Experience the seaside charm of Dubrovnik, beaches of Levkas and ancient culture of Athens

This adventure combines the must-sees of the Balkan region and the lesser-known glories of Macedonia and Albania to create the perfect balance between old and new. Hang out in Dubrovnik's Old Town, cruise around Lake Ohrid, admire Ioannina's archeological glories and sample some moussaka in Greece's capital. This whirlwind adventure through the Balkans is the best way to check out regional hot spots while also experiencing a hefty dollop of cultural hospitality.

Start
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Finish
Athens, Greece
Countries
Albania,
Croatia,
Greece,
Macedonia,
Montenegro
Themes
Explorer
Code
ZMSM
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1 Max 12
Carbon offset
214kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • Admire the World Heritage-listed architecture of Dubrovnik and Montenegro’s Kotor, climbing along their ancient city walls
  • Loose yourself in Tirana, Albania's colourful capital, and partake in the local's favourite pastime: drinking coffee and people-watching
  • Sail across the blue waters of Lake Ohrid, one of Europe's oldest lakes. No wonder Macedonia and Albania share this beautiful attraction – nobody would want to let it go
  • Sitting alongside its Ottoman past, the Macedonian capital of Skopje has reinvented its centre with gleaming neo-classical monuments and buildings, adding a new layer to this fascinating city
  • Sip award-winning local wines in a wonderful homestay at the foot of Pelister, Macedonia’s oldest national park
  • Ioannina harnesses the best of the Greek Epiros region – eating, drinking, history, brooding mountains, and lakeshore serenity
  • Sit back on some of the most simply stunning beaches around on the island of Levkas. If you can tear yourself away from heavenly sand and water, there are rolling hills and rocky mountains to explore

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 January 2016 to 31 December 2016. View the itinerary for departures between 01 January 2017 - 31 December 2017

