How to Get From Sofia to Thessaloniki by Bus, Train or Car

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by Michael Rozenblit


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If you’re undertaking a long trip through the Balkans, chances are at some point you might be wondering how to get from Sofia to Thessaloniki or vice-versa. Looping through Greece is a popular option for travellers who are spending a few days in Bulgaria and want to explore some of the highlights in Northern Greece such as Meteora before venturing to Albania.

Luckily it’s incredibly straightforward to get between two cities by bus, train or car! There is even the option to stop in the charming town of Melnik if you have an extra day or two to enjoy some hiking and delicious wine.

How to Get Directly from Sofia to Thessaloniki

If you want to travel from the Bulgarian capital to Thessaloniki without stopping along the way, then there are three main options that you can take: bus, train or car.

By Bus

The bus is arguably the best option to takei, as it’s direct, fast and affordable.

The company Arda Tur runs several daily buses, leaving the Sofia Bus Station at 10 AM, 1 PM and 5 PM. The journey takes approximately 5 hours and the standard price is 45BGN which is approximately €23.

You can buy tickets directly at the bus station by heading to kiosk 47 or you can buy them online and get a 10% discount.

There are also several other companies such as Flixbus that operate the route and you can browse additional schedules here.

The Arda Tur bus is comfortable and has basic amenities to make your trip more enjoyable. There are charging outlets for every seat and you are given a snack and water bottle when taking off.

They also come around with a large soft drink bottle a couple of times during the journey. They claim to have WiFi but it wasn’t available when we travelled, which seems to be a common occurrence on buses in the Balkans!

Arda Tur Kiosk at Sofia Bus Station
Arda Tur Kiosk at Sofia Bus Station

The border crossing is extremely straightforward – there are no checks on the Bulgarian side and a Greek border guard will board the bus and check everybody’s ID or passport. If you require a stamp to enter the Schengen area, he will take your passport off the bus and return it within a few minutes.

When you arrive in Thessaloniki, the bus will stop first at the main bus station which is a few kilometres outside of the city centre. It will then also stop a bit closer to the centre of Thessaloniki (near the train station) so I recommend staying on the bus until the end if you’re staying in the centre of town.

There is no Uber in Thessaloniki but you can flag down a taxi from the street (just look out for the blue and white cars) or you can download the app Taxi 18300 to organise one through your phone.

 Arda Tur Bus!
Look out for the Arda Tur Bus!

By Train

There is currently no direct train that runs between Bulgaria & Greece. You can track a train from Sofia to Kulata which is on the border from and then take buses to get all the way to Thessaloniki.

By Car

Driving from Sofia to Thessaloniki is undoubtedly the fastest option as the 300-kilometre journey takes approximately 3.5 hours along the A3 highway.

If you are driving a car in Bulgaria, make sure that you have purchased a vignette (a road toll) that is compulsory in Bulgaria. While you previously had to have a physical sticker, you can buy an e-vignette from this website.

If you are planning on renting a car in Bulgaria and driving through several Balkan countries, make sure you read the terms and conditions of your policy to ensure you are able to take the car into the countries you are planning on visiting.

Arriving in Greece
Arriving in Greece

Stopping in Melnik

If you’re not in a rush to get to Thessaloniki then it’s worth making a short detour to the Bulgarian town of Melnik.

Melnik is a small village town that, along with the Thracian Valley near Plovdiv, is where the majority of Bulgarian wine is produced. It is also known for the stunning Melnik Pyramids — intriguing rock formations that surround the village.

Travellers can easily spend a day or two in Melnik to enjoy some hiking and sampling some delicious wine. Make sure to visit the “Wine Cellar” located on the edge of the village where you can drink some delicious natural wine while enjoying a view of Melnik.

Charming town of Melnik
Charming town of Melnik

Sofia to Melnik

Having a car is ideal if you plan to detour to Melnik, as it will make the journey more straight forward. It will also allow you to also drive out to some of the nearby wineries in the region. However, it is also possible to get from Sofia to Melnik by bus.

There is one “direct” bus that leaves from Sofia Bus Station at 2 PM daily. The word “direct” is used loosely here as the bus actually drops you off in the nearby town of Sandanski and then you need to transfer to a minibus from Sandanski to Melnik.

The advantage of taking the 2 PM bus, though, is it’s timed so that you only need to wait about 20 to 30 minutes for the bus from Sandanski to Melnik.

