Currently 2 main airports serve Bansko, Sofia (around 160 km away) and Plovdiv (around 180 km away). A proposal for Bansko's own airport is currently well advanced, but no construction has yet started.
Perhaps the most interesting way to get to Basnko is via the narrow-gauge train from Septemvri. Traversing beautiful mountains and valleys as well as passing by countless rural Bulgarian villages, the train is considered by some as one of the most scenic rides in the Balkans . Septemvri is on the main rail line between Sofia and Plovdiv, so access is quite easy. However, this not the most practical route to Bansko by any means, as the train takes just under 5 hours with an operating speed of just 30–50 km/h to complete a journey doable in just 1 1/2 hours by car. For those with the extra flexibility required for the ride, however, this is the way to get to Bansko. See here for timetables.
The nearest rail station served by standard-gauge trains lies in Blagoevgrad. Blagoevgrad lies on the main line from Sofia south and is easily accessible from the city, from which buses to Bansko are plentiful.
Night trains leave from Athens and arrive to Blagoevgrad in the morning, via Thessaloniki. You can catch the train at Thessaloniki or any other station. The round trip ticket from Athens costs ~€40 (Christmas 2008), plus ~€10 for a bed in a 6-bed room for each trip. (€60 for the round trip with a bed in both trips). You should book tickets and beds in advance, especially during holiday seasons. For there you must take a bus to Bansko, see "By Bus" section below. However, as of Jan 2013 all international trains to/from Greece are still been suspended until further notice.
There are many buses departing Sofia each day from different stations so be sure to check which station your bus is departing from. Room for luggage can be an issue as they are mainly vans so you may have to wait for the next one on occasion if you have bulky items e.g. snowboard. The cost is around 15leva/7.€5 each way. The timetable can be found here.
From Blagoevgrad there is frequent bus service (every 30–60 minutes) to Bansko, the ticket costs 3-4 Leva. The bus station is very close to the train station, around 5 minutes on foot. From Bansko bus station you can call a taxi to your hotel, ask at the ticket office. You should agree on the price when you get in to avoid surprises (10-15 Leva should be enough). Note some hotels may suggest a bus ride from Blagoevgrad to Bansko, but at a much higher price.
Getting around in Bansko is relatively easy. The town is not large, and walking around is nice. Taxis are relatively cheap (5-10 leva), though you should arrange the price beforehand. Have your hotel reception call you a taxi if you can. If you get to Bansko with your car, bear in mind that few roads get cleaned from the snow and ice, so snow chains may be required even in the city. Don't be fooled by local cars not using chains, as they use winter tyres which make a lot of difference! Renting a car from Sofia for most tourists is considerably beneficial because of the flexibility. Taxi rides can cost anywhere from 1-5 Euro per kilometer and are not recommended when traveling outside the city of Bankso.
In a nice day, with good visibility the view of the mountains is beautiful, especially if you take the lift to the ski tracks. (You should get to the ski tracks at least once even if you do not ski yourself)
- Belitsa Bear Park - 33 kilometers from Bansko is the Four Paws Bear sanctuary, offering a new home to bears that were previously forced to dance. Situated in a huge park with several large enclosures, the bears can now roam relatively freely with others of their kind. Upon my visit, there seemed to be no-one there so unsure of entrance fee's etc. Information suggests that there are tours that leave hourly. A taxi (unofficial!) from Bansko, with 2 hours wait cost 60Lev though a lower price could probably be gotten with more bargaining over beer. Take good walking shoes.
Bansko is a good place for skiing in winter. The resort is mainly suited to beginners and those more advanced will get bored quite quickly. Also don't expect the runs to be groomed to often. Skiers and Snowboarders could find BanskoSki useful. It is also a good idea to avoid any English school holidays as there will be insane amounts of people everywhere (and a 3 hour wait to get up the mountain via gondala) as well as the skiing world cup as half of the runs will be closed for the weeks leading up to it.
You can rent ski gear at the first station and get a discount at the lift ticket, though if you want to leave your skis there overnight there is an extra charge. A lot of ski rental shops can be found around the first station, where you can probably rent gear in better condition and get a good price if you book for more than 1 day (recommended) . (full ski gear for 4 days cost 100 leva - €50). You can probably arrange to leave the gear at the shop overnight for free. The weather in Bansko is obviously colder than some Greek ski resorts, so warmer clothes and a full face hood is nice to have.
You can get a multiday ticket for the lifts, although the discount is negligible. There is also a half day ticket after 12:30 or 13:00 each day, but you can also buy tickets at a better price from people leaving the ski centre before the end of the day, around the ticket offices.
Most hotels offer a bus service to the ski lift station in the morning and afternoon. Try to get to the lift station not later than 9:00 to avoid long queues. It is also advisable to buy the tickets from the previous afternoon for the same reason. There are also minibuses to ferry people up the mountain in the morning which is included in the lift pass.
