Even in the centre of the capital you can see horse-drawn carts. It's usually gypsies collecting recyclebles, paper, old tyres, abandoned electrical appliances, grass for their animals, and tons of other things they find useful for some reason. Carts are banned in the centre but still you see one or two every day. The bad thing is that the horses don't have the 'toilet bag' or whatever it's called... Here is a cart we saw just turning into Dondoukov Street, close to the Presidency and the Sheraton Hotel. Maybe the guy was going to pick up some important guests...
Although Sofia with its more than 1,4 Million inhabitans is the biggest city in Bulgaria, the city centre is still very walkable.
Most of the main sights are in walking distance to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which is probably the dominating landmark in the touristy heart of Sofia.
Also there are many pedestrianised streets or pathways which are not accessible to cars or public transportation anyway.
OK, let me first make a confession :) I do not use public transport. I either walk or use a taxi, so I am not expert in this field but here I will give you some info about the tickets that you can use while you are in Sofia:
Where to buy it:
You have a couple of options - you can buy them from:
-- all subscription bureaus and ticket-outlets of Sofia Public Transport Company,
-- street vendors sometimes sell them
-- the drivers of the vehicles
Types and Prices:
-- for a single ride (BGN 0.50) - after getting into the vehicle its is validated by punching machine, and it should be kept until getting off the vehicle,
-- combined ticket for 2 rides (surface transport) – for 60 min (BGN 0.80). Within 60 minutes 2 rides could be done, as on the ticket in addition to punching the initial hour of journey is marked,
-- combined for 2 rides (once for surface transport and once for the underground) – within 60 minutes (BGN 0.80). 2 rides may be done, as on the ticket it should be marked the initial hour of the journey in addition to the punching,
-- a saver ticket for five rides (BGN 2.00) – this ticked consists of 5 single use cuts – all bearing one and the same series number and it may be used by one passenger only,
-- a saver ticket for three rides (BGN 1.35) – this ticked consists of 3 single use cuts – all bearing one and the same series number and it may be used by one passenger only.
-- for charging of passenger without regular travel document (BGN 5.00)– such a ticket should be punched by the ticket inspecting authority and it entitles the particular passenger to continue his/her further journey by the same transport vehicle,
I had taken the types and prices info from the site below, you can also see pictures of the different tickets there. The address listed below is the address of the REVENUES COLLECTION CENTRE of the company and the phone number is the number of the Claims department.
This is a resume of a mail I got:
The essence of the system is the concept of tickets - small slips of paper that are supposed to grant you legitimate access to public transportation. Indeed, the Sofia Public Transportation Company has invented variety of tickets with different price, shape, function and color, thus demonstrating their hopes to gain as much money from confused travellers. Checks are done via sub-human individuals - controllers, whose only goal is to make your travel uncomfortable and to get as much money as possible.
In order to have a legitimate ride and not be attacked by a blood-thursty controller, you should punch the ticket in the puncher - a device that has a primitive key encryption system, that leaves irremovable holes on your ticket in a pseudo-random combination. It is constant relating to a single vehicle, but is different accross different vehicles, and is changed daily.
How to escape a controller:
- Speak in a foreign language - they surely are not aware of foreign languages
- Ignore the controller - Pretend to be deaf, blind and senseless - do not react in any way to his actions
- Run away from the controller - In crowded public transportation vehicles you can have the chance to get out on the next stop, before the controller reaches you
- Move in groups - Controllers tend to ignore groups of 7-8 or more people that appear to be in good health.
I have seen a 5th way to escape a controller:
- If the guy enters from the first door the passenger gets off from the second one waits for a while then goes to the first door and sneaks back in the vehicle behind the back of the controller.
But seriously, some of the controllers are rude at times. So, if you have the feeling that the contoller is being too rude or you have doubts if he is a legitimate one, you can call the number below and report what happened.
A legitimate controller should be wearing a jacket like the one on the picture, have a badge and ID card.
The alternative way to spend your money on public transportation in Sofia is to buy passes. The difference between the ticket and the pass is taht the tickets are about certain number if rides while the passes are issued for a particular period of time.
Where to buy it:
Passes can be purchased from all subscription bureaus and ticket-outlets of SKGT.
One-day, five-day and monthly passes for the integrated city transport network can also be purchased from external retailers.
Types and Prices:
-- One-day pass to all lines - BGN 2.20
-- Five-day pass to all lines - BGN 10.00
-- One-month pass to one line - BGN 17.00
-- One-month pass to two lines - BGN 28.00
-- One-month pass to all lines - BGN 37.00
-- One-month pass to one line of the ground transport and all the underground - BGN 28.00
-- One-month pass to two lines of the ground transport and all the underground - BGN 34.00
-- Three-month pass to one line - BGN 50.00
-- Three-month pass to two lines - BGN 82.00
-- Three-month pass to all lines - BGN 100.00
What most probably would be usefull to you are the one- and five-days passes for all lines but in the sake of completeness I had put here all types.