There are four buses daily from Sandanski to Melnik leaving 7:40 AM, 11:40 AM, 3:30 PM and 5:30 PM. As there are regular buses from Sofia to Sandanski, you can actually take any bus and then connect to one of the above buses to Melnik.

The bus from Sandanski to Melnik costs 2.50BGN but you don’t need to pay if you book the “direct” bus from Sofia.

Buses from Sofia to Sandanski take approximately 2.5 to 3 hours. If you arrive in Sandanski and don’t want to wait for the bus to Melnik then you have the option of taking a taxi. The distance is about 20km and the taxi should cost around 20BGN – make sure the meter is running when you get in!

Rock Formations in Melnik
Rock Formations in Melnik

Melnik to Thessaloniki

To get from Melnik to Thessaloniki, you need to travel from Melnik to Sandanski and then get on the Sofia to Thessaloniki bus that stops in Sandanski.

From Melnik to Sandanski there is a bus that leaves at 9 AM and 1 PM. There are supposed to be two more buses in the afternoon but the times were scratched out at the bus stop so I’m not sure if they’re still running or not.

A taxi is also an option, however, as there aren’t any taxis based in Melnik, we were quoted 40BGN (approximately €20) as they charge you for driving up from Sandanski. Another option is to ask around and see if you can get a ride with any locals travelling to Sandanski.

The buses from Sandanski to Thessaloniki claim to leave at 12:10 PM, 3:10 PM and 5:30 PM. We booked the 12:10 PM bus, however, it arrived about 45 minutes late. It still made it to Thessaloniki on time.

There are a couple of important things to keep in mind when travelling from Sandanski to Thessaloniki. Firstly, the bus doesn’t leave from Sandanski Bus Station but from the Lukoil Gas Station near Kaufland Supermarket.

The Melnik to Sandanski minibus can drop you off here or you can take a taxi from Sandanski Bus Station for approximately 3BGN. There are two Lukoil Gas Stations in Sandanski so just tell the driver it’s the one near Kaufland Supermarket.

The other thing to remember is that there didn’t appear to be anywhere to buy these tickets in Sandanski, so you should either purchase them online or at Sofia Bus Station. We cannot vouch for the online ticketing process personally as we opted to buy the tickets from the Sofia bus station. The journey from Sandanski to Thessaloniki took approximately 2 hours and the ticket costs 20BGN.

Lukoil Gas Station in Sandanski
Lukoil Gas Station in Sandanski

Where to Stay Along the Way

If you’re wondering what some of the best places to stay in Sofia, Melnik or Thessaloniki are, check out these recommended places!

Sofia

Hostel Mostel – If you’re looking for budget accommodation in Sofia then you can’t go wrong with staying at Hostel Mostel. They offer a range of dorm beds and private rooms and have some great common areas to meet other travellers.

Art ‘Otel – A comfortable and clean hotel located in the heart of Sofia. They offer a range of private rooms (including rooms with single beds suitable for solo travellers) with a great breakfast included in the price.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Sofia hotels!

Melnik

Guest House Holiday in Melnik – Located on the main street in Melnik, this hotel offers comfortable private rooms with breakfast included and a 10% discount at the restaurant downstairs. The owner speaks English, is very friendly and will be able to help you with any questions about the town!

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Melnik hotels!

Thessaloniki

Little Big House – One of the best budget accommodation options in Thessaloniki, they offer dorm rooms and privates with a large terrace and common room available for all guests. Breakfast is included in the rate and staff are incredibly helpful and friendly.

Blue Bottle Boutique Hotel – A modern boutique hotel located in the heart of the city, they offer a range of private rooms with all the required amenities. There is the option of including breakfast in your daily rate.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Thessaloniki hotels!

Travelling from Sofia to Thessaloniki is straightforward no matter whether choose to travel by bus, train, car or if you include a stop in Melnik along the way!

Are you planning on travelling between these cities? Have you done this route recently? Let us know in the comments below!

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Michael is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Both solo and with his partner, Maggie, he has travelled to over 50 countries across the globe and has a particular affinity for the Balkans and Eastern Europe. He’s lived in numerous countries worldwide but currently resides in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Read more about Michael

Comments

  1. Hi, a question if you can help?

    We have 3 x large back packs, is their space on the bus to store these or will that be an issue?

    Thanks in advance for any advice.

    Reply
    • Hi Mark, the bus from Sofia to Thessaloniki with Arda Tur is a full-size coach so there should be room for them in the luggage hold.

      Reply

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