Plovdiv is one of the most beautiful cities in Bulgaria and it’s no surprise why it is often a must-do on everyone’s Bulgaria itinerary. And luckily, because it’s an easy two hours from Sofia by bus, it couldn’t be easier to get there, whether it’s for a day trip or for an extended city trip.
I’ve done it both ways – an overnight in Plovdiv and as a day trip – and I have to say that Plovdiv works well either way. Plovdiv is a small city with a clearly defined center, and frequent buses departing Sofia for Plovdiv and returning buses in the evening make it a great day trip. But most people also visit Plovdiv as part of their multi-country Balkans trip and as a result you may not need the information on how to get back to Sofia. There are so many things to do in Plovdiv that staying for a few days is completely warranted! So, this post will focus all on how to get from Sofia to Plovdiv, but soon we will have a post detailing the opposite direction.
Where to Buy Bus Tickets in Sofia
Sofia has two main bus station which are conveniently right next to each other. Serdika is the international bus station and then the main blue building is the domestic terminal. In this case, you will want to go the blue building, the domestic terminal, to pick up your bus tickets from Sofia to Plovdiv.
There are two main bus companies that serve Plovdiv. One is Vitosha Express and the other is Karats. We opted for Karats as they are a full 4.50 leva cheaper than the other option, Vitosha Express. Karats costs 9.50 leva one way, and Vitosha Express costs 14 leva one way. I’ve actually taken both bus companies and neither is that much of a better bus so I’d just save your leva for buying a quality glass of wine or craft beer in lovely Plovdiv!
Because Sofia to Plovdiv is a popular day trip, all the buses that go to Plovdiv depart in the morning. There are buses approximately once an hour on the hour from 7 AM to noon. Here is a photo of the timetable when we went at end of October (offseason). Since these timetables are true for the offseason, there are likely even more options in peak season (May-September). If you can’t read Cyrillic, here are the bus times with Karats: 7 AM, 8 AM, 9 AM, 10 AM, 11 AM, 11:30 PM, 12:00 PM, and 12:30 PM.
If you want to take a bus with Vitosha Express for whatever reason, here’s their time table. Just remember that it is more expensive by nearly an additional 50% and has fewer departure times in the off season.
Right now, you can go to Plovdiv at 7 AM, 8 AM, 11 AM, or 12 PM with Vitosha Express.
One more thing: in peak season, I’ve had trouble getting on the exact bus I want in the morning. If that is a concern, I recommend visiting the bus station the day before to buy your tickets or you can also buy Karats tickets online as Bus Radar. Union Ivkoni also has a few departures per day but Karats by far as the most options.
However, you’ll have to print your ticket, so keep this option in mind. I use Mania Print when I need to print things in Sofia as they have several locations and cheap prices. But if you are staying in a hostel or hotel, they will also print the ticket for you.
PRO TIP: You have to pay with cash, not credit cards, but there are two cash machines in the center of the hall, as well as money changers (but you won’t get the best rate possible here)
Getting from Sofia to Plovdiv
Once you buy your ticket in person or online (be sure to print it out if you buy it online!), head out to the back where all the buses pick up passengers. You’ll want to look for the spot on your ticket that says sektor (Сектор in Cyrillic) which will tell you what your platform is. Normally the platform for Kapats is 6 but check to be sure. The person who sells you the tickets will likely write your number in pen on your ticket as well so that you won’t miss it.
If you have extra time before your bus, there are a few things to do at Sofia’s bus station. There’s a RELAY which sells snacks and odds and ends before your journey, a small pastry shop downstairs that serves some traditional Bulgarian pastries, and a café bar upstairs that has decent coffee and a larger selection of snacks and drinks, as well as tables to enjoy.
As of October 2018 the bus station has free Wi-Fi but it can be spotty so I wouldn’t rely on it!
Be sure to board on time! Our bus left exactly at its planned departure time, at 11 o’clock sharp. Once on, get settled into relatively comfortable seats.
Our Kapats bus had a TV which was playing a Korean pirated version of Jurassic Park – with Bulgarian subtitles, of course. I recommend bringing your own entertainment (Candy Crush and podcasts are my poison of choice) and of course, bus snacks, as while the trip from Sofia to Plovdiv should only last 2 hours, you never freaking know in the Balkans.
Our bus took exactly two hours between Sofia and Plovdiv and we arrived at the Central Train Station (Централна железопътна гара). Note that if you take Vitosha Express, and perhaps Union Ivkoni, you will arrive at a different station: Автогара “Юг” (South Bus Station). They are not that far apart at all, just a few minutes’ walk, but it will matter where you catch your bus and buy your returning ticket, if necessary.
Arriving in Plovdiv
Congratulations, you’re now in Bulgaria’s second largest city and the European Capital of Culture for 2019! There is so much to see in Plovdiv but first, you’ve got to get yourself into the city center. We try to avoid taking unregistered taxis from train stations as they often will scam you. Luckily the train station is pretty close to central Plovdiv and you can literally walk there in about 20 minutes, which is what I’ve opted for on both occasions.
However, there are a few other ways to get into Plovdiv City Center. You could also try to negotiate with a cab driver outside the train station, which will result in you paying more than if you used the meter, but will protect you from truly outrageous fares or scam meters. I personally would pay a maximum of 5 leva to go somewhere in the city center knowing that it was a tiny bit of a rip-off but better than being charged something like 10 euro (20 leva!)
The best option is to call a taxi from the train station to minimize your chances of getting ripped off. Here are a few reputable taxi companies you can call (add the country code +359).
Eco Taxi: 0326155
Inter Taxi: 0329199
Elma Taxi: 0326665
The TaxiMe app I use in Sofia didn’t work in Plovdiv, neither did Yellow!, so I’ve heard that Taxistars is an online taxi app you can use, but again, I have no personal experience using taxis in Plovdiv as I’ve always found it is perfectly fine to just walk since I am never traveling with that much luggage.
Is There a Train From Sofia to Plovdiv?
Yes, there are trains that run between Sofia and Plovdiv! However, it takes longer (between 2.5 hours and 4 hours, depending on the train you select and of course a high possibility of delays) which is why more people opt for buses.
On my most recent search, there were trains departing Sofia to Plovdiv at the follow times: 5:35 AM, 6:38 AM, 7:15 AM, 8:28 AM, 10:28 AM, 1:16 PM, 2:28 PM, 3:28 PM, 4:18 PM, 5:28 PM, 6:28 PM, 9:00 PM, and 10:45 PM. However, don’t take my word for it as these times are seasonal. You can check departure times online here and even buy tickets online. So, if you want to head over to Plovdiv in the afternoon or evening, a train is a better option than a bus because all the buses slow down or stop around noon to Plovdiv.
I’ve never taken the train from Sofia to Plovdiv so I can’t speak to the experience. I have done a Sofia to Istanbul sleeper train, which went via Plovdiv and was quite satisfied with the quality of the trains. From what I can find, the train costs 8.50 leva one way, but feel free to correct me if I am wrong as I have not taken the train myself!
What to Do In Plovdiv
Of course, there’s a ridiculous amount of things to do in Plovdiv (we’ve written about 40 of them here). From checking out the funky street art in Kapana to enjoying wine tasting to eating in world-class restaurants and catching sunsets on the hills surrounding the city, you’re spoiled for choice. One day may not be enough here, so maybe wait on booking that onward ticket!
Was this post helpful? What was your experience traveling from Sofia to Plovdiv?