Eastern Europe and the Balkans
Day 1: Arrive Warsaw
Warsaw, Poland's capital, has been revitalised as a tourist destination. The city was almost entirely destroyed in World War II but a lot of effort has gone into its rebuilding. Since the fall of communism many old buildings have given way to modern skyscrapers, the dilapidated old town has been brightened up, and entertainment and services transformed to match that of other western capitals.Home to various palaces, castles and citadels, Warsaw is noted for the Soviet-era Palace of Culture and Science, as well as the marketplace at the 10th Anniversary Stadium, a converted festival site where you can buy all sorts of interesting items. Also recommended is a visit to the Old Town, which was rebuilt between 1949 and 1963 after being destroyed in World War II in the Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque styles of architecture from the 17th and 18th centuries. You can visit the Historical Museum of Warsaw and Royal Castle at nearby Old Town Square.
Days 2-3: Kraków
Poland's more famous and cultural city is Kraków, which has managed to preserve centuries of amazing architecture and artistic traditions as most of the historic buildings and monuments emerged unscathed from World War II. Kraków was the royal capital for 500 years so a must-see is the royal Wawel Castle, a beautiful renaissance palace which now houses a museum. During the evening the cosmopolitan city offers a wild nightlife, with plenty of restaurants, music clubs and bars to explore.Kraków is our base to visit the UNESCO listed Auschwitz-Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp, a sobering tribute to the people that perished there during the Holocaust. Situated close to the Polish town of O?wi?cim, the camp was originally designed for Polish political prisoners but became the most notorious camp of World War II because an estimated 1.6 million people of 27 nationalities, including 1.1 million Jews, 150,000 Poles and 23,000 Roma were killed by the Nazis.
Day 4: High Tatras Mountains
The High Tatras constitutes of a large mountain range which forms a natural border between Slovakia and Poland and is the highest mountain range of the Carpathians. The tallest mountain is Gerlach at 2,655 metres, located in Slovakia just north of Poprad.After making our way to Starý Smokovec (Nový Smokovec) we have time to relax and unwind. For the energetic there is an opportunity to go to the nearby mountains for some hiking. There are various paths ranging from gentle to highly demanding, winding among spectacular peaks and rock walls. Alternatively you can admire some of the beautiful natural sites of the region, such as the glacial lake of Strebske Pleso.
Day 5: Overnight train to Prague
After getting our fill of the crisp mountain air we board an overnight train to Prague.
Days 6-7: Prague
Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and you will have plenty of free time to visit the stunning City of 1,000 Spires, including the bustling Old Town Square where you can find a beautiful astronomical clock, the enchanting Charles Bridge where you can watch artists and buskers at work and Wenceslas Square. There is also time to wander the lofty heights of Hradčany Castle and St Vitus Cathedral for magical views over the city.Prague is a town that loves to party so you may also want to experience the nightlife as there are many great bars and restaurants and plenty of pulsating night clubs to enjoy. Czechs have been brewing beer since the 9th century and invented the world's first Pilsner, so Prague offers a great opportunity to sample some of the world's finest beers.
Days 8-9: Vienna
Welcome to Austria! Birthplace of some of the greatest classical musical compositions, Vienna charms with its cultural history and opulent beauty. Known as the 'city of music' many composers such as Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss were born or worked here and you can learn all about their works in places such as Haus der Musik and Mozarthaus, Mozart's main apartment in Vienna which holds an insight into his celebrated life.Perhaps you would like to catch a jaw-dropping orchestra performance at the Vienna Philharmonic, or watch a ballet or opera performance at the Wiener Staatsoper? You may also choose to visit the Schloss Schönbrunn, the palace of the Habsburg family, and discover the Baroque grandeur of the Austrian dynasty. Once you have delighted in the culture and beauty of Vienna, there are a host of a lively restaurants, cafes and bars to soak up as you watch the world go by in this vibrant city.
Days 10-11: Budapest
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.Sample some Hungarian cuisine in a local restaurant. Goulash is the most popular Hungarian meat dish. It is a delicious stew made from meat and vegetables with Hungarian paprika powder as the main spice.
Day 12: Novi Sad
Serbia's cultural centre, Novi Sad, is overlooked by the magnificent Petrovaradin Fortress. Built during the 18th century, 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, great views of the Danube. Novi Sad is also known for its international music festivals, underground military galleries and above ground, such as the International Street Musicians' Festival in September offering diverse music genres, funny instruments, jugglers, street shows and acrobatics.
Days 13-14: Belgrade
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 like a phoenix from the ashes every time.We have the opportunity to explore the military museum inside the fortress. 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 cafes that stay lively into the wee hours of the night, many of which are located on river barges.
