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Nestled at the base of the Pirin Mountains of southwestern Bulgaria, the small town of Bansko is a fantastic year-round spot for those looking for an off-the-beaten-path European destination.
From December to April, the town is best known for being one of the top winter sports resorts in Bulgaria. You can take the gondola and ski lifts up into the mountains, then enjoy the stunning snow-covered peaks and many alpine lodges (apres ski anyone?) as you make your way back down.
But there’s also so much more to do in Bansko other than skiing, no matter what time of year you visit.
From breathtaking landscapes to its rich cultural heritage, and fantastic food to the buzzing nightlife scene, this charming town is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
During the summer months, you can hike through the beautiful dense forest, ride the longest inflatable water slide in Europe, and raft along raging rapids.
While during the winter, don’t forget to take a break from skiing to enjoy a soak in the hot springs, pamper yourself with a trip to the spa, and indulge on a hearty local meal at one of the many traditional taverns.
Still not sure what to do in Bansko other than skiing? After calling this beautiful town home for over a month, I’ve put together this list of my 33 absolute favourite things to do in Bansko in summer and winter, other than skiing (from someone who can’t ski anyway!)…
What you'll find in this post
1. Take a Bansko Free Walking Tour
I love going a free walking tour when I arrive in a new destination. It’s a great way to get your bearings and learn some interesting information about the city, its history, and its culture.
I really didn’t expect a small town like Bansko to have a free walking tour. But it turns out it does!
Bansko Free Tour takes you on a 1.5-2 hour journey around Bansko Old Town with an English-speaking guide.
The tour only runs once a day on Saturdays and Sundays during peak periods:
- Summer time: from June to end of September – start 11 am
- Winter time: from December to end of March – start 2 pm
However, you do need to book your tour in advance. And if there’s no volunteer available to run it or there are not enough people booked on, you’ll get an email saying the tour isn’t going ahead.
If this happens, you can always book a private tour of Bansko instead – it’s still fairly affordable if there are 2-3 of you.
2. Get Lost in Bansko Old Town
The Old Town sits in the lower part of Bansko and is the prettiest part of town. If you’re looking for some great photo ops – this is the place to go!
Here you’ll find narrow cobblestone streets winding between traditional stone houses and leading out on to charming little squares framed by the towering mountains behind. Allow yourself to get lost for a while exploring the maze of small streets.
The houses in this area of town are pretty unique too. They were built in the 18th century when Bansko was increasing in wealth due to trade between Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire. This means that the town was a target for robberies. So the locals decided to build fortified houses.
You’ll notice that many houses have thick stone walls surrounding them. The living rooms tend to be on the second floor and there’s a special hiding room in each house. Some houses even have escape tunnels into nearby streets or neighbouring gardens.
You can take a peek through a small window to see inside one of the fortified houses here.
3. Check out the Paisiy Hilendarski Monument & Historical Center
When wandering through Bansko town center, it’s pretty difficult to miss this huge statue in the upper square. But do you know who the statue is of?
This large monument represents Paisii Hilendarski (Monk Paisiy of Hilendar Monastery), one of the most prominent historical figures in Bulgaria.
Born right here in Bansko, Paisii Hilendarski was the author of “Slavonic-Bulgarian History,” one of the first and most significant Bulgarian history books of all time.
His 1762 book was believed to have sparked the Bulgarian National Revival – a period of national awakening among Bulgarian people and an uprising against Ottoman rule.
The monument shows Paisii standing in front of several pages from his famous book.
If you want to learn more about one of Bansko’s most famous residents, you can head just around the corner to the “Paisii Hilendarski Historical Center” (here).
4. Drink from a Natural Spring Fountain
Did you know that Bulgaria is a country that’s known for its natural mineral waters?
There are many mineral springs across the entire country that supply every town and city with clean drinking water.
In Bansko, you’ll find 20 large public fountains all across the town offering a contestant flow of natural spring water direct from the Pirin Mountains.
So if you find yourself getting thirsty while wandering around town, don’t be afraid to fill up your water bottle or even drink directly from the fountains.
You’ll often find locals filling up large bottles to take back home with them.
5. Visit Holy Trinity Church
The “Holy Trinity” Church and its tall bell tower are one of the main symbols of Bansko. Dating back to the 1800s, it’s one of the biggest and most significant revival churches built in Bulgaria.
And there’s a pretty funny story about how this church came into existence.
In the early 19th century, there was no church at all in central Bansko. And the town really wanted one.
BUT during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, there was a law that stated that a church could only be built in a place where there had previously been a church.
