Today I arrived back to Istanbul from my one-week-trip “home” to Sofia. I had a great week climbing, snowboarding, going to vernissages, museums, markets and meeting a lot of friends again.
To go with bus to Sofia from Istanbul is very easy and only costs 20 euro one way. There is a lot of bus companies to choose from, and the buses departs several times a day. Because the trip is about 8-9 hours I would recommending taking the night bus at 10 pm, which makes you miss less time and you can get some sleep at the same time. Do not have anything important planned soon after arriving because delays are common, sometimes up to 6 hours but more commonly for 1-2 hours.
The bus company I would recommend you to take is HAS Turizm which have comfortable buses, good service, few people and almost never any tourists. Also included in the price is water, tea, coffee and cake. Don’t expect anyone on the bus to speak English though, so if you want to have more control, go with for example METRO Turizm which have mostly tourists. This company is 5 euro more expensive, but have more comfortable seats together with your own personal media machine where you can watch movies, listen to music, use internet, play games and so on. Be aware that it is not uncommon for all the media machines in the bus not to work.
When you buy the ticket to the Istanbul bus, you can pre-book the ticket some days in advance, or show up one hour before departure (the buses usually don’t get full). Some of the companies tell you that you need a visa in your passport and will not sell you a ticket without this, but this is incorrect. Some nationalities don’t need a visa, and for the rest of you there is a possibility to buy a visa when you reach the border. You need cash though, don’t expect to pay with a payment card, but there should exist an ATM nearby where you can withdraw money.
About the customs between Turkey and Bulgaria, the bus will stop 3 or 4 times. The first stop will be a passport check in your departing country. don’t hesitate to leave away your passport, this is standard procedure and all the passports will be collected later by the bus driver and given back to you. Also here you might need to buy a visa if you don’t already have one. The price for this should be around 15 euro and you can probably pay with Bulgarian Lev, Turkish Lire or Euro. Some nationalities don’t need to get a visa, so check this before you start your trip.
The second stop is duty free shopping. Don’t buy anything that is in a closed box (like some cigarettes) because the customs don’t like this. Sometimes though the bus drivers ask everyone on the bus to ask one big box each for them, and then gives the people who does this a cigarette package each as a “thank you” present.
The third stop is the real customs with luggage check, sometimes skipped. Here everyone has to exit the bus again and place their luggage on a bench. Then some employee of the customs/police will go through your stuff, opening every closed package you have if you are unlucky. Food and beverage (in large amounts at least) is illegal to take between the countries. About half of the times this step with opening your bags will not happen, but be prepared to show everything you have in your bag just in case.
The fourth (and last) stop will be the passport control of the country where you are going to. Same thing here, you will leave away your passport, just to be collected later again by the bus driver and given back to you.