Having only visited Bulgaria to travel round it by train I can’t comment on the touristy bits. My initial observations about the railway were good, with trains generally being on time. There is often engineering work in Bulgaria which isn’t that well advertised online, there are however noticed up at most stations along the routes affected listing the trains by number and the alterations applicable, including the dates they’re affected between. Beware some stations have different notes to others……
Bulgarski Durzhavni Zheleznitsi (BDZ) operate the national rail service, throughout Bulgaria; also offering many cross border trains into neighbouring countries. You can use the BDZ online timetable to plan your trip. PDF downloads are available for International train schedules within Bulgaria. Full BDZ timetables can be purchased at major stations in Bulgaria or ordered from Fahrplancenter before your trip.
A comprehensive list of both passenger and freight operators in Bulgaria can be found on the helpful Railfan Europe website’s Bulgaria page.
Train times and Tickets
Booking tickets for travel within Bulgaria can be done at most BDZ stations. Tickets are not available online but information on ticket types regarding the booking periods and types of tickets sold is available. If you only require reservations for either Interrail, Eurail or railway staff passes then this can be done via phone to the DB office in London.
If choosing to use an Interrail pass, either for just within Bulgaria, or to pass through Bulgaria, all the relevant details on the passes, including the different types/lengths of validity available, can be found on the InterRail website.
Also available for travel in Bulgaria is the Balkan Flexi Pass which is valid in Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, Turkey & Bosnia. Periods of validity range from 5, 7, 10 or 15 days in 1 month but there is a limitation in that if you buy the pass in Bulgaria it is only valid in Bulgaria for one return journey to/from the border; this is the same whichever country you buy it in!
Finally travel in Europe can be made a lot simpler by using the very, very, helpful smartphone app courtesy of Eurail. This app is available both online and offline and is always up to date (well it has been for the countries I’ve used it in; including for any planned engineering works); for me it was an essential part of my travel in Europe. This app is linked to the Hafas system, which countries like Germany, Austria & Switzerland use for their train planning online tool. Eurail has done what the individual countries haven’t though and made it available offline.
For the Rail Enthusiast
A comprehensive list of Bulgarian Locomotives by their respective railway system can be found on the Railfaneurope website’s Bulgaria page. This also explains a bit the various operators of the network and how they have amalgamated over the years.
A detailed map/atlas of the South East Europe & Turkey Railway Systems, which includes Bulgaria, is available from European Railway Atlas.