So the people of Bansko secretly buried a cross and an icon in the chosen location. One of the elderly women in Bansko then “dreamed a prophetic dream” and “found” the Christian relics. They eventually got the sultan’s permission for a church in 1833.
HOWEVER, that’s not the end of the story.
Ottoman authorities had given Bansko particular dimensions in which the church was supposed to be built. They would not permit the church to be bigger than the local mosque. And these measurements were much smaller than what the town had planned.
So the residents of Bansko had to resort to a trick again in order to bypass these regulations. They decided to first surround the area with tall stone walls that would prevent the Turks from seeing what was happening at the foundations.
Once that was done, locals would sneak in at night and move the pins that marked the foundations of the church. So little by little they managed to expand the foundations of the church and achieve the size they wanted.
A final trick used by the town of Bansko to keep their church was to carve the Turkish half-moon (the symbol of Islam) next to the Christian cross at the church’s entrance. They knew that if the Ottomans found out about their tricks, they wouldn’t tear down a church with this symbol on.
You can take a wander around the church courtyard and head inside to see its extravagant interior. It’s free to enter the church. But you can’t take any photos inside.
6. Keep an Eye Out for The Local Storks
While admiring the bell tower of the Holy Trinity Church, take a look at the very top of the tower, where you’ll spot a large bird’s nest.
This nest is home to two white storks who migrate to Bansko each year.
White storks are one of Bulgaria’s most loved birds. And for locals, their arrival marks the official start of spring.
7. Visit House-Museum Neofit Rilski
Right next door to the Holy Trinity Church sits the House-Museum Neofit Rilski.
This historic home once belonged to Nikola Poppetrov Benin, the founder of secular education in Bulgaria and the author of the first Bulgarian grammar book. There’s an exhibit on his work inside, including several historic books and dictionaries.
The 18th century building itself is a great example of the fortified houses of Bansko, with stone walls, an upstairs living room, and a hiding place. It’s a fascinating place to experience how people in Bansko used to live around the end of Ottoman rule.
The museum is open every day (other than Tuesdays) and costs 3 leva (€1.50) to enter.
8. Find the Nikola Vaptsarov Mural
Compared to Sofia, there’s not a huge amount of street art in Bansko.
But the one big mural you will find in the town center (here next to BG market) is of famous Bulgarian poet Nikola Vaptsarov, who was born in Bansko in the early 1900s.
Most Bulgarians agree that Vaptsarov was one of the best poets of all time, and many of his works are still taught in schools across Eastern Europe today.
And, as you’ll see, he is particularly celebrated in his hometown of Bansko. In fact, the main town square is named after him, and there’s a large statue of the poet on one edge of the square.
You’ll also find House-Museum Nikola Vaptsarov on the corner of the square. So if you’d like to learn more about Vaptsarov, the house-museum is certainly worth a visit.
9. Relax in the City Park
Bansko City Park is a lovely little park right in the heart of Bansko Old Town.
While it may be small, the park has plenty going on, including a large pond, flower beds, many fountains and statues, kid’s play equipment, a coffee shop, and even an outdoor bar. You might also stumble across events and festivals taking place throughout the year.
The park is a great spot to grab a drink at any time of the day and enjoy the lively atmosphere of locals and visitors mingling in the beautiful green space.
10. Wander Along the Glazne River
It’s impossible to spend any time in Bansko without coming across the Glazne River.
The shallow river passes through the entire town of Bansko, from the ski area at the top to the Old Town at the bottom. The cascading water flows down a series of tiny waterfalls made by the smooth round rocks in the riverbed.
You can take a walk along the banks of the river, find somewhere to sit in the surrounding greenery, or even go in for a paddle (only in the areas where the current isn’t strong).
There are also several bridges crossing over the river. From these bridges, you’ll be treated to some fantastic views over the mountains of the Pirin National Park. So don’t forget to stop for a photo!
11. Spot the Traditional Washing Machines
Sitting right between Glazne River and Bansko’s main street is another beautiful little avenue called ул. “Гоце Делчев” (ul. “Gotse Delchev” / here on maps).
The street has a small natural stream running through its center, with tiny stone bridges, unobstructed mountain views, and several children’s playgrounds along the way.
You might also spot a few of these unusual wooden containers controlling the flow of water in the stream (photo above).
Well, it turns out these aren’t just for irrigation purposes.
They’re actually traditional communal washing machines from a time when many people in Bansko didn’t have running water in their homes.
Locals would come down to the stream to wash their clothes in the natural spring waters instead. And these wooden containers made this much easier to do so.
