Explore Eastern Europe's Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey

Embark on a spectacular journey from Romania, through Bulgaria and into Turkey, discovering the architectural grandeur and quaint cultural enclaves that make this such an intriguing part of the world. Absorb Bucharest’s austere atmosphere on a guided walking tour, compare age-old places of worship in Sofia and be treated to traditional Bulgarian hospitality on an overnight homestay in Gorno Draglishte. Breathe in crisp alpine air on a hike in the Pirin Mountains, meander back in time in the Old Town of Plovdiv and be dazed and amazed by Istanbul. Relatively short in terms of distance travelled, this eight-day trip is a fascinating study in just how much regions can change as you cross national borders.

Start
Bucharest, Romania
Finish
Istanbul, Turkey
Countries
Bulgaria,
Romania,
Turkey
Themes
Explorer
Code
WMSI
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1 Max 12
Carbon offset
114kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • Delve into a communist past in Bucharest
  • Travel through the scenic Rila Mountains
  • Explore Byzantine ruins in Plovdiv
  • Admire Istanbul's majestic Aya Sofia

Itinerary

Alo! Welcome to Romania. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. You can arrive at any time during the day as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please check with the hotel reception about where and when it will take place, or check the reception notice boards. If you can't arrange a flight that will have you arrive at the hotel by early evening, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.

Bucharest, Romania's capital city, likes big things. It's home to one of Europe's biggest squares and its Palace of Parliament is the second largest building in the world. It's worth arriving into the city a few days early to explore. Perhaps take a tour of the Palace of Parliament or check out the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. You might even like to partake in one of our Urban Adventure day trips, such as the 'Home Cooked Bucharest' tour.
This morning take a bus to Sofia, crossing the border from Romania into Bulgaria. Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, is a cosmopolitan city with wide tree-lined boulevards and pleasant parks. You'll have the next two nights here to explore.
Enjoy a day in Sofia. Take a walk through the city and see the gold-domed Alexander Nevski Church, built as a memorial to the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgarian independence during the Russo-Turkish War. Other impressive buildings to check out include St Nikolai Russian Church, Sveta Nedelya Cathedral and Banya Bashi Mosque, a reminder of years of Turkish rule. You might like to get educational at the National History Museum or get cultural at the National Art Gallery. Our Urban Adventure day trips offer some great insight into the local cuisine; try the 'Breakfast with Sofia' or 'Sofia Food, Heritage and Culture' tours. At night, the city's many bars and nightclubs come alive.
Today take a short bus ride to Rila, where you'll visit the impressive Rila Monastery. Tucked away in a valley, this World Heritage-listed site is the largest and holiest of Bulgaria's orthodox monasteries. It was founded in 927 to keep Bulgarian spiritual and social life alive during Turkish rule. Check out the 14th-century Hrelyo Tower, the five-domed Birth of the Blessed Virgin church and the original 19th-century monastery kitchen.

From Rila, transfer to the small mountain village of Gorno Draglishte, where we'll spend the night at our local friend's guesthouse. While the accommodation is simple and not all rooms have an en suite, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming and you'll be treated to a delicious home-cooked dinner. You'll even have the chance to learn about the traditional weaving practices of the area.
Journey on to the small town of Bansko. Set at the base of the majestic Pirin Mountains, Bansko is home to more than 150 cultural monuments. Many of its stone houses have been transformed into charming 'mehanes' (taverns).
If you have the time, perhaps stretch your legs with a hike into the mountains or visit the Belitsa Bear Sanctuary, home to rescued dancing bears. In the evening, you'll have the opportunity to indulge in some local cuisine. Try filet elena (spicy cured meat) or kapama (simmered meat, rice and sauerkraut), washing it down with some delicious melnik (dark red wine).
Travel by public bus from Bankso to Plovdiv (approximately five-and-a-half hours in total). Situated on the Maritsa River, Plovdiv was once the meeting point of two ancient transportation routes. Join a local guide for a tour of the main sights and some insight into the town's history. The most remarkable sight is the ancient Roman amphitheatre. Built in the 2nd century BC during the reign of Trajanus, the theatre seats about 6,000 people. From here, wander up to the site of the former hilltop fortress of Nebet Tepe, where you can enjoy excellent views of the city. Head back down to visit the 15th-century Dzhumaya Mosque, still in use today.

After the tour, have a wander down Stumna Street to see traditional coppersmiths, farriers and potters at work. Perhaps discover the Bachkovo Monastery, or visit one of the many hot springs in the Plovdiv region. One of the most well-known spa towns is Hissarya, famous for its 22 mineral springs.
Today catch a seven-hour bus from Plovdiv to Istanbul. All travellers to Turkey need to obtain an e-visa before arrival, which you will need to show at the border. Information about the e-visa can be found at the following site: evisa.gov.tr/en/.

Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents. There are plenty of optional things to see and do here. You might like to take a boat cruise down the Bosphorus River, lose yourself in the Spice Market and Grand Bazaar or climb the ancient Galata Tower for great views over the city. In the evening, what better place to enjoy a final meal with your fellow travellers than the foodie paradise of Istanbul? Try some cheesy gozleme or tangy manti (Turkish ravioli with yogurt).
Today your East European adventure comes to end. There are no activities planned and you are free to depart the accommodation at any time.

If you would like to stay longer in Istanbul there are plenty more things to see. Don't miss the superb Aya Sofya, a reminder of the city that was once Constantinople. Perhaps visit the famous Blue Mosque or check out the Archaeology Museum, which contains artefacts from the infamous city of Troy. Join the hoards of shoppers and revellers along Istiklal Caddesi, wandering down into the quieter, hilly backstreets of Beyoglu where antique shops are aplenty. If all of this makes you a little tired, a visit to a hamam (Turkish bath) will leave you rejuvenated at the end of your journey.
View trip notes to read full itinerary

Inclusions

Meals
5 breakfasts
Transport
Bus, Metro, Private vehicle, Taxi, Train
Accommodation
Hotel (7 nights)
Included activities
  • Plovdiv - Guided tour

Dates

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Important notes

A single supplement is available on this trip, please see trip notes for details.

Trip notes

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Your trip notes provide a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what’s included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

View trip notes

Reviews

Our Eastern Europe Express trips score an average of 4.86 out of 5 based on 37 reviews in the last year.

Eastern Europe Express , October 2015

Eastern Europe Express , October 2015