About two hours south of Sofia lies the beautiful Bulgarian mountain town of Bansko. The town itself is 925m above sea level. At the south end of town, you can easily walk to the gondola, which will take you up to Banderishka Polyana at 1595m. Some might say this is the heart of the Bansko ski resort with its world-class ski slopes. However, there’s a lot more to Bansko town than just skiing or snowboarding! In this post, we’ll share some of the top things to do in Bansko, Bulgaria, based on the three months we spent there over the wintertime.
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- Our Favorite things to do in Bansko in Bulgaria
- Explore Bansko’s gorgeous old town
- Help out the Bansko street dogs
- Hang out at the town park
- Winter snow sledding
- Hang out at one of the outdoor playgrounds
- Go ice skating at the outdoor rink
- Try out the “House Wall” outdoor climbing wall
- Go rock climbing on a real rock face (yes, even in winter!)
- Visit one or more of the thermal hot springs in the area
- Hang out at the Krinetz dam
- Take a train ride to Velingrad or beyond!
- Hike up the ski road or nearby trails
- Stay in a mountain hut
- The best restaurants in Bansko
- Other things to do in Bansko and nearby
Our Favorite things to do in Bansko in Bulgaria
Bansko is a beautiful place to visit in the wintertime. We’re sure it’s equally as wonderful in the summertime!
We spent three months there, from January to March. Our primary reason for doing so was to attend the Bansko Worldschooling Pop Up Community, which we’ll be posting about shortly.
Although Colin and I are both snowboarders, we didn’t hit the slopes this time. As you’ll see from our suggestions below, there are plenty of things to do in Bansko, whether you’re a ski bunny or not! It’s certainly an “outdoorsy” place, so if you love nature and fresh mountain air, then you might just love Bansko as much as we did!
Explore Bansko’s gorgeous old town
First on our list of Bansko things to do is to explore the old town. If you’re staying at the gondola end of town, you can make your way down Pirin Street until you reach the old town. Pirin street is Pedestrian-friendly, and you’ll find plenty of shops and restaurants to visit on your way down.
Bansko is a very walkable town and you can get from one end to the other within 30 minutes. We traveled there with our two young girls (aged 7 and 2), and walked everywhere around the town, even in winter. Of course, it can get icy at times!
We love the cobblestone streets and little laneways in the old town. The old buildings have plenty of character, and you can even take a free tour around the town to learn about the history.
There are a few museums you can visit in the old town. You’ll find them near the central square and Holy Trinity Church. They were closed while we were there, due to Covid restrictions. However, if they’re open when you visit, you could check out the historical Radonova House, and Velyanova House Museums.
Help out the Bansko street dogs
If you’re visiting Bansko and you’d like to get involved in a community initiative, help for the Bansko Street dogs is both needed and appreciated.
Bansko Street Dogs was set up in 2020 by an awesome lady called Sarah. Puppies that would have previously been left to die now have a safe haven to call home.
The Bansko street dogs depend on volunteers to help out with things like cleaning their home, taking them for walks, and giving them plenty of cuddles. Donations are also appreciated, and of course, the dogs are also looking for “forever homes”. There’s a nice park near their shelter, which is great for walks.
You can also join some of Bansko’s digital nomads for hikes in the hills with the dogs on the weekends. The dogs are amazing and love walking for several hours! Contact Bansko Street Dogs to find out more about how you can get involved.
Hang out at the town park
Just east of the town square in Bansko is a lovely park. It’s actually the only park we know of in the town. With two playgrounds and a workout area that doubles as a third playground it’s a great place to hang out and play.
The park is also located very near to the home of the Bansko Street dogs (across the road from the “Moderator” store) so if you want to help them out you can take a dog or two for a walk around the park.
Winter snow sledding
You don’t have to have a ski pass to enjoy the winter snow in Bansko! Just grab a sled or something that will help you slide and head to the little snow hill under the bottom of the gondola. On a warmer day, the kids (and maybe even the grown-ups!) will likely have loads of fun here for a few hours.
