Enquire About This Tour Code EEBI Balkans to Istanbul
Duration: 35 Days Route: Budapest to Istanbul Style: Adventure Tours Price: US$5,029.00
Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Turkey
Explore the heart of Eastern Europe between two famous river cities, from Budapest divided by the Danube, to Istanbul, framed by the Bosphorus. Follow a clockwise loop through the Balkan states exploring the colours and contrasts of capital cities, sleepy rural towns, sun-kissed islands, sparkling lakes and gorgeous mountain scenery along the way. Continuing east and south via fairytale castles and legendary landscapes, we end our journey on the far edge of Europe.
Day 1 to 1 - Arrive Budapest
The first day of your tour is simply an arrival day with no pre-organised activities. In order to allow time to relax and see some of the sights you may wish to add pre tour accommodation. On arrival please ask at the reception for information on when the pre departure meeting will be held.
Budapest, Hungary’s stylish capital is known as the ‘City of Spas’ for its abundance of natural thermal springs.
Straddling the Danube River, the city is comprised of two very different historic cities, Buda on the west bank and Pest on the east bank. Highlights here include Castle Hill, Matthius Church, Fisherman’s Bastion, the Liberation Monument, the fabulous St Stephen’s Basilica and the much photographed Parliament Building.
Terror Haza (Terror House) is a popular museum recounting stories of espionage and atrocities committed during World War II and during the communist period. During your optional visit you can view very moving testimonial footage from survivors and visit old jail cells, torture chambers and interrogation rooms.
The Dohany Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe and features stunning decorations. You can also wander around Central Market Hall and enjoy the intoxicating sights and smells of ‘Budapest’s pantry’ and get an idea of Hungary’s food culture - you can even buy chocolates by the kilo!
The perfect place to relax after a day of sightseeing is in a traditional bath. The Széchenyi Medicinal Baths are one of the city‘s more famous Neo Baroque-style baths with indoor and outdoor pools, thermal pools, saunas and massages in a beautiful setting. After a nice soak you can visit numerous restaurants and bars to visit on Liszt Ferenc for an enjoyable evening's entertainment.
Day 2 to 5 - Novi Sad – Belgrade – Niš
Serbia’s cultural centre, Novi Sad, is overlooked by the magnificent Petrovaradin fortress. Built between 1692 and 1780, the fortress was repeatedly attacked but never taken by an enemy. Although it has long since lost its strategic military value, since 1951 it has been an important cultural centre and one of the largest art colonies in the world with over 88 art studios. Visitors can buy art, talk with the artists and feel the atmosphere of studios while works of art are created. There are also three interesting restaurants, a museum, catacombs, underground military galleries and above ground, great views of the Danube. Novi Sad is also known for its international music festivals, such as the International Street Musicians’ Festival in September offering diverse music genres, funny instruments, jugglers, street shows and acrobatics.
Located at the crossing point of the Sava and Danube rivers is Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, where you will have plenty of time to explore. In the course of its long history, Belgrade has been captured 60 times, burned down around 40 times, and has risen phoenix-like from the ashes every time.
Looming over the old city is the ancient Kalemegdan Citadel, which was built in stages from the 1st century BC and was finally finished in the 18th century. We will visit the well-preserved ruins and may even see graffiti made by bored medieval guardsmen, as well as numerous museums and galleries. The view of the city from the fortress is fantastic and not to be missed. If time allows it is definitely worth a visit to St Sava Church, one of the largest Orthodox churches in world. The city itself offers excellent shopping opportunities, from luxurious upscale boutiques through to an enormous bazaar and a Saturday farmer’s market at Zeleni Venac selling an assortment of seasonal produce.
When you’re ready for a break, you can relax on the beach at ‘Belgrade Hawaii’, Ada Ciganlija, an island in the middle of the Sava River. During the summer the island attracts hundreds of thousands of people looking for a place to cool down, so it can be crowded on hot days. Belgrade is very well known for its nightlife and is a major draw card for Europeans looking for a party. There are countless nightclubs, bars, and cafés that stay lively into the wee hours of the night, many of which are located on river barges.
