A Journey Across the Continent
When does an epic dream become an epic plan? When you write it down.
For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of ‘epic journeys‘. Whether it’s crossing Siberia by rail, a motorcycle ride from New York to LA, or crossing an entire country by foot, there’s something awe-inspiring and humbling about these lofty, seemingly unachievable goals.
As much time as I’ve spent dreaming, I’ve never really undergone anything I’d consider an epic journey. But with my increasing scepticism of flying as a good means of transport, I sense longer land journeys in my future.
To kick off a series of epic journey plans, I’m going to attempt to lay out a road map from Britain to the Black sea. The Balkans are a largely unexplored area of Europe for me and somewhere I’m desperate to get to soon.
Ignoring the existence of Corona-related restrictions, can I get from Oxford to Sunny Beach, Bulgaria, by bus? I believe I’ve figured out a way.
Here’s how to get from Britain to the Black Sea in 10 epic steps.
Step 1: Oxford to London
The sailing off point from these isles is always going to be London, but unfortunately, that’s not where I live. Luckily the trip from Oxford to the capital is pretty easy.
Fun fact: The Oxford Tube makes 150 journeys a day, meaning this is the busiest bus service in and out of London. In comparison, the bus between Cambridge and London makes just 15 journeys a day. Take that, Cambridge.
The Oxford Tube works out slightly cheaper. As a person under 26 (just!), I get a slight discount, so I’ll choose that over National Express.
Cost of journey: £8
Journey time: 2hr
Step 2: London to Brussels
The obvious method of escaping London and entering the continent is via the Eurostar. But we have rules and I’m gonna stick to them, damn it.
The Oxford Tube stops at Victoria coach station, which is where both bus services run from. There’s not much difference in the cost either, but National Express seems to have a slight edge. Both options are direct.
Cost of journey: £10
Journey time: 5hr30
Step 3: Brussels to Luxembourg
I’m trying to make this journey more or less a simple straight line, while also seeing as much as possible.
So looking at the map, it seems worth passing through Luxembourg.
FlixBus is immediately standing out at the cheapest option here.
Cost of journey: £9
Journey time: 3hr
Step 4: Luxembourg to Stuttgart
Let’s keep travelling eastwards, then. I feel FlixBus is going to be a large part of this journey. Their app is easy to use, their buses are easy to spot and comfortable, and the tickets are cheap as anything.
It’s just the most convenient and affordable way to travel, which is what travel hacks are all about. This epic journey will be exhausting, so I’m glad there are companies like FlixBus making life a little easier. Let’s use this service to get to Germany.
Cost of journey: £14
Journey time: 6hr
Step 5: Stuttgart to Munich
Being a German company, it makes sense to stick with FlixBus while travelling through this country.
This also marks an important stage in the journey: we’ve reached central Europe! Roughly halfway there then, as it should be by step 5. Best of all, this is the cheapest ride yet!
Cost of journey: £7
Journey time: 2hr30
Step 6: Munich to Graz
FlixBus remains the cheapest option as we head out of Germany and into Austria. We’re making good progress towards Bulgaria and the Black Sea, but of course, feel free to explore central Europe while you’re here.
Cost of journey: £17
Journey time: 5hr
Step 7: Graz to Zagreb
From Austria, there’s a couple of different routes you could take. The quickest way seems to include heading straight east to Budapest, then down to Bucharest, and into Bulgaria.
But this would miss out a bunch of fascinating countries. So I’ve decided to skip Hungary, and journey down the Adriatic Sea, through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, and North Macedonia.
So let’s jump on the bus at Graz and cross through Slovenia until we get to Zagreb, Croatia. Considering this involves crossing an entire country, it’s kind of amazing there’s a direct service. At least you’ll get to see a lot of Slovenia, if only through the window!
I’m still not seeing an option that’s as cheap or reliable as FlixBus, so let’s just keep going on that service. I swear they haven’t sponsored this post!
Cost of journey: £10
Journey time: 3hr
Step 8: Zagreb to Sarajevo
Okay, time to make some ground. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not just a long name, but a long country. It’ll take a while to get to Sarajevo. We could stick with FlixBus and stop off in Zenica, or use Croatia Bus international to go direct.
This comes down to personal preference, but I’m interested in trying Croatia bus since it’s completely new to me. Perhaps its totally terrible, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take at this point.
There’s also a direct service with Swiss Eurolines, but that takes 12 hours for some reason.
Cost of journey: £30
Journey time: 6hr
Step 9: Sarajevo to Sofia
We’ve come a long from London. After driving through Slovenia to Sarajevo, let’s cross Serbia to Sofia, then onwards to Sunny Beach. Sorted.
This is a long journey, so it will need to be broken up. There’s also no FlixBus or similar, so we’re going to have to figure out the local bus routes.
It’s 14 hours to Skopje with a company called Makedonija Soobrakaj AD. This direct service crosses Serbia and Kosovo, before dropping us off in the very north of North Macedonia. The bus makes many stops, so we can always jump off somewhere nice, rest up in a hotel, and resume this long leg of the journey another time.
But remember, we’ll be stopping at Skopje which will be a good place to take a break. From there, we take the bus the rest of the way to Sofia, Bulgaria. It’s just 4 hours with the same bus operator, but there are only three services a day, so try not to miss it!
Cost of journey: £30
Journey time: 18hr
Step 10: Sofia to Sunny Beach
This is it. Beautiful Bulgaria. It’s a long way from the UK and yet, somehow, it feels like we’re nearly home. It’s been nice looking around the capital, Sofia, but we must get moving. To the aptly named Sunny Beach.
It’s quite a popular destination so we have direct buses. We can buy a ticket on the app and show the QR code to the driver when boarding. The operator is called Union Ivkoni. FlixBus is now a thing of the past; a distant memory.
The bus drops us off at Sunny Beach bus station, which is just a 10 minute walk to the beach itself. Let’s wander down and find ourselves a bar, shall we?
Cost of journey: £15
Journey time: 6hr30
Conclusions from an Epic Journey
Thank god for FlixBus, eh! Connecting almost all of Europe, while keeping costs low. That service has certainly made the epic journey easier.
Having said that, there’s more adventure trying to figure out the local bus services, buying tickets from drivers who don’t talk a word of English. So the last leg of the journey might be more rewarding in taking us out of our comfort zone.
An Epic Journey, but at what cost?!
Total price: £150
Total time: 57.5hr
Countries visited: 12
A beer by the Black Sea: Priceless.
£150 is very optimistic; I took the prices from the absolute cheapest tickets I could find. They vary a lot, but the fact remains that it’s possible to bus from Britain to Bulgaria on a budget of £150!
A flight from London to Sofia, meanwhile, can be bought for as little as £18. However, I’d still need to get the first and last buses which is:
£8 + £15 = £23. So the total is really £41 or around £20 per country.
The £150 worth of bus tickets took us to 12 countries, so that’s a mere £12.50 per country. That’s a bargain, I’d say.
We’ve had a truly epic adventure and made a lifetime’s worth of memories and new friends. We’ve pushed the limits of our comfort zone, seen more than most see in a decade, and reignited the joy of experience. Yes – it was totally worth it.