You can choose from a range of sleds to rent or buy at many nearby stores. We generally went sledding once a week and found that it was one of the most fun things to do with kids in Bansko!
Hang out at one of the outdoor playgrounds
Bansko is very much an outdoorsy mountain town. You might not find indoor play spaces around but there are several basic outdoor playgrounds around the town.
Look out for the rainbow-colored fences in the middle of the roads. The fences enclose little playgrounds where your little ones can stop for some fun.
Firstly, we recommend the playground next to coconut coffee and smoothies (find it on Google maps). We love it here because you’ve got the option to chill out with a juice, smoothie bowl, or hot drink while the littles play. There’s also a very neat little stream and rocky area running along the center of the (very quiet) road here. The kids will love leaping over it and playing around the water.
Another playground we recommend is the one just south of the town square. There are lots of little shops, market stalls, and restaurants nearby. There’s also a fun play area with rocks and a little stream on the edge of the square so it’s easy to hang out for a while. So if you’re looking for things to do in Bansko with kids, seek out one of the little playgrounds around the town.
Go ice skating at the outdoor rink
There’s an outdoor ice rink at the gondola end of Bansko. It’s probably the highest-priced ice rink we’ve visited before, but it’s worth going to if you’re looking for something to do as an alternative to skiing or snowboarding.
Prices are 30 leva for adults (about $18) and 18 leva for kids (about $11)! This includes the skates. They didn’t have tiny skates for Romy (age two) so we just let Ayla go for it with her buddies. The rink doesn’t have the ride-on animals or carts that we have used at other ice rinks but there is a barrier around the edge that beginners can grab onto.
The rink is open most afternoons and evenings. The first time we tried to go it was a warm afternoon and the ice was melting, so it wasn’t open as expected. We’d also recommend checking in advance that it’s going to be open because we found it was closed another time when we expected it to be open.
There are a couple of benches inside where you hire the skates, so you can warm up if needed. Even better, pop across the road and grab yourself a very good mulled wine for just 4 leva. It’s a great option to help the grown-up spectators to stay warm!
Try out the “House Wall” outdoor climbing wall
We really love climbing as a family activity so we were excited to find an outdoor wall near Bansko. It’s called “House Wall” on Google maps and is located in Banya, which is about 10-15 minutes drive from Bansko.
When you drive there you might think you’re going the wrong way as you’ll head onto some dirt roads and back streets. But it’s there! It’s simply the outside wall of a guest house, which has been converted into a climbing wall. The guest house owners are adventurous types and will also happily take you on adventures in the mountains.
Look up “House Wall” on Google maps and contact them in advance if you’d like to go climbing, as you’ll need to make sure they are available to belay you. Climbing is 10 leva per person for as long as you feel like climbing, and there are four different difficulty levels on the wall.
Even Romy got the harness on and was going to enjoy a swing. However, she decided she wanted the harness off again as soon as it was on 🤣.
It’s also worth noting that there was an indoor bouldering wall, which was opening just as we were leaving Bansko. Perhaps we’ll go back and try it another time:-)
Go rock climbing on a real rock face (yes, even in winter!)
Just next to the ski road and the halfway restaurants and parking area is a great spot for real rock climbing!
This was the first time doing proper rock climbing for all three of us. We’ve climbed up indoor and outdoor walls before. Colin and I have abseiled, and I’ve even tried indoor ice climbing. But this was super exciting to try for the first time.
Lots of other world schooling families here also gave it a go. We arranged this with the team at the “House Wall” guest House (see above). We’d already tried their outdoor climbing wall. They told us they could take us on a proper climbing adventure in the mountains so of course, we said YES!
We loved the different challenges compared to using a wall. You can’t necessarily see the good holds on the rock, but when you feel around a bit you can find them. Then up you go!
We’re stoked that Ayla is embracing these sorts of adventures. I’m sure Romy will also be involved soon enough. She loves climbing too. She’s just not quite ready for walls or huge rock faces.
Visit one or more of the thermal hot springs in the area
If you’re visiting Bansko or nearby, definitely consider visiting one or more of the amazing thermal baths in the area. There are none in Bansko itself, although plenty of the hotels have warm swimming pools and Jacuzzis.
