The train from Thessaloniki to Sofia is the second passenger service connecting Greece with the rest of Europe - the other one is the Hellas Express to Belgrade. As the Hellas Express, the train to Sofia too has been reinstated in spring 2014 after all passenger services to Greece had been suspended for about four years.
UPDATE: Due to problems with available locomotives, a replacement bus is operating regularly between Strimon and the Bulgarian border at Kulata since 2017.
Train and Schedules on the Route from Thessaloniki to Sofia
You have to get up quite early to get the train to Sofia, it leaves Thessaloniki at 0655. When you are at the station, you might not find the train on the departure boards in the entrance hall straightaway. This is due to the fact that the train to Sofia is combined with the train to Alexandroupoli until the station of Strimon - so look out for the train to Alexandroupoli too. When you are on the platform, you'll notice another curiosity: the two coaches to Sofia will be attached to the night train from Athens to Alexandroupoli. This may be done only a few minutes prior to departure, so in case the train moves, don't worry as long as the two coaches on the end of the platform are not yet attached. As mentioned above, there are two second class coaches to Sofia - these are modern, air-conditioned coaches of OSE (Greek Railways). There is no scheduled 1st class coach, however it can happen that a 1st class coach runs instead a 2nd class coach - in that case you can use this 1st class coach with your 2nd class ticket!
From Thessaloniki, the train runs for about two hours through a quite interesting landscape until it reaches the small station of Strimon. If you want, you can visit the restaurant car that runs in the part of the train that goes to Alexandroupoli but don't forget to return to your coach before Strimon, because here, the two Sofia coaches are detached and the rest of the train continues its way to Alexandroupoli! In Strimon, the Greek border check takes place. Then the train changes direction and a new loco brings the train to the Bulgarian border station of Kulata. Here, the Bulgarian border police will check the passengers and two Bulgarian coaches will be added to the train. If you prefer to open the windows and get some fresh air, take a seat in one of these cars now! If you need something to eat or drink you have enough time to leave the train and buy something from the small shop at the other side of the station building.
The railway line runs upstream along river Struma to the north, crossing beautiful Kresna Gorge before reaching the province capital Blagoevgrad and then Dupnica, from where you can get a bus to Rila monasteries. Finally the train makes its way down to Sofia where you will arrive in the early afternoon. The station at Sofia currently undergoes a massive reconstruction and is a bit of a mess at the moment. The location of lockers, international and national ticket counters might change from time to time. On my last visit in August 2015, international tickets were available at two counters at the main entrance while domestic tickets were available in the basement. Payment was only possible with cash and the next cash mashine was located in the adjacent bus station!
|Train 600/360||Train 361/601|
UPDATE: There will be a weekly overnight service between Thessaloniki and Sofia in summer 2016. The existing day train from Bucharest seems to be continuing from Sofia to Thessaloniki on Friday nights, returning to Sofia and Bucharest on Saturday nights. The exact timetable will be published here as soon as we get confirmation. Finde here the new schedule.
The night train will also run in summer 2017. Once again, it will also run in summer 2018.
Tickets and Reservations
Reservation is compulsory. Reservations are available at the international ticket counters at Thessaloniki and Sofia and cost 1€. On both of my trips on this train the conductor didn't bother to check the reservations. If you enter the train at a station without a (international) ticket counter it shouldn't be a problem to buy it on board.
Interrail, Eurail and the Balkan Flexi Pass are valid of course, as mentioned above reservation is compulsory. When bought locally, the one way ticket from Thessaloniki to Sofia is 16,80€, the return is 33,60€. Bought at least 15 days in advance, a limited return offer is available for 25€ including the seat reservations. Tickets and reservations are only available at stations, not online.
Good to know
I think everything should be covered in the other paragraphs - if you are missing some information, please let me know. ;)
Update: April 2018