Sofia's centre is quite compact and most sights are easily covered by walking. Other than that public transport is quite good. You've got the choice between trams, buses, trolleybuses, minibuses and even a metro line. A regular oneway ticket is 1 BGN, you can buy them at booths near the the stops and you have to validate them on the tram/bus/trolley. If you're using a minibus, you pay the fee (which is 1,50BGN) directly to the driver.
The best way to go fast from one destination to another is the public transport. Well, not the best idea, because REALLY the best idea is to walk, but if you don't like walking, you can just use a bus or another vehicle.
You can also use a taxi, but as I wrote in another tip-be careful with taxi prices!
Amsterdam - 2164km
Athens - 784 km
Barcelona - 2322km
Belgrade - 385km
Bern - 1761km
Bruxelles - 2122km
Budapest - 775km
Warsowie - 1457km
Wien - 1020km
Geneve - 1724km
Copenhagen - 2001km
Koln - 1899km
Laipzig - 1552km
London - 2249km
Madrid - 2934km
Munich - 1440km
Oslo - 2451km
Paris - 2265km
Prague - 1291km
Rome - 1662km
Stockholm - 1812km
Frankfurt - 1735km
Helsinki - 2461km
Zurich - 1760km
Stuttgart - 1667km
I appologize about the mispelling of some cities, I will get the time to check the proper spelling later...
We used Air Malta that have some offers in February (return ticket for less than 100euro)
The old terminal (Terminal 1) serves some low budget companies while the new one (Terminal 2) is the one that most companies use. There is a bus that connects the 2 terminals but don’t try to walk because there is a great distance between them (about 3km, maybe more).
Not much to do at the airport, the typical stores, some cafes etc
The banks at the airport have normal exchange rates but the exchange offices have really bad rates so if you arrive after banks are closed try to do only some money and then do the rest next morning in the city center (but again try to use a bank)
The airport is located 12km east of the city center. Although many hotels offer shuttle buses there are taxis outside that will easily take you to the city centre for about 9 leva. Check for company OK Supertrans that has an agreement with the airport.
On our way back we just used a normal bus. We took bus 84 from Sofia University/Eagle Bridge. In 30’ we were at the airport and the ticket costs only 1lev +1lev for a big luggage.
Sofia is well connected with other bulgarian towns but also some other countries. The train station is about 20’ north from the city center. We used this site to check train schedule, when you click on a certain option you get “fares” on the right for each particular journey. There are single and return tickets and the prices vary a bit depending on the type of train. For Plovdiv we got a return ticket for 14.90leva, the return date was open so at Plovdiv we just went to the counter before we get on train. We didn’t have to book tickets in advance but I guess in high season you may need it to be sure.
The central bus station is located next to the train station. We didn’t use any long distance bus but there are many that connect Sofia with othet cities and towns.
If you stay in the city center you will easily walk everywhere because most of the sites/sights are just in walking distance one from the other. Vitosha Blvd is pedestrian one with fancy shops and leads to the National Palace of Culture & a big square.
There are a lot of buses and trams, probably you wont need any. We used one just to get to the airport. The ticket costs 1 lev and you get it from the ticket (you need an extra ticket for a huge luggage)
The metro (just one line with 14 stations) isn’t very useful for the tourists but we stayed a bit out of the center so it was convenient for us. A ticket costs 1 lev and you get it from the counter downstairs before you go in. You cannot buy tickets for metro in advance. The most popular station is Serdica which is the central one, where bul. Todor Aleksandrov, bul. Vitosha and bul. Knyaz Aleks. Dondukov intersect. That is the city center with Sheraton and the Presidency. Behind them is the National Theater & Archeological museum, up Dondukov is the Parliament, the Sofia University (nice building), a must-visit cathedral Alexander Nevski and the ex ottoman palace currently a National Gallery.
Taxi is a good/fast and cheap way to move away from the center. Watch out for some companies that charge a lot, sometimes 4 times up the going rate which is (in 2012) about 0,70BGN per km. You can check this before you get in at the side window of the taxi.
The most reliable company is OK Taxis. The problem is that there are similar companies like CK taxis (if you see their sign you’ll notice that it looks like OK to confuse you). They try to imitate the popular companies, they even have similar phone numbers (for a tourist is hard to know the real ones anyway) and they use to hang around hotels and popular sites like the train station. Of course never accept a taxi driver that comes to you and offer a drive.