After Belgrade we move on to Niš, one of the oldest cities in the Balkans. Niš is the birthplace of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor and founder of Constantinople, AD 306 to 337. If time allows we may have a chance to visit the Mediana ruins and see where Constantine the Great once lived. The most infamous attraction at Niš is the Ottoman skull-tower known as Ćele Kula. It dates from a time when ruling Ottoman soldiers were growing tired of Serb rebellions against occupation. After quelling an uprising in 1809, Ottoman troops decapitated 952 fallen Serbs and built a short, square tower out of the Serbs' heads. Within a few years the Serbs had managed to get rid of the Ottomans but kept the Skull Tower as a memorial to the sacrifice of the early Serb nationalists. There are about 58 skulls left - others were removed for burial or destroyed over time. Before our onward travel to Sofia in Bulgaria you have an opportunity to visit the Niš Concentration Camp and Museum, one of the few fully preserved fascist camps in Europe.
Day 6 to 11 - Sofia – Skopje – Lake Ohrid – Tirana
Bulgaria’s capital Sofia offers a wealth of cultural entertainment, including Byzantine churches, museums full of ancient archaeological treasures, towering monuments and numerous mineral baths adjacent to the magnificent Mount Vitosha. Laid back and cosmopolitan, Sofia offers a thriving and diverse street life, including open-air cafés, busy markets such as the famous Ladies’ Market, rattling trams and buskers all adding to the ambience. At the foothills of Mount Vitosha about 8 kilometres from the city centre you can visit the 900 year-old Boyana Church, which features murals and frescoes dating back to 1259 AD, considered among the masterpieces of medieval European painting, medieval architecture and monumental art. Also at the base of Mt. Vitosha is the splendid National History Museum, with antiques dating back to the Thracian period.
Sofia also offers many beautiful gardens to relax in, such as Boris Gardens and the South Park, which starts just behind the Palace of Culture.
In Skopje, Macedonia’s capital, you can enjoy 2,000 years of history spanning Oriental and Western cultures, neatly divided by the Vardar River through the centre of the city. Skopje has many historical monuments including the Kale Fortress dating back to the 6th century, the Daud Paša Amam, a 15th century bathhouse now converted into the city art gallery. You can also see the Mustafa-pasha's mosque, the 16th century Clock Tower and the Kamen Most (Stone Bridge) over the Vardar River.
Continuing on, we have time to stretch our legs at Lake Ohrid. Straddling the border between Macedonia and Albania, Lake Ohrid is one of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes, harbouring 200 species unique to the area, right across the food chain. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the turquoise coloured lake covers an area of 360 square kilometres with a maximum depth of 288 metres. The nearby settlement of Ohrid is one of the oldest in Europe.
We then head to Tirana, the trendy capital and largest city of Albania, which has transformed from a grey, dismal ex-communist city, isolated by the regime until the 1990s, to a colourful capital buzzing with life. While the city has a long history, you can enjoy its modern outlook, with fashionable bars, clubs and boutiques, and wander boulevards lined with relics of the city’s Ottoman, Italian and communist past. Tirana’s massive main square, Sheshi Skënderbej, is bordered by the National History Museum, the Palace of Culture, the National Bank, the Et'hem Bey Mosque and Skanderbeg's statue. A short bus ride from the centre city, the Martyr’s Cemetery offers marvellous panoramic views over the city. If time allows we may have an opportunity for a morning trip to Kruja, to see the castle and home of Skanderberg and Ottoman market place before our onward journey.
Day 12 to 16 - Budva – Sarajevo – Mostar
Our next visit is to the seaside town of Budva in Montenegro. Budva (not to be confused with the Czech beer Budvar) is 2,500 years old, one of the oldest and most popular settlements on the Adriatic coast of Montenegro. This vibrant seaside town is well known for its sandy beaches, historic old town, diverse nightlife, and beautiful examples of Mediterranean architecture.
We will take a day trip to the picturesque Kotor, a walled city nestled at the bottom of Europe’s deepest fjord. Stari Grad, the old town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a tricky labyrinth of cobbled alleys, squares and ancient churches, including St Tryphon's Cathedral built in 1166. The mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to this beautiful town as they come down steeply, almost to the waterfront. You could spend the day drinking espresso in the shade of the medieval walls watching people go by. You can climb the walls of the ancient fort of Sveti Ivan which spans some 4.5 kilometres above the city on almost vertical cliffs. Your efforts will be rewarded by an excellent view of Kotor and the bay.
We will visit Ostrog Monastery, clinging precariously to an almost vertical cliff face. Ostrog Monastery is a famous Serbian Orthodox Church built in the 17th century to honour one of the four Montenegrin saints, Vasilije Jovanovic, who fled here from the Turks in 1665. The greatest spiritual centre of Montenegro and the most visited Orthodox shrine in the Balkans, the sanctuary still attracts pilgrims who hope to cure their illnesses and other problems by praying over his remains. You may also have time to take in the Old Royal Capital of Cetinje, visiting the Monastery and many museums showcasing some of Montenegro’s prosperous past.
