London to Bulgaria by train, a 48 hour Balkan adventure...

It's not difficult to travel to Bulgaria by train, in fact it's a safe, comfortable and interesting journey.  The train ride from London to Bulgaria takes as little as 48 hours, by Eurostar to Paris, 200mph double-decker TGV to Munich, the excellent air-conditioned sleeper train to Zagreb, leisurely daytime train to Belgrade (with an evening to see something of the city) then another overnight train with a couchette to Sofia.  The train times, fares, and how best to buy tickets are all explained on this page.

Train times, fares, tickets & information...

  London to Sofia by train, via Zagreb & Belgrade in just 48 hours! Train times, fares & how to buy tickets.

  London to Sofia & Veliko Tarnovo by train, via Budapest & Bucharest: 3 nights, but more comfortable with a day in Bucharest.

  London to Sofia by train, via Budapest & Belgrade:  An alternative:  Train times, fares & how to buy tickets.

  New!  Video guide: London to Bulgaria by train...

  Trains to Sofia from other European cities

  Trains from Sofia to other European cities

  Sofia station facilities  About Sofia   Veliko Tarnovo

  General information about train travel in Europe

  Luggage   Taking bikes   Taking dogs

  Hotels & accommodation in Sofia & Bulgaria

Route map:  London to Bulgaria by train...

Route map:  London to Sofia & Bulgaria by train

Sponsored links...

 


Useful country information

Train operator in Bulgaria:

BDZ (Bβlgarski Dβrzhavni Zheleznitsi), www.bdz.bgSofia-Istanbul by train

 

 

Eurostar times & fares    All-Europe online train times

Railpasses:

Beginner's guide to European railpasses    Buy a rail pass online

Time zone:

GMT+2 (GMT+3 from last Sunday in March to last Saturday in October).

Dialling code:

+359

Currency:

£1 = approx 2.2 Lev.   Currency converter

Tourist information:

www.bulgariatravel.org    Tripadvisor Bulgaria page

Visas:

UK citizens don't need a visa to visit Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary or Romania.

Page last updated:

31 March 2014.  Train times valid 15 Dec 2013 to 14 June 2014.


London to Sofia by train

Option 1:  London to Sofia via Paris, Munich, Zagreb & Belgrade...

This is the fastest option, London to Bulgaria overland by train in 48 hours!  It involves comfortable high-quality air-conditioned trains all the way to Belgrade, but a more basic train which currently only has 6-berth couchettes, not private sleepers, overnight between Belgrade and Sofia, that is the only drawback, but it's comfortable enough - see the video guide!  If you insist on a private sleeper for both nights, and don't mind the journey taking 3 nights rather than 2, including a day and night at leisure in Bucharest between trains, see option 2 below.

London ► Sofia

Sofia ► London

How much does it cost?

Each train is ticketed separately, so add up the price for each leg of the journey.

 1. London to Paris

     by Eurostar...

 From £39 one-way, £69 return 2nd class.

 From £107 one-way, £189 return 1st class.  Child, youth, senior fares 

 

 2. Paris to Munich

      by TGV Duplex...

 From £34 one-way, £68 return in 2nd class

 From £53 one-way, £106 return in 1st class.

 Limited availability, book in advance to get these fares.

 Full fare £81 one-way, £142 return.

 

 3. Munich to Zagreb

 on the Lisinski...

In a

seat:

In a couchette

In the sleeping-car

6-berth

4-berth

3-berth

2-berth

single

 Savings fare one-way, from:

€29

€49

€59

€69

€79

€139

 Savings fare return, from:

€58

€98

€118

€138

€158

€278

Savings fare = Advance-purchase fare, price varies, no refunds, no changes to travel plans.

Berths are sold individually, so one ticket means one bed.  The other beds in your compartment will be sold to other passengers.  For sole occupancy, simply book 1 ticket in a 1-berth sleeper or 2 tickets in a 2-berth sleeper or 4 tickets in a 4-berth couchette & so on.

 3. Zagreb to Belgrade

      by day train...

 £43 each way.

 

 4. Belgrade to Sofia

      by night train...

 £44 each way plus £10 couchette supplement

How to buy tickets...

How to buy tickets by phone:  0844 248 248 3...

Tailor-made travel & hotel arrangements...

What are the trains & scenery like?

By Eurostar from London to Paris:  See the Eurostar page.

