By Car -- To see the real Bulgaria, you'll have to get off the beaten track, and this means hiring a car and driver because most directional and street signs are written in Cyrillic. If you have time to get lost, numerous car-rental companies are available (and presently all you'll need is your national driver's license). To get the best deal, surf around and compare the big-name global brands with the highly reputable www.avtorent.com (10-group cars from 14€-52€/$18-$66, including unlimited mileage and insurance), www.md-rent.com, and www.vickyrent.com. The speed limit in the country is 50 to 60kmph (31-37 mph) in populated areas, 80kmph (50 mph) on minor roads, and 120kmph (74 mph) on highways; note that you'll need to display a 5€ ($6.35) per week vignette/decal (from OMV or Shell gas stations).
To rent a car with a driver, contact Rent-Cars-With-Driver (tel. 359 02828/68 67 or 359 0888/68 48 48 (mobile); http://rentacarsdriver.dir.bg) or Alexander Tours (tel. 359 2 983 52 58; www.alexandertour.com), which is a Sofia-based full-service agency that provides air-conditioned cars and drivers who are also knowledgeable guides. You can book one of their standard tours (seacoast, UNESCO sites, and the like) or design your own itinerary. Contact Aneliya Gospodinova at firstname.lastname@example.org to book. Ask for the services of their superguide Toma Georgiev. If you use Plovdiv as your base, Toma, who lives in Plovdiv, is available for private day tours to Veliko Tarnovo, Rila Monastery, the Black Sea Coast, and many other destinations. The charge per day is 70€ ($89) plus 15€ ($19) per 100km (62 miles), and includes travel in an air-conditioned Ford Focus and guide services, plus return to Plovdiv or drop-off at your destination. Contact Toma directly at tel. 359-887-863-591 or at email@example.com.
Alternatively, Surprise Tours is a one-man company run by the charming Svetlio (tel. 088/7485174; firstname.lastname@example.org). Svetlio charges 70€ ($89) per day and 8€ ($10) per 100km (62 miles) to drive you anywhere in his (non-air-conditioned) Passat. While not an official guide, he is knowledgeable and he is at your beck and call 24 hours. If you want an air-conditioned or 4*4 vehicle, there is an additional fee. Day trips to Rila, Koprivshtitsa, Melnik, Plovdiv, and Veliko Tarnovo cost 80€ to 85€ ($102-$108). A tip is welcome (and usually earned), but not expected.
By Bus -- This is the best way to get around if you have decided against hiring a car, as the proliferation of private companies like ETAP and Grup (www.etapgroup.com) and Biomet (www.biomet-bg.com) has meant that buses are smart, clean, reliable, and user-friendly. This is particularly true if you are traveling and making all your bookings from Sofia. The recently renovated Central Bus Station (http://tis.centralnaavtogara.bg) has an information desk staffed by helpful English speakers, and also boasts an easy-to-use self-help computer system, providing timetables and exact prices charged. There are regular buses (almost hourly) to Plovdiv, Varna, and Veliko Tarnovo; getting to smaller towns like Bansko and Koprivshtitsa will require advance planning.
By Train -- Train travel is not recommended at present. Not only is infrastructure old, leading to potential delays, but cars are often grimy and fellow passengers, usually heavy smokers, are plucked from Sartre's depiction of hell. Bus travel is by comparison well organized, relatively comfortable, and faster. That said, national train carrier Bulgarian State Railways (BDZh) connects most towns in Bulgaria (with the exception of those located in mountainous Rhodopes and Pirin) and hosts a friendly website, so travelers use the rail system relatively easily (though note that outside of Sofia you'll still have to deal with signboards in Cyrillic, and no on-board indication that you've arrived at your destination); for timetables check http://bdz.creato.biz/en or www.bdz.bg. For information contact Sofia's Central Railway Station at tel. 02/932-3333.
By Plane -- Air travel is a tad indulgent, given that Bulgaria is relatively small (it takes 4-5 hr. to drive from Sofia to the coast), but if you need to get from one side of the country to the other fast, a few airlines connect Sofia with the coast.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.