Sandanski is an important thermal city located to the southwest of Bulgaria, in the province of Blagoevgrad. With 29,055 inhabitants, it is a small city, but one of the main urban centers of this region of the country.
The place is visited by many people looking for its beneficial waters, as well as for excursions to the Pirin Mountains or the nearby town of Melnik.
Thanks to its proximity to the Greek border (25 kilometers), a large part of its visitors come from that country.
Sandanski is located on Route 1 (European route E79), 156 kilometers south of Sofia and 134 kilometers from the Greek city of Thessaloniki.
The location of the city on the south-western slopes of the Pirin Mountains, along the lower stream of the Sandanska Bistritsa River, gives it its characteristic geography and microclimate.
Thanks to its location and height, between 240 and 300 meters above sea level, Sandanski is the warmest city in Bulgaria, with about 2,450 hours of sunshine per year and an average temperature of 15.1ºC.
The winds that descend from the Pirin Mountains bring fresh air to the hot summer days. Meanwhile, the winters are mild, wet and snowfall is frequent.
The first inhabitants settled in the place thanks to the availability of natural resources and thermal waters. The warm, mineral-rich waters allowed bathing throughout the year.
The first settlements date back to the second millennium BC. The city was one of the first episcopal centers of Bulgaria until the 6th century.
At the end of the 6th century, barbarian tribes destroyed the city and from that moment it took the name of Sveti Vrach, in honor of Kozma and Damian, two very popular healers brothers in the area.
The city as we know it today, was built on the old buildings, although some like the Basilica Juan, survived the passage of time.
On September 26, 1947 the city is renamed Sandanski, in honor of the Bulgarian revolutionary leader Yane Sandanski, who fought to liberate these lands from the Ottomans.
The city can be explored on foot thanks to the proximity between the hotel complexes and most attractions and the thermal park.
One of the characteristics that attracts attention when we arrive is the large number of small buildings that the city has, of around 3, 4 or 6 floors, which means that almost all of its population lives in a small but densely populated area.
When one walks through the central streets and observes the amount of buildings and shops, it is forgotten that it is in a small city of only 30 thousand inhabitants.
The architecture of Sandanski is also something special, in this city they mix perfectly the Greek styles with the communist buildings, giving it a strange and unique identity.
Due to the proximity of the border with Greece (20 kilometers), it is not strange to find a lot of Greeks walking through the city, and even see the odd sign with that alphabet.
Sandanski has four churches: St. George, a small copy of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral of Sofia and built in 1952; Saint Kozma and Saint Damian, built in 1861; The Orthodox Church of the Spartak district; And the St. Kozma and St. Damian Monastery, which dates from 1928 and where every year on the first Thursday after Easter the city party is organized. Near Sandanski is also the monastery of Rozhen.
In the city, the Pirin Folk Festival and the International Festival of the Balkan Youth BYF are held, both gather the public from all Bulgaria and neighboring countries.
Many experts say that in the city was born and spent his early years the brave leader Thracian Spartacus. Reason why numerous places like a neighborhood and the stadium of the city bear his name.
In a small park located at the junction of the main entrance of Sandanski, on the E79 road, is an imposing monument to Spartacus.
The Archaeological Museum is located on the site of the Basilica of Bishop John (Ioan). It was inaugurated in 1970 and aims to ensure the archaeological investigation of the city.
Between 1960 and 1980 several excavations were carried out in the basilica, the old Paleochristian necropolis, the gymnasium, the Early Christian Complex, the thermal baths and old housing settlements, completing the urban structure of the city.
This museum stands out for its collection of tombstones, coins, articles of daily use and documentation and photographs about the findings in the excavations.
In winter (November-March), the museum opens from 10 am to 12 pm and from 2 pm to 5 pm, except on Sundays and Mondays. While in summer (April-October), works from 10 to 12 and from 2 to 7 pm, except on Mondays.
The place is on the central pedestrian street Makedoniya 55, a few meters from the Sandanski Park.
Next to the Archaeological Museum is a preserved fountain, under the oldest tree of Sandanski.
