Bansko's attraction list is predictably small and centered within its old quarter, where cobbled lanes spread out from ploshtad Vuzrazhdane, the square marked by the statue of Father Paisii, author of the Slav-Bulgarian History, one of the books that helped launch the National Revival. On the mountain side of the square is the Church of Sveta Troitsa. It's pretty ordinary except for the high walls, which were erected to hide the major extensions commissioned by the wealthy elite during the early 19th century, a time when the Ottoman rulers had put a lid on further Orthodox development. The then-mayor of Bansko paid for this defiance with 5 years in prison. Behind the church is the Neofit Rilski House Museum (daily 9am-noon and 2-5pm; 3lev/$2.45/£1.50), birthplace of one of Bulgaria's great scholars (he was the first to translate the New Testament into Bulgarian) and another key player in the National Revival. Other than this there is the nearby Rilski Convent, housing a small Icon Museum, Yane Sandanski (Mon-Fri 9am-noon and 2-5pm; 3lev ($2.45/£1.50), and the Velyanova Kushta Museum, 5 Velyan Ognev (same hours as convent), home to the man who carved the iconostasis in the Church of Sveta Troitsa, and today furnished with typical 19th-century items that provide insight into the relatively humble lifestyle of Bansko's hoi polloi. A little farther north from the old quarter is ploshtad Nikola Vapstarov, where the annual Bansko International Jazz Festival is held in August. You can visit the Nikola Vapstarov House (same hours as convent; 3lev/$2.45/£1.50), where the revolutionary poet was born. It's pretty dull except for a few crafts on sale in one of the adjacent rooms and the occasional art exhibition held in the hall downstairs.
At Last, A Break for "Dancing" Bears -- Bear sightings are notoriously rare in the wild; if you're keen to see one up close, head to the Dancing Bear Park at Rila Mountain, just outside of Bansko (tours every hour daily from 10am-6pm Apr-Sept; 10am-4pm Oct-Nov; no tours Dec-Mar; donations welcome), where formerly abused ursines get a new lease on life. Founded by the Vier Pfoten organization, which is supported by animal rights crusader Brigitte Bardot, the park is a sanctuary for bears that were once used for a particularly barbaric form of entertainment: Cubs were placed on a hot plate while music was turned up so that they appear to "dance." Once a widespread form of "entertainment," the cruel practice was thankfully banned in Bulgaria in 2002. Sadly, the bears still get up on their paws and dance involuntarily, perhaps associating human visitors with the demands of their former owners.
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