How to plan a brilliant Bulgaria family holiday

Summer holidays in Bulgaria with kids are full of possibilities. The long sandy stretches along the Black Sea are popular with families and purpose-built resorts such as Sunny Beach always draw a crowd. But there are so many more options for a Bulgaria family holiday.

 

Bulgaria Family Holiday
The beautiful Rila Mountains in Bulgaria are the perfect place for a family holiday.

 

Some of the best places in Bulgaria for families are in the mountains. The mountains offer plenty of possibilities for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and climbing. Plus the chance to spot local wildlife including vultures and mountain wolves.

Ever since my sister and her four children uprooted themselves from London in the UK to establish themselves in Bulgaria, we have been keen to visit. Finally, we got the chance to go and discover what this quiet, mountainous region has to offer families.

Guest post and photos by: Philippa Langrish.

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Bulgaria with kids 

Bulgaria Family Holidays
Bansko Old Town is full of charming stone-and-timber houses, mansions and museums

 

During our family holiday to Bulgaria we visited three different destinations: Bansko, the Rila Mountains and Sofia.

Bansko is the country’s premier ski resort and popular for winter holidays. It’s the most snow-sure of Bulgaria’s ski resorts with the highest slopes standing at 2600m. Although not as popular for summer holidays at the moment, Bansko is working hard to make a name for itself as a summer mountain idyll.

Rila is the highest mountain range in Bulgaria and on the Balkan Peninsula. Located just 70km south of Sofia, this is a truly beautiful area. The name Rila comes from the ancient Thracians and means “well-watered mountain” owing to the 200 glacial lakes and alpine streams in the area.

Sofia is Bulgaria’s capital, a charming city that’s well worth exploring for a couple of days.

 

Bansko

Bulgaria Family Holidays
Bansko Old Town

 

Bansko is well known for its ski slopes but it’s worth coming just to visit the town. The cobblestoned old town is full of 19th stone-and-timber houses, mansions and museums.

Despite everything being open in the summer, the town is peacefully quiet, which meant no queues for activities and plenty of availability at restaurants (traditional Mexhanas). Most of the town is pedestrianised so ideal for children to scamper about.

Activities in the centre of town include a swimming pool (at the nearby Regnum hotel), a water park and little cars for the kids to drive in the square. There’s a spectacular park with beautiful lawns, plenty of cafés, a climbing frame and sandpit, and the gondola.

The gondola ride from Hotel Kempinski takes you to a peak with several bouncy castles, a restaurant, a giant Batman statue, and a huge water slide running the course of the ski piste. Our kids had a wild time on the bouncy slides and climbing walls.

 

Bulgaria Family Holidays
At the top of the gondola in Bansko

 

As well as good skiing, Bansko is known for its apres-ski scene. But during the summer months, Bansko is refreshingly laid back and quiet.

You’ll see Bubbas (grandmothers) in white head scarfs and long black skirts sitting out on the pavements watching the world go by and kids playing in the streets until dusk. Gypsies drive their horse drawn carts intermittently through the town and vendors sell piles of fresh fruit and vegetables.

It is a charming destination for a summer family holiday where activities for the children are affordable and aplenty.

The main attraction for our gaggle of six children aged between one- and 11-years-old, plus one grandmother, two mums and one daddy, were the out of town activities nestled in the pockets of the Pirin mountains less than one hour away from our base.

 

Bulgaria Family Holidays
Bansko Old Town

 

The brilliant riding stables, Dvorene, is a two-minute drive from the town.

It is owned by Nikki and his wife and offers incredible nature rides through deserted moorlands and very reasonable riding lessons for kids. I will treasure the memory of taking my experienced 11-year-old niece on an hour-long nature ride, where we galloped past goat farmers, jumped over streams and watched the storks fly overhead.

 

Bulgaria Family Holidays
The bear sanctuary

 

Another unforgettable experience was at the Bear Sanctuary. Former actress Bridget Bardot has created a huge enclosed area in the forest for retired – and rescued – dancing bears.

These beautiful, lumbering creatures enchanted the children in their natural habitat. The bears are well cared for with acres of forest to roam, their own dens and plenty of food and water.

During our stay in Bansko we also enjoyed a misty family hike around the Bezbog lake.

The highlight of our trip for the whole family (from one- to 70-years-old) was the Petreliyski spa in Ognyanavo.

There are four hot pools with different gradient temperatures full of natural thermal mountain water. The water in the main pool is the perfect temperature, suitable for babies and little kids. The sun shone for us all day as the kids played in the warm pools, which we had almost to ourselves.

The pools are surrounded by grassy lawns, swings and deckchairs and there is a restaurant that serves fabulous pizza and ice cream. Next time we visit I am keen to stay at the nearby Valentina Castle and put the kids up in the Smurf house.

 

Where to stay in Bansko 

Family Hotel Bulgaria Snow Pine Chalets
Snow Pine Villa in Bansko, Bulgaria

 

We stayed at the charming Snow Pine Villa in the centre of the old town, where host Martin took very good care of all our needs. The chalet runs year-round and offers comfortable bedrooms, a spacious courtyard garden and the option of catering. Its within walking distance of the main town and park.

