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The Golden Eagle Danube Express - Balkan Explorer

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A timeless route reimagined with modern details, this tour explores the vast and varied terrain between Venice, Italy, and Istanbul, Turkey, aboard the impressive Golden Eagle Danube Express.

12 days From $16,995 per person
Travel among a group of like-minded travelers led by a professional tour manager

2023 Tour code: GE-BEXE-23

About the tour

The route between Venice and Istanbul is as historic as it is picturesque, as impressive as it is all-encompassing, and yours to behold on this memorable journey through the Balkan countries. Join your hotel-on-wheels, the Golden Eagle Danube Express, in exploring storied destinations throughout nine countries in style and grace. This train is beloved for its top-notch amenities and unmatched opulence, and you will see why the moment you step aboard in Venice, Italy.

Spend two days exploring the Floating City before commencing your rail journey to Istanbul. As the Golden Eagle Danube Express cuts through central and Eastern Europe, marvel at the ever-changing terrain that includes verdant farmlands, the deep turquoise water of the region's seas and passes through numerous impressive cities daily. Enjoy stops and carefully curated experiences in places like Trieste, Ljubljana, Sarajevo, Mostar, Dubrovnik, Belgrade, Skopje, Thessaloniki, Sofia, and Plovdiv, each of which has its own story to tell, before arriving in Turkey's capital city. Whether you hope to visit castles, caves, or historic sites, there is so much to explore throughout the Balkans.

Highlights

What’s included

Itinerary

Day 1 - Venice

Arrivals day in Venice where you will be met and transferred to your centrally located hotel for a two-night stay.

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

Includes
  • Dinner
Day 2 - Venice

Venice is a truly captivating city of romance; its unrivalled beauty takes away the breath of first time visitors and regulars 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. Overnight Venice.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 3 - Trieste

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 the train will thread its way out Santa Lucia station onto the 3-mile causeway over the Venice Lagoon and on to on our first stop at the Italian port city of Trieste, for an afternoon tour.  We stop at the imposing Miramare Castle and also visit the vast Piazza Unita d'Italia, the main town square. Standing on a hill overlooking Trieste is the famous Church of San Giusto built around a medieval complex and 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. Overnight train.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 4 - Postojna & Ljubljana

Today we visit Postojna Cave as 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 return to Ljubljana which is 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. Overnight train.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 5 - Sarajevo & Mostar

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. 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.

Following a lunch on board our private train, this afternoon we travel along a very scenic line to 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. From here, we travel onto Dubrovnik by coach where we stay for one night. Overnight Dubrovnik.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 6 - 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.  We have lunch overlooking the Adriatic and have free time to wander the narrow streets.  Mid-afternoon we head back to the train positioned close to the Croatian border in Capljina, and enjoy dinner as we depart towards Serbia. Overnight train.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 7 - Belgrade

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. We spend a full day here and our 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. Overnight train.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 8 - Skopje & Thessaloniki

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 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. Overnight train.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 9 - Sofia & Plovdiv

The site of Bulgaria's modern capital, at the foot of Mt Vitosha, Sofia was first occupied by the Thracian tribe of Serdi. On our morning tour we will visit sections of the 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 Roman Forum and Amphitheatre. We'll visit the charming Old Town including its medieval walls and Ottoman baths. Overnight train.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 10 - Istanbul

This morning we arrive into Istanbul where we stay for two nights at a five-star hotel.

This fabled city that spans Asia and Europe is our final stop on our tour so there is 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.

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. Take a few moments to linger here to admire the fine Byzantine mosaics. Overnight Istanbul.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 11 - Istanbul

Also included in our Istanbul programme is a visit to the crown jewel of the Ottoman Empire, Topkapi. 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.

We also 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. Overnight Istanbul.

Includes
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 12 - Istanbul

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.

Includes
  • Breakfast

Additional information

Departure times

Departure times vary based on selected rail vacation. This information will be provided in your final documents. For more information please speak with your rail specialist.

Mobility information

Due to the nature of our tours they are generally unsuitable for those with restricted mobility. If you’d like to discuss any particular vacation with us in this respect, then please don’t hesitate to call us.

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