Balkan Explorer Train Journey Itinerary

9 – 20 May, 2025 
Early Booking Discount $500 if you book by 18 September, 2024
The Free Information Pack has more details.

May 2025
Fri 9     Arrive Venice (Italy)    (D)

Arrivals day in Venice where you will be met and transferred to your centrally located hotel for a two-night stay.
Venice is a truly captivating city of romance; its unrivalled beauty takes away the breath of first-time visitors and regulars alike.
The city is built on a group of 126 islands and has 472 bridges. Its name comes from the Veneti people who lived in the area in the 10th century BC. Venice grew in importance and wealth from the 9th century to the 14th century – using its position by the sea to create a massive maritime commerce; trading in silk, grain, spices and art. The unique architectural style of Venice spread across the Adriatic Sea and can still be seen today. Sometimes known as the Queen of the Adriatic or the City of Bridges it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. In the 21st century it has been ranked many times as the most beautiful city in the world.
Venice is a place where the magic happens when you wander the narrow streets and lanes, crossing bridges and finding yourself in small courtyards.
This evening we will enjoy a welcome reception and dinner.

Sat 10     Venice (Italy)    (B,L,D)

This morning we can enjoy a walking tour around the highlights of this spectacular city.  We will walk through the winding lanes beside the Grand Canal to St Mark’s Square, which for 1,000 years was the heart of Venetian life. Along the way we will also see St Mark’s Basilica and stroll through the Rialto Market. Everywhere you look there will be something beautiful.
Alternatively, you can spend the day exploring this magnificent city at your leisure, maybe taking an iconic gondola ride in the basin of St. Mark’s and along the Grand Canal.

Sun 11     Trieste (Italy)    (B,L,D)

This morning we transfer from the hotel, by boat, directly to Santa Lucia station on the Grand Canal.  Here our private train, the Golden Eagle Danube Express, is ready to receive us.
Mid-morning our private train will thread its way out of Santa Lucia station onto the 3-mile causeway over the Venice Lagoon and on to our first stop at the Italian port city of Trieste.
Trieste is on a narrow strip of Italy between Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea. From 1382 to 1918 it belonged to the Hapsburg monarchy (you’ll hear about the Hapsburgs on this trip) and was the monarchy’s most important seaport. It was considered the end point of the maritime Silk Road, so we are talking serious wealth.
In the afternoon we visit Miramare Castle. This impressive building and grounds was built by  Ferdinand Maximillian (1832 – 1867) of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. This is an opportunity to see how rich this family was and what they liked to spend their money on.
We then stop at the vast Piazza Unita d’Italia, the main town square.
There is the option to climb the hill to the famous Church of San Giusto built around a medieval complex that dates back to the 13th century. We will go inside the church for a close-up view of the splendid Byzantine-style architecture enriched with precious mosaics.

Mon 12     Postojna & Ljubljana (Slovenia)    (B,L,D)

Today we cross over into Slovenia, a pretty country with many charming aspects. First stop is a visit to Postojna Cave; we ride an underground train deep into the cave and tour the network of magnificent halls, a myriad of cave formations and mysterious animals.
After the visit to the caves we travel to Ljubljana, the delightful capital city of Slovenia, offering a combination of ancient architecture and youthful culture. Our afternoon walking tour of Ljubljana’s Old Town includes a visit to Preseren Square, the Three Bridges, Dragon Bridge and Plecnik Market.
Ljubljana (the city of love) is situated on the banks of a river and was ringed by a fence during WWII which preserved its architecture and historic centre. The river is lined with open air cafes, shops and crossed by several bridges. There is even a castle once occupied by Napoleon.

Tue 13   Sarajevo & Mostar (Bosnia & Herzegovina)    (B,L,D)

Today there is an early morning arrival into the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo which is an intriguing blend of Eastern and Western culture; it has mosques and minarets, an ancient bazaar and an atmospheric old Turkish quarter.
The day will be one of discovery, as we learn about the city’s poignant history through a truly absorbing tour. Sarajevo suffered from the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare during the Balkan War; the scars of war are still evident as we travel past war-torn buildings. We will make a special visit to the Tunnel Museum under Sarajevo Airport. Your guide, who lived through the 1992-1996 conflict, will bring to life in touching fashion the struggles the citizens of Sarajevo faced during the siege of the city.
Following a light lunch in Sarajevo, this afternoon we travel onto the historic city of Mostar by coach; the crossroads of many civilizations, cultures and three religions. Mostar was one of the most important cities of the Ottoman Empire. The town’s renowned stone arch bridge linking the Christian and Muslim areas was re-built in the summer of 2004.
We also visit Turkish House and the mosque before walking through the narrow, bazaar streets, where you can shop for traditional souvenirs and handicrafts.

