The Kapıkule road border crossing between Bulgaria and Turkey is the busiest in Europe and the second busiest in the world. In other words, it can absolutely chaotic at times and a major headache for travellers.
Travellers can make their way across the border by foot, bicycle, train and bus. The queues at the road crossing can be enormous, and it can be quite overwhelming for anyone who is used to the seamlessly travelling around the European Union. Due to the closure of the railway, currently the most straightforward way to cross is by bus. There are regular connections between Istanbul in Turkey and Plovdiv / Sofia in Bulgaria.
Busiest land crossing in Europe
Open 24 Hours
Toilets, ATMs, food, currency exchange on both sides
No bus services on either side – arrange travel from Istanbul / Plovdiv / Sofia
Plan ahead for possible long delays
Bulgaria – 90 days (out of 180) visa. Many countries do not require a visa. Others require a Schengen Zone visa. €60 fee.
Turkey – 90 day visas. A mixed bag. Many countries (e.g. Germany) are exempt from visa fees but some (eg Oz) are hit with a mad $60 fee. Others are $20. Costs here – Apply here.
Due to large scale engineering works on both sides, there is currently no trains in service – rather a bus replacement service. The Bosphor Express usually runs daily between Bucharest (Romania) and Istanbul (via Sofia & Plovdiv in Bulgaria). Prices begin at €16 for a basic 2nd Class ticket. Currently the train stops at the border and a transfer to a bus is required for the remaining journey to Istanbul – therefore we recommend taking a direct bus.
Metro Turizm offers up to 6 daily services (60TL) between Istanbul and Bulgaria (Plovdiv & Sofia) daily. There is also one daily service to Varna (75TL). Check Sofia and Plovdiv bus stations for other services.
Be warned, however!! There is no direct bus from Edirne, the closest Turkish city to the border. So we highly recommend going straight from Istanbul. But if you must go from Edirne, see below.
A hellish journey from Edirne – We wasted an entire day trying to get to Bulgaria from Edirne! We were told that there was no need to book a seat on the bus – but it turns out that travellers must pre-book a seat with Metro at the Edirne bus station. This bus bypasses Edirne city so you must make your way 10Km by dolmus to the Arslanli Hotel on the Bulgaria bound motorway. From here you wait (and wait) and then catch the Metro bus to the border. In the end we were stuck at that dam petrol station for almost an entire day (as each Metro bus that went by was fully booked) until a Bulgarian bus pulled up and happily picked us up….phew!
Traffic Jams and X-Rays
Time-wise, expect long delays – especially in summer. Coming from Turkey, there is a small mall where you can relax in the aircon and spend your last Lira on Burger King or some tacky souvenirs.
When you reach the checkpoint, Turkish guards come on board the bus and take your passport. It is returned, with an exit stamp and then you are driven slowly through No-Mans land and get off – the bus has to go through an enormous X-Ray machine (which is pretty awesome). Eventually we’re back on board again, only to stop and get off again while the Bulgarian guards check our passports and rifle through everyone’s massive shopping bags of counterfeit goods (oddly they didn’t confiscate any of it!).
Give yourself plenty of time, and expect the unexpected. Cars, buses and trucks can be checked by border guards up to 6 times. On our journey, the traffic jam into Turkey seems to go on and on and on – we were told delays of up to 8 hours can sometimes occur. If you’re hitch-hiking with a truck driver, you’re much better off walking across the border and picking up a lift at the other side.
Continuing Your Journey
If you are crossing the border by foot or bicycle, ATMs and currency exchange offices are available on both sides of the border. However the Turkish currency offices offer a much better deal so keep an eye out for them,
Free Wi-Fi is available at the Shell petrol station on the Bulgarian side. There are no buses from Kapitan Andreevo (the border village) so you need to get to the next town, Svilengrad (Свиленград). From here there are reliable buses and trains to Plovdiv, Sofia and Varna. Hitch hiking to Svilengrad should be OK from the border, but in summer time many cars are already full with holiday makers. Of course if you are totally stranded at the border, taxi drivers will be always be hawking for a fare.
Bus Connections from Svilengrad
Plovdiv (Пловдив) and Sofia (София) – Depart @ 06:00 and 13:00
Varna (Варна) – Depart at 05:30 (Monday – Friday only)
Bus timetables available @ Avtogari.info
There is a small mall just past the border post, with shops and fast food – it’s a good place to get some quick food. As with the Bulgarian side, there are no buses direct from the border. The best option is to hitch-hike to Edirne or further afield. Hitch hiking is incredibly common in Turkey and there are hundreds of cars and trucks passing through. Taxis are also available – but I can only imagine that it’s quite a hefty fee to Edirne.
From Edirne there are frequent buses from the main bus station (Otogar) on the outskirts of town (accessible from the city centre by dolmus).
Bus Connections from Edirne Otogar (MetroTurizm):
Istanbul – 30TL (3-4 hours)
Ankara – 70TL (9 hours)
Izmir – 70TL (8 Hours)
Cannakale (Gallipoli) – 40TL (4 hours)
Antalya – 95TL (11 hours)
Full timetables from Edirne available @ Otobus.org (Turkish only)
*Due to engineering works there are currently no trains between Edirne and Istanbul.