Paris to Munich by TGV Duplex...  Click for TGV Duplex video guide

Sit back with a glass of red and enjoy the ride - book an upper deck seat for the best views.  The train has power sockets for laptops & mobiles at all seats in both classes, and a cafe-bar serves drinks, snacks & microwaved hot dishes.  First class passengers on this route are given a simple but tasty meal box with a small bottle of beer or wine served at their seat, included in the fare.  The train soon leaves the Paris suburbs behind and speeds across a vast wide open plateau of woods and farmland at up to 200mph, past picturesque French villages of the Champagne region.  After an hour or two, the train leaves the high-speed line and slowly meanders through pretty wooded hills, the countryside eventually flattening out towards Strasbourg.  On leaving Strasbourg, look out for Strasbourg cathedral on the left with its famously missing second tower.  Minutes afterwards you rumble across the river Rhine into Germany, before heading on to Stuttgart and Munich.

TGV Duplex at Paris Gare de l'Est   Upper deck second class on board a TGV Duplex.

TGV Duplex at Paris Est. These impressive 200 mph double-deck trains link Paris & Munich, a relaxing journey with reading book & glass of wine...

 

2nd class seats on TGV Duplex upper deck.  There's a mix of unidirectional seating and tables for 4 like this...

First class on board a TGV Duplex   An TGV Duplex to Munich at Paris Est.

1st class seats on the upper deck, with a 'club duo' on the left, a 'club quatre' on the right.

 

A TGV Duplex.  The red near the door indicates 1st class, pale green indicates 2nd class.

Munich to Zagreb on the sleeper train Lisinski...   Watch the video

This modern sleeper train is a pleasure to travel on, whether in the privacy of your own sleeper or in economical couchettes.  There's time for dinner in Munich before boarding, I recommend the typically Bavarian Mongdratzerl restaurant located inside the Hauptbahnhof, open until late.

The 'Lisinski' sleeper train from Zagreb to Munich, at Zagreb main station   Sleeper compartment in the Croatian sleeping-car from Munich to Zagreb

The sleeping-car on the Lisinski:  The modern air-conditioned Croatian sleeping-car of the Lisinski from Munich to Zagreb has 10 compartments with washbasin, each of which can be used as a 1, 2 or 3 berth room, with toilets at the end of the corridor.  Above left, the sleeper arrived at Zagreb.

 

The couchette car on the Lisinski has modern air-conditioned 6-berth and 4-berth compartments.  Above right, the train is seen boarding at Munich. See panorama photo.

Scenery between Ljubljana, Zagreb & Belgrade

Wake up to scenery like this between Ljubljana & Zagreb, along the river Sava...

Zagreb to Belgrade by air-conditioned train...

This is a spacious and comfortable air-conditioned Serbian train, with modern 2nd class seats - there's no 1st class.  There's no restaurant car, so take a picnic and some beer or wine with you.  On arrival in Belgrade, you have time to wander into town, perhaps visit the fortress overlooking the confluence of Danube and Sava, have a coffee at the Hotel Moskva (free WiFi!) and perhaps dinner at the basic but remarkably cheap Zelturist restaurant in the corner inside Belgrade station.

2nd class seats in a Serbian air-conditioned train   The train from Belgrade to Zagreb & Zurich, about to leave Belgrade

Belgrade to Sofia by overnight train...

East of Belgrade, you leave modern fripperies such as air-conditioning behind...  The Belgrade-Sofia night train now only has a couchette car, no sleeper.  It's an elderly Serbian Railways couchette car with lockable 6-berth compartments looked after by a couchette car attendant from Zelturist, Serbian Railways' sleeper and catering subsidiary.  But it's comfortable enough, and seldom ever full.  Clean sheets, pillow and blanket are provided.  You'll probably find fellow travellers from Germany, the Netherlands, Australia or Britain on board...

The Serbian couchette car on the Belgrade to Sofia train   A 6-berth couchette compartment on the Belgrade to Sofia train

Watch the video:  London to Bulgaria by train...

The video shows what a train ride from London to Bulgaria is like.  There's a slight variation from the journey shown above, the video shows a journey by TGV from the Gare de Lyon to Zurich, then Croatian sleeping-car to Zagreb, instead of a TGV from the Gare de l'Est to Munich, then Croatian sleeping-car to Zagreb, but the sleeping-car is identical to the Munich-Zagreb one and you see the same wonderful scenery between Ljubljana & Zagreb.


Option 2:  London to Sofia via Paris, Munich, Budapest & Bucharest...

