Do you want to go back in time and experience a more romantic way of travel, to enjoy a few hours of breathtaking mountain views and see how locals live in some of the most remote and isolated regions of Bulgaria? This is possible by getting the last operational narrow-gauge railway in Bulgaria.
The Rhodope Narrow Gauge Train in Bulgaria runs between the small towns of Septemvri and Dobrinishte covering approximately 125 km. The railway passes through wide valleys, waterways, narrow gorges and presents breathtaking views of the three most picturesque mountain ranges in Bulgaria – Rila, Rhodope and Pirin Mountains.
If you would like to fully immerse yourself in Bulgarian nature and heritage, getting on the Rhodope Narrow Gauge Train is a must-have experience! Here are my top reasons why you should include what is one of the last operational Narrow Gauge railways in the world in your Bulgaria travel itinerary.
It is the incredible combination of the old-styled train carriages, the slow-motion train ride, the rumbling engine noises and the breathtaking mountainous views along the way, which makes riding the Rhodope Narrow Gauge train in Bulgaria such a unique experience! You will quickly feel like you are going back in time. Knowing that this is such an authentic experience, you can hardly ever encounter in any of the Modern Railway Networks in Western Europe makes it even more enticing! And I am not saying this only because I am Bulgarian, but I genuinely believe the Rhodope Narrow Gauge Train is worth the experience.
Highest Train Station
Did you know that the highest train station in the Balkans is Avramovo, located at 1267.4 m above sea level? What is even more interesting is that the only way to get there is by the Rhodope Narrow Gauge Train in Bulgaria! The train stops at the station for a few minutes, and you will get the chance to get off and take a few quick pictures before hearing the signal announcing the train is about to depart.
If you are into photography have your camera handy. Some train stations might be a bit run down, however, other ones are very picturesque with brightly-coloured buildings.
This is probably one of the cheapest train rides in Europe. One way train ticket from Septemvri to Bansko costs 6.10 BGN or approximately €3. I was travelling from Sofia (the capital of Bulgaria) and had to change at Septemvri to get the narrow-gauge train and I paid 12 BGN/ €6 for the entire train journey. Probably the best €6 I have ever spent! Not only will you get to have an experience of a lifetime, but you will also spend quite a lot of money on transportation.
It is not only about the experience, it is all about the breathtaking mountain views as well! As the Rhodope narrow gauge train winds through the mountains, you can gaze out the window and enjoy some of the most picturesque natural scenery you can imagine. Numerous tunnels and viaducts are part of the scenic route. The train makes its way up the mountain and treats its passengers to panoramic views of the granite Pirin summits in the distance, the wide-open valleys beneath the train line and the small streams running through steep gorges.
Meet Other Travellers
I got to travel by the Gauge Railway in Bulgaria on a weekend. The train was full of people and it seemed that the narrow gauge train has been getting very popular recently. There were multiple groups of tourists travelling to Bansko, so we got to meet other fellow travellers. The group of French tourists that we met was super fun and even if we had trouble having a proper conversation while using phrases in English, French and Bulgarian, it was still a great experience.
It might sound crazy, but some of these regions are quite remote and the only way for locals to travel in between the small villages is by the Rhodope Narrow Gauge train. You will see tired women, getting on the train after working on the field for an entire day, their backs bent under heavy sacks of food. At first, you will be startled but you will quickly notice that they are smiling and even if tired, they seem happy. If you know some Bulgarian, you can even try talking to them. They are extremely friendly and would love to share interesting stories with you. Far away from the hustle and bustle of modern cities, the locals find happiness in daily life – working on the field and enjoying the peace and quiet of the surrounding nature.
Travelling by the Rhodope Narrow Gauge Train sounds like a must-have experience to me?! How about you – did I manage to convince you to jump on the next train? I bet that you will not be disappointed! To plan better, though, I have also prepared three essential tips for getting the Rhodope Narrow Gauge Train in Bulgaria.
Check the Timetable
The good news is that the narrow gauge railway in Bulgaria operates every day with four trains in each direction. There are another 2 trains, however, they only run in the mornings between particular stations. I strongly suggest checking the full timetable here before planning your trip. If you will be coming from another larger city in Bulgaria, such as Plovdiv or Sofia, you would have to change trains in Septemvir. Keep in mind the arrival and departure times to make sure you will be able to catch the next Narrow Gauge train.
One important thing to know is that you cannot buy train tickets online. You can check the approximate prices here but there is no option for getting your Rhodope narrow gauge train tickets in advance. If you are travelling from a larger city, you would have to buy train tickets from your first to your last station. This means that even if you are travelling from Sofia to Septemvri on one train and then changing trains at Septemvri for the narrow gauge train, your ticket will have to be from Sofia to Septemvri. Does that make sense? Explain to the cashier where you are going and what your final destination is – they might not speak English, but they will try to help.
It is Slow
Something you should remember is that the Rhodope Narrow Gauge Train runs through the mountains, and even if it is only approximately 125 km from the first to the last station, it takes around 5 hours. The train runs quite slow and there is a number of very small villages where it stops. If you don’t have much time and you are in a hurry, I would not recommend getting the Narrow Gauge railway in Bulgaria. If you just want to enjoy the experience and relax for a few hours, while gazing at some of the most stunning mountain views, however, this is a must-have experience in Bulgaria to add to your travel list.
The Rhodope Narrow Gauge Ride is one of my favourite train journeys in Europe. I went over the summertime and was impressed by the green mountains and the hidden small villages along the way. I am definitely considering travelling on the Rhodope Narrow Gauge Train over the winter period as well. Let me know in the comments section below – What would you prefer – a winter or summer narrow gauge railway experience? Also, what are some of the best train rides around the world you have been to?
What are you waiting for?! Add the Rhodope Narrow Gauge Train to your bucket list as it is a must-have experience when in Bulgaria. If you are lucky enough, Sofia and Bansko might just be one flight away!