Bansko is an excellent entry way to the Pirin Mountains, Bulgaria's wildest and least developed mountain range. Vihren hut, named after the nearby Mt. Vihren, is the best place to begin both short and long distance treks. During the peak season (2012 - June 15 to September 15) a bus will take you several times a day to and from Bansko. Great one day hikes include Mt. Vihren, the 2nd highest mountain in Bulgaria and 3rd highest in the Balkans, and The Koncheto, a ~200m long and ~1m wide ridge between the second and 3rd highest mountains in Pirin with vast cliffs on either side. With a full day it is possible to hike them both.
- In the beginning of August an annual jazz festival, the Bansko Jazz Festival, is held in the town.
- The highest peak of Pirin Mountain (Vihren - 2916m) is at a day's walk from the city.
- My Bansko - Mein Bansko. The Movie - free production. open for everybody. http://www.mybansko.com/The_Movie_.html
The hot thing to buy in Bansko at the moment is property. Several real estate agencies line the main road to the mountain, many of them aimed at English investors. Note, however, that prices are even higher than in the centre of Sofia.
There are some fashionable clothing retailers, as well as ski shops in the town. The prices for ski and sports gear are quite good, but usually not exceptional. You should be able to lower the initial price if you negotiate.
On a smaller budget, there are also numerous souvenir shops selling a range of generic Bulgarian items, as well as Bansko specific ones.
Bansko is rife with traditional Bulgarian taverns ('Mehana'; plural 'Mehani'), as well as cafes and modern bars along the main roads. Price should be around €10 per person in most places. There are also a lot of places where you can get a slice of pizza or a sandwich. The "Friends Pub" near the first ski lift station is really nice, you can get a slice of pizza in the kiosk outside, or a full meal inside.The best tavern in Bansko is Matsurev han.The inn offers Bulgarian national cuisine, traditional dishes from Bansko, prepared on live coals, on a plate and in an oven. ”Matsurev’s Inn” is located at the foot of the Pirin mountain in the heart of the town of Bansko. It is located over the church “St. Trinity” at 100 m from the central square of the town and only at 15 minutes walking from the first station of the cabin lift.
By the end of the ski season (March–April) many restaurants offer large discounts to repeat customers too, sometimes up to 60% off, making eating out at this time incredibly cheap.
- Harry's Bar, Kandahar apartments (Close to bottom of gondola). Comfortable and modern lounge bar. Quiz and theme nights, cocktails and food served daily.
You can find nice 3-4 star hotels for ~€40 per night for a double room. Most hotels have sauna (free) and spa (extra charge). Belle vue is on of them, located near the ski lift station.
- Chalet Jora, 13 Garibaldi Street (between the Glazne and the Church), ☎ +44 7967750592. Catered ski chalet in the heart of Bansko. Sleeps up to 14 guests with 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. Large lounge with log fire, honesty bar, plasma TV, cable, large movie library, Nintendo Wii, wifi internet with chalet computer, Ipod docking station, CD player. English hosts. £225 per person per week, fully catered.
- Chalet Idice, Redenka Ski and Golf Club, ☎ +32 475 930232. Luxury self-catering ski chalet, in a holiday complex with indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Sleeps up to 8 guests with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and own sauna. Large lounge with log fire, TV, cable, wifi internet.
- Hostel Bander, 2 Han Asparuh Str (in Banderitsa Hotel), ☎ +359 7498 6600. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 14:00. Not a normal hostel but some excess space the hotel has with bunk beds in. You get full access to the spa and pool like the hotel guests as well as the ski shuttle to the gondala. There is free wifi but it doesn't reach the rooms so you need to go to the bar to use it. Breakfast is included. €11 a night or €14 with dinner. (Feb2012)
- Premier Luxury Mountain Resort, 11 Karamanitza Str, ☎ +359(0) 749 50500. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. A 5-star hotel. As a hotel guest you get free access to the spa and pool as well as the ski shuttle to the gondala every 30 minutes. There is free wifi in all public areas and all the rooms. Breakfast is included. (Jun2012)
- Vihren Hut (Хижа Вихрен). Check-in: Whenever the overseer is awake. Vihren Hut is located around 30 minutes outside of Bansko at the end of the only public road going from Bansko into the Pirins. Meals are served on demand and are very inexpensive (less than 5 Euros more tons of food). Buses run to and from the hut several times a day from June 15th to September 15th. A taxi will cost around 25 Leva. However, as of September 2012 the guy running the place spoke absolutely zero English, besides "for sleeping", so communication will be an issue, but gesture enough and he'll get the picture. 10 Leva/5 Euros for basic dormatory accommodation.