Arrivals day in Budapest where you will be met and transferred to the five-star Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel (or similar). We will enjoy a welcome reception dinner, whilst you meet your fellow travellers on this highly anticipated journey.
We enjoy a morning drinks reception in the impressive Royal Waiting Room at Budapest Nyugati station before boarding the Danube Express and we begin our spectacular rail journey to Tehran. Settle in to your cabin and later enjoy lunch as the train heads to Lajosmizse for a spectacular ‘Puszta’ horse show. Afterwards there is free time to explore Kecskemet, a fascinating city at the geographical centre of Hungary. Back onboard, enjoy a pre-dinner drink in the Lounge Car as the train continues across the Great Hungarian Plain and dine as we head towards Transylvania.
Today we arrive in Sighisoara for a walking tour of the town’s main highlights. A World Heritage site rumoured to be the birthplace of Dracula, it is one of the best-preserved fortified medieval towns in Europe. Burgher houses and ornate churches line its cobbled streets.
We return on board for lunch as we continue onto Brasov for a tour of Bran Castle. Popularly known as Dracula’s Castle, this beautiful 14th century building is situated amongst stunning mountain scenery.
Back on board later this evening, the train twists and turns as it climbs over the Carpathian Mountains and threads its way through the dramatic landscape with crystal clear mountain streams. Dinner is served as our train continues onto Bulgaria.
We arrive after breakfast in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s ancient capital. Nestled in a magnificent mountain setting, the stone houses seem perched, one above the other, on the steep banks of the Yantra River. A tour includes the superbly preserved medieval Tsarevets Hill and Castle and there is free time to wander through the ancient streets of the city.
Late afternoon relax in the Bar Lounge Car during the climb over the scenic Shipka Pass, site of a famous battle in 1878 when the combined forces of Russia and Bulgaria crushed the army of the Ottoman Empire, before dinner is served as our train continues through the scenic landscape, reaching the Turkish border late in the evening.
This morning we arrive into Istanbul, where we stay overnight at the iconic five-star Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah. 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’.
This fabled city that spans Asia and Europe deserves an extended stay so over the next two days we will see how old meets new; east meets west when you 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.
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. The Egyptian Market or Spice Bazaar will also be visited on the Golden Horn.
Later this afternoon we re-board the Golden Eagle Danube Express and continue our journey eastwards through Turkey.
Cappadocia is an area of Central Anatolia best known for its rocky landscape and is honeycombed with networks of ancient underground settlements and outstanding examples of Byzantine art. Erosion shaped the incredible landscape of the Goreme Valley, but thousands of years ago humans took their cue from Mother Nature and began carving an incredible chamber and tunnel complex into the soft rock. Beginning in the 4th century, an urbanised underground cultural landscape was created here.
Enjoy a more leisurely pace today as we travel through the beautiful landscape of Eastern Turkey.
Today a six-hour crossing by train ferry takes us from Tatvan to Van, where we briefly stop on Akdamar Island to walk to the stunning Akdamar Kilisesa or Church of the Holy Cross. The walls are adorned with Old Testament carvings telling familiar tales from the bible.
Onward into Van we will navigate the old streets of the town and marvel at the beautiful silver and hanging kilims (woven carpets) made from natural dyes.
We head into Iran by night via the border crossing at Razi from where we continue onto the city of Tabriz, located in the north-west of the country and one of the former historical capitals of Iran. The city enjoys a privileged position in the Quru Valley overlooked by Mount Sahand.
Our time in Tabriz will be devoted to visiting the main 15th century covered Bazaar, one of the largest in the world and full of atmosphere as locals go about their daily lives. Also included will be a visit to the Azerbaijan Museum and the adjacent Blue Mosque.
Yazd is thought to be one of the oldest cities in the world and a centre of Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic faith founded 3,500 years ago. Our city tour takes in the Zoroastrian Fire Temple, Amir Chakhmagh Square and the 14th century Friday Mosque, home to one of Persia’s finest mosaics.
We re-board the train for lunch and continue to Isfahan where we enjoy a short tour of the famous bridges of Sioseh Pol and Khadjou. A local restaurant is the setting for our evening meal.
This enchanting city, which served as Persia’s capital from 1598 to 1722, is 2,500 years old and one of the oldest in Iran. As a crossroad of international trade and diplomacy, Isfahan has a rich mix of languages, religions and customs.
The city is famous for its silver filigree and metal work, array of great historical monuments, and its Life-Giving River, the Zayandeh-Rood, which has given the city its beauty. Isfahan is packed with some of Iran’s best sights and today we spend a whole day in the city, visiting the Chehel Sotoon Palace and the Vank Church in the Armenian Quarter.
Following a traditional Iranian lunch we move on to Naghshe Jahan Square, a World Heritage Site and the second largest man-made square in the world, where the Ali Qapou Palace and Shah and Sheikh Lutfullah Mosques can be found. Here, the time is yours to enjoy the huge square and pick up a bargain at the handicraft Bazaar of Qaisarieh.
Shiraz has many strings to its bow: poetry, literature, wine, flowers and amazing gardens and fruit trees. A visit to the Qoran Gate, Hafez Tomb and the Vakil Citadel are the highlights of our morning tour.
Following lunch onboard we continue onto Marvdast, for the home of Persepolis, another World Heritage Site. Perhaps Iran’s most important archeological site, this ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire dates back to the 6th century. Even now, the ruins are extremely impressive. We also view the Necropolis (Naghshe Rustam) and the Naghshe Rajab.
Today we reach our final destination and disembark the Danube Express in Tehran. On our tour of the capital city we head to the Gulestan Palace with its renovated Versailles-inspired mirror-encrusted Marble Throne Hall used for the coronation of the last Shah. Most of the remaining brick and tile buildings date back to the 19th century Qajar dynasty. We also visit the prestigious National Museum of Iran, opened in 1937, detailing many periods of the rich history of the country with some artefacts dating back approximately 30,000 - 35,000 years.
Guests stay overnight in the five-star Espinas International Hotel (or similar).
Following breakfast you will be transferred to the airport for onward departures.