12. Take a Short Walk to Krinetz Dam
Located a short drive or a 20-30 minute walk from Bansko Old Town, Krinetz Dam is a popular spot with both tourists and locals on a sunny day.
The scenic lake has a thick forest and stunning mountain views on one side and a lovely local restaurant on the other. The restaurant has plenty of outdoor seating overlooking the water.
The restaurant is renowned for its freshly caught trout and carp that are bred and caught in the dam. You’ll probably spot fishermen around its shores. But even if you’re not a fish eater (like me), there are plenty of other affordable local dishes and snacks on the menu too.
The walk to the dam is mostly along proper roads and paths, so no need to worry about getting lost in the wilderness. Some people even do it at night after having dinner at the restaurant.
13. Visit the Bansko Sunday Market
Each Sunday, the lower edge of Bansko’s main square plays host to the town’s Sunday Market.
Open from around 7am to 2pm, the market welcomes traders and growers from nearby villages who offer plenty of fresh produce such as fruit, vegetables, herbs, honey, homemade jams, and more.
There’s also a flea market close to the City Park each Sunday, with everything from beautiful flowers and affordable homeware to handmade crafts and antique goods.
14. Eat Lots of Delicious Bulgarian Food
There are countless fantastic places to eat delicious Bulgarian food in Bansko, from cosy traditional “Mehanas” (local taverns) to stylish modern restaurants.
A few of my favorites are:
- The House | A fantastic Bulgarian restaurant in the ski resort area. The ribs are a must-order – they’re the best in town!
- Obetsanova Mehana | An exciting Bulgarian tavern in the old town with beautiful traditional decor, amazing local food, and live folk music every evening.
15. Try a Sandwich from Le Petit Nicolas
If you need a break from Bulgarian cuisine, there are a handful of fantastic international restaurants in Bankso too thanks to the town’s many expats and nomads.
Le Petit Nicolas is one of my absolute favourite places to eat in Bansko.
The small French sandwich shop serves a selection of innovative sandwiches (La Provençal is a must-try!), a soup of the day, freshly baked croissants and pastries, and delicious homemade cakes.
The sandwiches are all made fresh in front of you, so they can be customised to your own taste or dietary requirements.
16. Go for a Bulgarian Wine Tasting
While Bulgarian wine may not be particularly well-known around the world, the country is actually one of the oldest wine-producing countries on the planet and still produces some exceptional wines to this day.
Bulgaria is best known for its red wines, with a mix of local varieties such as Mavrud and Pamid being produced alongside more recognisable grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
It also produces some light, dry white wines too, such as Misket and Dimyat.
You can sample some great Bulgarian wines in restaurants and bars all over Bansko. But for real wine lovers, make sure to check out OSCAR Wine Bar & Gastro.
As the only dedicated wine bar in town, the owner is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about local wines and will be sure to bore you with everything he knows if you ask nicely.
He also has one of the biggest wine selections in town and will happily select a few different glasses or bottles for you to pair with your meal (the food here is amazing too!).
17. Head Out For Drinks in Bansko
When the sun sets, Bansko comes alive with an exciting and vibrant nightlife scene.
Whether you prefer casual pubs, cosy alpine apres ski bars, or lively nightclubs, Bansko has options to suit every taste. Sip on a local craft beer, enjoy a signature cocktail, or try traditional Bulgarian rakia. Socialize with fellow travelers and locals, listen to live music, and dance the night away.
Note: Depending on what time of year you visit Bansko, not all of the bars and clubs will be open (i.e. summer and off-peak). The winter ski season is when you’ll find Bansko nightlife at its liveliest. During summer, you just need to find the right places to go.
A few of the best places to drink and party in Bansko:
- Pirin 75 | A casual late-night pub on Bansko’s main street with a lively atmosphere and live DJs. Open every day year-round.
- Ginger | Popular daytime restaurant with an upstairs bar area and small dancefloor which gets busy in the evening. Close to the ski gondola. Open year-round.
- The Club | Modern nightclub on the main square with live DJs. Open Fridays and Saturdays year-round.
- Jack’s House | Popular nightclub in the ski resort area that’s only open during the ski season.
18. Go Hiking in Pirin National Park
The town of Bansko sits at the foot of Pirin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful national parks in all of Bulgaria.
The mountainous park is home to the second tallest mountain in Bulgaria; Vihren Peak (2,916m).
During the winter months, the national park is a popular ski and snowsport destination. While during the summer months, it’s a great spot to go hiking.
In fact, hiking in Pirin National Park is one of the most popular Bansko summer activities.
The beautiful park is full of meandering rivers cutting through dense pine forests, gushing waterfalls leading into crystal-clear alpine lakes, and amazing mountain views. So make sure to bring your camera!