This is the most comfortable route to and from Bulgaria, because the trains have proper sleeping-cars for both overnight sectors, whereas the Belgrade-Sofia overnight train in option 1 only has a basic 6-berth couchette car.  However, as the connection in Bucharest is now too tight to rely on making the same day, you need to spend 24½ hours in Bucharest.  That means this route takes 3 nights, whereas option 1 above only takes 2 nights.  Nevertheless, it's a safe, adventurous  and comfortable trip, with some lovely scenery through the Carpathians between Brasov and Bucharest, and across Bulgaria between Bucharest and Sofia.  It also takes you direct to Bulgaria's ancient capital, Veliko Tarnovo, a lovely town.

London ► Veliko Tarnovo, Sofia

Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo ► London

From Paris to Munich by City Night Line sleeper train...

The Paris-Munich overnight train is one of the German Railway's excellent City Night Line sleeper trains.  Called the Cassiopeia, it has modern Comfortline sleeping-cars  with 1, 2 & 3-berth deluxe compartments with private shower and toilet, 1, 2 & 3-berth economy compartments with washbasin.  There is a shower at the end of the corridor for passengers in economy sleepers, and all sleepers have power-points for laptop computers.  The train has modern air-conditioned couchette cars, choose between a berth in a 4 or 6-berth compartment.  There are also ordinary seats (not recommended).  Inclusive fares are charged covering travel plus sleeping accommodation.  The sleeping-car fare includes a light breakfast. More pictures & information about this train.  Travel tip:  For a good meal in a classic Parisian brasserie before boarding the sleeper train in Paris, catch the earlier 14:02 Eurostar & dine at the Brasserie Terminus Nord directly across the road from the Gare du Nord.  For a cooked breakfast in Munich or evening meal before boarding the Paris-bound sleeper on your return, try the typically Bavarian Mongdratzerl restaurant, located in the hauptbahnhof itself.

Sleeping-car compartment (1 2 or 3 berths)   4-berth couchette compartment on Paris-Munich overnight train   6-berth couchette compartment on Paris-Munich overnight train  

The sleeping-car on the Paris-Munich overnight train boarding at the Gare de l'Est

1, 2 or 3 bed sleeper: The most comfortable & civilised option, with proper beds & washbasin.

 

4-berth couchettes:  Ideal for families, much more space per person than 6-berth couchettes.

 

6-berth couchettes:  A very economical option, far better than a seat for just a few euros more...

 

"Night train to Munich":  The Comfortline sleeping-car of the Paris to Munich sleeper train boarding at Paris Gare de l'Est...

More pictures & information about this train...

From Munich to Budapest by RailJet...

RailJet is Austria's brand-new high-speed train, linking Munich, Vienna & Budapest, now also linking Zurich, Innsbruck & Vienna.  Designed to run at up to 230 km/h (143 mph) on sections of upgraded track, it currently reaches 200 km/h on part of the route, but in other parts snakes around beautiful scenery at a more sedate pace.  Look out for great views of Salzburg citadel & castle on the right as you cross the river Salzach approaching Salzburg.  RailJet has three classes, Economy (2nd class), First (1st class), and Business (€15 supplement over normal first class, welcome drink included).  It has a bistro car providing drinks, snacks and hot dishes, which are served on proper china at your seat in first and business classes.  TV screens in each car tell you the train's speed & location, with a list of next station stops and times.  A great way to travel.  More pictures & information about this RailJet train.

The morning RailJet train has arrived in Vienna.   Premium class seats on the Munich-Budapest RailJet train   Economy class seats on the Munich-Budapest RailJet train

"The RailJet has landed..."  The morning RailJet train from Munich has arrived spot on time at Budapest's historic Keleti station...

 

Business class costs €15 more than normal 1st class...

 

Economy class on RailJet, comfortable open saloons with large picture windows.  Some seats are arranged around tables, some are unidirectional.

From Budapest to Bucharest on the EuroNight sleeper train Ister...

The Ister from Budapest to Bucharest has a modern air-conditioned Romanian sleeping-car with carpeted 1, 2 or 3-berth compartments with proper beds & washbasin, plus several deluxe 1, 2 or 3 bed compartments with private toilet & shower, see the photos below.  Travelling in the sleeping-car is safe, comfortable & civilised.  The Ister also has a Romanian couchette car with 6-berth & 4-berth compartments, each berth with rug, sheet & pillow, berths converting to seats by day.  Couchettes are fairly basic, and a proper bed in the sleeper is much more comfortable and secure yet costs very little extra, so is the recommended option.  There's a modern Romanian restaurant car serving dinner and a cooked breakfast, but taking some supplies of your own is always a good idea.  The Ister also has air-conditioned seats cars, but a mere seat is not recommended.

