Bulgaria is one of our favorite countries that we’ve visited so far. There are bustling cosmopolitan cities, rugged mountains, rural villages and everything in between. We were constantly amazed at how much the country varies from one region to another.
That’s why it’s so important to travel outside of Sofia. Don’t get me wrong, Sofia is an incredible city. It’s filled with friendly people, amazing architecture, and so many fun things to do. But there is so much more to see in Bulgaria!
After a little research, we eventually decided to visit Plovdiv. This was for a few reasons. First, it was voted the European Capital of Culture for 2019. How cool to actually visit in 2019? Second, it’s only a few hours outside of Sofia, with ample public transportation options.
It’s really easy to take either a train or a bus from Sofia to Plovdiv. But since we have been traveling by bus through the Balkans, a train ride sounded like a welcome change of pace.
How to Check the Train Schedule
The first thing you’ll need to do when taking the train from Sofia to Plovdiv is check the train schedule. There are typically at least a few trains per day, but you don’t want to miss the train and have to wait hours for the next one.
We used a website called Viral to check the train schedule, and it worked perfectly. We weren’t able to buy the tickets online, but we’ll get to that in the next section. Basically, just plan to arrive at the train station at least 30 minutes before your train is scheduled to leave so you have time to buy snacks, use the bathroom and find your platform.
One important thing to note is that there are two types of trains: The slow train and the fast train. The fast train is supposed to be about 45 minutes faster, but it was leaving so early in the morning that we decided to take the slow train.
Where To Buy Tickets
It’s very easy to buy train tickets from Sofia to Plovdiv. They can be purchased right at the ticket counter in the train station! There were about 5 different ticket counters open when we were there, so there was almost no wait.
A ticket for the slow train costs 7.90 BGN, or about $4.50 USD. This is an awesome deal, way cheaper than any bus tickets that we could find online. A ticket for the fast train is only slightly more expensive–it costs 9.00 BGN.
The train does take slightly longer than the bus is scheduled to. However, we’ve found that buses in the Balkans almost always take an hour longer than they’re schedule to take. So all things considered, it’s about the same amount of time to take the bus and the train.
About Sofia Central Station
The train to Plovdiv leaves from the Sofia Central Station, which is right next to the Central Bus Station. The address is 1202 Sofia Center. If you are staying in the city center, it’s a pretty easy walk to the train station. It took us about 12 minutes. A cab would also be fairly cheap, probably between 8 and 10 lev.
When you arrive at the train station, the ticket counters are along the back wall. We’d recommend purchasing your ticket first. Then, you can pick up anything else you may need. There is one convenience store, plus a couple small places you can buy food.
The train station does have bathrooms, but you have to pay to use them. I’m not sure how much it costs because the attendant didn’t speak any English and I didn’t have any cash on me.
When you train is about to leave, check which platform your train departs from on the large overhead screens. Then, take the escalator down and follow the signs toward your platform. Most platforms have an east and west side. If your train departs from the East side, take the tunnel on the right to the platforms, and vice versa.
The Train Ride
The scheduled trip time via slow train from Sofia to Plovdiv is 3 hours and 15 minutes. If you take the fast train, it’s supposed to take about two hours and 30 minutes. It was actually very impressive how on time the train was. We were scheduled to leave at 12:10 PM, and the train started moving at exactly 12:11 PM.
We have to be honest here: the train wreaked of pee. Not sure why this is, but every single car smelled of urine. We opened the window in our car and that helped a little bit, but we could still smell it.
The train that we were on didn’t have WiFi. However, the ride went by pretty quickly. I had some Netflix downloaded onto my iPad, and Jack enjoyed looking out the window and admiring the gorgeous landscapes we passed.
Here are a few notes we have about the amenities on the train:
- No WiFi
- Seats were pretty old and dirty, though cushy and comfy
- Train cars smelled of pee
- Bathroom wasn’t too dirty; there was soap but no toilet papers
- Luggage racks over every seat
- Windows in each car that do open
- Small trash cans in each seating section
The train was scheduled to arrive in the Plovdiv Train Station at 3:25. Sure enough, like clockwork, we pulled into Plovdiv at exactly 3:26. Overall, very impressive how on time the train was. It’s definitely way more predictable than taking a bus.
Arriving in Plovdiv
The train station is Plovdiv is, predictably, quite a bit smaller than the station in Sofia. It still looked like they had the same amenities–convenience store, restaurant, bathrooms, etc.
When we left the station, there were a bunch of cabs waiting up front to take you where you need to go.
Taking the train from Sofia to Plovdiv is a cheap, reliable way to get there. It’s definitely not glamorous–the train cars aren’t super clean and they definitely don’t smell good. However, we think it’s way better than sitting on a winding bus ride with very little foot room.