Of classical Hellenistic style, it is the most representative building of the V-VI centuries found until now.
The construction has an axis divided into 3 naves, in addition to an internal courtyard with a pulpit and altar perfectly preserved.
The Episcopal Basilica is a few meters from the Archaeological Museum.
Sandanski, thermal center
The city is known since ancient times for its healthy climate and hot springs. Many people come in search of climatotherapy, balneotherapy and rehabilitation treatments.
In 1981, at the request of the Council of Ministers, the city of Sandanski is recognized as a climatic and balneotherapeutic center of national and international importance.
The mineral water is suitable for the treatment of diseases of the respiratory system, peripheral nervous system, rheumatic and renal diseases and rehabilitation in general.
Water temperatures range between 42-81 degrees Celsius.
Sandanski’s pure air is known to be one of the most allergen-free in the country, which is why many people come to the city to treat asthmatic and allergic diseases.
The treatments can be carried out during any time of the year, and it is recommended that they do not last less than 30 days, and for a better healing effect, about twice a year.
Besides the city of Sandanski, other thermal centers are in the region: Rupite, Marikostinovo and Prepodobna Stoyna Katuntsi.
Makedoniya Street and Sandanski Park
The main entrance to Sandanski is through the Svoboda Boulevard, embellished with tall trees in its center. After about 10 blocks ends at the junction with Georgi Kazepov Street, we are already in the center of the city. Here, and continuing in the same direction that we came, we will cross the square where people and small sales stands are clustered together. On the south side of it is the Sveti Nikola Hotel building, and to the north towards the foot of the Pirin Mountains, is Makedoniya Street.
The street is a long pedestrian street with numerous trees on its banks and populated with shops of all kinds, electronics, shoes, clothes, gifts … and of course, some bars.
After about ten blocks the street ends in a sector surrounded by restaurants, from here crosses a small bridge over the Sandanska Bitritsa River and access to the Sandanski Park.
The first thing we find is the imposing building of the Interhotel Sandanski on the right side, next to several water fountains.
From here we can continue along the central path of the park that will take us to the lake and the swimming pool complex.
The huge 344-yard park is also known as Sveti Vrach and is surrounded by the majestic mountains.
Here is also an amphitheater and the Sandanski Stadium, with capacity for 6,000 people, home of FC Vihren Sandanski.
This park, next to the Garden of the Sea of the city of Varna, are the two largest urban parks in Bulgaria, and it is the only one with sand paths.
An upcoming article of IaniWorld will be devoted entirely to the beautiful Sandanski Park.
Despite being a small city, Sandanski has an enviable availability of services for its residents and tourists.
In the city there is a Billa shopping center, located in front of the bus station, and an establishment of the Kaufland chain, at the entrance of the city, next to Route 1 / E79.
Sandanski has a small but very picturesque mall, provided with various shops, bars and restaurants. It is called Sandanski Mall and is located in the center of the city, on the river bank. It is accessed through the Hristo Smirenenski Street.
It is common to find numerous street stalls selling all kinds of products, from flowers or magazines to fruits and vegetables. Most of them are located on Ljuben Karavelov Street, parallel to the Sandanska Bistritsa River next to the bus terminal.
Gastronomy and nightlife
The cuisine of the Bulgarian Southwest is a mixture of the country’s cuisine with the Mediterranean due to its proximity to the Aegean Sea.
Sarmi rolled with leaves and accompanied with a Broad Leaved Melnik wine, Langidi for Lautsi, and jam of green and ripe figs with walnuts and others, are some of the delicacies of the region.
If we want to live a good gastronomic experience we can include some of the following places in our itinerary.
Sveti Nikola Classic Restaurant, is located in the Hotel Sveti Nikola in the center of Sandanski. It has a variety of Bulgarian and Balkan dishes, as well as a fine selection of wines.
Sveti Vrach Restaurant, located in the neighboring village of Polenitsa, stands out for its panoramic views, elegant style and wide variety of dishes.
Perun Restaurant, close to the Sandanski Park, has a large winter and summer garden, varied food and delicious pizzas.
