Sofia Urban Mobility Centre (tel: (02) 831 9071 or 0700 13233; www.sumc.bg) operates Sofia’s trams, buses and trolley buses. There are no night services. There is also a single metro line, northwest from ploshtad Sveta Nedelya to the Lyulin suburb. Plans to extend the underground system to the south of the city continue to make slow progress.
Tickets are sold at kiosks at the major bus stops and newsagents, and must be validated on board using the metal punchers near the windows. Passes or transit cards, valid for one day, five days or one month, are available. Karta (coupons of 10 tickets) are valid on trams, buses, metro and trolley buses. The new electronic-stored value smart cards enable users to top up and then swipe the card for each journey at the entrance to the vehicle.
Sofia also has a fleet of privately run blue minibuses, known as marshrutki. These cover wider routes and can be hailed anywhere and drop passengers on request. Pay the driver on entering.
The reputation of Sofia’s taxi drivers has improved a little, especially regarding their habit of overcharging foreign visitors. All taxis should be yellow and operate by meter – it’s worth checking if the meter is on. Official charges are extremely cheap. The more reputable firms are Okay Supertrans (tel: (02) 973 2121) Taxi-S-Express (tel: (02) 91280) and Yes Taxi (tel: (02) 91919). Taxi ranks are located at strategic points throughout Sofia and taxis also ply the streets around the centre. A tip of 10-15% is common practice.
Negotiating Sofia’s interweaving paths of pedestrians, cars, trams and buses during rush hour can be tricky. However, once away from the city centre, traffic runs quite freely along the wide, open boulevards. Street names outside the centre are almost exclusively in Cyrillic so, even with a map, orientation can be difficult for drivers who only read Latin script. Visitors should note that Bulgarians flash their lights to signal ‘get out of the way’, not to give another motorist the right of way. Alternatively, this can be a warning: Police ahead!
Parking in the city centre is limited to two hours in designated blue zones, which are found on ploshtad Narodno Sabranie, ploshtad Alexander Batenburg and ploshtad Alexander Nevski. Vouchers are usually sold on the spot by parking attendants. The larger car parks are found on ploshtad Makedonia and in front of the NDK complex, ploshtad Bulgaria 1, Yuzhen Park.
Car hire is not cheap in Sofia. In fact, this is one of the few things that cost more here than in most Western European cities. Cars can be hired by visiting drivers over 21 years old (23 for some companies), on presentation of a passport and valid driving licence (held for at least two years). A credit card number is requested and a valid international insurance policy is also necessary. Full insurance is advised. International providers in Sofia include Avis (tel: (02) 827 1100;www.avis.com), Europcar (tel: (02) 981 4626; www.europcar.com) and Hertz (tel: (02) 945 9217;www.hertz.com).
There are no bicycle or scooter hire outlets currently available in Sofia, hardly necessary or practical given this small city’s excellent public transport system. Most things that visitors would want to see outside the city involve mountains, which are unsuitable for bikes and scooters.