For thermal waters near Bansko, head to Banya for the best selection. It’s 10-15 minutes drive from Bansko. Check out Regnum Banya Thermal, which we enjoyed for the poolside drinks service and pools made from natural stone.
Mineral pool “Izgreva” is also a nice choice as you can try a range of different pool temperatures, including a freezing cold one. They also have a sauna, and they supply towels, which is a bonus. We also enjoyed the pool at Villa Victoria.
As an alternative to Banya, you can try Dobrinishte, which is also just 10 minutes or so from Bansko. You can also opt to go there by train. Try out Alpha pool and spa if you decide to go there. Prices at the thermal baths seem to be pretty standard at around 10 leva per adult and 5 leva per child.
Hang out at the Krinetz dam
The Krinetz dam is a beautiful spot to hang out in Bansko. It’s lovely and quiet and the natural surroundings are gorgeous. For us, it was one of the quickest ways to really get into nature. We’d recommend adding it to your list of things to do in Bansko, in winter or summer! The Krinetz dam is only about 20-25 minutes walk from the gondola end of town.
You can sit by the water and take in the views. There’s also a small playground and a quiet restaurant there. So you can enjoy a drink or some bean soup at the outdoor tables just above the dam.
This is also a great starting point for some of the many hiking trails in the mountains. We took the Bansko Street dogs for a four-hour hike that finished up here.
If you head down the track from the dam and restaurant (towards town) there’s a lovely little stream after about five minutes. It’s another sweet spot for the kids to hang out and enjoy nature. Overall, visiting the dam is a great option to get everyone out of the house for some chill time.
Take a train ride to Velingrad or beyond!
There’s an extensive train network all over Bulgaria, and it even passes through Bansko! The secondary train lines like the one that goes through Bansko, are not fast. However, the route from Bansko to Velingrad is arguably the most scenic in the whole country. It travels through the mountains and stops at the highest station in the mountains.
The drive to Velingrad takes about 1 hour 20 minutes. The train ride takes three hours, and it’s a lovely trip. We’d highly recommend the train trip if you are in the area and are up for some lovely scenery and exploration.
We went with the other world schooling families and filled up a whole carriage on the train. We opted to stay overnight in Velingrad and enjoyed a trip to the thermal baths the next day. Velingrad is one of the Bulgaria points of interest you won’t want to miss if you love spas! There are plenty to choose from.
Best of all, the train ticket price is next to nothing. We paid about three euros for the whole family, and maybe about five euros on the way back. The price will be lower if they give you a group discount. Overall, the price maybe depends on who’s at the counter at the time 🤣
Hike up the ski road or nearby trails
For an active day in Bansko with a bit of adventure thrown in, hike up the ski mountain! We left the little one with a babysitter and began the two-hour hike to the top station of the gondola (Banderishka Polyana).
This is the central point where skiers and boarders take chair lifts further up the mountain. You can chill out at the restaurants here, and beginners can take a ski school lesson on the baby drags and magic carpet.
We started on one of the trails that run alongside the ski road. After passing the two restaurants /cafes in the lower half of the ski road, we continued our walk up the ski road. Skiers and boarders whizzed down beside us as we trudged upwards (in our normal, non-snow shoes lol). As full-time slow travelers, we decided to get by without any special snow boots or gear, and we managed:-)
Our packed lunch and hot drinks on top of the mountain were very welcomed and we were lucky to have picked a stunning day for it.
The ski road is the most direct route!
Being the adventurous lot we are, we decided to take a different route down. From doing so I can confirm that taking the ski road is the much more direct route 🤣. But hey, we got to see another side of the mountain. And we were rescued with a free trip down from the halfway gondola station when one member of our party was having a meltdown.
All in all, it was a great day out and we recommend it as one of the adventurous and outdoorsy things to do in Bansko.