Traveller Philip Dyer-Perry reports:  "Budapest to Bucharest on the Ister is an absolute pleasure. I booked online with MAV and travelled in the new sleeping car, which was comfortable, smooth, and clean. There is a shower, but obviously not intended for use as most of the hose assembly was missing.  There was a dining car, and if you ask you can get a menu, but it's better to ask the man what he's got and negotiate a price.  If you have hard (non-Romanian) currency there is a certain amount of flexibility.  In the evening it was chicken & potatoes, next morning it was a rather tasty omelette.  Just be aware that the main purpose of the dining car is as a place for the traincrew to smoke!  It's good though, and a world away from Western Europe.  The Ister was around 20 minutes late on arrival in Bucharest, but the sleeping car attendant assured a fellow traveller that he would make the connection to Istanbul. In fact he even phoned his colleague on that train.  Once we pulled in we both ran, he to the Istanbul car, me to the Sofia portion. I was worried about not having a ticket as there was no time to buy one so I decided to try my luck on board.  But the guard waited for a quiet moment and offered me the chance to either buy a ticket for 50 leu or simply give him 25 leu and not get a ticket!  On arrival in Ruse, the first station in Bulgaria, there was plenty of time to change money, stock up on food, and buy a ticket (about £8) for the journey onwards to Sofia..."

En suite toilet & shower on EuroNight sleeper train Ister to Bucharest   Single-berth sleeper on the EuroNight sleeper train 'Ister' to Bucharest   EuroNight sleeper train 'Ister' from Budapest to Bucharest

Deluxe sleeper...  The en suite toilet & shower in a deluxe sleeper from Budapest to Bucharest.  Photo courtesy of Andy Brabin.

A sleeper set up as a  single-berth compartment with the middle & top berths folded away against the wall.  Photo courtesy of Andy Brabin.

 

The Budapest-Bucharest Ister:  This is the train's modern air-conditioned Romanian sleeping-car.  The letters above the windows say 'Voiture-Lits - Sleeping-car - Carrozza Letti - Vagon de Dormit'...  Welcome to your hotel on rails:  Some compartments have an en suite toilet & shower!  Photo courtesy of Andy Brabin.

Couchette car on the Ister EuroNight train from Budapest to Bucharest   6-berth couchettes   Romanian couchette car from Vienna to Bucharest

The vagon cuseta (couchette car) on the Ister, at Budapest.

 

6-berth couchettes.

 

4-berth couchettes.

From Budapest to Bucharest on the EuroNight sleeper train Ister...

Sunset between Gorna Orjahovitsa and Ruse   The train (or rather, through carriage) from Sofia to Bucharest at Sofia

Sunset in Bulgaria, seen from a northbound train between Gorna Orjahovitsa and Ruse...

 

The train from Sofia to Bucharest, at Sofia.  Only one Romanian 2nd class compartment car runs direct between Sofia & Bucharest.

How much does it cost?

Each train is ticketed separately, so just add up the price for each leg of the journey...

 1. London to Paris

 by Eurostar

 From £39 one-way, £69 return 2nd class.

 From £107 one-way, £189 return 1st class.  Child, youth, senior fares 

 

 2. Paris to Munich

 by sleeper train, per person

In a

seat

In a couchette

Economy sleeper

Deluxe sleeper

6-bunk 

4-bunk 

3-bed 

2-bed 

1-bed 

2-bed

1-bed

 Savings fare one-way from:

€43 (£36)

€59 (£49)

€69 (£58)

€84 (£70)

€104 (£87)

€144 (£120)

€134 (£112)

€174 (£145)

 Savings fare return from:

€86 (£72)

€118 (£98)

€138 (£116)

€168 (£140)

€208 (£174)

€288 (£240)

€268 (£224)

€348 (£290)

 Full price one-way:

€154

€169

€179

€194

€214

€254

€300

€340

 Railpass supplement*

€12

€27.50

€37.50

€55

€75

€115

€75

€115

 Children under 15**

€4

€20

€30

£71

€65

€105

€65

€105

 Child under 6 sharing berth:

Child under 6 sharing a berth travels free

Berths are sold individually, so one ticket means one bed.  The other beds in your compartment will be sold to other passengers.

For sole occupancy, simply book 1 ticket in a 1-berth sleeper, 2 tickets in 2-berth sleepers, 4 tickets in 4-berth couchettes & so on.