Days 15-16: Pristina
Today we are travelling to Pristina, Kosovo but first we visit Devil's Town in Serbia. The natural phenomenon, whose real name is Djavolja varos, got it's unique name to the strange formation of soil pyramids. Wander amongst the stone-capped pillars, whose appearance is due to a rare from of erosion.We then continue our journey to Pristina. Europe's youngest capital, it has a buzzing energy and a small but fascinating number of attractions to see. Visit the Ethnographic Museum for exhibits on life in Kosovo between the 15th and 20th century and marvel at the iconic design of the National Library. Wander down Bill Clinton Boulevard and wave back at the 3m-tall bronze statue of the former president, before stopping for one of Pristina's famous coffees in any one of the number of cafes found here.
Days 17-18: Skopje
Before heading to Skopje we can enjoy a visit to the Matka Canyon. Cruise down the river admiring the large rock walls towering beside the water. Keep an eye out for the fascinating caves that are found within the canyon. 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 and the Daud Pasha 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.
Days 19-20: Lake Ohrid
Today we travel on to the gorgeous lake side town of Ohrid, perched on the border of Macedonia and Albania. This unassuming, picturesque settlement has been the setting of thousands of years of human history and the ancient churches, fortress walls, bazaars and old quarters are testimony to its past.Lake Ohrid itself is Europe's oldest lake having formed over three millions years ago. Wander the streets and squares of its compact centre before hiking up to the ancient walled fortress that overlooks the day to day life of the city and explore the famous old churches, monasteries and basilicas.
Day 21: Tirana
Today we 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, and wander boulevards lined with relics of the city's Ottoman, clubs and boutiques, Italian and communist past. Tirana's massive main square, Skanderbeg Square, 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.
Days 22-23: Kotor
On the way to Kotor we stop off at the small town of Kruja. Built on a mountainside, you can discover the old town and explore Kruja Castle where we include entry to the Skanderbeg Museum located inside. Skanderbeg was a war hero of Albania, helping defeat the Ottomans, and this museum focuses on his bravery and importance to Albania.After spending the morning exploring Kruja, our group will move onward to our next destination - the picturesque town of Kotor in Montenegro. It is a walled city nestled at the bottom of Europe’s deepest fjord. Experience Stari Grad, the old town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with it’s tricky labyrinth of cobbled alleys, squares and ancient churches, including St Tryphon's Cathedral built in 1166.The steep mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to this beautiful town and you can admire them from the waterfront. You could spend the day drinking espresso in the shade of the medieval walls watching people go by, or if you are feeling more adventurous try climbing 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.
Days 24-25: 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 is with an included 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.
Days 26-27: Sarajevo
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 discover 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 downtown 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. Today the city is largely recovered and is packed with fascinating museums
Day 28: Mostar
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.
Days 29-30: Hvar Island
On the way to Croatia, we stop off at the Kravice waterfalls, located on the Trebiat river in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A popular swimming area, you will have time to enjoy the water before heading to Hvar Island. 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 cafes and restaurants. The most important sights such as St Stephen's Cathedral, 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 multi-million 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, taking in lavender fields, Vrboska and Brusje, wineries, eco villages and experiencing the local culture.
Day 31: Split
We then take the ferry and arrive late morning at 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. We take an included 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 cafes 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 32: Plitvice
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, 50 metre wide waterfall surrounded by boulders - a great place for photos.
Day 33: Zagreb
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 Jela?i? 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, or take a tram to the medieval fortress of Medvedgrad on the southern side of nearby Mount Medvednica for beautiful views over the city 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.
Days 34-35: Lake Bled
Crossing into Slovenia, we stay in 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 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, carvings, jewellery, 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.
Days 36-37: Ljubljana
Next 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, 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 cafes in the Old Town, check out the Habsburg and Baroque architecture and enjoy the young fun vibe of Ljubljana's large student population.
Day 38: Budapest
We then return to Budapest,'The Queen of the Danube', where you will arrive in the evening to soak up the nightlife of Hungary's stylish capital. With travel times sometimes extended due to delays, you may want to book post-tour accommodation to make sure you have enough time to see all the sites of this fascinating and beautiful capital city.
Day 39: Depart Budapest
Your adventure of a lifetime comes to an end today. 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.Your adventure of a lifetime comes to an end today. 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.
32 night(s) in hotels, 1 night(s) on overnight sleeper trains, 2 night(s) in apartments, 2 night(s) in a guesthouse 27 Buffet Breakfast(s), 9 Basic Breakfast(s) Guided Tour of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Petrovaradin Fortress guided tunnel tour, Visit Devil's Town, Matka Canyon boat ride, Free time at Lake Ohrid, Visit to Kruja (Entry to City Walls and Skanderbeg Museum), Guided tour of Kotor Old Town, Stop at Trebinje for wine tour and tasting, 24 hour Dubrovnik city card including City Walls and transport pass, Stari Most (Mostar Old Bridge), Entry to Kravice Waterfall, Guided Tour of Diocletian's Palace, Entrance to Plitvice Lakes National Park, Guided walking tour of Ljubljana Overnight Train, Public Bus, Taxi, Foot, Train, Private Vehicle, Ferry, Metro
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