How to deal with public transport tickets in Sofia

a.k.a. “How not to get cheated by the ticket controllers”

The public transportation in Sofia could be quite confusing. Especially the part with which ticket is valid for what and where you can get them. The ticket controllers love preying on tourists, so it is important to know what you should do.

Here are some useful tips and interesting info you need to know in order to understand why it is all so confusing.

How to deal with public transport tickets in Sofia

Update 2023

Unfortunately, the whole system is now changed. Until we can get a better understanding of the new strategies how to deal public transport, consider everything below outdated and irrelevent. Hopefully, it won’t take us years learn the ropes of the fascinating public transportation system in Sofia. Thank you for your patience!

Update Novemeber 2020

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, ticketing for Sofia public transportation has evolved. As of this update, you can’t buy a ticket from the driver (or get onboard from the first door of the vehicle) but you can buy a ticket from the controllers, when (if) they get onboard. That applies for buses, trolleybuses, and trams and does not apply to the subway.

The public transportation in Sofia is owned by a private firm

Actually, two private firms. One of them (which is actually a few companies, but let’s just simplify and say it is one) has the subway, and the other – the buses, trams, trolleys and, since recently, the night buses. That is why some tickets that one would think could be used on anything are actually for just one of these groups or just for the night buses. Also, that is why the different tickets are bought from different places, but more for that later.

Sofia aboveground public transportation company - central office
This is the center of the company holding the aboveground transportation in Sofia. On top, you can see their logo. Keep an eye for it when you are trying to buy tickets.

The tickets are for just one ride

The tickets in Sofia, unlike most of the other cities in the world, do not permit transport for a period of time, but instead, allow just the use of one transport. So, if you buy one ticket you can get on only one tram for example. Even if 10 minutes later you get on another tram on the same line you still need a new ticket. The subway is an exception to this rule. There you can change the line without having to pay for another ticket, but only if you don’t leave the subway station. (So currently you can only do this on Serdika station since this is the only station where the two lines intercept.) Night transportation is also an exception. One ticket for it could be used for all buses the entire night.

The system with the ticket controllers in Sofia is also different.

In public transportation sometimes there are ticket controllers (yes, those are the ones that prey on innocent tourists, especially on the buses from the airport) that check whether everyone on the bus has a valid ticket or a card. They almost never speak languages other than Bulgarian, so be prepared.

Not all buses that stop at the airport are free.

There is a free shuttle for inter-terminal transfer on Sofia airport that passes every 30 minutes. However, be careful to get on it and not on a bus from the public transportation that stops at the airport. Even if you only use those buses to get to the other terminal at Sofia airport, you still need to have a ticket for them. (They are often checked by the ticket controllers since many tourists expect transportation between terminals to be absolutely free as it is in many other places.) You can get tickets from the ticket machines at the airport or with the Tikey app. From the app, you can only buy tickets for the buses that go to the airport (84, 184, 384) or to enter some of the subway stations (including the one at the airport).

Types of tickets for Sofia public transportation

So, if you are visiting Sofia or if you are just passing by, here is what you need to know about the kinds of tickets you can get and where you can get them from.

Single-use tickets for the subway

Price: 1.60 BGN

Used for: 1 person for 1 travel with the subway (you can change the lines and don’t need a new ticket as long as you don’t leave the station)

Can be bought from: the subway stations, Tikey app (works for just some of the subway stations)

Note: You cannot even get to a subway station without having a ticket or a card.

Do not buy tickets for the subway in advance, since there is a possibility they won’t work from different stations than the one you have bought them from. Also, keep your ticket with you until you leave the subway since there might be ticket controllers even there.

Sofia subway station - ticket seller
This is how the subway station (metro station) looks from outside. In the center, you can see the place where you can buy tickets.
Sofia's subway stations - metro train
And here is a subway station from the inside.

Single-use tickets for bus, tram or trolley

Price: 1.60 BGN

Used for: 1 person for 1 travel with just one kind of transportation

Can be bought from: the stops from the specific kiosks, some other kiosks that have the logo of the company that hold the aboveground public transportation, the ticket machines in the trams and trolleys (there are no machines in the buses), the driver (you should have the right amount of money prepared)

Note: If you have bought your ticket from the driver or from a kiosk (but not from the ticket machine) you need to perforate it in public transportation as soon as you get it. Otherwise, it is not a regular ticket and you can get fined.

The tickets bought from the ticket machines in trams and trolleys can only be used in the tram or trolley that you are in (they have a timestamp and the number of the line on them), so never buy more tickets than you need from the ticket machines.

In theory, if there was no kiosk at the stop, no working ticket machine, and the driver is out of tickets, you can buy a regular ticket at a regular price of 1.60 BGN from the ticket controller. However, keep in mind that they often argue about that and can make a scandal.

Sofia ticket machine and a perforator
This is a ticket machine in a tram or a trolley. Above it is a perforator where you need to perforate your ticket if you have bought it from someplace other than the machine.
Ticket-selling kiosk in Sofia
A ticket-selling kiosk.
Bus, troley and night bus stop in Sofia
A bus and trolley stop. Note the bottom of it that says a night bus also stops on it.

Single-use tickets for night buses

Price: 2.00 BGN

Used for: 1 person for all the buses during the night

Can be bought from: the travel controllers in the night buses (there is always one travel controller in every night bus), from this site for tickets (that is unfortunately only in Bulgarian for now)

Note: The night buses work from 00:00 to 4:00 and have different line numbers (N1, N2, N3, N4), so if you catch a bus before or after these hours you need a regular ticket.

When you are trying to catch a night bus make sure the driver of the bus sees you and you make your intentions of getting on the bus clear. The same goes for when you are getting off it.

Here is a timetable for the night buses that is partly translated in English.