* This is the supplement you pay if you have a railpass, a 1st class pass is required for deluxe sleepers.

** Children under 15 travel free if accompanied by a fare-paying adult, but must pay the berth supplement shown here.

Savings fare = advance-purchase fare, price varies, limited availability, no refunds, no changes to travel plans.

Full price = fully flexible, refundable, buy any time.

Youth fares: 25% off full price (not Savings fares) using www.raileurope.co.uk if you're under 26, Savings fares usually cheaper!

Senior fares: 20% off full price (not Savings fares) using www.raileurope.co.uk if you're over 60, Savings fares usually cheaper!

 3. Munich to Budapest

 by RailJet

 Economy class from €39 (£33) each way.

 First class fares from €69 (£60) each way.

 

 4. Budapest to Bucharest

 by EuroNight Sleeper train Ister

 Booked in the UK:

 £87 each way in 6-berth couchettes.

 £95 each way in 4-berth couchettes.

 £99 each way in 3-bed sleeper

 £112 in 2-bed sleeper

 £198 in single sleeper.

 £162 each way in 2-bed deluxe sleeper with shower, £209 in single-bed deluxe.

 All per person, berths sold individually, you don't need to fill the whole compartment.

 Booked online at Mav-start.hu:

 From €39 with a bed in a 6-bunk couchette.

 From €59 with a bed in a 3-bed sleeper.

 From €97 with a bed in a 2-bed sleeper.

 From €182 with a single-bed sleeper.

 All per person, berths sold individually, you don't need to fill the whole compartment.

 

 5. Bucharest to Sofia

 Around £25-£30 each way, though exact fare not known.

How to buy tickets online, the cheapest way...

  Hungarian Railways e-ticket collection point
 

You can now book the Budapest to Bucharest sleeper train online at the Hungarian Railways website www.mav-start.hu.  Look for these blue e-ticket collection machines at Budapest Keleti station...  Location of internet ticket collection machines at Budapest Keleti station

Anyone from any country can buy tickets online this way, at the cheapest prices, at least as far as Bucharest.

New!  Buy tickets the easy way from europeanrail.com...

Open this special booking form, edit it to your own specific requirements, save it to your PC then email it to European Rail in London.  They will call you back with a confirmed price which you can then accept or decline, paying over the phone by credit card if you accept.  European Rail staff are familiar with making bookings like this, and use the German Railways reservation & ticketing system, the same as DB's UK office.  A £35 booking fee applies.

How to buy tickets by phone...

If you'd prefer to book by phone, just call Deutsche Bahn's UK office on 08718 80 80 66 (lines open 09:00-20:00 Monday-Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday & Sunday, no booking fee, 2% credit card charge, no charge for debit cards), or a booking agency such as European Rail on 020 7619 1083 (lines open 08:30-18:00 Mon-Fri, 09:00-13:00 Saturdays, £35 booking fee).


Option 3:  London to Sofia via Paris, Munich, Budapest & Belgrade...

This is now slower and less efficient than the route via Bucharest, but it's an adventure, and you may well want to stop off in Budapest or Belgrade on the way.

London ► Sofia

Sofia ► London

How much does it cost?

Each train is ticketed separately, so just add up the price for each leg of the journey...

 1. London to Paris

 by Eurostar

 From £39 one-way, £69 return 2nd class.

 From £107 one-way, £189 return 1st class.  Child, youth, senior fares 

 

 2. Paris to Munich

 by sleeper train, per person

In a

seat

In a couchette

Economy sleeper

Deluxe sleeper

6-bunk 

4-bunk 

3-bed 

2-bed 

1-bed 

2-bed

1-bed

 Savings fare, one way from:

€43 (£36)

€59 (£49)

€69 (£58)

€84 (£70)

€104 (£87)

€144 (£120)

€134 (£112)

€174 (£145)

 Savings fare, return from:

€86 (£72)

€118 (£98)

€138 (£116)

€168 (£140)

€208 (£174)

€288 (£240)

€268 (£224)

€348 (£290)

 Full price one-way:

€147

€163

€173

€188

€208

€248

€291

€331

 Child under 15**

€4

€20

€30

£71

€65

€105

€65

€105

 Child under 6 without own berth:

Child under 6 sharing berth travels free...

Berths are sold individually, so one ticket means one bed.  The other beds in your compartment will be sold to other passengers.

For sole occupancy, simply book 1 ticket in a 1-berth sleeper, 2 tickets in 2-berth sleepers, 4 tickets in 4-berth couchettes & so on.