Wed 14   Belgrade (Serbia)    (B,L,D)

Nestled at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, Belgrade, capital of Serbia, is one of the oldest and most fascinating cities in Europe. With  its turbulent past it became also a city of contrasts from Communist-era buildings to Orthodox churches, from old Celtic fortresses to the ruins as a result of the Balkans wars.
We spend a full day here and our comprehensive city tour includes the ‘House of Flowers’ – the mausoleum of Josip Tito, the President of the former Yugoslavia.  Also featured on the touring programme in Belgrade is the Town Hall Building, Republic Square and Knez Mihajlova Street, as well as ‘Varos’ Gate and a visit to the Belgrade ‘Kalemegdan’ Fortress.

Thu 15   Bar & Podgorica (Montenegro)    (B,L,D)

This morning we cross the border into Montenegro, still one of Europe’s largely undiscovered locations. Blessed with glorious beaches and spectacular landscapes of rugged mountains, gentle lakes and medieval towns, Montenegro has a combination of incredible natural beauty and captivating history that makes it a fascinating place to visit. We arrive into Bar where we enjoy a short sightseeing tour of the coastal town.
During lunch onboard the Danube Express we travel onto the capital city of Podgorica. The city has passed through the empires of the Romans, Ottomans and the Austro-Hungarians. Its streets are an interesting hotchpotch of Ottoman oddments, Austrian shopfronts, communist tower blocks and modern shopping malls.

Fri 16   Skopje (North Macedonia)    (B,L,D)

Today we arrive in the little-visited Skopje in North Macedonia and discover a city where the Ottoman influences are still strong. Explore the narrow streets of the Old Town with tiny shops and mosques with ceramic-tiled interiors. There will be time to meander through the Old Bazaar area, brimming with things to buy, and cross the 15th-century Stone Bridge which links the bazaar to the modern town.
Skopje is very old and due to an earthquake in 1963 much of the historic area has been rebuilt and beautified. Two key personalities dominate the centre: King Philip (father to Alexander the Great) and Mother Teresa. The former has grand statues and fountains to immortalize him, the latter frequent bronze plaques with her wise words preserved.

Sat 17   Sofia & Plovdiv (Bulgaria)    (B,L,D)

This morning we arrive into Sofia in Bulgaria. Sofia, the site of Bulgaria’s modern capital, at the foot of Mt Vitosha, was first occupied by the Thracian tribe of Serdi. On our morning tour we will spot sections of Roman wall, admire the ancient church of St George, the golden domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the Turkish Bashi Mosque.
We enjoy lunch on the train as we travel from Sofia to Plovdiv.
The second largest city in Bulgaria after Sofia, ‘The City of Seven Hills’ is one of the oldest cities in Europe with more than 200 known archaeological sites. We spend the afternoon here exploring the many sights in the charming Old Town including its ancient theatres, medieval walls and Ottoman baths.

Sun 18 & Mon 19   Istanbul (Turkey)     (B,L,D); (B,L,D)  

We arrive into Istanbul on Sunday morning and stay for two nights at a 5-star hotel.
Istanbul is the fabled city that spans Asia and Europe. Originally founded as a Byzantium Greek city it dates back to the 7th century BC. The Roman Emperor Constantine the Great made it his imperial capital and named it Constantinople after himself. In 1930 the city changed it’s name to Istanbul, a Turkish word. It was part of the Silk Road and became one of the most important cities in history. The city played a key role in the advancement of Christianity during Roman/Byzantine times until it was taken by Ottoman forces and became the seat of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1517 AD. Istanbul has surpassed London and Dubai as the most visited city in the world.
We see how old meets new, east meets west when we visit a selection of Istanbul’s must-see historic sites.
Included is a visit to the crown jewel of the Ottoman Empire, Topkapi Palace. This stunning palace is the largest and oldest in the world and was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1853. With its treasury and exotic buildings overlooking the Golden Horn, your visit to Topkapi promises to be a truly fascinating experience.
Hagia Sophia was built in the 6th century by the Emperor Justinian and was one of the largest basilicas in the Christian world. After the Ottoman conquest, it was converted to a mosque and is today one of the most magnificent Grand Mosques in the world.
One of the most famous monuments in both the Turkish and Islamic worlds, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque) is a superb creation in the classical Ottoman style. We will have time to marvel at the exterior of the building which features six towering minarets and 260 windows illuminating its vast main chamber.
Also included in the Istanbul touring programme will be an afternoon’s cruise on the legendary Bosphorus and a visit to the Grand Bazaar.
On the final evening, we enjoy a Farewell Dinner in a local restaurant.

Tue 20   Depart Istanbul    (B)

Following breakfast you will be transferred to the airport for onward departures.
There is also an option to extend your stay in Istanbul for additional nights to explore more of this fascinating city.