Balkan Explorer on the Danube Express: Venice to Istanbul


11-Day Escorted Tour

Luxury

The Tour

Discover the fascinating history, vibrant culture, and medieval relics of this enchanting region as we venture through the lush landscapes of the Balkan states and their neighboring countries on the Balkan Explorer journey aboard the Golden Eagle Danube Express. Meandering through verdant landscapes and along turquoise coastlines, this exclusive rail cruise delivers a captivating exploration of the Balkan nations and their surrounding countries.

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“…its riveting itineraries, fully inclusive pricing and comfort undoubtedly put it in the forefront of luxurious European railway travel.”

— Angela Walker, Vice President, Operations, The Society of International Railway Travelers®, following her May, 2015 journey on the Danube Express.

The Itinerary

Day 1: Venice (Italy)
Arrive in Venice, where you will be met and transferred to the luxurious five-star Hotel Danieli for a two-night stay. The legendary hotel enjoys a spectacular location and is only a short stroll from St. Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace, and the Bridge of Sighs. Today is at leisure to explore this wonderful city. This evening we will enjoy a welcome reception and dinner, giving you the opportunity to meet your fellow travelers.

Day 2: Venice (Italy)
Venice is a truly captivating city of romance; its unrivaled beauty is breathtaking for first-time visitors and local residents alike. Today we will have the opportunity to take a walking tour around the highlights of this spectacular city. 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. We also see St. Mark’s Basilica and stroll through the Rialto Market.

Spend the rest of the day exploring this magnificent city. For a truly iconic experience, take a gondola ride (additional charge) in the Basin of St. Mark’s and along the Grand Canal, followed by a short stroll through the artists’ district of Dorsoduro, where we will stop to take in the city’s most stunning views from the Academia Bridge before returning to the hotel.

Day 3: Trieste (Italy)
Transfer by boat this morning from the hotel to Santa Lucia station on the Grand Canal. Here our private train, the Golden Eagle Danube Express, is waiting for us. The train departs mid-morning from Santa Lucia station and weaves its way onto the 3-mile causeway over the Venice Lagoon before it arrives at our first stop, the Italian port city of Trieste, for an afternoon tour.  We stop at the vast Piazza Unita d’Italia, the main town square, and 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 closer view of the splendid Byzantine-style architecture, enriched with precious mosaics.

Day 4: Ljubljana & Zagreb (Slovenia & Croatia)
Ljubljana is a delightful city, a combination of ancient architecture and a youthful culture. Our morning city tour includes visits to Preseren Square, Three Bridges, Dragon Bridge, and Plecnik Market. We enjoy lunch back on the train as we travel towards Croatia’s elegant capital of Zagreb.

This afternoon we will tour Zagreb, a central European city with over 900 years of documented history. We will take a walking tour of the upper town and “Kapitol” (the ancient town center), and see the ornate buildings of the lower town and its wide boulevards.

Day 5: Sarajevo & Mostar (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
Early this morning we arrive in 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. Discover the city’s poignant history through a tour detailing the horrors of the Balkan War. Sarajevo suffered from the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. The scars of war are still evident as we travel past war-torn buildings and make a special visit to the Tunnel Museum under the Sarajevo Airport. Your guide, who lived through the 1992-1996 conflict, brings to life in touching fashion the struggles the citizens of Sarajevo faced during the siege of the city.

Following a light lunch in Sarajevo, re-board the train and travel along a scenic line to the historic city of Mostar, the crossroads of many civilizations, cultures, and 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.

Day 6: Dubrovnik (Croatia)
Since its foundation in the 13th century, Dubrovnik has been attacked many times, but it is now restored as one of the great cities of the Mediterranean, essentially unchanged for 700 years. We will tour the city traveling through Ploce Gate to visit the Franciscan Monastery with one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, the Old Harbour, St. Laurence Fortress, and the Rector’s Palace. We have lunch overlooking the Adriatic and have free time to wander the narrow streets. Head back to the train for dinner as we depart for Serbia.

