If you’re visiting Bansko, Bulgaria’s top ski resort, but for whatever reason you’re not going to be one of those people spending your days cascading down through the powder, what else is there to do? Whether you have little kids to occupy, want something different to do or just fancy some time out from the slopes, here’s some ideas for things to do in and around Bansko on your holidays.
1. Explore the Old Town
The old, original neighbourhood of Bankso, typically characterised by decorative stone dwellings from the Revival period, is where you’ll find a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets and alleyways. Visit The Holy Trinity Church, famous for it’s bell tower, the statue of Bulgaria’s famous philosopher, Paisiy Hilendarski and explore the museum houses of Velyan, Nikola Vaptsarov and Neofit Rilski. If art is your thing, spend some time at Bansko’s International Gallery for different exhibitions which are on throughout the year. When you need a break, enjoy the laid back atmosphere in one of the many bars and restaurants in Vazrajdane Square or take a walk in the park close by.
2. Relax in Natural Waters
There’s a wealth of mineral and curative water sources in and around Bansko and you’re bound to feel the health benefits from spending a few hours in one of the pools. Head to Banya, rich in mineral water springs, pool complexes and the village’s public baths which date back to Roman times. Izgreva is one of the most popular with beautifully warm water and reasonably priced for entrance, food or drinks by the pool. In Bankso, most of the hotels offer a huge range of spa and massage facilities so even if you’re not residing in one of them, you can buy one day passes
3. Ride a Train
This short train will take you all the way from Septemvri to Dobriniste, near Bankso, and travels through the Rhodope, Rila and Pirin Mountain ranges. Famous for its narrow gauge line (760mm) and slow-travelling heights, the journey usually takes around six hours but there are no hard and fast rules up in these gorges and valleys. The only thing to do is sit back and enjoy the leisurely ride through the 25 station stops and 125 kilometres of stunning backdrops that it encompasses. For a shorter journey, you can go as far as Velingrad and take a return journey back to Bansko.
4. Go Ice-skating
The Bansko ice rink might not be one of the best as it’s quite small but it’s open until late so you can skate under the stars! There’s a minimum hire time of two hours and is 10lv for adults, 5lv for kids plus the hire of the skates. In previous years there’s been mixed reactions of the quality of the skates and rink from from visitors but it’s particularly great if you have kids and want to entertain them before bedtime! For very small children, they have the little penguins to help and there’s a small cafe if you’re not skating yourself.
5. Take a Day Trip
There are numerous tour operators and hotels offering day trips from Bansko if you don’t have your own transport. Visit Rila Monastery,,one of Bulgaria’s main tourist attractions. The monastery houses two churches, History Museum, Cookhouse, Hreliov’s Tower and a library which stores literature dating back for thousands of years. It’s easy to be consumed by the painted frescoes, towers and stairways and seemingly never-ending archways.
Alternatively, visit Melnik, the smallest town in the southwestern Pirin Mountains. An architectural reserve with 96 of its buildings listed as cultural monuments, Melnik is famous for its unusual landscape of sandstone formations, cliffs and pyramids as well as it’s red wines and there are a number of vineyards worth calling in to. In the small village of Rupite and near to Melnik, is the preserved home and grounds of Baba Vanga, the Balkan’s Nostradamus, which is free to enter and has a museum, church and her untouched house. Closer to Bankso is the historical village of Kovachevitsa where you can step back in time to yet more unique Bulgarian architecture and authenticity.
6. Taste some delicious food
Bankso has some fantastic restaurants where you can eat your way through Bulgarian scrumptious cuisine. You’ll notice plenty of old ‘mehanas’, traditional Bulgarian restaurants, such as Mehana Dedo Tase or Bai Kotse, behind the stone walls of the old quarter. Although there’s not much variety between the menus, there’s plenty of salads, soups, fish and meat dishes including the popular favourite, Kapama, a mixture of meat and vegetables stewed in an earthenware dish.
For a more different helping of cuisine, try Smokey Mountain Restaurant for mouth-watering smoked burgers and ribs or curry nights at the Avalon Hotel. Uut of town, visit the Dam Krinets Restaurant, a fish farm next to a pretty dam which specialises in trout or carp, grilled and fried.
7. Escape Rooms
Bansko’s escape rooms are located in Lucky Bansko Hotel.The Hacker room is for anyone over eight years where you’ll find yourself trapped in his secret lair and have to work out a plan to stop his destructive intentions. For those with smaller kids, solve puzzles and overcome unknown obstacles in the Egypt room which is full of mysteries, pharaohs and ancient symbols to solve. You can book a time online for an hour of fun and everyone receives a photo of their experience.
Reward yourself for some time out with a yoga session to improve your flexibility, balance and mental aptitude. There are a few yoga instructors and clubs in Bankso:
- Bankso Yoga Club offer classes for adults, children and babies
- In addition to yoga classes, Hotel Tanne also has an indoor pool, spa and fitness facilities
- Atmosphere Aero Yoga classes are only 15lv an hour for harmonising body and mind through aerial yoga
Whilst you’re in the old quarter, check out the open-air market selling lots of seasonal, home-grown produce, direct from the sellers’ gardens every day. It’s also great for picking up Bulgarian herbs and spices, nuts, dried fruit, honey and home-made wine or rakia (local fruit brandy) and getting to know the locals at the same time. Continue walking upwards beyond the Holy Trinity Church and you’ll reach the pedestrianised Pirin Str, Bankso’s most popular shopping street. In contrast with the traditional architecture are numerous shops selling rose products, Bulgarian pottery, modern art, jewellery and other souvenir inspired presents.
10. Horse Riding
The people who run Dvorene riding stables in Razlog are both friendly to horses and humans! Choose one of their well trained horses either for lessons or a tailored trek towards the Pirin and Rila mountains depending on how long you can horseback ride for. The stables also doubles up as a hotel if you fancy escaping from Bansko for the night.