There are plenty of hiking trails all over the park, from shorter 2-3 hour hikes to longer multi-day expeditions. Some hikes start from central Bansko, some from the top of the Gondola, and others will require you to take a short drive or taxi to the starting point.
Check out some of the top hiking routes in Pirin.
19. Go Mountain Biking in the Pirin Mountains
Another great way to explore the Pirin Mountains is by mountain bike.
There are plenty of fantastic biking trails all over the national park suitable for all levels of experience, from gentle paths for beginners to challenging routes with jumps and drops for seasoned riders.
20. Take the Gondola Up Todorka Mountain
If you want to enjoy the views and scenery of the Pirin Mountains without the effort of hiking or biking, jump on the Bansko gondola and head into the national park instead.
During the winter season, the gondola works as a ski lift. Then during the summer season (July to mid-September), it runs daily shuttling visitors to Banderishka Meadow, mid-way up Todorka mountain.
There’s loads to do once you reach the upper lift stop. You’ll find plenty of hiking routes, a handful of restaurants, mountain bike rental, and a mini entertainment park with fun activities like mini golf, mini football, tubing, a climbing wall, and a 400-meter water slide.
A round trip on the gondola currently costs 40 leva (€20) per adult and 25 leva (€12.50) per child.
21. Ride the Longest Inflatable Water Slide in Europe
Okay, this one needed its own section…
At over 400 meters long, the inflatable water slide at the upper gondola stop on Todorka Mountain is the longest of its kind in Europe!
You’ll need to buy your ticket from the windows close to the Gondola stop. The slide currently costs 20 leva (€10) per adult or 10 leva (€5) per child (they do accept card).
At the bottom of the slide, there’s a small wooden changing room and an area to leave your bags and clothes with the staff.
The slide itself is great fun and way faster than you imagine!
But a word of warning… When the instructor says to close your mouth and cover your face with your hands, take him seriously! Otherwise, you’ll spend the entire experience swallowing A LOT of water.
22. Find the Bansko Street Art Mural
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love cool street art. So, as you can imagine, I was super excited to find this colourful “Bansko” mural at the base of the Todorka Mountain ski slope.
If you want to check it out too, the mural can be found just a short walk from the lower gondola station in the ski resort area of Bansko.
23. Volunteer at Bansko Street Dogs
You don’t have to spend long in Bansko before being followed down the street by a new four-legged friend.
Unfortunately, Bansko is a town with a big stray dog population. And if you’re anything like me, it’ll take everything you have not to take them all home with you!
Fortunately, there’s an amazing charity called Bansko Street Dogs who are helping look after the street dogs of Bansko, providing them with food, medical attention, and shelter. This is especially vital during the freezing winter months when it’s too cold for the dogs to be outside.
Whether you’re visiting for a few days or staying in Bansko for a while, there are plenty of ways you can support this amazing non-profit. You can donate money, sponsor a dog, and even volunteer at the shelter to help walk and play with the dogs.
24. Relax With a Spa Day
Being a ski resort town, it should come as no surprise that Bansko is full of cosy alpine lodge hotels with luxurious spas and wellness facilities.
Kempinski Hotel Grand Arena is home to one of the most popular spas in Bansko. But you don’t have to be a hotel guest to use the spa. You can pay 70 leva (€35) to use all of the facilities for a day.
The huge luxury spa features two heated outdoor pools, a large indoor pool, two jacuzzis, a Finnish sauna, a Herbal sauna, a sanarium, an infrared cabin, a snow room, and more!
There’s also an extensive menu of amazing spa and wellness treatments to choose from and a lovely terrace bar and restaurant overlooking the pools.
The day pass is definitely worth the entrance fee – you can easily spend an entire day enjoying the facilities. We arrived just before lunch and didn’t leave until around 19:30.
What better way to relax and pamper yourself after a busy trip full of skiing, hiking, or whatever else you’re getting up to in Bansko!?
25. Soak in the Hot Springs
Bulgaria is a country that’s known for its many mineral springs. And the Bansko area is home to some of the best hot springs in the country.
There are plenty of hot springs in Bansko and the surrounding villages of Dobrinishte, Banya, and Razlog. Many are located in private hotels (you can buy a day pass), while some are more natural and free to visit (if you can find them that is).
With their pleasantly toasty temperatures, soaking in the hot springs is one of the best things to do in Bansko year-round, no matter what the weather is like outside.
26. Try Horse Riding
Horse riding is another of the best things to do in Bansko in both the summer and winter seasons.