If you’re not sure about trudging through the snow, consider taking the hike in the summertime. Banderishka Polyana is one of the Bansko attractions that also comes alive in the summertime. During the warmest months, it’s transformed into a playground where you can enjoy one of the longest waterslides in Europe, mountain biking, and plenty of other activities.
And of course, you can catch the gondola up if you prefer 🤣😜
Stay in a mountain hut
The Pirin National Park is the beautiful mountain range on Bansko’s doorstep. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pirin mountains are certainly an area of outstanding beauty.
There are several mountain huts you can stay in around Bulgaria. I guess most people who stay in them during winter do so for the skiing and snowboarding opportunities.
Not all of the huts are accessible in winter. For example, Vihren hut was the one I first looked into. After much research, I found that it’s not possible in winter if you want someone to drive you there.
Us, well we just wanted to stay in a hut to be high in the mountains and spend time as a family (as strained as those dynamics can be at times!).
Oh, and it was a belated celebration for a special milestone birthday for someone in the family🙂.
Wintertime at Bezbog hut
In the end, we stayed a couple of nights at Bezbog hut. To get there, you drive 30 minutes from Bansko to Gotse Delchev. Gotse Delchev has a beginner ski area, restaurant, and also a hut you can stay in.
To reach Bezbog hut, you then take two chair lifts up until you’re about 2200m above sea level. There are plenty of beginner and off-piste ski trails up there.
It’s possible to hike from Dobrinishte to Gotse Delchev, and from Gotse Delchev to Bezbog. This was my original plan until I properly thought it through regarding kids, weather, and overnight gear 🤪.
The chairlift rides to the top are beautiful. Something you should know is that there are baggage platforms. We did not know this on the first ride. The lift operators just kind of threw us onto the tiny two-person chairlift with bags in tow and we clung on to them. Romy went up with Colin and one bag, and I went up with Ayla and two bags.
By the second lift, we were savvier and we put our bags down and the lift operators put our bags on the baggage platform. You’ve still got to have your wits about you, simply to get on the fast-moving chairlift!
I was hoping for a bit more hiking up there than I managed to get in. However, there was still lots of fresh, knee-deep snow everywhere at the beginning of April. So I settled for a short hike and plenty of fresh, and very cold mountain air!
Bezbog hut and Gotse Delchev are owned by Hotel Dobrinishte, so make your bookings through them.
The best restaurants in Bansko
We enjoyed dining at several lovely restaurants and hole-in-the-wall style eateries in Bansko. First, it’s important to realize that Bansko is most popular in the winter, and also in mid-summer. In between seasons, several shops and restaurants are likely to be closed.
There are plenty of Traditional Bulgarian Restaurants in Bansko. One that we really enjoyed (complete with entertainment) was Valevitsata Tavern.
Around the corner, you’ll find the yummy “Gelato Italiano”, with a trendy little wine bar next door. They’re located at the very top of the pedestrian area of Pirin Street. Everyone just hangs outside with wine, cheese, and gelato, even in winter!
Some of our other favorite little food and drink spots include “Wake up coffee and juice bar”, and “Station Bansko”, at the gondola end of town. Try “wake up” before you head up the mountains for the day and the Station after you get back down!
As I mentioned earlier, we also love Coconut coffee and Smoothies, about halfway between the gondola and the old town.
Other things to do in Bansko and nearby
So there you have it! There are plenty of things to do in Bansko, even if you’re not skiing:-). If you want to venture a little further from the town you’ll find more in the areas surrounding Bansko.
A day trip or tour to the Rila Monastery is an absolutely beautiful, and popular option. If you have kids, you might also want to check out the Rila Fun Park and the Bear Sanctuary, which is just a bit further along the road.
I hope you’ve got loads of great ideas to add to your itinerary of things to do in Bansko, Bulgaria! As always, please feel free to join the conversation and leave any questions or comments below.
For tips about the best things to do in other nearby European destinations, check out our best recommendations for things to do in Serbia (and, more specifically, in Belgrade), and Tirana, Albania. If you’re heading further West, you might enjoy reading about the best things to do with kids in the Poitou Charentes region. We spent somewhere between one month and seven months in each of these locations.
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