Rail Journeys

Classic Bulgaria

Tour Date: 20 to 29 June 2023
Location: Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a Balkan country with spectacular mountains and a coastline on the Black Sea. For around 500 years it was part of the Ottoman Empire, although the Orthodox tradition remained strong, and today has ancient history, a favourable climate, varied cuisine and hospitable people.

Join us on a rail-based tour around the central region visiting the best of the ancient and cultural sites. You will see wonderful monasteries, Thracian tombs, the ancient capital of Bulgaria, Europe’s oldest inhabited city and much more, as well as travelling on some very fine railway lines, including the “Alpine railway in the Balkans”. From the lively capital city of Sofia, to small remote picturesque villages, known for superb folk art, we guarantee that Bulgaria will entrance you.

Tour Highlights

  • Narrow gauge train Septemvri – Dobrinishte
  • UNESCO sites, museum towns and villages
  • Plovdiv – European capital of culture in 2019
  • The Black sea coast with Varna and Nesebur
  • Annual Holiday of Lavender, Essential plants and healing herbs in Karlovo
  • Demonstration of lavender distillation, tasting of essential oils
  • 2 Wine tastings in Varna and in Brestovitsa ( boutique wine cellar )
  • 7 dinners and 3 lunches included
  • Dinner at a local family in a village in Pirin Mountain National Park with demonstration of preparation of traditional pastry, folklore costumes, folklore dances.

Tour Itinerary

Day 1, Tuesday

Flights from Heathrow (08:15), Gatwick (05:50), Stansted (17:20) and Manchester (07:45) to the Bulgaria capital city of Sofia. For those on the morning flight you will have the rest of the day to relax and for your own exploration. It is also possible to fly from Birmingham (11:00) via Munich with Lufthansa.

Day 2, Wednesday (B,D)

Breakfast and morning train to Gorna Oriahovitsa. Arrival in Gorna Oriahovitsa railway station. From Gorna Oriahovitsa we transfer to Veliko Turnovo – the medieval capital city of Bulgaria, which is built on four hills above the Yantra River. Tour of Tsarevets Royal Hill with the fortress, Baldwin tower (the leader of the 4th Crusade), visit Samovodska Charshia (the street of crafts in the old part of Veliko Turnovo). There is a variety of craftsmen’s workshops in the Samovodska Charshia today: potter, armourer, coppersmith, carver, confectioner, weaver, icon-painter’s studio, photographer, café, a workshop where kadaif is made (kadaif is a classic Middle Eastern pastry), and a bakery. The centre recreates the atmosphere of the first decades of the 20th century. Late afternoon to Arbanassi Museum Village, located on a hill above Veliko Turnovo, where we will visit Nativity Church. The village is mentioned for the first time in documents from 1538. The village was so scenic that Greek bishops from Mount Athos and from as far as Jerusalem went to spend the summer there. Welcome dinner with wine tasting. Overnight in Veliko Turnovo.

Day 3, Thursday (B,L,D)

Breakfast and departure by train to Shumen and Varna, joining the first Bulgarian railway line Ruse – Varna ( 1866, commissioned to an English company managed by William Gladstone, a politician, and the Barkley brothers, civil engineers ). Arrival in Varna – the marine capital city of Bulgaria and largest Bulgarian port on the Black Sea.

Varna railway station is one of the oldest in Bulgaria and was one of the stations where the Orient Express used to stop between 1883 and 1885.

City tour of Varna with lunch and tasting of local wines. In the afternoon we will visit the regional museum, which displays the oldest gold treasure in the world, belonging to the Varna culture, was discovered in the Varna Necropolis and dates to 4200–4600 BC. Check in, dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Day 4, Friday (B,D)

Breakfast and departure by train to Karnobat, crossing beautiful nature sites – Chudnite skali rock formations, Kamchiya river valley, Tsonevo water reserve and the eastern slopes of Stara Planina mountain ( Balkan Range ). Arrival in Karnobat railway station and transfer by coach to Nesebur UNESCO town.

According to Strabo, the town was named Messambria (later altered to the Slavonic Nessebur), after the legendary founder – a Thracian by the name of Melsa and the Thracian name for city “bria”. It exists since the 2nd millennium BC, the Hellenic colony on this site was founded in 510 BC by Dorian settlers. Having captured Messambria in 72 – 71 BC, the Romans preserved the city intact, leaving there a permanent garrison. During the Roman epoch, new temples dedicated to Demeter, Asclepiad, Hecate, Isis, etc. were erected. On the northern shore of the peninsula rose the Temple of Zeus.

At the big local theatre, drama, music performances and poetry readings were arranged. Since the 4th c AD, Messambria maintained close links with Constantinople, during the 7th c it became one of the “special” locations where out of favour politicians and courtiers were exiled from Constantinople.

Walking tour of the old peninsula and free time to enjoy the place.

Transfer by coach to Stara Zagora and take the train to Plovdiv. Evening arrival, dinner and check in at the hotel.

