). It cost 100 dinar or 1 leva to use, but they also would have accepted 50 cents in euros. The bathrooms were just squat toilets though, so might be better to just use the relatively clean bus bathroom!
I got a coffee at the café for 100 Serbian dinar (they accepted Bulgarian leva and euros too) and you could also buy beer, wine, water, etc. here.
It was at this stop when one a few lovely surprises happened: the man on the bus who was carrying an accordion on his back decided to serenade us at the stop with a few songs. It was actually really delightful, and this is coming from a curmudgeon who hates live music and hopes a piece of the ceiling will fall on that guy in the hostel who insists on bringing a guitar.
After another 2 or so hours, we reached our second stop, where we’d stop for 1 hour for dinner. While that may seem excessive on a route that’s less than 400 kilometers, keep in mind that for many people (and the drivers) the bus is going all the way to Italy, so a longer stop is necessary to keep people sane.
We had 1 hour to enjoy a delightful dinner at a roadside cafe called Aleksandar that had a large menu of options, all priced quite fairly. I had cevapi and kajmak for about 500 dinars; Stephanie had goulash and a shopska salad. Naturally, we both had some Serbian white wine.
The bathrooms here were pay-per-use if you were not patronizing the restaurant, but if you were you could use the bathrooms as many times as you liked with a receipt that you could scan into the bathroom. It was really quite fancy.
This was also when I got to meet my new doggo best friend so basically it was the best stop ever.
Arriving in Belgrade
We arrived in Belgrade far earlier than planned, around 8:30 PM — way earlier than the 10 PM arrival time we were quoted on our ticket, an extremely pleasant surprise! We arrived just across the street from the main bus station, in a public park.
Since neither of us had data or sufficient Serbian dinars to catch a cab straight away, we crossed the street to the bank near Jump INN Hotel and withdrew some cash, and then we asked their kind receptionist to book us a taxi so as not to have to deal with scammy taxi drivers (something we know how to avoid in Sofia, but aren’t experts in when it comes to Belgrade).
How to Get from Sofia to Belgrade via Nis
It is much more comfortable to go from Sofia to Belgrade directly with Florentia Bus. However, if the 2:30 PM departure time is problematic for you, there is another option leaving via Nis. Matpu has two departures per day from Sofia, one at 4:30 AM (heinous) and another at 4 PM (acceptable). The cost is 24 leva (about 12 euros) from Sofia to Nis.
You’d then have to connect in Nis to Belgrade – there are buses roughly once an hour, sometimes more frequent, sometimes less – on another bus line. I’ve done Nis to Belgrade before and I want to say a ticket is about 500-700 dinar but I don’t completely recall. Therefore, it’d be a tiny bit cheaper to go via Nis, but it’d take more time and be less comfortable (I’ve ridden on Matpu from Sofia to Skopje and it definitely was not that comfortable).
It is doable – and if you want to stop in Nis, then it’d definitely be the way to go – but if you are just trying to get between Sofia and Belgrade, Florentia Bus direct is the best option.
How to Get from Sofia to Belgrade by Train
It is possible to get between Sofia and Belgrade by train. There is a direct train in the summer only – last season, it ran from June 15 to September 17, according to the reputable train guru Man in Seat 61. When we looked into traveling to Belgrade from Sofia by train, it looked like a nightmare, with 2 transfers, one of which was 30 minutes and the other which was an hour. Tickets cost around 43 leva – about the same as the bus when the bus is booked in advance.
If you’re a train geek, it’s certainly possible, but for people who are fine with buses, I’d definitely advise taking Florentia Bus over the train, as it’s faster and just about as comfortable. You can check out the timetables here, but be aware that the timetable is a bit of a nightmare to read.
How to Get from Sofia to Belgrade by Plane
Got levas and dinars spilling out of your pockets? Sounds lovely – Air Serbia is happy to take them. There’s a daily departure direct between Sofia and Belgrade, but when we looked, prices were exorbitant – we’re talking about $100 each way. We’re waiting with bated breath for the day when Wizz Air does cheap inter-Balkan flights, but alas – today is not the day. Unless your nickname is Mr. Moneybags, you’re better off on the bus with all the other plebes.
Where to Stay in Sofia
In case you need your Sofia accommodations sorted… here are our suggestions, from two locals – these are the tips we always send our friends!
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.
Where to Stay in Belgrade
We’ve been to Belgrade several times and know this city well. We’ve done our research and these are our top picks for Belgrade accommodations!
Budget: If you want a cozy feeling hostel, Hostel Home Sweet Home in the Savamala neighborhood of Belgrade is a fantastic choice. Its central location close to Knez Mihailova Street and other Belgrade must-sees makes staying here ultra-convenient. It’s sunny and open, with options for dorm rooms as well as affordable single and double rooms for travelers who want a little more privacy without paying a fortune. It’s one of the best-rated options in town, so we recommend you check out availability and book in advance here.
Mid-Range: There are so many great options in this price-range — Belgrade really excels at providing great value when it comes to accommodations in this price tier. One fun option is a floating hotel on the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers, San Art Floating Hostel & Apartments. While it’s located in Novi Beograd and therefore a little out of the action, I love the floating deck where you can have sunset drinks, and I like the that the décor is a little bit nostalgic, with details like rotary phones and old radios. You can check it out here.
Luxury: We’d be remiss if we didn’t suggest the classic luxury option in Belgrade, Hotel Moskva – one of our favorite buildings in the city and a classic haunt of famous politicians, musicians, actors, and other celebrities who pass through Belgrade. It’s also surprisingly affordable for its caliber! With a renowned spa, delicious restaurant (don’t miss the Moskva schnit cake – we love it!), and beautifully designed rooms, it’s one of our favorite places in Belgrade and the location is unbeatable. However, it’s almost always sold out, so be sure to check availability and book well in advance and hope you get lucky!
Planning a Trip to Serbia? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Make sure you always travel to Serbia with a valid travel insurance policy. While the country is safe, accidents can happen anywhere. If you experience an accident or theft, travel insurance will help you recover your costs and enjoy the rest of your trip.
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.
Originally from California, Allison has been living in Bulgaria for the last two years and is obsessed with traveling around the Balkans. She has been published in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, Matador Network, and the Huffington Post. She loves befriending dogs, drinking coffee, geeking out about wine, and cooking food from around the world.