The small town of Dobrinishte close to Bansko is home to the biggest horse ranch in the area. Beginners can take a riding lesson on the scenic ranch, while more experienced riders can head out to explore the stunning nature around the town.
During the summer, you can enjoy riding amongst the lush greenery and bask in the beautiful sunshine. And during the winter months, you can gallop around in a magical snow-covered wonderland.
You can pre-book your horse riding experience online here, which includes transfers between Bansko and Dobrinishte.
27. Head out on an ATV Adventure
For adrenaline junkies, an ATV adventure is the perfect way to explore the Pirin Mountains.
Starting in the ski resort area of town, you’ll first head to the base of the mountain range where you’ll have some time to get to grips with the bike.
You’ll then head out onto the rugged terrain along with your instructor to navigate your way through rocky paths and steep slopes to discover beautiful locations around the mountains.
The ATV safari runs throughout the summer and winter seasons. If you’re doing it during the winter, make sure to wear plenty of layers and good pair of gloves – take this from someone whose hands turned purple from the cold!
28. Go Rafting on the Struma River
Another great activity in Banko for those who love living life on the edge is an exhilarating rafting adventure.
The most popular rafting route is located around 45 minutes from Bansko and takes you along the Kresna Gorge and the rapids of the Struma River. The route is 11 kilometers in length and consists of approx. 13 class-3 rapids.
During the adventure, you’ll pass through the scenic Tisata Reserve and be treated to amazing views of the Pirin Mountains.
And don’t worry, there will be a licensed instructor on the raft with you the entire time.
There aren’t many rafting adventures that include transfers from Bansko, so you’ll need to make your own way out to the rafting center on your own – a taxi is the easiest way
29. Visit the Belitsa Bear Park
The Belitsa Bear Park is a sanctuary close to Bansko that provides a home and care to rescued brown bears.
All of the bears at the park are either rescued dancing bears (a form of entertainment that’s now illegal) or used to live in unsatisfactory conditions in zoos and parks around Eastern Europe.
On a visit to the park, you can wander along an enclosed pathway through the dense forests and meadows to see the rescued bears up close.
You can only visit the bears on a guided tour, which runs from the entrance every 30 minutes and takes around 30-40 minutes. The guide will tell you a little more about each of the bears and their past, as well as what you can see around the enclosures.
Entrance costs 10 leva (€5) per person.
30. Ride the Alpine Coaster at Rila Fun Park
Close to the Belitsa Bear Park, you’ll also find the Rila Fun Park, a small entertainment complex on the edge of the Rila mountains around 45 minutes from Bansko.
The highlight of the park is its amazing 1,400m long alpine coaster, which allows you to whizz through the surrounding forest at speeds of up to 40 km/h on a two person toboggan.
The toboggan does have a break that allows you to control the speed, so you can go as fast or slow as you like.
The coaster was way longer and faster than I expected and was definitely one of the most fun things I did during my stay in Bansko.
One ride costs 15 leva (€7.50) for adults and 10 leva (€5) for children.
31. Visit the Rila Monastery
Also located in the Rila Mountains is the stunning Rila Monastery, the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria.
Founded in the 10th century, the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila is renowned for its remarkable architecture and beautiful frescoes. It was also a hub for the National Revival of Bulgaria in the 18th and 19th centuries, supporting the documentation of the Bulgarian language and culture in the ages of foreign rule.
On a visit, you can explore the main church, the museum, and the tower. Just remember to dress modestly and respect the monastery’s rules and traditions during your visit.
The Monastery is around a 1 hour 30 minute drive from Bansko, so is best to do on a day trip. You can drive yourself if you do have a car. If not, it’s best to book a transfer or guided tour.
32. Head to Sofia
Bansko sits just 150km south of the exciting Bulgarian capital city of Sofia. You can drive between the two in under 2 hours.
If you’re spending time in Bansko, don’t forget to schedule a visit to Sofia, whether this is a day or weekend trip or a even brief visit before flying back out of Sofia Airport.
Visiting Sofia? Check out my post on the best things to do in Sofia.
33. BONUS: Try Coworking Bansko
If (like me) you’re a digital nomad, remote worker, or expat in Bansko, don’t forget to check out Coworking Bansko.
Coworking Bansko is a community of digital nomads living in Bansko, with several coworking spaces and daily events, such as dinners, game nights, hot spring trips, hikes, parties, and more.
They also run the annual Bansko Nomad Fest, which takes place over a week in Bansko each summer.
If you are visiting Bansko as a digital nomad, have you got your insurance sorted? Check out SafetyWing for affordable, reliable, and flexible monthly digital nomad insurance!
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