This blog is called ‘Europe By Bus’, but sometimes catching a train is the easier option.
I know from my own experience that there is a lack of information online regarding the train journey from Bucharest to Sofia, so I’m here to share my personal experience so you know what to expect.
I traveled to Sofia in November, so it was very cold and I was literally freezing on the platform. The train itself wasn’t that much warmer, and for some reason, the floor was wet. The train was pretty run down and it had these little cigarette ash box things which kind of showed how old the train was as you haven’t been able to smoke on a train for some time.
The train would have been fine, however, if it wasn’t for the fact that there were no charging points in my carriage and the trip took about ten hours.
I had chosen the cheapest possible seating option, i.e. a seat in second class, and whilst this wasn’t a problem on the way to Brasov, you could really tell the difference on the train to Sofia. The seats in first class had charging points, they had more comfortable seats, the floor wasn’t wet and the carriage had far more people in it.
I wasn’t really prepared to spend ten hours without any music or entertainment, so I developed a bit of a sneaky system. The ticket inspectors would come down every time the train stopped, so after they had gone through my carriage I would go into first class to charge my phone, and then when the train stopped again I’d go back into my carriage for the inspectors.
One of the guys in first class kept staring at me and he clearly knew what I was up to, but I don’t think he said anything.
I’m not sure how much first class tickets cost, but if you don’t mind spending the extra money I would recommend you do it for this train journey.
One other thing that was kind of disconcerting on this train is that when they do border controls when you reach Bulgaria they actually take your passport off the train with them without telling you where they’re going. You do get them back and they didn’t give anyone the wrong passport/ID card as far as I’m aware but it was still a bit off-putting.
You will get your passport back, and they didn’t give anyone the wrong passport/ID card as far as I’m aware, but it was a bit freaky when they first took my passport away and I didn’t know if I was going to get it back. The other people on the train reassured me and said it was normal, but just be prepared that this will probably happen.
Another thing is that when I got off the train at the border station there were no less than four stray dogs just chilling on the platform. The initial sight of them was a bit offputting as you always assume stray dogs will have fleas at best and rabies at worst, but these ones actually seemed really calm, friendly and sweet.
All in all the train wasn’t so bad. There was a man in my carriage (we were basically the only two people in the carriage for about 6 hours) who kept complaining to me about how bad Bulgaria is and kept saying how he was going to sleep on a train platform for seven hours, but he was nice enough really.
The journey was also fairly scenic, although it got dark pretty early as it was late autumn when I went. I can imagine this train is a lot better during the spring and summer months.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however. I had booked a hostel the day before and hadn’t really bothered to double check my reservation since, but when I was around half an hour away from Sofia I double checked the address and then realised something.
The hostel’s reception closed at 7: pm. Check in stopped at 7: pm.
It was 10: pm.
So that wasn’t great. I wanted a warm bed to sleep in, not to be homeless in the streets of Bulgaria. Luckily as it was a Sunday I managed to book into The Arts Hostel which was more expensive but had the distinct advantage of a 24/hour reception. It’s also quite easy to find and is pretty close to everything so it was probably the better choice in the long run.
One of the first things I noticed about Sofia was how high-tech everything seemed to be. They had TV screens on the tube stations, they had Wifi literally everywhere in the city, and the House of Culture was a pretty impressive introduction to the city.
The Art hostel had been described as ‘fun but dirty’ in the Hostelworld reviews, and that’s basically what it was. The sleeping arrangements were a little weird because there were two bunk beds and a random mattress on the floor. I don’t know if people pay less for the mattress or if it’s just luck of the draw, but it’s not exactly what you’d expect for £10 ish a night.
The hostel is pretty social and I met some guys from New Zealand who seemed nice (at least at first, more on that later). The hostel has some pretty impressive street art and a very cheap bar downstairs.
It is also only around five minutes walk from the main shopping street and it’s pretty close to all the main attractions, so if you don’t mind a bit of grime I would recommend it as a place to stay. They also had a really nice garden set up which I imagine would be really good during the summer months.