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Bansko is a small ski town in Bulgaria that is becoming known as a digital nomad hotbed. Budget skiing and snowboarding in winter and excellent hiking in summer along with affordable prices make it a promising destination.
With various coworking spaces providing plenty of options to get some work done and the arrival of Nomadfest in recent years, the town is looking to cash in. Bansko has plenty of self contained accommodation that is rented out during ski season which is perfect for digital nomads. On top of this are the countless chalets, hotels and guest houses with rooms to rent for short or medium-term stays.
But should you make Bansko your home base? Should you stay in Bansko long term as a digital nomad? Like any place, there are pros and cons of living in Bansko. I’ve stayed in Bansko for an extended period and have written this post in conjunction with someone that has lived there for a number of years.
I can’t deny that I loved my time there, but I feel its important to be honest and highlight both the pros and cons of living in Bansko in a fair way.
Pros of living in Bansko
Low cost of living
My month in Bansko had one of the lowest costs of living I’ve experienced as a digital nomad. In one month, my accommodation and all other expenses came to under €500. My rent was under €200. Like most of Eastern Europe, alcohol was cheap and freely available. Food was affordable. In general, my cost of living was very low. I know of people that pay between €250-350 on average for rent per month, with price varying based on location within the town, and apartment amenities.
Designed for short term living
The ski season brings people from all over Europe into hotels and apartments for a few weeks at a time between December and April. Because of this (and various economic factors dating back 15 years) Bansko has plenty of accommodation options all over town.
Getting in contact with owners is easy with Facebook groups designed for it and unlike in other places, rolling monthly rents are common. In my experience, I found a place through a friend, looked at it in the afternoon then moved in a few days later. 10 days before the one month lease was up, I let them know I wasn’t extending and it was all very easy.
Options to ski in winter and hike in summer
Bansko is a haven for those that love the outdoors. You should definitely choose to live and base yourself in Bansko if you like skiing or snowboarding and then enjoy hiking those same mountains in winter. It’s not uncommon for people to spend 3 months of the winter season on the slopes then returning for another 3 months over summer, spending spring and autumn elsewhere.
Fresh food available on weekends
Close to the Main Square there is a fresh produce market every Sunday morning. Locals from the surrounding area come and sell fruit and vegetables at reasonable prices you know were picked within the last few days. It’s easy to stay healthy when living in Bansko with this and having fresh produce in almost every mini market you’ll enter.
Its very walkable
From the bus station in the north of the town to the gondola station in the south, the entire town is very walkable with roads bereft of cars and wide walkable areas such as Pirin Street. Crossing picturesque rivers and always having mountains as a backdrop make walking a breeze even though some steep sections might seem tricky at first.
Plenty of options to eat and drink
With the tourism boom of skiing, Pirin Street, the main street in Bansko, has an abundance of food and drink options. The town as a whole has a wide variety and caters to all budgets from local mehanas with Bulgarian fare to more fancy places with western menus. Wine bars, craft beer bars and bars that are open late into the night will keep you well entertained for those staying a long time.
Cons of living in Bansko
To get anything done is a 3 hour bus journey to Sofia
For those living in Bansko and using it as a base to travel to and from will need to factor in the additional time and cost of travelling through Sofia every time. A 2 hour shuttle in winter or a 3 hour bus in summer makes planning flights and excursions to other parts of Europe and the world a challenge. With budget airlines arriving at all hours of the day and night, you may need to factor in accommodation as well.
Those with medical needs or those that need special equipment and goods will also spend much of their time on this route which could eat into the enjoyment of living in Bansko long term. If you’re just staying for a month or short term, this won’t be much of an issue. But those that stay longer and make Bansko their base will want to consider thsi.
Largely transient population
With the ski season and nomad population coming to Bansko for short period of time, much of the population of Bansko is transient. Granted I was one of them, but it can cause problems if you’re looking to develop longer term meaningful friendships in a town you’ll base yourself in.
Why would you make friends with somebody if they are leaving soon? How would you feel getting to know a group of people that then all leave? Why would you make the effort?
This isn’t a phenomenon that’s unique to Bansko but something you may want to consider.
Bulgaria is still a poor country
There is no denying that Bulgaria is still a poor country that doesn’t live up to many from western countries. Bulgaria is the poorest nation in the EU with the lowest GDP per capita and one of the poorest in Europe. It isn’t unusual to still see horse and carts on the streets of Bansko.
This may be something that a long term resident will be aware of and consider normal. However, for those thinking of making their base in Bansko, this could come as a shock. Many towns and villages close to Bansko don’t receive the tourist income Bansko does and may be eye opening to some.
Quality of accommodation
The quality is mixed. There are some very nice and modern apartments in hotel blocks that can be rented out. However there are also some that are a lot smaller and may not be worth the money.
Whilst I haven’t heard any major problems regarding poor accommodation, there are some I’ve heard of that aren’t always 100% satisfied or that they get value for money.
Bansko also seems to be in a boom of selling property, which is very affordable for those earning in Euros or other strong currencies. With studio apartments for around €30,000 and 1 bedroom places starting at €50,000, there are many people trying to buy them to then rent out on AirBnB’s for a quick buck.
Overcrowding in winter, but empty at other times
As with other tourist towns, there are boom and bust times throughout the year. Winter is packed with queues of over 45 minutes to get onto the gondola to go up the mountain to ski. In summer, Nomadfest brings thousands of digital nomads to the small town for a week packing out venues. In July, the mountains are full of hikers enjoying the Pirin Mountains.
But outside of that, the town is noticeably emptier. By the time I left Bansko in early September, the coworking space was quiet, the gym was quiet and the area felt quieter. This may be a shock to those here full time.
Limited variety in supermarkets
Despite local produce being sold cheaply at weekends, almost all fruit and vegetables sold in Bansko are seasonal. They are unlikely to cater to extreme dietary preferences. Are you looking for blueberries, quinoa and kale in winter? You may be out of luck. The main supermarkets stock staples but don’t expect too many western brands and the variety of foods you’re likely to find at home. Even that long drive back to Sofia might not be able to satisfy you all you the time.
So those are the pros and cons of living or basing yourself in Bansko for the long term. Whether its as a digital nomad to stay for a couple of months to a few years, or just to start a business in the area to live and work long term.
I’ve tried to be as honest as possible. Just because a place has a list of cons, doesn’t mean it should be avoided. I stayed in Bansko for a long time and enjoyed my time there. But I also think it is helpful to disclose some of the issues that digital nomads or others may not have thought of before moving to Bansko.
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.