Crossing the border into the ‘heart-shaped land’ of Bosnia and Herzegovina we visit the capital Sarajevo, a fascinating mixture of western and eastern cultures. Known as the ‘Jerusalem of Europe’, the city was once famous for its religious diversity, with people of Islamic, Orthodox Christian, Catholic and Jewish faiths coexisting relatively peacefully for centuries. The atmosphere of calm and tolerance changed dramatically when violence erupted in the mid 1990s and the city underwent the longest siege in modern military history during the Yugoslav War.
Today the city is largely recovered and is packed with fascinating museums, bazaars, markets and bridges. During your time here you could explore the cobbled streets, mosques and Oriental style shops of the Old Town, visit the Bosnian Historical Museum to learn about the siege of Sarajevo and visit the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum, the tunnel which was used to ferry supplies into the besieged city during the conflict, next to the airport. For history buffs a must see is the “Latin Bridge" spanning the river in the down-town area. The bridge bears a plaque commemorating the assassination of Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, the event that sparked the beginning of World War I.
Widely felt to be the prettiest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostar is situated on the Neretva river and is the fifth-largest city in the country. Mostar was named after "the bridge keepers" (natively: mostari) who kept the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over Neretva river. The city is particularly famous for this beautiful single span bridge, Stari Most, which collapsed into the Neretva River during the Yugoslav War in 1993. Built in 1556 by the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Great, Stari Most had been a globally recognised landmark and a national symbol for Bosnia-Herzegovina. It had survived centuries of conflict including both world wars and proved that, whatever happened, the mainly Christian west bank and mainly Muslim east remained united. The destruction of the bridge was a huge blow to the local people, but in 2004 the bridge was rebuilt as a replica of the original using pieces of masonry salvaged from the riverbed. Its reopening represented the hope that Muslims, Croats and Serbs could once again live side by side and that Mostar would be healed after a decade of ethnic division.
Day 17 to 22 - Dubrovnik – Korčula – Hvar – Split
Into the south of Croatia, we visit the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, the UNESCO World Heritage listed walled city of Dubrovnik.
With a paved town centre enclosed in fortress-like 13th century stone walls, the city is easy to explore on foot and is full of character. A great start to your exploration of Dubrovnik could be with a walk around the city walls. Stretching almost 2 kilometres around the old town, the walls offer stunning rooftop and city views out to the turquoise blue Adriatic Sea. Founded in the 7th century, for a time in its glorious past the city was a serious rival for Venice in terms of maritime trade. It is hard to believe now but in 1991, two out of every three buildings were damaged during the bombardment of the Yugoslav War. Since then the buildings and walls have been painstakingly restored to pristine condition and represents one of the most beautiful and solid fortress systems on the Mediterranean. There are several other historic attractions worth a visit near the main street (Stradun), such as the 14th century Franciscan monastery which houses a treasury full of sacred art and artefacts, as well as one of the oldest continually working pharmacies in the world, dating back to 1317.
Heading now out to the islands of Croatia, we hop to Marco Polo’s birthplace, sunny Korčula which offers numerous secluded beaches and bays with stunning views over the Adriatic. The main town on the island is also called Korčula, featuring medieval walls and forts as well as many fine museums housing priceless works of art. While you’re visiting the island you may have the chance to see a Moreska dance, a spectacular combat dance performed with swords.
Boasting more sunshine hours than any of the other sun-soaked Dalmatian islands, Hvar Island offers fairytale Venetian architecture, a waterfront promenade fringed by palm trees and centuries old walls. With all of this and an historic fortress overlooking it all, it’s no wonder picturesque Hvar Town is considered a chic destination for the rich and famous, and you may be lucky enough to see one or two familiar faces here.
Built by the Venetian Doges in the 13th century, Hvar Town is a maze of cobblestone streets and sunny squares bordered by al fresco cafés and restaurants. The most important sights such as Cathedral of St Stephen, Clock Tower and the Arsenal flank the main square, while a picturesque expanse of terracotta-roofed houses and tiny streets cover the hill behind. One of the simplest pleasures on the island is to take part in the evening stroll around the town and take in the views - don’t forget to buy an ice cream from a local slasticarna, the Croatian equivalent of the Italian gelateria. You may also enjoy a stroll around the harbour, which is often filled with multimillion-dollar yachts, a reflection of the lavish lifestyles of the wealthy visitors to the island. You will have time to explore smaller villages of Stari Grad, Jelsa, Vrboska and Brusje, taking in lavender fields, wineries, eco villages and experiencing the local culture.
