There are many options for public transportation in Bulgaria. In short we will take you for an airport transfer, transportation in Sofia and transportation through the country.
Airport Transfer Sofia
Arriving in Sofia you land at either Terminal 1 of 2. From both you can reach the center and it does not have to cost a lot.
Sofia Airport has 2 terminals, terminal 1 is the old one, mostly serviced by chartered EU flights and low-cost carriers. Terminal 2 is for intercontinental flights, most Bulgaria Air flights and scheduled flights within the EU.
From both terminals the bus connection with the center is bus 84 or bus 184, both lines follow the same route. With a few buses each hour, you will not need to wait long. You get off at the last stop. Bus 384 also has a stop at the airport, but this line takes you to a neighboring area, not the center. The bus stop at terminal 2 is outside the departures hall, at terminal 1 in front of the arrival building.
A bus ticket costs BGN 1,60 and if you have large suitcase officially you need a second ticket for the suitcase. We have never seen his checked though. The ticket you can buy from the driver, make sure to have some small change at hand. After this you validate the ticket by inserting it in the yellow box near the window and push the lever up. Your ticket will get a unique hole pattern, you have paid the ride.
Only travellers arriving at terminal 2 have the luxury of taking the metro into town. Tickets are BGN 1,60 and are sold in the station. The metro takes you all the way into town, see the maps if you need to change. terminal 2 is the end of the line, so there is really only one way you can go.
When you enter the arrival lobby you are sure to be addressed by many taxi drivers: always avoid these drivers as they will scam you. Just walk outside the airport building and find the official tax stand. Wait your turn and ideally take a taxi from OK Taxi (blue logo on the doors). A trip anywhere in Sofia should not cost more than BGN 15-20.
In your taxi make sure the meter starts running at BGN 0,00 or start rate; that in the front window there is the ID of the driver and that the offical rates are displayed on the window/dash. You should be fine and with a bit of luck your driver speaks some English.
Public Transport in Sofia
Sofia has it all. A vast network of buses, trolleys, trams, mashruska’s, metros and taxis will take you anywhere you need to go. And with the new Chinese made Yukong buses you might even get air-contioning.
All public transport in Sofia is operated by 6 different companies, some public, some privately owned. Tickets are valid with all of the different operators, except for the metro.
Tickets can be bought on the vehicle from the driver or at larger bus stations there are kiosks. Single tickets cost BGN 1,60 for a single fare. Tickets can also be bought in booklets (talon) of 10 single tickets (BGN 12,00). A booklet is numbered – 1 to 10 – and a ticket is only usable if you also have the rest of the booklet with you. A single ticket is only valid after piercing it with the lever in the yellow boxes on each vehicle.
For those travelling more frequent a month card is a good alternative. These cards are available at the kiosks where you can also charge your card for a new 30-day period. A month card without your photo costs 1x BGN 29, one with your picture 1x BGN 25.
There are monthly subscriptions for 1 single line BGN 23/28, for all lines BGN 50/60, just metro BGN 35/42, a metro and 1 bus BGN 43. More possibilities and rates can be found on the website of the Sofia Urban Mobility Center. A good website to find information on routes from A to B and time schedules is EasyWay.
With no less than 46 innercity lines and 54 suburban lines you are sure to get where you need. Be it with some patience, seasoned travelers will know that the time table is merely indicative. New city buses are orange, but there are not enough for all the lines, so you will find a lot of interesting other buses operating some lines.
For long operators bought their material second hand from other cities in Europe. The new Sofia bus number would be printed and displayed in the windshield, while the bus still indicated eg. Berlin Zoo. Although you still find this, something is changing. In recent years as an investment was made in a lot of brand new Chinese buses (the orange ones). Unfortunately one of these new buses spontaneously ignited during a morning rush hour leaving the passengers in awe on the side walk while the rear of the bus went up in flames. This was an incident. Otherwise the bus company is under scrutiny for fawlty breaks, lack of maintenance, overworked drivers. We can only hope Sofia buses will enter the 21st century at some point.
Buses stop at every stop, there is no need to press the stop button (if your bus has any).
You will find that Bulgarians (or drivers for that matter) are not so much involved with their fellow travelers, leaving window seats empty, coming on the bus with bike in hand, noisy music, telephones everywhere or just blocking the path. Nevermind all this, except if you need to use the bus during rush hour, it is a pretty good method of transportation.