* This is the supplement you pay if you have a railpass, a 1st class pass is required for deluxe sleepers.

** Children under 15 are free if accompanied by a fare-paying adult, but must pay the berth supplement shown here.

Savings fare = advance-purchase fare, price varies, limited availability, no refunds, no changes to travel plans.

Full price = fully flexible, refundable, buy any time.

Youth fares: 25% off full price (not Savings fares) using www.raileurope.co.uk if you're under 26, Savings fares usually cheaper!

Senior fares: 20% off full price (not Savings fares) using www.raileurope.co.uk if you're over 60, Savings fares usually cheaper!

 3. Munich to Budapest

 by RailJet

 Economy class fares start at €39 (£34) one-way, €78 (£68) return

 First class fares start at €69 (£60) one-way, €138 (£120) return

 

 4. Budapest to Belgrade

Booked online at www.mav-start.hu, a Belgrade special fare costs €15 one-way or €26 return, plus a sleeper supplement of around €18 for a bed in a 2-bed sleeper.

 

 5. Belgrade to Sofia

Booked by phone in the UK, approx £40 each way plus £15 couchette supplement

How to buy tickets, the easy way...   Click here for booking form

Click the button (or click here) and a booking form will appear which lists all the specific trains you need to book.  Fill in the form & email it to sales@europeanrail.com.  European Rail will make the reservations and call you back to confirm the cost, which you can then accept or decline.  If you accept, you can give them your credit card details over the phone and they will send you the tickets.  European Rail is an experienced agency whose staff are used to making more exotic bookings like this.  They are equipped with the German Railways reservation & ticketing system, so have access to all the cheap fares for travel via Germany & Austria.  They charge a £35 booking fee which includes postage to any UK address, or they can send to any address worldwide if you pay the courier fee.  Seat61 gets some commission if you buy tickets using this form. 

How to buy tickets online...

You can book from London as far as Belgrade online, although the Belgrade-Sofia train cannot be booked online so needs to be booked by phone.  You may of course prefer to book all your tickets together by phone, but at least you can go online and see what fares area available for your dates of travel for the London-Budapest part of the journey!

How to buy tickets by phone...

You may prefer to book the whole journey by phone, at least as far as Belgrade (as explained above, the Belgrade-Sofia train must now be booked locally).  The best agencies to call for this trip are either Deutsche Bahn's UK office on 08718 80 80 66 (lines open 09:00-20:00 Mon-Fri, 09:00-13:00 Sat & Sun, no booking fee, 2% credit card charge, no charge for debit cards), www.europeanrail.com on 020 7619 1083 (lines open 08:30-18:00 Mon-Fri, 09:00-13:00 Saturdays, £35 booking fee), or Ffestiniog Travel on 01766 772050 (8% booking fee).  Click here for a list of agencies and other useful information on how to book.

Introducing the City Night Line sleeper train from Paris to Munich ...

The Paris-Munich overnight train is one of the German Railway's excellent City Night Line sleeper trains.  Called the Cassiopeia, it has a modern Comfortline sleeping-car (1, 2 & 3-berth deluxe compartments with private shower and toilet and 1, 2 & 3-berth economy compartments with washbasin), modern air-conditioned couchettes (choose between a berth in a 4- or 6-berth compartment), and ordinary seats (not recommended).  In the sleeping-car, there is a shower at the end of the corridor for passengers in standard sleepers, and all rooms have power-points for laptop computers.  The sleeping-car fare includes a light breakfast. More pictures & information about this train.  

Dinner before boarding?  For a good meal in a classic Parisian brasserie before boarding the sleeper train in Paris, catch the earlier 14:04 Eurostar & try the Brasserie Terminus Nord directly across the road from the Gare du Nord.  Alternatively, you can have a meal or beer at the Brasserie Flo at the Gare de l'Est whilst waiting for your sleeper, it's just inside the entrance in what was once the left luggage office.  For a cooked breakfast in Munich (or evening meal before boarding the Paris-bound sleeper on your return) try the Mongdratzerl restaurant, located in the hauptbahnhof itself.

Sleeping-car compartment (1 2 or 3 berths)   4-berth couchette compartment on Paris-Munich overnight train   6-berth couchette compartment on Paris-Munich overnight train  

The sleeping-car on the Paris-Munich overnight train boarding at the Gare de l'Est

1, 2 or 3 bed sleeper: The most comfortable option, with proper beds & washbasin.

