all season ski town bansko

All Season Bansko – Hiking, Skiing in Bulgaria’s Pirin Mountains

Bansko, Bulgaria’s largest ski resort is just two hours from the capital of Sofia.  It’s located on the edge of Pirin Mountain National Park and is fast becoming a year-round resort town.  I’ve been visiting Bansko for more than 10 years now and it’s very firmly in place as one of my favourite places to visit.

In this short overview we’ll cover some of the highlight of why you should visit this fabulous mountain town – in each of the seasons.

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Bansko – All Seasons Mountain Town

Nestled in the foothills of the Pirins with the Rila and Rhodope mountains also within easy reach, Bansko has a superb climate.  It’s cold enough to be the Bulgaria’s biggest and number one ski resort in winter, yet temperate enough to have a seemingly endless supply of incredible fruits and vegetables.  Summers are hot and warm, but avoid the stifling heat of the lower plains.

Where to Stay in Bansko

There are a host of places to stay in Bansko – here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Bansko, mid-range places to stay in Bansko, and budget accommodation in Bansko.

The Kempinski Grand Arena:  This is five-star luxury at Bulgarian prices and that means its fantastic value.  (go on check the rates, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!).  The five-star Kempinski has TWO outdoor pools (and one indoor pool too!).  The Veranda Bar and Lounge have amazing views of the mountains, there’s a Piano Bar, and you’ll also get access to a 24 hour gym, a thermal spa (also with beauty spa treatments too!) and there are both indoor and outdoor hot tubs too. It’s quite simply glorious.  Check rates and book your luxury 5 star getaway here.

The Regnum Bansko Ski Hotel & Spa has a heated outdoor pool (it’s enormous)- plus water slides and a children’s pool too, plus there’s a free shuttle to Banya Village to the Banya Therma complex too!  There’s live Friday and Saturday night jazz here at the Regnum and there’s also a gym, children’s room, and gardens too.  Rooms here are suites, with kitchenettes and seating areas as well as seriously well-equipped rooms.   You’ll love it and can check rates here.

The Premier Luxury Mountain Resort has both an indoor and outdoor pool and spacious rooms with wooden interiors.  There’s also a sauna and hammam here, plus a kids club too.  Rooms are sumptuously decorated and very spacious, and the hotel is in a great location.  You can check availability and rates here.

The name should give it away for my final recommendation for Bansko hotels with pools. The Hotel 7 Pools spa, has, yes, you’ve guessed it, 7 pools.  There are outdoor pools here and an indoor pool for kids with a waterslide.  There’s also a state of the art spa center and a fitness center too.  The hotel provides apartments, with a fully equipped kitchen, private seating area, bathroom, and bedroom.  Sound like your sort of place?  See what other people say here. There are also 3 types of saunas, a steam room, 2 hammams, a tepidarium, as well as a salt room, shock barrels, and a VIP SPA apartment.   And the rates are superb, check them out here.

Winter in Bansko:  Ski, Snowshoe and Enjoy Local Food in a Mehana

Bansko is primarily known for its skiing and snowboarding.  The Bansko ski hill hosts the Snowboard Cross and FIS Giant Slalom championships each year.  The Bansko ski season usually starts in the 3rd week of December.  Ski season Bulgaria is short though, and ends in early to mid-April.  Bansko, Bulgaria skiing has also been recommended for several years in a row as being the cheapest place to ski in Europe.

As Bansko is a popular resort for Bulgarians, Romanians, Greeks and Russian too, if you don’t have kids you’ll want to avoid school holidays.  The best time to go skiing in Bulgaria is after Easter, if the weather holds out!   If heading down a mountain isn’t your thing, then snowshoeing trips are becoming an increasingly popular way to see the foothills.  At the end of the day, there are countless local restaurants (Mehana’s) in which to hole up and enjoy the cuisine of the area.

bansko winter scene
By www.bdmundo.com (Bansko ski resort) [CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.orglicenses

Why not visit the Thermal Hot Springs in nearby Banya while you’re staying in Bansko?

The village of Banya is just 15 minutes away from Bansko, and the mineral pools here are fabulous. There are three of them, with natural mineral water from the nearby thermal springs – Thermal pool number 1: the big main pool where the water isn’t unbearably hot and great for swimming – Thermal pool number 2: a smaller pool which is shallow and warmer where your children can safely enjoy the benefits of mineral water and those of you who cannot swim can comfortably relax; Thermal pool number 3: a really hot pool, where the water temperature is well over 40 degrees Celsius. They’re great and open at 11 am. You can visit independently, but if you want to get transport both ways (and have a beer or glass of wine while you visit – there’s also a restaurant and cafe bar here – then this option will take you to and from Bansko. It includes your entrance to the thermal pools and your transport both ways.

