Another of my Eastern European world borders series now as I write about my trip from Romania to Bulgaria. Having loved my time in Bucharest, I decided to head south and check out the medieval city of Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria. Having used train to cross from Romania to Moldova (and back the same way) and the bus from Moldova to Transnistria, this time I went for the train again – but a day train. Here’s how to get from Romania to Bulgaria using the train route.
Buying Your Train Ticket
OK as far as buying your ticket is concerned, I recommend one of two options:
1. Buy it the day before in advance
2. Buy it just before the train leaves (but arrive at the station an hour early)
For once in life I decided to buy my ticket the day before, just as I had more time that day and was near the train station in Bucharest so I just popped in and bought my ticket. You buy the ticket from Casa 1 – which is for international departures from Bucharest’s Gara de Nord.
I decided to head from Bucharest in Romania to Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria. There is no direct train on this route so you need to change, unless you are heading to either Ruse, Gorna Oryakhovitsa or Sofia. Those three stations in Bulgaria (and a few others), you can reach without having to change trains.
My ticket from Bucharest to Veliko Tarnovo cost me 89 Lei in total (around $25 US). The ticket was in two parts – my train from Bucharest to Gorna Oryakhovitsa and my second train of the day which would leave from Gorna Oryakhovitsa and go to Veliko Tarnovo. You need your passport and the payment (in card or cash – I used cash). I got issued with two tickets – one for each leg of the journey.
Bucharest Gara de Nord is full of great cafes, bars, restaurants (even brand name ones if you mis your McDonalds etc.) and takeaway coffee for $0.20 from the dispensers.
Leaving Bucharest at Gara de Nord
My train was heading for Sofia at 12.55 pm and so I boarded around 12.35pm and found my seat.
In my 6 seat compartment was one other backpacker – Mine from Turkey and a local Romanian couple. The train was delayed slightly but we pulled out of Bucharest Gara de Nord around 13.10 pm and headed south towards the border.
I chatted to Mine all about travel – she was heading to Varna in Bulgaria next (which requires a change at Ruse – just across the border). I was heading to Veliko Tarnovo (which requires a change at Gorna Oryakhovitsa).
At 2.05 pm we arrived at the station in Videle and a few more people got on. I opened my last Romanian beer here which I had bought at the station.
Leaving Romania at Giurgiu Nord
At 4pm we were at the border to leave Romania – it’s a place called Giurgiu Nord. You stay on the train. At the start you can get off to have a walk (mostly smokers get off). The guards came on board and checked my passport on the train. I travel on an Irish and a British passport and both passports do not require a visa for either Romania or Bulgaria.
The guards simply checked my passport and handed it straight back to me. No questions, no stamps. That was the exit from Romania. Once everyone on the train had been checked, we rolled into Bulgaria. The Romanian departure point station is called Giurgiu Nord.
You then cross a bridge over a few massive rivers. On the other side, the writing has changed and you are now in Bulgaria. There is a border point for HGVs and cars which you can see out the left hand window. It has the Romania, Bulgaria and European Union flags flying.
After this we stop at Ruse in Bulgaria. Those not heading to Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo or Gorna O (and a few other minor stations), need to change here. I double checked with the guards this and they confirmed that after the Bulgarian passport check, I would remain on the train and would need to change at Gorna Oryakhovitsa.
Arriving at Ruse, Bulgaria
Arrival at Ruse is simple. The train stops and you get your passport checked on board. Again my passports are EU and don’t require a visa to enter Bulgaria. It was a quick check and handed back to me. No forms to fill in, no stamps and no bag check. This all took place between 4- 4.20 pm.
After that we headed off from Ruse onwards towards Gorna Oryakhovitsa. One thing I forgot to do was change some Euros or Dollars over for Bulgarian Levya at the border. You can get off the train and do this but make sure you rush – as the train doesn’t signal an obvious departure – it just goes when it goes. I said goodbye to Mine at Ruse – as she changed trains for Varna on the Black Sea/east Coast of Bulgaria.
Darkness then fell as we headed south to Gorna Oryakhovitsa.
Changing Trains at Gorna Oryakhovitsa, Bulgaria
It was 6pm when we arrived in Gorna O. When I got out at Gorna Oryakhovitsa, it was all a bit eerie. I was dumped off in darkness, in a kind of dry cold nothingness in a station which reminded me of Minsk in Belarus and Chisinau in Moldova.
Suddenly, I was the only foreigner in sight. All the writing was in Bulgarian and I couldn’t understand a thing. I had absolutely no idea what train was going to Veliko Tarnovo!! It felt like I was properly backpacking again – this is a really obscure spot.
It was now 6.30 pm and I frantically asked the only people around at the station for help. Nobody of course can speak a word of English but at least two of them knew what I meant by “train to Veliko Tarnovo” and so it was – platform 4 I was told and the train would leave at 19.10 pm.
In the meantime I still had no Bulgarian Levya and searched for a money changer. It was dark, everything was shut. It was eerie and there was no chance. I felt like a proper traveller again, this was so off the beaten track there wasn’t even any track.
I got a lot of odd looks and it didn’t seem so welcoming. I thought I’d better just head to platform 4 and wait for the train. I was the only backpacker on the platform. I was the only travellers on the platform. I was the only person on the platform!! I waited for 10 minutes, the train driver showed up and I was let on the train. The only passenger, crazy! OK then just one minute before the train left I was joined by two others and off we went!
The Train from Gorna Oryakhovitsa to Veliko Tarnovo
We left Gorna A around 19.13 pm, just three minutes after schedule. Just after leaving Gorna Oryakhovitsa the lady conductress checked my ticket and I double checked with her I was on the right train to Veliko Tarnovo (always better to be sure!) and asked her what time we would get to Veliko Tarnovo.
Astonishingly it was to be the next stop! I only had to wait about 20 minutes and there we were – a few others were now on the train and I had arrived by night in Veliko Tarnovo station.
Arrival in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
The train station in Veliko Tarnovo is again non-descript and old school. I simply marched past the screaming taxi drivers and decided to walk it myself as a backpacker to the city centre and my hotel, the Family Hotel Comfort. It was around a 2-3 kilometre walk through dark streets but you could feel the magic in the air now.
Veliko Tarnovo is a special place and I made a good choice stopping off here on route to Plovdiv (and later Sofia) on my Bulgarian adventure. In less than an hour I had checked in and showered and was ready to go out and eat and have my first beer in Bulgaria! It had been a long but exciting border crossing and I had a really cosy home for the night at the Family Hotel Comfort Veliko Tarnovo.
Here are my videos from the border crossing from Romania to Bulgaria by train: