2012 is shaping up to be as difficult as last year for rail travellers heading south through the Balkans to Greece. In 2011, Greece put a hold on all passenger trains crossing its land borders, thus severing the popular rail route from Bulgaria to Greece that crosses the border at Kulata. This is the route followed by the direct daytime and overnight trains linking Sofia with Thessaloniki and Athens. This Kulata route forms part of Route 41 in both the 2011 and 2012 editions of Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers.
It now looks at though this lack of trains across Greece's borders is going to continue for some months yet. So even the most dedicated of rail travellers will be forced to take the bus for part of the way.
Several bus operators run services from Sofia to Thessaloniki and vice versa. Do note that in most Slavic languages, including Bulgarian, the preferred name for Thessaloniki is Solun, and it tends to be rendered thus in many bus and coach timetables. One well established company on this route is Bulgarian coach operator Union Ivkoni which has twice daily express coaches between Sofia and Thessaloniki (and back again). This short hop is part of much longer routings that extend from Bulgaria's Black Sea coast to Athens and southern Greece. We have chosen the services of Union Ivkoni to include here, because the routings of this particular operator nicely tie together many of the cities that feature in Route 41 of Europe by Rail (thus including points south of Thessaloniki to Athens and beyond, as well as cities east of Sofia).
The current timetable is shown below. The schedules are correct as of 16 January 2012. Remember that bus timetables do change, and it is worth checking with the operator just prior to travel. Seats can and should be pre-booked on Union Ivkoni services. The exact points where coaches pick up and drop off in each city are shown on the Union Ivkoni website. If you don't know the Cyrillic alphabet enlist a little help from someone who does.
Other operators on the Sofia to Thessaloniki route include MATPU 96 and MTT Sofia. Starting with the January 2012 issue, the Thomas Cook European Timetable now includes a new table (numbered 1565 and within the Bulgaria section of the book) with details of some coach services from Thessaloniki to and from Sofia and Plovdiv.
Here is the current Union Ivkoni timetable. All coaches shown run daily.
|Bulgaria to Greece by Express Coach|
Correct at 16 January 2012
* Bus from Burgas arrives in Sofia at 1845. Continues at 2000.
|Greece to Bulgaria by Express Coach|
Correct at 16 January 2012
* Bus from Greece arrives in Sofia at 0645. Continues at 0800.