Spring in Bansko:  Mountain Biking, Hiking & Safaris

Bansko Spring is glorious.  The ski tourists go home and the meadows start to bloom.  The town is host to multiple mountain biking events, including the weekly Sunday rides by the local Bulgarian-Expat clubs.  Trekking routes through the Pirin mountains, Bulgaria open – from day hikes to high altitude lakes to multi-day hut to hut adventures, either solo or with experienced local guides.  If Pirin National Park hiking all sounds a little energetic, then overland safari’s on old Russian jeeps and dune buggies can get you out into the countryside surrounding the town. If safaris to you mean Africa, you’ll want to read our top tips on taking an African safari here.

Spring is a fabulous time to explore the local area – and you can also do it on horseback

You don’t need transport to go horse riding in Dobrinishte – book an hour (or longer) horse-riding and you’ll be collected from your apartment or hotel in Bansko and driven the 15 minutes to the village of Dobrinishte where you’ll meet your guide and horse. It’s suitable for all levels. Book your Bansko Horse Riding Experience here.

bansko hiking

Summer in Bansko:  Free Festivals, Fresh Fish & Wine Tasting

When Plovdiv and Sofia swelter in summer Bansko luxuriates in hot days and cooler nights, with little rain, but often spectacular thunderstorms, rumbling around the Bansko mountains.  Its festival season in Bansko, Bulgaria – from the internationally renowned Jazz festival to Opera, Bohemia and Bansko Beat festivals – these free events are held in the old town square and attended by all.  It’s a great time of year to head out to one of the local fish farms for delicious fresh grilled trout and the simple boiled potatoes with onion.  Wash it down with a thirst quenching low alcohol grapefruit flavoured Radler beer.

Autumn in Bansko:  Local Trains, Spas & Dancing Bears

As the leaves start to turn on the trees it’s a great time to explore.  Nearby is the Belitsa sanctuary for ex-dancing bears – a superb day out, you’ll find yourself returning year after year to follow the progress of these glorious creatures now safely retired in the mountains.  The local train trundles over a period of 5 hours to the Spa town of Velingrad, or further on to Septembri on the narrow gauge railway, for a few leva it’s a great view onto the Bulgarian countryside – It’s one of our favourite day trips from Bansko > read here about the Bansko to Septemvri train   Spas abound in Bansko, from the secret free wild ones in the hills to the luxury of the 5* Kempinski hotel where day passes will only set you back around 30 Euros. > Get yourself a little luxury and book a stay here for bargain prices.

bansko autumn dancing bear park

Enjoy Bansko Food & Drink

One of the reasons that Bansko is a favourite spot to visit is the food and drink.  A traditional tomato, cucumber, onion and cheese Shopska salad, a glorious roasted red pepper lutenitsa dip, steaming fresh from the oven parlenka kick off the best of Bulgarian food.  Clay pot dishes, hot stone saches and simply enormous pork knuckles contrive to put you into the best of food comas.  It’s easy (and cheap) to wash it all down with Bulgarian beer and great local Bulgarian wine.  The local liquor, rakia is only for the brave!

bansko outdoor living

Bansko – a base to explore further

Bansko is a great base to explore further afield.  Just 2 hours from Sofia, the capital, or the second city of Plovdiv, which both rival many more expensive traditional European city breaks.   Wine country is just around the corner – with day trips or longer visits to the Melnik area a cinch to organize it’s hard not to take advantage of it.

The stunning Rila Monastery isn’t far away either – if you have a rental car you can visit it easily, or you can also take a tour – read more about Rila Monastery here.

It’s also just a two-hour drive to the border with Greece, so within half a day you can be sitting in a Greek tavern or lying on the beach.

Bansko – my town for all season

In Bansko, you’ll find Bulgarians, Russians, Turks, Romanians and also an expat group of Brits.  It’s a multi-national community growing further with the new digital nomad community in the several Coworking spaces in town.   The weather is good and the hiking great.   I love waking to a view up the mountain and heading to the Sunday market, where the sellers bring what they’ve dug from their garden and grown from scratch.   I think that must be my favourite thing about this favourite place – buying and then tasting the tomatoes from the grandmas on a Sunday, they really do taste like sunshine!

Fancy seeing more of Bulgaria?  > check out our guide to Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s original capital city.

Where else to go in Bulgaria

Plan your Trip to Bulgaria

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