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 straight forward to get from Sofia to Thessaloniki 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.
Are you wondering about the best way to travel from Sofia to Thessaloniki? This article outlines all the best options to ensure you have a hassle free trip from Bulgaria to Greece!
How to Get from Sofia to Thessaloniki Direct
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.
Sofia to Thessaloniki by Bus
The bus is arguably the best option to take when travelling from Sofia to Thessaloniki, as it’s direct, fast and affordable. The company Arda Tur runs four daily buses from Sofia to Thessaloniki, leaving the Sofia Bus Station at 10 AM, 12:30 PM, 5 PM and 11:50 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.
The bus from Sofia to Thessaloniki 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!
The border crossing is extremely straight forward – 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.
Return journeys from Thessaloniki to Sofia currently leave at 12:30 AM, 8:00 AM, 3:30 PM and 7 PM. Make sure to check the Arda Tur website for the most up to date timetable.
Sofia to Thessaloniki by Train
For travellers who have a preference for travelling between Sofia to Thessaloniki by train will be glad to know that you can make almost the entire journey by train!
There is a daily train that leaves from Sofia Central Station at 3 PM and arrives in Thessaloniki at 10:20 PM. The catch is that travellers have to get off the train at the town of Kulata which is on the Bulgarian side of the border, get on a bus to Strimon which is on the Greek side of the border and then get back on the train to Thessaloniki.
Given the train takes two and a half hours longer than the bus and requires changing to a bus for a short part of the journey, it isn’t ideal. However, tickets are marginally cheaper than the bus so it is ideal for the more budget-conscious traveller. The standard price is 33BGN which is approximately €17.
The return journey from Thessaloniki to Sofia leaves at 6:55 AM and arrives in the Bulgarian capital at 2:22 PM.
Make sure to check the Bulgarian Railways website for updated timetable information.
Sofia 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, from 2019 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.
For the best deals on rental cars, we recommend browsing RentalCars.com which aggregates the best deals across multiple suppliers!
How to Get from Sofia to Thessaloniki via Melnik
If you’re not in a rush to get from Sofia 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.
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!
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.
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!
Where to Stay in 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 which includes a hearty breakfast and light dinner in the price. Click here to see their latest prices
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. Click here to see their latest prices
Airbnb – There are a number of great private rooms and apartments available on Airbnb in Sofia. If you’re new to Airbnb, you can click here to get up to $40 off your first stay!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Sofia hotels!
Where to Stay in 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! Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Melnik hotels!
Where to Stay in 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. Click here to see their latest prices
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. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Thessaloniki hotels!
Travelling from Sofia to Thessaloniki is straight forward 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 from Sofia to Thessaloniki? Have you done this route recently? Let us know in the comments below!