Back on the mainland, we head to Split but not before we stop in for a visit to the Venetian-style port town of Trogir. Dating back to the 13th century, the beautifully preserved medieval centre was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. As you meander through its tiny streets, you’ll discover that this charming port town has more than its share of cultural heritage, with palaces, Romanesque churches, and Renaissance and Baroque buildings from Venetian times in abundance. You’ll also discover plenty of restaurants and shops hidden away in various nooks and crannies. Enjoy a walk along the seaside promenade and wander down to see the harbour.
We then drive on to the coastal city of Split, built around the remains of the Diocletian Palace which dates back to the Roman era. Wander inside and take in Peristil Square where you can see an original Egyptian sphinx which was brought from Egypt by Roman emperor Diocletian. Another sphinx can be found near St John’s Church, which was originally a Roman temple. Take a tour of the Diocletian Palace or climb the campanile bell tower next to the palace’s mausoleum for spectacular views from the top.
If you want to relax there are plenty of al fresco bars and restaurants to choose from along the seafront, as well as gelati bars and cheaper pizzerias off the main roads. There is plenty of delicious Italian-influenced local cuisine to choose from, often at very reasonable prices. If you want to hang out with the locals, head for the beach at Bacvice. There are many cafés and places to eat icecream and it’s a great place to get a feeling of 'real' Croatia as the vast majority of people who go there are from Split.
Day 23 to 25 - Plitvice – Zagreb
Continuing our diverse journey through Croatia, our next stop is to explore Plitvice National Park, a beautiful reserve featuring 16 spectacular blue lakes surrounded by forest.
The lakes are linked by natural dams which create beautiful low level waterfalls joining one lake to another. Due to the varying mixtures of minerals in the water, each lake has a distinctive colour ranging from azure to green, grey or blue. The surrounding forest features a mix of beech, spruce, and fir trees and is home to 126 species of birds and a number of rare animals including European brown bears, wolves, eagles, wild cats and eagles. Due to its natural beauty and significance, the park was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1979. The entire park can be seen in about 4 hours and you can get beautiful views from almost any vantage point. Don’t miss the Veliki Slap, a 78 metre high, 50 metre wide waterfall surrounded by boulders - a great place for photos.
After our time exploring the national park we continue to the Croatian capital of Zagreb, a vibrant cultural centre with a long history, located on the crossroads of important routes between the Adriatic coast and Central Europe. Originally established as two fortresses on two neighbouring hills in medieval times, the city has withstood numerous invasions, earthquakes and political upheaval to grow into a prosperous centre of industry. In your free time you can explore Ban Jelacic Square surrounded by grand buildings or visit the Zagreb Cathedral with its fountain of Madonna surrounded by golden angels. You can visit colourful open-air markets such as Dolac Market and discover the historic Upper Town with its palaces, monasteries and churches from the 17th and 18th centuries. There are also dozens of museums, theatres, galleries and art collections to visit, including Museum Mimara. Another interesting museum to see is the City of Zagreb Museum covering every facet of its long history. You could take a picnic to Maksimir Park about 3 kilometres from the city centre, or take a tram to the medieval fortress of Medvedgrad on the southern side of nearby Mount Medvednica for beautiful views over the city.
Day 26 to 29 - Ljubljana – Lake Bled – Budapest
Crossing into Slovenia we visit the capital Ljubljana and enjoy a city tour of the main sights. In your free time you may enjoy a visit to the botanical gardens, Dragon bridge, Križanke or French revolution square, Tivoli park, Ljubljana city museum, Ljubljana castle (Ljubljanski Grad) on Castle Hill and the viewing tower in the castle courtyard for views across the Old Town. When you need to relax, sit down at one of the many outdoor riverside cafés in the Old Town, check out the Habsburg and Baroque architecture and enjoy the young, fun vibe of Ljubljana’s large student population.