Belgare Mehana, at the Interhotel Sandanski, spectacular to live a Bulgarian culinary experience and enjoy folk music of the country and the Balkans.
Golchev Mehana, is located near the New Sanatorium. Good place to taste the typical Bulgarian cuisine.
Happy Bar & Grill, located on Route E79, at the south entrance of Sandanski. The place is famous among travelers who drive on this route and several bus companies usually make a stop at the place. It has space for 120 people inside and 120 in the large garden. One of the remarkable points is the possibility that it offers to the travelers of ordering the food in advance by telephone (+359 885 411 114), and when arrive at the place the food will be ready.
In Sandanski and the region there are numerous vineyards. Warm temperatures and a mostly dry climate are conducive to the development of a wide variety of wines: Old Broad Leaved Melnik Vine, Broad Leaved Melnik Vine, Melnik 55, Melnik 82, Melnik 1300, Ruen, Sandanski Misket and Keratsuda.
Leaving aside the gastronomy and wines, I can also say that Sandanski completes its offer with a nightlife for all tastes: from piano bars, such as Sveti Nikola and Faces, to nightclubs such as Night Life, Massa Club, The Place and Jukebox.
Pirin National Park
The beauty and landscape richness of the Pirin Mountains is protected by the Pirin National Park. It was established in 1962 and since then it has expanded several times to reach the current area of 403.56 square kilometers (155.82 square miles).
In 1983 it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The Pirin National Park stands out for its high mountains, forests and 113 glacial lakes.
From Sandanski, there are some trails to climb to the top of the Pirin Mountains.
The peak, the Vihren Peak is located approximately 26 kilometers from the center of Sandanski, and its height reaches 2,914 meters (9,560 feet). From its summit you can see the Bansko Valley to the east, the Struma River Valley to the west, and some lands southeast of Macedonia and northeastern Greece.
Sandanski has a varied accommodation offer thanks to its tourist profile. Some of the cheapest are Keremidchieva Kushta Guest House, Apartament Veni and Perun Hotel Sandanski, with prices around 20 euros per night.
Then we have others like Hotel Aneli or Sveti Nikola, located in the center, with prices close to 35 euros, and among the most luxurious, Interhotel Sandanski (located at the entrance of the Park), of 4 stars, Pirin Park Hotel and Medite Spa Villas, these last of 5 stars, with prices starting from 75 euros per night.
Almost all are located in the downtown area, which allows access to many attractions directly on foot.
Sandanski is located on the E79 or Road 1, a way of passage for those traveling between western Bulgaria and Greece.
The route is somewhat narrow and with a lot of truck traffic. For this reason, given the importance of it, the Struma Highway is being built, which runs parallel to the current route and the Struma River.
If you travel from Sofia you can take the highway to Blagoevgrad, then continue on the conventional route until you reach Sandanski.
From Sandanski to the south another stretch of highway is available again.
The bus companies that connect Sandanski with Sofia and other nearby cities such as Blagoevgrad, Strumyani, or Kulata are Union Ivkoni, Trans-5 Odd, Struma 11 Odd and TT Sandanski 5.
The Sofia-Sandanski section takes around 3:30 hours and costs about 13 levs (6.65 euros).
Some buses like Arda Tour, serve to travel between Sandanski and the Greek city of Thessaloniki, on the shores of the Aegean Sea, the journey takes 2:50 hours and costs 19.50 levs (10 euros).
A curious fact is that several bus companies that travel between Sofia and Thessaloniki often use Sandanski as a mandatory stop to load fuel and passengers can get off to eat or buy things if they wish.
The Bdz train that operates the Sofia-Kulata route has a station in Sandanski. Traveling from Sofia to this city takes about 3:30 hours and costs 10 levs (5.10 euros).
I recommend that you take into account that, unlike the bus station that is in the center of the city, the railway station is in a more remote area, 3 kilometers from the center, so you must take a taxi or vehicle to reach our destination.
Sandanski can also be a starting point for visits to the neighboring towns of Melnik, Rupite, Kulata, Strumyani, Mikrevo, among others.