10 bound tickets

Price: 12 BGN (so 1.20 for a piece)

Used for: 10 travels (cannot be used for the subway or the night buses)

Can be bought from: the stops from the specific kiosks, some other kiosks that have the logo of the company that holds the aboveground public transportation

Note: Every single ticket is like a regular ticket and it needs to be perforated in public transportation. Also, you have to keep the last one (number 10) to show to ticket controllers with the one you have perforated for your current travel. Otherwise, you can be fined.

Two different people can use 2 tickets from the same bound but only if they are not traveling at the same time. So, if you have used one ticket to get to your hotel and give the rest to your friend who is just going out to explore the city, he can use them to travel. However, if you are both traveling with the same tram for example only one of you can use a ticket from these 10 bound tickets.

One day card

Price: 4.00 BGN

Used for: 1 person for every kind of transportation during the day (cannot be used for the night buses, but can be used for the subway)

Can be bought from: the stops from the specific kiosks, from this site for tickets

Note: The one day card can be used for the subway, but in order to do that you need to show it to the person selling tickets at the subway station and they will let you through the gate next to them.

You can only buy the one-day card for today and not for a future date. (It is a stupid limitation, but there is still no way around it.) Update: It’s now possible at some kiosks to ask to get the day card for another day – be quick before they stamp it.

Although it is called a “card” it actually looks a lot like a ticket.

The fine ticket

If you actually get caught without a valid ticket or a card by a ticket controller you will have to pay a fine on the spot. Once you have paid the fine the controller will give you a ticket that can be used to travel during the day but just on the same line of transportation (so either just the subway or just the aboveground transportation).

Price: 30 BGN (for trams, buses, and trolleys) or 40 BGN (for the subway)

Used for: 1 person the entire day

Electronic cards

There are electronic cards that can be loaded with tickets that are the same price of regular tickets (1.60 BGN for 1, and 12 BGN for 10). You also would have to pay 2 BGN for the plastic of the card itself. They can be used for the subway, the trams, and the trolleys. I do not recommend you using them since it takes time to purchase them (by time I mean days, not hours) and you can’t order them in advance. Also, the buses do not have validating machines, so you will need regular tickets for them anyway.

Subscription cards

These cards are prepaid for traveling for at least a month and since you are probably not going to stay that long in Sofia if you are just visiting I will not get into them. However, if you do plan a longer stay, do not hesitate to write a comment or ask in some other way. We will be happy to help.

To sum up, I would bet on the day cards if you find where to buy them from. So, here is a list of the special kiosks for tickets and cards for public transportation in Sofia. Keep in mind these are actually not all of them, so it’s best to ask a local when you get in Sofia, so you can find the closest one.

Sofia Public Transport 3-Day Tourist Pass

Sofia Pass, or the Sofia Public Transport 3-Day Tourist Pass, is a card that gives you unlimited travel with Sofia public transport system for 3 days plus free entrance or discounts to some museums and attractions in Sofia.

Price: 20 BGN

Used for: one person for 3 days. 

Can be bought from: you can get it from those Sofia Urban Mobility Centre offices

Use public transportation in Sofia for sightseeing

*The article contains some affiliate links. If you book through those links, we’ll get a small commission at no extra cost for you. Thank you for helping us keep this website going!

Finally, if you are wondering what to do in Sofia, maybe this post will help. And this one will help you find the best activities in Bulgaria by season and your interests. If you’re into having a book in your hands, then we suggest this quide to Bulgaria.

There are a plethora of tours in Sofia and around. Just check them out and enjoy!

 
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Public transportation in Sofia - tram line
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Does this cover all of your questions about the mystery called “Sofia’s public transportation”? If not, you can always ask us in the comments below.

10 Responses

  1. Thanks for such a nice detailed post! I have one question – does this one day ticket cover the transport also from the airport to the city? I want to confirm because in some cities, the airport transfer is covered by a different ticket/agency. Another question – if I buy this one day ticket online, then do I need to keep the browser open or you get something to download?

    • Petya Yakimova
      |

      I am very happy the post was useful. The day ticket does cover the transport from the airport to the city. When you buy the ticket online the web app generates a QR code in the app, so technically you need to keep it open. But I would suggest you take a screenshot on your phone, because this way you will have the QR code as an image that you can use when you’re offline. Please note that this app is still really new and sometimes it is hard to use and may throw some errors. If you have problems with it you can buy a paper day ticket from a stand.

  2. Frank
    |

    I come to live and work in Sofia public transport tickets daily

    • Thank you for choosing our city, Frank! Hope we helped a bit with public transport in Sofia.

  3. Bas
    |

    About a day ticket, the article says “You can only buy one day card for today and not for a future date. (It is a stupid limitation, but there is still no way around it.)”. This actually is not true in practice. I was in Sofia last week (october 2019), and managed to buy a day ticket for the next day twice. Actually, when I first bought a day ticket, the woman at the counter ask me whether it was for the current or a future date. They just put a stamp with a different date on it if you buy for a future date. Btw, you can also offer a ‘3 day Sofia pass’ for 20 BGN, which gives 3 day of travel + discounts to some attractions / musea.

    • Thank you for the update! You were lucky to find this new-age customer service. 🙂
      We’ll update the article. Hope you come back and enjoy Sofia again!

  4. Lina
    |

    Hi

    Can I pay by bank card or do I need to have cash? What aboit contactless payments?

    • If you buy tickets at kiosks, most of them accept only cash. There’s a new system on most of the trolleybuses and trams, as well as the metro, which allows you to get the ticket with a contactless payment by debit/credit card inside the vehicle.

  5. Itai
    |

    Is it possible to pay with Euro when buying a subway ticket in the airport?

    • Unfortunately not, or at least it was like that last month when we checked. But you can use your card at the turnstile.