Trolley buses – those with the cables overhead – connect neighborhoods around the center with the center. Trolleys work pretty much the same as any other bus, except they are blue.
To complement the many buses and trolleys, there are the Marshrutkas. These are minivans that drive a specific trajectory without any regulated stops. You can get on (raise your hand and it stops) and off (get the attention of the driver) where you want. Tagging along costs BGN 1,50 to the driver.
The 15 trams Sofia has offer a great alternative to the buses. A part from the nostalgia many of these old carts will make you feel, they run on separate tracks and have free road. This is respected by most drivers, ensuring a fast passage to your destination.
Notably tram 10 connecting the West Park/Faculty (north) and the Paradise Mall/Sofia Zoo (southward) passes right through Boris Garden and this on itself is a reason to just take it once.
At the moment 2 metro run under Sofia: M1 (red) and M2 (blue). M1 connects the very large neighborhood Lyulin with Mladost (Business Park), M2 starts at the airport, through the center, past the main railway station, onwards for a circle north west of the center and back down all the way to the ring in the south. Both lines connect at in Lyulin and at Serdika station in the center.
For M3 (green) construction is underway. This new line should connect the east (Levski) and west (Ovcha Kupel) of the city. Completion is expected somewhere in the years to come as are the proposed extensions of M1 and M2.
As you read in our information for the Airport Transfer, we favor OK Taxi. The reason is that most other companies scam you. We cannot generalise, surely one can find good drivers from other companies, while most likely also OK Taxi has some dishonest drivers. However in general OK Taxis do not scam. That is also why some companies try to imitate the OK Taxi logo and try to fool the passengers.
We have heard stories of elderly foreigners paying up to BGN 150 for a ride, people that saw no option but to pay and avoid conflict. This is awful and something we do not wish for anybody. However follow some guidelines and you can avoid the scam artists.
You can stop any taxi with a green light by extending your arm. For your safety do this at a point where a stop is possible, taxis will just stop anywhere.
- Ask before entering how much it is.
- Make sure the meter starts when you get in.
- See the driver has an ID in the window (corresponding with the driver).
- See for the pricelist on the window or dash.
- If possible keep your luggage with you.
If you feel uncomfortable, just get out and find another taxi.
Taxis can be ordered (also in English).
Public Transport in Bulgaria
Outside the cities various services connect the different cities and regions. Although mostly by bus, there are some useful train connections.
The BDZ is the Bulgarian Railway Company and operates all of the tracks and most of the trains. In recent years some companies have been admitted to operate cargo trains on existing tracks, so unfortunately still no competitive benefit for passengers. Many cities and villages have a railway station. Once the railways were a proud company connecting regions and villages. This proud has somewhat disappearded, which is sad. And with old material, lack of maintenance, open windows and doors in the winter, irregular schedules and more such traveler nuisances, the railways have come to be generally unpopular as a mode of transportation.
There are some good (read: city to next village or city) connections, that will get you to B in a reasonable amount of time. Tickets are not very expensive and outside rush hours you might even find a seat. For longer distances you need to have time, an overnight train from Sofia to the Black Sea in not unusual (6 hours by car). Which by the way is a shame as you miss out on the beautiful landscapes you could see from your window.
Sofia has several stations, Sofia Central of course being the main hub. From Sofia Central you can go to every corner in the country. Interregional and international trains have a ticket office upstairs and your ticket for regional trains you find downstairs. Pronounce the word platforma with a clear question mark in the end to find out where your train will depart. The people at the information desks generally speak English, and on off you go.
The official website is BDZ.bg, although when writing this the site does not work.
Since the railways are troublesome, bus companies flourish. The driving style of most drivers compares best to that of Vietnam in the mountains, but if you are okay with that, the bus it is. An extra most bus services offer is that you can take a lot of luggage with you.
Buslines connect everywhere with everwhere and also take you abroad. The buses are old, but comfortable enough. On longer trips stops are included. Tickets are not expensive and are also available online. Bus lines have regular stops, although we have witnessed the occassional unscheduled stop along the highway.
Main bus stations in Sofia are at Sofia Central station (anywhere), Sofia Terminal West (towards Greece) and Hladilnika Terminal (Vitosha mountain and Dragalevtsi Monastery).