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Bulgaria - Travel and visas
UK passport holders do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days in a six-month period. Passports should be valid for the period of the intended stay. Other UK passport holders require a visa and a passport that is valid for at least six months.
Irish nationals do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days within a six-month period. A passport valid for the period of intended stay is required.
US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand
Citizens of the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days within a six-month period. Passports must be valid for at least three months after entry.
The main international airport is Sofia Airport. Terminal 2 opened in 2007 and is for international scheduled services. Terminal 1 is used for domestic, budget and charter flights. The three other airports, Plovdiv, Varna and Burgas, mainly operate with charter and budget flights.
There are regular flights between Sofia and Amsterdam, Alicante, Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Cologne, London, Madrid, Malaga, Manchester, Milan, Moscow, Palma de Mallorca, Paris, Prague, Rome, Tel Aviv, Vienna and Zurich, as well as internal flights to and from Burgas and Varna. There are also international flights to Burgas and Varna, but these are mainly holiday charters and mainly in summer. However, the budget airline WizzAir flies to both coastal airports several times weekly all year round from Luton airport.
There are no direct flights from Australia, New Zealand or Canada, so travellers from there will need to connect via a European hub. For Australia check www.flightcentre.com.au or www.mgtravel.com.au; for Canada www.travelocity.ca and for New Zealand www.flightcentre.co.nz. STA Travel have information on all these, as well as US connections.
There are trains from Belgrade, Bucharest, Istanbul, Munich, Thessalonika, Venice, Vienna, Zagreb and Zurich. From elsewhere in Europe you need to make a connection via these stations or along the route.
There are different categories of train. Passenger trains (Putnicheski vlak) are the slowest and least comfortable (but cheapest), usually only covering short distances or connecting to remote places. Rapid trains (Burz vlak) are the regular trains that connect major cities, more expensive than passenger trains and less uncomfortable. Express (Expresen vlak) are the fastest and most comfortable, but also the most expensive. They are not very common; usually there is just one a day from Sofia to Burgas, Varna and Plovdiv or on international services.
Train tickets on main routes (Sofia to Plovdiv, Varna and Burgas) can be purchased online at www.bdz.bg.
Bus transport is generally a little more expensive than trains but it is faster and in many ways better. The buses are new and air-conditioned and provide a good service. Most of the bus routes to the major cities and international lines start from Sofia’s central bus station. Numerous companies are licensed to operate here. You should check bus journey routes, times and prices locally. For some journeys the actual route may vary, taking in different towns and taking longer. A helpful website for bus information is www.avtogari.info/index_en.php.
In the countryside where the pace of life is slow, there are no particular difficulties about driving, but it becomes more complicated in the big cities; everyone declares Varna drivers to be the worst! Busy main roads, especially in summer, are also hazardous. Many are single carriageway and full of drivers impatient to overtake slow-moving lorries. Even on the motorway it can be difficult because there are still some old cars whose top speed is very slow, and they occasionally pull out to overtake trucks, causing all the speedy BMW and Mercedes drivers to brake dramatically. On minor roads there may be slow-moving agricultural machinery and donkey carts.
Road conditions vary enormously: there are smooth stretches of dual carriageway (a few!), plenty of reasonably well-kept roads, and some seriously pot-holed roads, a pot-hole being 20–40cm deep and maybe 1m across! In remote areas there are unmade roads, which appear on maps but have no tarmac at all; some are fairly smooth and some almost impassable. So although Bulgaria is not a large country, it is important not to assume you can cover distances in the time it would be possible in the UK. Apart from the lack of road maintenance, much of the country is mountainous with winding roads where traffic speed is regulated by the slowest trucks.
Car rental is available everywhere although, if you wish to collect in one place and hand over in another, your best bet will be the larger companies. Online booking often provides the best deals, so it is well worth checking there first. The largest Bulgarian car-hire company is www.rentacarbulgaria.com.