 

4-berth couchettes:  Ideal for families, much more space per person than 6-berth couchettes.

 

6-berth couchettes:  A very economical option, far better than a seat for just a few euros more...

 

"Night train to Munich":  The Comfortline sleeping-car of the Paris to Munich sleeper train boarding at Paris Gare de l'Est...

More pictures & information about this train...

Introducing the Munich - Budapest RailJet...

RailJet is Austria's brand-new high-speed train, linking Munich, Vienna & Budapest, now also linking Zurich, Innsbruck & Vienna.  Designed to run at up to 230km/h (143 mph) on sections of upgraded track, it currently reaches 200km/h on part of the route, but in other parts snakes around beautiful scenery at a more sedate pace.  Look out for great views of Salzburg citadel & castle on the right as you cross the river Salzach approaching Salzburg.  RailJet has three classes, Economy (2nd class), First (1st class), and Business (€15 supplement over normal first class, snacks and drinks included).  It has a bistro car providing drinks, snacks and hot dishes, which are served on proper china at your seat in first and premium classes.  TV screens in each car tell you the train's speed & location, with a list of next station stops and times.  A great way to travel.  More pictures & information about this RailJet train.

The morning RailJet train has arrived in Vienna.   Premium class seats on the Munich-Vienna RailJet train   Economy class seats on the Munich-Vienna RailJet train

"The RailJet has landed..."  The morning RailJet train from Munich, arrived in Budapest Keleti spot on time...  Railjet pictures & information.

 

Business class costs €15 more than normal 1st class...

 

Economy class on RailJet, comfortable open saloons with large picture windows.  Some seats arranged around tables, some unidirectional.

By overnight train from Budapest to Belgrade...   Watch the video

This has a basic and very elderly Serbian sleeping-car & couchette car dating from the communist era, but comfortable enough with clean sheets.

A Serbian sleeping-car on the Belgrade to Budapest train   Serbian 2-bed sleeper   Serbian 6-berth couchettes

The Belgrade to Budapest sleeper, arrived at Budapest Keleti...

 

Serbian 2-bed sleeper...

 

6-berth couchettes...

Belgrade to Sofia by overnight train...

East of Belgrade, you leave modern fripperies such as air-conditioning behind...  The Belgrade-Sofia night train now only has a couchette car, no sleeper.  It's an elderly Serbian Railways couchette car with lockable 6-berth compartments looked after by a couchette car attendant from Zelturist, Serbian Railways' sleeper and catering subsidiary.  But it's comfortable enough, and seldom ever full, so you can usually spread out.  Clean sheets, pillow and blanket are provided.  You'll probably find fellow travellers from Germany, the Netherlands, Australia or Britain on board...

The Serbian couchette car on the Belgrade to Sofia train   Couchette car corridor   A 6-berth couchette compartment on the Belgrade to Sofia train

 


Sofia central station

Sofia central station, a grand monument to former times...

Sofia's main station is a grandiose structure, like a giant monument left from an empire long-gone.  Which in a way, it is.  Indeed, cash-strapped BDZ (Bulgarian Railways) is apparently struggling with the cost of heating such a huge space in winter!  Map of Sofia showing station.

Cash dispensers, left luggage, food & drink...

On arrival, you'll find cash dispensers (ATMs) in the great hall at the west end - coming into the great hall off the platforms, turn sharp right and you'll find them under the departure boards on that end wall, roughly behind the photographer in the photo below right.  There's a left luggage office in the great hall towards the east end, see here for left luggage opening times & prices.  You'll find plenty of kiosks selling snacks & drinks all over the station.

Buying tickets...

Domestic tickets can be bought at the ticket office in the great hall.  However, international tickets and reservations must be made at the Rila agency office, which is down the passageway off the west end of the great hall (again, the passageway is right behind behind the photographer in the photo below right).  The Rila office is open 08:30-20:20 every day of the week.

Sofia station, main entrance   Inside Sofia station

Sofia station, main entrance...

 

The great hall at Sofia's central station...

Rila office at Sofia station   Sofia metro

The Rila office at Sofia station.  International tickets must be bought here, open daily 08:30-20:20.

 

The impressive Sofia metro will take you from the station to Sofia city centre, www.metropolitan.bg/en.


Sofia

Click for map of Sofia showing station

The most modern thing about Sofia is its excellent metro system, which will take you from the station into the city centre.  The Sofia metro website is www.metropolitan.bg/en.  Or you can walk, it takes about 20 minutes.

Sofia national theatre   Sofia cathedral

Sofia's national theatre...

