Balkan Explorer (Westbound)

Absorb the unique blend of culture, ancient tales and architectural treasures on this fascinating voyage 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.

Istanbul - Plovdiv - Sofia - Thessaloniki - Skopje - Belgrade - Dubrovnik - Mostar - Sarajevo - Zagreb - Ljubljana - Trieste - Venice

Tour Schedules & Prices

Eastbound 2019

Westbound 2019

Day 1 Istanbul

Turkey

Arrive into Istanbul where you will be met and transferred to the iconic five-star Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah, for a two-night stay. The hotel was built in 1892 to cater for guests taking the Orient Express and it was here that Agatha Christie wrote her famous book ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. A fitting Grand Hotel to start our tour.

Today is at leisure for all guests to explore this wonderful city, or relax at this luxurious hotel and spa. This evening we will enjoy a welcome reception dinner, giving you the opportunity to meet your fellow travelers.

Day 2 Istanbul

Turkey

This fabled city that spans Asia and Europe is our final stop on our tour so there is ample time to see how old meets new, east meets west when we visit Istanbul’s must-see historic sites.

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 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.

The largest and oldest palace in the world and primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1853, Topkapi is the crown jewel of the Ottoman Empire. With its treasury and exotic buildings overlooking the Golden Horn, your visit to Topkapi promises to be a truly fascinating experience.

Day 3 Istanbul

Turkey

Following a leisurely breakfast we visit the Grand Bazaar, which is one of the world’s largest covered markets, with 58 streets and over 4,000 shops. In operation since the 14th century the bazaar is especially known for its jewellery, leather, pottery, spices and carpets.

Later this afternoon we join our private train, the Golden Eagle Danube Express, to begin our spectacular rail adventure to Venice.

Note: Continuing engineering works associated with the new Bosphorus tunnel could mean that the train starts on the outskirts of Istanbul.

Day 4 Plovdiv & Sofia

Bulgaria

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 morning here exploring the many sights in the charming Old Town including its ancient theatres, medieval walls and Ottoman baths.

The sight of Bulgaria’s modern capital, Sofia, at the foot of Mt Vitosha, was first occupied by the Thracian tribe of Serdi. On our afternoon 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.

Day 5 Thessaloniki & Skopje

Greece & Macedonia

We soak up the atmosphere of this vibrant city by heading to Aristotelous Square. The White Tower is its most famous landmark from Ottoman times, and offers excellent views of the city from the top.

This afternoon, after lunch onboard the train, 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 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.

Day 6 Belgrade

Serbia

Arrive this morning in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. 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. We spend a full day here and our city tour includes Tito’s memorial, the Town Hall, Republic Square and Knez Mihajlova Street; as well as ‘Varos’ Gate and a visit to the mighty Kalemegdan Fortress.

Day 7 Dubrovnik

Croatia

After breakfast we leave our train for a scenic drive along the Dalmatian Coast to Dubrovnik. 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 travelling 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.

Day 8 Mostar & Sarajevo

Bosnia & Herzegovina

This morning we tour the historic city of Mostar, 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.

An early afternoon 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. Discover the city’s poignant history through a truly absorbing 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 we make a special visit to the Tunnel Museum under 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.

Day 9 Zagreb & Ljubljana

Croatia & Slovenia

This morning 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 centre), which abounds in Baroque atmosphere and cultural monuments. We will also see the ornate buildings of the lower town and its wide boulevards.

We enjoy lunch back onboard the train as we travel onwards towards Slovenia. Ljubljana is a delightful city, a combination of ancient architecture and a youthful culture. Our afternoon city tour includes visits to Preseren Square, Three Bridges, Dragon Bridge and Plecnik Market.

Day 10 Trieste & Venice

Italy

This morning our private train, the Golden Eagle Danube Express, arrives into the Italian port of Trieste for a short tour. We stop at the vast Piazza Unita d’Italia, the main town square, and can climb the hill to the famous Church of San Giusto built around a medieval complex that dates backs 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. We also offer a Freedom of Choice option to visit the Museum of the Risiera di San Sabba. This former rice-husking facility became the site of the only extermination camp in Italy after 1943.

We enjoy our farewell lunch onboard as we leave Trieste and follow the Adriatic coast towards Mestre where our train curves to the left onto the 3-mile causeway across the Venice Lagoon and into Santa Lucia station on the Grand Canal. We say farewell to the train and train crew and transfer by boat to the five-star Westin Europa and Regina hotel for a two night stay.

This afternoon we have the opportunity to take a familiarisation 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.

Day 11 Venice

Italy

Venice is a truly captivating city of romance; its unrivalled beauty takes away the breath of first time visitors and regulars alike. Enjoy an iconic gondola ride in the Basin of St. Mark’s and along the Grand Canal today before we take a short stroll through the artists’ district of Dorsoduro, stopping to take in the city’s most breath-taking views from the Academia Bridge. Alternatively, you can spend the day exploring this magnificent city at your leisure. This evening we will enjoy a farewell reception dinner at a local restaurant, giving you the opportunity to reflect on your journey through this fascinating part of Europe.

Day 12 Venice

Italy

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

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