Travelling around Bulgaria

There is good public transport system consisting of trains, buses and taxis to enable you to get around Bulgaria without your own transport. But travelling around the country in a car, bus and-especially-in a train always takes longer than it would in Britain or western Europe. Most of the roads are single carriageway and twist and turn through rural areas and villages. There are a few stretches of motorway, mainly around Sofia, Varna and Plovdiv. On all roads there is a mix of traffic, from slow Ladas to speeding Mercedes and horse-drawn vehicles. The result is that average speeds are low.

Public transport is reliable between all major cities and towns, though the quality of the buses ranges from the brand new to the’this looks like Greece in the 1970s’. Generally the newer buses ply the inter-city routes and the older buses provide local or regional services.

Bulgarian rural roads

The transfer time from the airport is the key, therefore, rather than physical distance. If you’re heading for the Black Sea and flying to Varna or Bourgas you’ll be close to your destination on arrival and can simply jump in a taxi at the airport. Alternatively, take the airport bus into town and find a taxi there for the onward journey to your house or hotel. If you arrive in Sofia or Plovdiv and are looking to travel inland to go house-hunting, or south to the Bulgarian ski resorts, you will have a 2—3hr journey.

Travelling around Bulgaria by bus

Every city has a central bus station with direct buses to all other major cities. Simply ask the taxi driver for the ‘central avtogara and on arrival go to one of the numerous ticket offices (each bus company has their own). Bus stations in
Bulgaria generally have an air of chaos about them but they do work, and buses generally depart and arrive on time. The exception to the chaos is the new central bus station in Sofia, which is an excellent example of integrated bus
passenger infrastructure in a deregulated environment.

Bus tickets can be bought up to five minutes before departure, so there is no need to book in advance-which is impossible from abroad anyway.

Travelling around Bulgaria by train

Bulgarian State Railways operates a national network that covers all major cities. What the Bulgarian railways lack in speed they certainly make up for in character. The trains are generally old, but the company is in the process of upgrading the rolling stock and signalling to allow faster journeys. A brand-new train designed by Siemens now operates from Sofia to Varna, but apart from that the rest are pretty ancient, and very slow. For train times it is usually best to check information at the stations rather than from published sources. Many cross-border services are subject to delays elsewhere. See the Bulgarian State Railways website for information on routes, fares and schedules. A railway ticket agency called Rila has an office in each major station for dealing with foreigners and booking more complex or longer journeys.

Driving to Bulgaria

A lecturer at Rousse, Sofia and Blagoevgrad universities, gives his advice. ‘I’m a big fan of driving over to Bulgaria from the UK, having lived here for almost nine years now. I have made the trip many times, and enjoy the journey. I can set my own schedule, stop when I like, take detours en route, throw whatever junk I like in the car, and choose my own music. Since EU entry your UK car insurance is valid EU-wide, and photo driving licences are standardised.

‘A short period of driving in Europe soon acclimatises a driver to driving on ‘the other side’, but a right-hand-drive car can be a serious impediment to safe overtaking. This is even more of an issue on two-lane roads in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria – the number of slow-moving trucks and farm vehicles increases the further east you drive.

‘Once you’re on the continent, there are three main options. The southern route is ltaly-Greece-Bulgaria; the middle route is Germany-Austria-Slovenia-Croatia-Serbia-Bulgaria; and the northern route is Germany-Austria-Hungary-Romania-Bulgaria. Which route you take may depend on which part of Bulgaria you are heading for. The poorer roads and lack of motorways through eastern Hungary and Romania may be a decisive factor for some drivers. Others may relish getting off the autobahns to see the charm of the Transylvanian mountains. Planning can be made easier using the RAC website.

Once you make it here in one piece, park the car (preferably in a secure car Park) and celebrate with a nice cold beer and try to forget you might have to , drive back again one day! Nazdrave!

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