Day 7: Belgrade (Serbia)
Arrive this morning in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, the former Yugoslavian capital. Located at the strategic meeting point of the Danube and Sava Rivers, this truly cosmopolitan city has fortifications from Celtic times, medieval tombs, and Turkish baths. Our full-day city tour includes the “House of Flowers” – the mausoleum of Josip Tito – the Town Hall, Republic Square, and Knez Mihajlova Street, as well as “Varos” Gate and a visit to the mighty Kalemegdan Fortress.

Day 8: Skopje & Thessaloniki (Macedonia & Greece)
This morning we arrive in the little-visited Skopje and discover a city where the Ottoman influences are still strong. Explore the narrow streets of the Old Town, filled with tiny shops and mosques with ceramic-tiled interiors. 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.

We return to the train for lunch on board and continue through the afternoon, crossing into Greece for an early evening arrival into Thessaloniki. We soak up the evening atmosphere of this vibrant city by heading to Aristotelous Square, and will enjoy an al-fresco Mediterranean seafood dinner.

Day 9: Sofia & Plovdiv (Bulgaria)
Sofia, 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 visit sections of the Roman wall and 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. Plovdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria after Sofia and is called “The City of Seven Hills.” It is one of the oldest cities in Europe and contains more than 200 known archaeological sites. We spend the afternoon here exploring the Roman Forum and Amphitheater. We’ll also visit the charming Old Town, including its medieval walls and Ottoman baths.

Day 10: Istanbul (Turkey)
This morning we arrive into Istanbul, where we stay one night at the iconic five-star Four Seasons Hotel Sultanahmet. The hotel is a tranquil sanctuary in the middle of Istanbul’s Old City, just steps from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

Note: Continued construction associated with the new Bosphorus tunnel could mean that the train stops on the outskirts of Istanbul and our buses will transport us to the city center.

This fabled city that spans Asia and Europe is the final stop on our tour. 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 classic Ottoman style and features six towering minarets and 260 windows illuminating its vast main chamber, which is decorated with more than 20,000 Iznik tiles.

Now a museum, 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 museums in the world. Take a moment to linger here to admire the fine Byzantine mosaics.

Day 11: Istanbul (Turkey)
Following breakfast in the hotel, you will be transferred to the airport for your flight home. Alternately, choose to extend your stay in Istanbul for additional nights to explore more of this fascinating city.

2019 Dates:

June 19-29

2020 Dates:

June 1-15 (tentative)

The Prices

2019 Pricing Double Single Deposit
Heritage Class $9,195 $13,695 $1,500
Deluxe Class $14,695 $24,695 $2,000
Superior Deluxe Class $17,595 $29,595 $2,500

Please note: all prices are per person.

Other

For a detailed report on the 2015 Balkan Odyssey journey on the Danube Express, please read Angela Walker’s post on our blog, Track 25.

Included in the tour price:

• Arrival and departure transfers

• A generous drink allowance, including wine, with lunch and dinner

• All gratuities

• All off-train touring, with personal headsets to make it easy to hear your guide

• Complimentary tea, coffee, and bottled drinking water are available in your cabin 24 hours a day

• An on-board doctor, with medical facilities, is available, should the need arise

• 24-hour service attendant

• Porterage of bags; your bags will be stowed for you on the train and transported to your hotel at the end of your trip

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The Highlights

  • Travel through nine European countries, with seven nights on board the Golden Eagle Danube Express
  • Special visit to the Tunnel Museum under Sarajevo Airport with a guide who lived through the 1992-96 conflict
  • Accommodation in five-star Hotel Danieli in Venice for 2 nights
  • Accommodation in five-star Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul for 1 night
Stone arch bridge in Mostar.  Photo by IRT / Angela Walker.
Stone arch bridge in Mostar. Photo by IRT / Angela Walker.
Saint Maria de Salute Cathedral on the Grand Canal. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.
Saint Maria de Salute Cathedral on the Grand Canal. IRT Photo by Rachel Hardy.
Serbian dancers greet Golden Eagle Danube Express guests in Belgrade.  Photo by IRT / Angela Walker.
Serbian dancers greet Golden Eagle Danube Express guests in Belgrade. Photo by IRT / Angela Walker.
Stunning Hagia Sophia at sunset in Istanbul.
Stunning Hagia Sophia at sunset in Istanbul.