The last remaining Bulgarian narrow gauge railway runs between Dobrinishte and Septemvri Bulgaria and covers a total of 125 kilometers or 77 miles. Those 125 kilometers are taken at an average speed of just 25 km (or 15 miles per hour) and the entire route from Dobrinishte to Septemvri takes around 5.5 hours. Most passengers will take the train from Bansko to Velingrad to enjoy the spa town, but others will continue to the end of the line, to catch a fast train from Septemvri to Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second city.
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Why Take the Rhodope Narrow Gauge AKA the Septemvri Dobrinishte railway
The Rhodope narrow gauge (or Septemvri Dobrinishte railway) route crosses the Rila, Pirin, and Rhodope mountains and is served by four trains a day in both directions, costing a bargain 6.10 leva per person. The train runs every day of the year, with steam trains brought out on special occasions. The track is a 760 mm narrow gauge
The route beings in Dobrinishte – a small village a few miles from the Bansko train station, where most foreign passengers will join. Make no mistake this isn’t a tourist train, you will be sharing your carriage (and there are usually 3) with locals heading to market or back.
Points of Interest on the Dobrinishte to Septemvri Train
The route makes man stops, at manned and unmanned stations. It begins in Dobrinishte and its first stop is 7 kilometers along the track at Bulgaria’s largest ski resort, Bansko. In total there are 24 stops along the way.
You don’t have to go all the way on the train – many people take the train from Bansko as far as Velingrad and stay the night in one of the spa hotels here.
Stations and sights of note along the route include:
Bulgaria’s primary ski resort. You’ll find many facilities here, from skiing and snowboarding in the winter, Bansko is an all-season resort, offering hiking, mountain biking, and many other outdoor sports. Bansko has hosted the free Jazz Festival for more than 20 years now in August of each year.
- Read more about things to do in Bansko in Summer
- Want to know what you should eat in Bansko – and where?
Famous for being home to the ex-Dancing Bear’s sanctuary run by the Four Paws organization, the Belitsa station is quite some distance from the Dancing Bear park. Read more about the Dancing Bears and visit them.
There is a brief stop at Avramovo, the highest train station in the Balkans at an altitude of 1267 meters above sea level. There’s nothing really to see here, just an altitude sign.
The 80 hot springs of Velingrad allegedly cure all kinds of ailments and since 2009 the town has been recognized as the spa capital of Bulgaria! It’s a great overnight stop if you’re planning a break from either Bansko or Plovdiv.
We took this train en-route to Istanbul from Bansko, you can read about your options of how to do that here.
Carriages and Seats on the Narrow Gauge Rhodope Train
There are only second-class carriages and seats on this train, but the seats are padded and comfortable. Some have tables. There is heating, as this train runs throughout the year, no matter what the weather. There are toilets in the carriages.
Catering and Facilities on the Bansko to Septemvri Train
There is a cafe carriage on the train, it’s possible to buy coffee, beer, and some snacks. This has been possible since 2018. However, taking a picnic and a good bottle of Bulgarian wine is a fabulous way to spend the time on this glorious little train!
How to Book Tickets for the Bansko to Septemvri Train
If you’re buying the tickets in person simply show up at your station about 15 minutes before departure and buy your ticket. There is rarely, if ever a line, and I’ve never heard of anyone not being able to get on the train. This isn’t a busy route!
You can actually buy tickets at any train station in Bulgaria, it doesn’t have to be your departure station.
What Times Does the Narrow Gauge Railway Run
The timetable for the Dobrinishte to Septemvri train is as follows. The timetable is the same each day.
The timetable for the train from Septemvri to Bansko and then Dobrinishte is as follows:
Price of Tickets for the Bansko to Septemvri Train
Up-to-date pricing is available on the Bulgarian train’s website (even if online booking is not available). A single one-way ticket will cost 6.60 leva per person.
History of the Bulgarian Narrow Gauge Railway
The line first opened, at least between Septemvri and Velingrad in 1926 – this first 80 kilometer took 5 years to build. The next part of the line – from Velingrad to Jakoruda opened in 1937. The line was finally completed through to Dobrinishte in 1945.
It’s a great train ride to take! Have you taken it?
If you like unusual train journeys we think you’ll love the Circum Baikal Railway in Russia.
Where to Stay in Bansko
There are a host of places to stay in Bansko – here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Bansko, mid-range places to stay in Bansko, and budget accommodation in Bansko.
The Kempinski Grand Arena: This is five-star luxury at Bulgarian prices and that means its fantastic value. (go on check the rates, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!). The five-star Kempinski has TWO outdoor pools (and one indoor pool too!). The Veranda Bar and Lounge have amazing views of the mountains, there’s a Piano Bar, and you’ll also get access to a 24 hour gym, a thermal spa (also with beauty spa treatments too!) and there are both indoor and outdoor hot tubs too. It’s quite simply glorious. Check rates and book your luxury 5 star getaway here.
The Regnum Bansko Ski Hotel & Spa has a heated outdoor pool (it’s enormous)- plus water slides and a children’s pool too, plus there’s a free shuttle to Banya Village to the Banya Therma complex too! There’s live Friday and Saturday night jazz here at the Regnum and there’s also a gym, children’s room, and gardens too. Rooms here are suites, with kitchenettes and seating areas as well as seriously well-equipped rooms. You’ll love it and can check rates here.
The Premier Luxury Mountain Resort has both an indoor and outdoor pool and spacious rooms with wooden interiors. There’s also a sauna and hammam here, plus a kids club too. Rooms are sumptuously decorated and very spacious, and the hotel is in a great location. You can check availability and rates here.
The name should give it away for my final recommendation for Bansko hotels with pools. The Hotel 7 Pools spa, has, yes, you’ve guessed it, 7 pools. There are outdoor pools here and an indoor pool for kids with a waterslide. There’s also a state of the art spa center and a fitness center too. The hotel provides apartments, with a fully equipped kitchen, private seating area, bathroom, and bedroom. Sound like your sort of place? See what other people say here. There are also 3 types of saunas, a steam room, 2 hammams, a tepidarium, as well as a salt room, shock barrels, and a VIP SPA apartment. And the rates are superb, check them out here.
Where else to go in Bulgaria
- The best things to see and do in Sofia (Bulgaria’s Capital City)
- The best things to see and do in Plovdiv
- Veliko Tarnovo – Bulgaria’s Original Capital City
- Bulgaria’s Ski Capital, Bansko – in Summer
- The Annual Jazz Festival in Bansko
- The Ex-Dancing Bear Park at Belitsa
- Take a ride on the highest railway in the Balkans – from Bansko to Septemvri!
- Visit Bulgaria’s most beautiful building – UNESCO World Heritage Rila Monastery
Bulgaria Trip Planning Essentials
- Get great value, and easy travel insurance for Bulgaria with Civitatis
- Install a VPN BEFORE you travel to Bulgaria > discount coupon here
- Arrange your airport transfer in Bulgaria with Welcome Pickups.
- Make sure you can charge your electronics – here’s our guide to plug adapters in Bulgaria
- Top Attractions in Bulgaria to PREBOOK
- Book Buses + Transfers in Bulgaria with Bookaway
- Rent a Car in Bulgaria with Discover Cars
- Find the right accommodation for you via Booking.com
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