If you are looking for a little bit of luxury the Kempinski Hotel Bansko is located at the bottom of the gondola and is a five minute walk from the old town.

 

The Rila Mountains

Bulgaria Family Holidays
Rila Mountains

 

After an active week in Bansko our troop set out for the Rila Mountains.

First stop was the world famous Rila Monastery, which is a majestic group of buildings surrounding a cobbled courtyard nestled in the heart of some of the oldest mountains in Europe.

We got our culture fix here, marvelling at the incredible frescoes and architecture. We took our time to light candles of remembrance in the main church before taking a stroll outside along the nearby river.

Bulgaria Family Holidays
Rila Monastery

 

Next to the monastery is the fabled Monastery Bakery where we bought delicious mektsi (local doughnuts) and ice cream.

Later that afternoon we headed back into the mountains to the Panorama Resort, which is run by the friendliest people in Bulgaria! My sister had booked two log cabins (there are only two available) at this newly refurbished alpine retreat, and they were idyllic.

The next day we hired Yvetta, an alpine guide from the hotel to take us on a 6km hike to see the Seven lakes of the Rila Mountains. Legend has it the lakes were formed by a giant’s lovesick tears.

 

Bulgaria Family Holidays
Rila Mountains

 

The hike included one 20-minute chairlift ride over the never-ending pine forests. The views were breath-taking and our group of intrepid globetotters happily galavanted in the mountains (with just a few grumbles from the three- and four-year-olds as their legs got weary). Luckily there was a café waiting for us back at the chairlift station selling Milka chocolate.

 

Bulgaria Family Holidays
Walking in the Rila mountains

 

Where to Stay in the Rila Mountains

Bulgaria Family Holidays
Panorama Hotel

 

If you plan on venturing to the Rila Mountains the Panorama Resort is excellent. We booked two log cabins overlooking the forest and were thrilled. There is a large children’s playground, alfresco dining deck and an indoor restaurant, plus oodles of space for the children to explore.

 

Sofia

Bulgaria family holiday
Sofia

 

Our last stop before flying out was the capital city of Sofia.

Sofia is a charming little city with a beautiful Basilica and local Doktors Park. Cafes and Markets spill onto the pedestrianised pavements, selling fresh berries and endless varieties of tomatoes.

Our pit-stop in Sofia made a brief introduction to a pocket sized city which I would love to explore further. For hotels in Sofia try the Holiday Inn Sofia or the Grand Hotel Sofia.

 

What to eat in Bulgaria

Bulgaria Family Holidays
A traditional Mexhana restaurant

 

Honestly, my expectations of Bulgarian cuisine were very low prior to my visit. Oh, how I was surprised!

Bulgarian food is seriously delicious. Along with copious amounts of cherry and tea picking with my nieces (a local flower called Gorski which is divine to drink), I was also introduced to the incredibly flavoursome Chicken Kavarma Stew, refreshing Shopska Salad, filling Banista Bread and mouth watering grilled cheeses with walnuts and honey.

We went to so many gorgeous Mexhana restaurants many of which had gardens for the children to play in (one even had bunnies and terrapins in the garden).

 

The best time to visit Bulgaria

Holidays to Bulgaria can be enjoyed during winter or summer. Winter holidays bring with them the chance to enjoy a family skiing holiday for a fraction of the price that you would pay in the French Alps. Summer holidays offer adventure, time in the Great Outdoors and a different kind of beach holiday. We visited in July when it was quiet and sunny.

The high season runs from June to August.

The low season runs from November to March.

The ski season runs from December to February.

 

How to get to Bulgaria

Fly with low cost airline Wizz Air for international travel to Sofia. Then hire a car or book a transfer to Bansko.

Navigating the roads in Bulgaria can be a challenge since the alphabet is in Cyrillic, so place names look completely different to the Western spelling. We came prepared with a battered road map, which was soon side-lined in favour of Google maps – hurrah for data roaming!

 

Packing tips for Bulgaria

  • Phrase book
  • Mobile phone with google maps
  • Sun cream 50+
  • Swimwear and towels
  • Sun Hat and glasses
  • Card games – light to pack and fun for the evening
  • Poles for hiking
  • Water carrier and camelback or equivalent
  • Baby carrier if with an infant
  • Rain Jacket

2 thoughts on “How to plan a brilliant Bulgaria family holiday”

  1. Great blog, really enjoyed reading this, sounds like the whole family thoroughly enjoyed their stay.
    We love Bansko and the surrounding areas, there’s so much to do in all seasons and is getting busier each year and yet the place has still retained its laid back relaxed atmosphere and charm.

  2. Great blog, we are visiting Bulgaria soon and plan to visit Rila/Bansko area so your ideas/advice are v helpful! Do you remember what the company was you got the seven lakes tour with please? It sounds perfect but I don’t want to end up booking the wrong thing and having a cranky three year old complaining the whole way (0: x

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