Day 5, Saturday – Festival day (B,L)

Breakfast and departure by coach to the small town of Karlovo to participate in the Holiday of the Lavender, Essential plants and healing herbs.

During the day you will witness the special rituals associated with the healing herbs, taste traditional bread with “silent” water, taste products of rose and lavender, see harvesting of lavender, distillation of lavender oil, visit lavender fields.

In the Old Karlovo Ethnographic complex you will visit a traditional house and learn about the Bulgarian folklore. In the centre of the city there will be a folklore program and later on we will visit Bulgarian Rose cosmetics factory with a demonstration of soap production.

In the late afternoon we will proceed parallel to the mountains to Shipka memorial church and Kaznaluk – the centre of the Valley of Roses, known as well as the Valley of the Thracian kings. Visit Kazanluk Thracian tomb ( UNESCO site, copy ) and depart to Plovdiv. Independent dinner and 2nd night at your hotel.

Day 6, Sunday (B,D)

After breakfast we have a walking tour along the longest pedestrian street in the world and the remains of the Roman forum and stadium to Djumaya Mosque Square and the Old Plovdiv architectural reserve: Plovdiv has 6,000 years of history and was once the capital city of Philip the 2nd of Macedonia (the father of Alexander the Great). With its innumerable art galleries, winding cobbled streets and bohemian cafés, it would be no exaggeration to call today’s Plovdiv the Paris of the Balkans. Plovdiv’s appeal derives mainly from its lovely old town, the Stariat Grad, largely restored to its mid-19th century appearance and full of winding cobblestone streets. It is literally packed with atmospheric house-museums and art galleries and, unlike many other cities with ‘old towns’, has eminent artists still living and working within its tranquil confines. During the tour you will see the Ancient Amphitheatre, St. Constantine and Helena Church, the Ethnographic Museum (the so-called `Royal House`).

Transfer to Septemvri railway station and take the narrow gauge train to Velingrad Spa town. Arrival in Velingrad, dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Day 7, Monday (B,D)

Breakfast and morning to enjoy the swimming pools with mineral water and the spa facilities of the hotel. Transfer to Velingrad railway station and continue along the only operating narrow gauge (760 mm) line in Bulgaria nowadays, built in the period 1921-1945 till Dobrinishte. The journey takes some 3,5 hours and passes through valleys and gorges. The route leaves Velingrad, passing Avramovo, Yakoruda, Razlog and Bansko, linking the western part of the Upper Thracian Plain with the Western Rhodopes, Rila and Pirin mountains. Due to the characteristics of the route through the mountains, the narrow gauge line is also known as the Alpine railway in the Balkans. Avramovo station, situated at 1267 meters above the sea, is the highest station in the Balkans. Along the route there are 35 tunnels, 11 stations and 10 stops.

Arrival in Dobrinishte and transfer for dinner at a local family in a village nearby – preparation of traditional pastry, folklore costumes, folklore dances. Transfer to Bansko after dinner. Overnight at your hotel.

Day 8, Tuesday (B,D)

Breakfast and morning tour of Bansko museum town, located at the foothills of Pirin Mountain National Park ( UNESCO site ) – nowadays an international centre for winter and summer tourism. The eco paths and trails near the town, the numerous lakes and the old pine woods make it a popular site for recreation. In winter, Bansko is a host of many world cup alpine ski races, while in summer time international jazz, opera and theatre festivals are organized. We will have a walking tour of the Old Bansko to see St. Trinity Church and the complex of National Revival houses with their typical architecture – thick stone walls, narrow and dark loop-holes, iron wires on the windows and the heavy doors.

Proceed to Rila Monastery UNESCO site – the largest monastery in Bulgaria, located at an altitude of 1147 m above sea level in Rila Mountain National Park.  Admire wooden balconies, azure fretwork, collonades, facades and colourful frescoes, silhouetted against a fantastic panorama of mountain peaks. The monastery has been founded in the 10th century.  It is a National Historical Reserve since 1976 and part of UNESCO list since 1983.

Departure by train from Blagoevgrad to Sofia. Arrival, transfer to your hotel, dinner.

Day 9 Wednesday (B,D)

Panorama tour of Sofia. The capital city of Bulgaria is one of the most ancient cities in Europe, which Constantine the Great once called “My Rome”. See the Parliament Square, St. Sofia 6th century basilica, Alexander Nevski Memorial Cathedral, the National Theatre and the City Garden, the Presidency, St. George 4th century Rotunda.

Free afternoon for own discoveries.

Farewell dinner.

Day 10 Thursday (B)

After breakfast there is free time until the transfer to the airport for your flight back to the UK (separate transfers for each flight).

Prices & Options

Prices (per person)

From Heathrow: £1,450

From Gatwick: £1,425

From Stansted: £1,395

From Birmingham: £1,475

From Manchester: £1,450

From Sofia: £1,225


Single room supplement: £110


£300 (own flights), £500 (with flights)