Sofia has lots of buses, trolleybuses,trams and metro.
To get to our accomodation we needed a trolleybus. In the end we bought day tickets every day, so that we needn’t bother about individual tickets. You need to buy the tickets from the kiosks. But not all kiosks sell day tickets or not every station has a kiosk that sells tickets at all. So think ahead.
You may also use the day ticket on the metro. Just when we visited, the connecting stretch was opened. The day ticket doesn’t fit into the new machines at the metro entrances but you just go to the window, show it and pass through that turnstile there.
On my last visit I had no intention whatsoever of going into Sofia but rather flew there in order to catch the train onwards to Plovdiv. Having done my pre-trip research I decided to get the #84 bus into the city and get off as soon as I recognised somewhere close to the railway station. What I didn't realise was that the bus goes nowhere near the central rail or bus stations, a fact that I only discovered when it took me back to the airport!
Never mind. I was in no rush and it was a pleasant sunny November day. In the airport arrivals there's a useful bus guide which shows the bus correspondances (in both Bulgarian and English) and so I determined that there is no direct public transport connection between the airport and the stations but rather that you have to change en route.
The easiest, and most recognisable, interchange is the Hotel Pliska on the edge of the Borisova Gardens. From here you can connect to either the 213 or 313 buses which take you the stations shared forecourt. Changing buses here also has the advantage of a pleasant digression into the gardens themselves if you have the time.
Update Sept 2010 from a Forum post by fizzytom:
Now i have done this journey I can report that there is a shuttle bus to the centre (or the bus station) if you prefer for the price of €3 per person which is great value considering how quick and easy it is. As we were leaving Sofia immediately for Serbia this proved to be an excellent way of making the journey.
The driver knew all the short cuts and got us to the bus station in twenty minutes.
Sofia has a very extensive public transport network of busses, trolley busses, trams and metro. It can all seem a bit chaotic when you first arrive but here's a pretty good schematic map of the system - Sofia Transport
As far as I can understand it a single fare is 1 leva (Nov 2009) which is good for 60 minutes but if you need to make a transfer you have to write on the ticket the time of boarding your first vehicle. Tickets must be bought before boarding (with the exception of the airport buses on which they can be bought from the driver) at newsagents and kiosks and then validated on the vehicle. If your luggage is larger than airline "cabin baggage" then you need a separate ticket for that.
Ticket inspections are pretty regular and if your ticket isn't in order there's an on-spot fine of 10 Leva. If you have any disputes it's the driver who makes the final decision but if you don't speak speak Bulgarian you'll be a bit flummoxed.
When you travel in Sofia, I recommended you to travel by the public transport. It is not very pleasant, especially in hours when people go to work or finish work (8-10 am and 17-19 pm) but it's cheaper.
If you plan to travel by the public transport a lot, I recommend you to buy a daily card or a talon of 10 tickets. Here are the prices of tickets and cards:
A ticket for single travel - 1 BGN
A talon of 5 tickets - 4,25 BGN
A talon of 10 tickets - 7,50 BGN
A daily card - 4 BGN
A card for 5 days - 15 BGN
A monthly card - 50 BGN
IMPORTANT! Note that all these prices, tickets and talons are per a person and must not be used by more than one person. When you buy a talon of 5 or 10 tickets, you must use it only for you, so if you travel with another person, he must use another one!
You can travel by bus, tube, tram and trolley.
Bus services between Sofia and Skopje run about 6 times a day with a journey time, depending on the border crossing, of about six hours. The service seems to be shared between the Macedonian Transkop Bitola company, the Bulgarian Matpu 96 OOD and a couple of others. The one-way fare at the time of writing was 32 leva (from Sofia) and the equivalent (just over 1000) in denar from Skopje.
In order to buy a ticket you’ll need your passport and tickets can be bought from Matpu office at Sofia’s Serdika bus station (adjacent to the central one) or (going in the other direction) from any of the ticket desks at Skopje.
One minor difference between the two services I used is that the Matpu company charges 1 leva (30 denar) for luggage (anything bigger than a large purse/handbag) whilst there was no charge on the Transkop Bitola bus.
The journey is quite scenic, passing through the various mountain ranges, the buses are perfectly comfortable and on both legs there was a strategic rest break (cigarette break in my case) about midway. The border crossing is a bit of a hassle with both sets of border officials checking passports. Coming in we all had to get off the bus and temporarily reclaim our luggage from the baggage hold for customs inspection and then on the way back Bulgarian border control decided that my passport needed double checking (well if you saw my picture you’d understand why) and so we were held up whilst I had to wait outside the control office for about twenty minutes for that. But otherwise it was a pleasant journey.
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