Getting there & away
Some agencies operate at the Central Bus Station, offering services to Istanbul (40 to 45 lv, 18 hours), Athens (108 lv, 12 hours) and elsewhere, although most are now found at the Trafik Market (981 2979), immediately in front of the central train station. There are numerous kiosks here representing all the major companies such as Eurolines (981 0998) and Group (980 6586), which sells tickets on buses to destinations all over Europe, including Paris (190 lv), Rome (180 lv), London (260 lv), Copenhagen (250 lv) and many cities in Germany.
Eurotours (931 1500; basement, central train station) also sells tickets for international destinations, including twice-daily trips to Belgrade (38 lv, eight hours).
It pays to shop around though, as different companies offer different prices.
The central train station (931 1111) is a massive concrete hive that has recently undergone a facelift, though it’s still far from cheerful or user-friendly – if Franz Kafka had turned his hand to architecture, this might have been the result.
Destinations for all domestic and international services are listed on timetables in Cyrillic, but departures (for the following two hours) and arrivals (for the previous two hours) are listed in English on a large computer screen on the ground floor. Directions and signs around the station are sometimes translated into French. There’s a small information counter in the foyer, but nobody here speaks foreign languages. Other facilities include a post office, left-luggage office, simple cafés, a very basic hotel and accommodation agencies. The rates at the foreign exchange offices are very poor indeed, so best wait until you get into town.
Same-day tickets for destinations along the lines to Vidin, Ruse and Varna are sold at counters on the ground floor; same-day tickets to other destinations are sold in the gloomy basement, accessed via an unsigned flight of stairs obscured by another set of stairs that heads up to some snack bars. Counters are open 24 hours, but normally only a few are staffed and queues are long, so don’t turn up at the last moment to purchase your ticket, and allow some extra time to work out the confusing system of platforms (indicated with Roman numerals) and tracks. Advance tickets, seat reservations and sleepers for domestic services are available from a separate downstairs office (open 6am to 7.30pm Monday to Friday and 7am to 2.30pm Saturday).
The central train station is easy to reach from pl Sveta Nedelya on Trams 1, 2 and 7; by taxi (about 3 lv one way); or on foot (about 20 minutes).
All tickets for international trains, and advance tickets for domestic services, can be bought at one of several Rila Bureaux (www.bdz-rila.com; central train station 932 3346; 6.30am-11pm; NDK Underpass 965 8402; 7am-7pm Mon-Fri, to 2pm Sat; ul General Gurko 987 0777; ul General Gurko 5; 7am-7pm Mon-Fri, to 2pm Sat). Staff at these offices usually speak some English.
The only domestic flights within Bulgaria are between Sofia and the Black Sea coast. Bulgaria Air flies daily to Varna (single/return around €105/160), with two or three daily flights between July and September. Bulgaria Air also flies between the capital and Burgas (single/return around €80/130).