 

Sofia's Alexander Nevsky cathedral...


Veliko Tarnovo

Click for map of Veliko Tarnovo showing station

Bulgaria's ancient capital, Veliko Tarnovo is well worth a visit.  Below left, the main gate to the Royal hill and old cathedral.  Below right, the old town.  The station is at the foot of the hills on which the city is built, it's a longish walk up to the town, you may want to take a taxi.  .

Veliko Tarnovo's Royal Hill   Church frescoes   Veliko Tarnovo old town

 


The European Rail Timetable & maps

Thomas Cook European Timetable -  click to buy onlineThomas Cook Rail Map of Europe - buy onlineThe European Rail Timetable - highly recommended!

Formerly the Thomas Cook European Timetable, this has train & ferry times for every country in Europe plus currency & climate information.  It is essential for regular European train travellers and an inspiration for armchair travellers.  Published since 1873, it had just celebrated 140 years of publication when Thomas Cook decided to pull the plug on their entire publishing department, but the dedicated ex-Thomas Cook team have set up a private venture and published the first edition of a reborn European Rail Timetable in March 2014.  You can buy it online with worldwide shipping at www.europeanrailtimetable.euMore information on what the European Rail Timetable contains.

Two excellent maps of the European rail network...

The Thomas Cook Rail Map of Europe (no longer in print, but 2nd-hand copies available via www.amazon.co.uk) and the Travellers' Railway Map of Europe (buy online for €13 + €5.50 worldwide delivery at www.treinreiswinkel.nl/railway_map_of_europe with worldwide delivery) are the two best & most comprehensive maps of train routes right across Europe, from Portugal in the west to Istanbul, Moscow & Ukraine in the east, from Finland in the north to Sicily & Crete in the south.  High speed & scenic routes are highlighted.  Both maps are highly recommended.  A new edition of the Thomas Cook Map is likely to be published by the European Rail Timetable team in 2014, see www.europeanrailtimetable.euMore information on rail maps, including free online maps.


Recommended guidebooks

Lonely Planet Eastern Europe - buy online at Amazon.co.ukRough Guide to Poland - buy online at Amazon.co.ukThe Man in Seat 61 book - click to buy onlineTo get the most from your visit, you should take a good guidebook.  For the independent traveller, I think this means one of two guidebooks, either the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide.  Both series are excellent.  You can buy an in-depth guide for Bulgaria or a guide covering all the countries in Eastern Europe.  Lonely Planet Eastern Europe - Rough Guide Bulgaria.  My own book, an essential handbook for train travel to Europe based on this website called "The Man in Seat 61", was published in June 2008, and is available from Amazon with shipping worldwide.

Click the images to buy online...

 


Find hotels in Sofia & Bulgaria...

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.


Travel insurance & health card...

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Get travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel without insurance from a reliable travel insurer with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover loss of cash (up to a limit) & belongings, and cancellation. An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year (I have an annual policy myself).  Don't expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, though, see the advice on missed connections here.  Here are some suggested insurers, Seat61 gets a little commission if you buy through these links, and feedback from using insurance for rail & ferry travel is always welcome.

In the UK, use www.confused.com to compare prices & policy features across major insurance companies.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get an EU health card, it's free...

If you're a UK citizen travelling in Europe, you should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card, which entitles you to free or reduced rate health care if you become ill or get injured in many European countries, under a reciprocal arrangement with the NHS.  This replaced the old E111 forms as from January 2006.  The EHIC card is available from www.ehic.org.uk.  It doesn't remove the need for travel insurance, though.

Get a spare credit card, designed for foreign travel with no currency exchange loading & low/no ATM fees

Taking out an extra credit card costs nothing, but if you keep it in a different part of your luggage you won't be left stranded if your wallet gets stolen.  In addition, some credit cards are better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

Get an international SIM card to save on mobile data and phone calls...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, and if you're not careful you can return home to find a huge bill.  Consider buying a global pre-paid SIM card for your mobile phone from www.Go-Sim.com, which can slash costs by up to 85%.  Go-Sim cuts call costs in 175 countries worldwide, and you can receive incoming calls and texts for free in 75 countries.  It's pay-as-you-go, so no nasty bills when you get home.  It also allows cheap data access for laptops & PDAs.  A Go-Sim account and any credit on it doesn't expire if it's not used between trips, unlike some others, so a Go-Sim phone number becomes your 'global phone number' for life.

 


Back to 'Rail travel to Europe' general page

Back to home page