During our time in Slovenia we take a day trip to Bled, a magical little town about an hour and a half from Ljubljana, set near an emerald green lake. Perched on a cliff high above the lake on a bluff is the Bled Castle, dramatically framed by the snowcapped peaks of the Julian Alps. Dating back to the 11th century, Bled Castle is the epitome of a medieval fortress and has a fairytale appeal, with towers, ramparts, moats and a terrace offering magnificent views. Part of the castle houses a museum with an interesting collection of armour and weapons, jewellery, carvings, tapestries and paintings which trace the history of the castle from the Bronze Age to the 19th century. A walk around Lake Bled (about 6 kilometres) shouldn’t take more than an hour or two, including a short climb to a viewing point. The most romantic way to enjoy it is to hire a boat and row over to the island in the middle of the lake or for the non-rowers of the group you can take a Pletna boat and be taken across. On the island you can visit a small 17th century Baroque church called Church of the Assumption, complete with a ‘wishing bell’ which you can ring to ask a favour. If time permits you can also visit Vintgar Gorge, a raised timber walkway that tracks the gorges river for 1.6 kilometres to a beautiful waterfall.
Returning to Budapest, ‘Queen of the Danube’, take time to enjoy a relaxing soak in a thermal spa, wander the markets and further explore this historical city.
Day 30 to 34 - Budapest – Braşov – Bucharest – Istanbul
In the evening we will take an overnight train to Braşov, one of the largest and most cherished cities of Romania.
Braşov is a fabulous base for exploring the surrounding countryside, where the air is fresh and the people friendly. Surrounded on three sides by the Carpathian Mountains, it was a perfect place for a medieval settlement and much of the Old City, founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1211 has been restored. You can visit the fortress of Cetăţuia Braşovului and wander up Rope Street, the narrowest street in Europe or visit Rasnov Castle. You may enjoy a visit to the nearby Bran Castle which is marketed as ‘Dracula’s Castle’ and is (incorrectly) said to have been the home of Vlad the Impaler.
We continue our journey by train to Bucharest where you will have free time to explore the area and discover the contrasts of Romania's cultural capital. The architecture here is an eclectic mix of historical, communist period and modern styles and it may even remind you of Paris as in fact it has its own Arc de Triomphe. Bucharest even boasts the world’s second biggest building, the Palace of Parliament, built under the communist regime.
If you’d like to learn more about the traditional way of life of Romanian peasant farmers you can visit the Village Museum, an open air museum with around 300 traditional buildings filled with furniture, pottery and clothing collected from different regions of the country.
After our time in Bucharest we will board an overnight train to Istanbul, Turkey's largest city and the former imperial capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, a city rich in history.
Please note: Engineering work scheduled for the rest of 2012 means that after reaching the Turkish border you will continue your journey to Istanbul by coach.
Istanbul is an enchanting fusion of East and West. Narrow alleys are flanked by wooden Ottoman houses while a nearby funky restaurant and bar strip in the down-town area pumps out Turkish pop. There are many great places to explore including, but not limited to, the Blue Mosque, St Sophia and the Grand Bazaar. The Blue Mosque, also known as the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, is nearly 400 years old and still an active mosque that non-Muslims can visit for free outside of the five daily prayers. St Sophia (Hagia Sophia) was built 1,500 years ago and was the largest enclosed space in the world. The Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi) is the oldest and largest closed bazaar in the world, housing around 4,000 shops within 60 alleyways. It used to be the city's main trading centre, but now the bazaar is full of carpets, ceramics, jewellery and leather goods.
In your free time you could take a relaxing Turkish bath and then possibly board a local ferry on the Bosphorus to observe the beautifully lit sprawl of Istanbul by night and then finish your evening with the timeless wind-down of smoking a nargileh (Ottoman water pipe).
Day 35 to 35 - Depart Istanbul
Your adventure of a lifetime comes to an end today, please confirm with the reception the check out time. If you have a late flight or have lengthened your stay by adding post tour accommodation you will have more time to explore the sights.
The itinerary listed above is to be used as a guide only. Occasionally we may need to update this document and it may be different to the information printed in our current brochure. Tour leaders may need to make adjustments due to unforeseen circumstances during the tour. It is very important that you visit our website and review a copy of this dossier as close as possible to your departure date in case of changes that may affect your plans. Any last minute changes may also be posted in the latest news section of our website.
Day by Day Itinerary
|Day 2||Novi Sad||Serbia||B||✓|
|Day 9||Lake Ohrid||B||✓|
|Day 10||Lake Ohrid||B||✓|
|Day 14||Sarajevo||Bosnia and Herzegovina||✓|
|Day 30||Overnight train to Braşov||B|
|Day 33||Overnight train to Istanbul|
(B - Breakfast, L - Lunch, D - Dinner included)
Please note the day to day itinerary above is given as a GUIDELINE ONLY.