Three. That’s how many options were available for making our way from Sofia to Sunny Beach, Bulgaria. First was by plane to Burgas and after so many flights in the last month (Australia to Malaysia to Turkey to Malta to Germany to Greece and finally to Bulgaria) we were not excited by the prospect of being back in the air. It was at least 3 to 4 times more expensive than the next 2 options. Second was a train, which also went to Burgas, and would require a 30-minute bus or taxi to Sunny Beach. And third, there was the bus. Timing-wise the bus and the train were fairly similar, and at least the bus got us directly where we needed to go without the hassle of switching transport and lugging our luggage that would have occurred with the train.
While in Sofia we chose to stay at the Hotel Sofia Plaza. A lovely staff member named Irina made our stay more than pleasant. When I mentioned our plans to travel to Sunny Beach she was so helpful calling a few bus companies to find us the best price possible - about 30 Lev each (€15). That’s less than AUD$23 per adult for a 7-hour bus ride and the kids were free with their own seats. This included a discount for booking online.
The website was all in Bulgarian, so Irina bought and paid for our tickets with her own local credit card, while we handed her cash. We picked up the tickets from the Central Bus Station the next day with nothing more than a printed paper confirmation. The bus station has multiple booths with different companies to choose from and we found ours very easily (Union Ivkoni).
On Sunday we walked from our hotel to the Central Bus Station with all our luggage. It wasn’t far, quite convenient actually. We arrived at 4:30pm for a punctual 5pm departure. The bus ticket clearly told us our bus would be at bay 23 and it was, no dramas. The drivers didn’t speak any English, however a few of the passengers did and were very helpful explaining some of the stops to us. The bus made several unscheduled stops along the way dependent on the passengers.
Our bags were placed under the bus and we hopped onto a fairly lush coach, with curtains and tray tables. Not all the seats were booked so we managed to put the kids on a row (2 seats each) so they could lie down while Josh and I shared a row.
The time went fast as we meandered by mountains with snowy peaks, passed endless fields of green and zigzagged through quaint little towns.
Frustratingly, the first scheduled 2 stops had no toilets available so I rushed the kids into nearby shrubs for an impromptu, but urgently needed, toilet break while I soldiered on. By the time we finally reached a comfort break at a place with a toilet I felt like a camel holding water ready to pop. It was around 9pm and we had a 20-minute stop near a restaurant. A small rickety playground at the back kept the kids amused. It was a relief to stretch our legs and share a round of well-deserved ice creams.
Note: All toilets along the way required a form of payment (usually 0.50 Lev) and the toilet that was open at our pitstop was 0.30 Lev. I’m not quite sure where that money went as it wasn’t particularly clean, but it did the job. In saying that, it was a “squat” toilet. Hadn’t seen one of those since Asia!
Back on the bus the kids were in and out of sleep, while I read my Kindle and watched movies on the laptop. Nearing midnight we finally pulled into the bus station at Sunny Beach. A nearby 24-hour minimart was open and several taxis lined up waiting and ready to charge an arm and a leg.
In Sofia we found the taxi drivers all used meters and getting around was pretty cheap. Once in Sunny Beach we didn’t meet one who did so. Much too late, we found you need to settle on a price before you get in, but at midnight with tired kids and tons of luggage, all we wanted to do was get to bed. So for 20 Lev (€10 or AUD$15) we were driven, no more than 100 metres, to our new apartment… but that’s a whole other story!
Other than booking the tickets, which if you don’t have a Bulgarian helping you, can be done at the station, we found the bus system really easy to use. The roads were smooth and the bus was comfortable and quiet.
Given the chance I’d certainly travel by bus again around Bulgaria. I hope our experience helps you better plan your holiday around Bulgaria, and saves you a few bucks (and your bladder) along the way.