Once you have explored the Bansko area and you are ready to leave town for a bit, there are a number of sights to put on your “must-visit” list.
If you should decide to use a rental car for that, you might be interested in reading this first:
Driving in the Balkans: A Complete Guide - Travels Of A Bookpacker
- The major attractions in the region are the Rila Monastery and Seven Rila Lakes. Considering you approach the sites from different directions, you would have to do them in two separate trips or spend a night in a mountain hut. The monastery is the largest in Bulgaria and a beautiful world heritage site nested in the Rila mountains. Do not miss the St Ivan Rilski cave and test if you are a sinner. You can make it an overnight trip, stay in a mountain hut and hike the Rila Lakes Loop too. For the hike be there very early in the morning to enjoy the views as it gets crowded around midday.
- Dancing Bears Park in Belitsa is a popular place to see rescued animals from a very inhumane performance practice on the Balkans and learn more about their new life in natural habitat. The park is open April to November and there are guided tours every 30min.
Dancing Bears Park Belitsa
- If you fancy rafting and canyoning, head to the nearby Kresna Gorge for a day full of adrenaline. The season runs from April to July and many companies offer activities and trips for all levels (check the summer activities section). If you are headed that way, visit the Stob Sand Pyramids in the nearby village of Stob.
- Sofia is easy to reach with the public bus and offers everything you would expect from a major city. Unfortunately, that includes traffic jams and air pollution but it is worth visiting at least once, perhaps on your way out of Bulgaria. Sofia has an youthful, modern, quirky vibe with a delicious food scene. Lately it has become famous for weekend getaways among Europeans thanks to the low cost flights to Sofia Airport. There are also some nomad and startup events, but make sure they are in English.
Check How to get to/from Bansko for information on how to get to Sofia without a car.
- Blagoevgrad is the largest town in the area, with a couple of universities, theater, opera, and many festivals in summer. Just 40 minutes down the road, it has a cinema, sushi restaurant and a nice pedestrian area for shopping. This is also where you will go for your residence permit or car registration if you plan to stay longer in Bansko.
- Melnik, in Southwest Bulgaria is about an hour drive and has some of the best wines of the region. There are many vineyards in the area where you can learn about the winemaking process and taste the different varieties. We personally recommend Villa Melnik as you have probably already tasted their wine in Bansko at Wine Bar 25 or Oscars, so it would be nice to check the actual vineyards and see where it comes from. Also read this blog and check out this wine map. Don’t miss the white Sandanski Misket grape and the reds Melnik Wide Leaf and Melnik 55. If you are heading that direction, check Rozhen Monastery and take a dip at the public mud baths “Mineralni Izvori Rupite” next to Baba Vanga’s house. There are a number of hikes in that region too, such as Rozhen Monastery to Melnik and the Prepodobna Stoina loop, but do your own research if you plan on going off the beaten path as the locals don’t speak much English.