Dobro Dosli! Welcome to Croatia, a place of sunshine, sand and scenery; home to chic cities, coastline, charming cobblestone towns, World Heritage sites, and a thriving food and wine scene. The undisputed jewel of the Dalmatian Coast, Dubrovnik is a beautiful white stone town surrounded entirely by city walls, easily covered on foot. Although it experienced devastation during the war in the early 1990s, the restored old town remains as charming as ever. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm – check with reception to confirm the time and place. 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 have these on hand. If you can't arrange a flight that will have you arrive on time, you may wish to arrive a day early. If you have time why not head out to one of the Elafiti Islands. There's Lopud, a quiet island with lovely hikes, clean beaches and a ruined castle. Kolocep is a sleepy enclave that boasts walks for every fitness level, while Sipan is the most populated of the isles and reputedly has the most hospitable inhabitants. There are also many monuments to explore in the city proper, including the 15th century Rector's Palace, monasteries with cloistered gardens, and fine baroque churches with copper domes. The main pedestrian promenade, once a shallow sea channel, is now paved with glistening white limestone, in stark contrast to the warm red terracotta roofs. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful city. A walk along the city walls of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame is not to be missed. As there is not much time in Dubrovnik on this trip you may want to consider arriving a few days earlier.
Leave Dubrovnik behind and take a private transfer to Kotor on the Montenegrin coast (approximately 3 hours). This 5th-century World Heritage-listed city is set on a secluded bay, with towering peaks surrounding a rocky coastline dotted with pretty waterside towns. In its crooked alleyways, get lost and mingle with the locals. When you arrive, head out on a short orientation walk, checking out the 12th-century Cathedral, the South Gates, and the Armoury Square. Later, perhaps take a cruise on the Kotor Fjord – the longest fjord south of Scandinavia – and visit an island with a church that's almost as big as the island itself! In the evening the city walls are prettily lit up to provide a unique night-time perspective.
After breakfast, transfer to Tirana, a drive of about 4-5 hours, depending on road conditions and traffic into Tirana. If you think you know Albania, think again. This addictive country has myriad faces. In the rugged north the Alps are so fierce they're deemed 'accursed', while the south enjoys one of Europe’s least known and most beautiful coastlines. A unique mixture of cultures and customs, Tirana is filled with craziness, from its traffic to its nightlife, but on its doorstep are mosques, citadels, Ottoman architecture, and a stunning dose of the medieval Balkans. The real surprise of Albania is the people. Their warmth to strangers is infectious and you’re bound to find yourself swapping stories over a glass of raki or three. On arrival, take an orientation walk to get your bearings. Tirana is the capital of Albania and its biggest city, but it's still small and compact, with architectural influences from Italy and Turkey. Recently many buildings have been painted to alleviate the Soviet block feeling that pervaded. Many upgrades have been made all over town, such as new parks and wide pavements, a process that's still on-going. Perhaps take a cable car ride up Dajti Mountain for breath-taking views of the city below.
Today, take a half-day trip to the mountain village and former Albanian capital of Kruja. Kruja was the last stronghold of Skanderbeg's (the national hero of Albania) army until the Ottomans took over the entire country. There is plenty of time to explore the citadel and the famous bazaar area. Perhaps pay a visit to the excellent ethnographic museum housed inside the fortress. You’ll then return to Tirana after lunch. Tirana is dotted with many museums. You can't miss the National History Museum – just look for the gargantuan mosaic on the facade that represents the development of Albania's history. The main sight in Tirana is the 1821 Et'hem Bey Mosque, right on the city's main square. Closed under communist rule, the mosque resumed as a place of worship in 1991. 10,000 people attended the reopening and the event was considered a milestone in the rebirth of religious freedom in Albania. Take a look at the frescoes outside and in the portico that depict trees, waterfalls and bridges – motifs rarely seen in Islamic art. Remember to take your shoes off before entering the inner room. If you’d prefer to keep exploring outside of the city, there are rafting and hiking trips available – speak to your leader for details.
Travel by private bus to Ohrid in Macedonia, situated on a lake with the same name (approximately 3 hours). Europe’s oldest lake, and one of the oldest human settlements in the world, Ohrid has a wealth of historic sites and religious monuments to discover. Ohrid is an eternal town, a magical hill whose primordial pulsation links ancient and modern times forever. The town is said to have once been home to 365 churches, one for each day of the year, earning it the nickname “the Macedonian Jerusalem”, while historical excavations date back to Neolithic times. Despite being a World Heritage site for over 30 years, the town remains under the radar of visitors. Get your bearings on an orientation walk around Ohrid, maybe picking up a bargain or two in the vibrant Old Bazaar. Then embark on a scenic cruise on the turquoise waters of Lake Ohrid – ringed by mountains, attractive villages and beaches – and take in the views of the town and the surrounding scenery while afloat.
At 34 kilometres long, 14 kilometres wide, and over 300 meters deep – all shared between Albania and Macedonia – there’s plenty of vast Lake Ohrid to explore. Today is free for you to discover the area. There are many churches and monasteries to visit, but one of the most popular is the Macedonian Orthodox Church of Sveti Jovana Kaneo, situated on a rocky outcrop above the town, overlooking the lake. Past the church you can wander around to the back of town, exploring the old walls and fortress, and admiring the views of the lake. The Sveti Naum Monastery is also a great option, lying on the shores of the lake south of town, with well-kept grounds that are home to peacocks. The ancient Tast Samoil’s Fortress stands on the top of Ohrid Hill and looks across the town, while a 2,000-year-old Roman theatre was uncovered near the Upper Gate – in summer it’s again being used for concerts and performances. During your time here you may also want to try one of the endless number of hikes found in the mountainous Galicica National Park, sampling some of the flora, fauna, and spectacular views.
This morning hop onto public bus to Skopje, Macedonia's capital city (approximately 3 hours). In Macedonia’s political and cultural centre, walk past Byzantine domes, Turkish baths, and also newly built neo-classical buildings and grand monuments (aimed to bolster national pride), sampling gozleme and tasty baklava along the way. The 30 mosques, innumerable caravanserais and hamams that fill its winding streets are a testament to Skopje’s Ottoman past. Take a step back to those times with a visit to the Daut Pasha Hamam, or journey through the humbling Holocaust Museum to learn how Macedonia suffered during this tragic chapter of history. Get lost in the narrow lanes of Caršija, Skopje's most atmospheric neighbourhood, or take in the stone bridge over the river Vardar – an iconic sight that acts as a handy connection between Macedonia Square and the Old Bazaar. Perhaps visit the Museum of the City of Skopje, housed in the old Railway Station, which is itself a unique piece of history. Its unusual, part-ruined exterior is a result of the 1963 earthquake. The large clock on the outside of the building is frozen at 5:17, the moment the earthquake shook the city.
Venture out to Matka Canyon, a deep ravine cut into the Suva mountains by the Treska River, 15 kilometres southwest of the city. This area is home to several medieval monasteries, caves, and over 70 species of endemic butterflies. There is the option to explore the canyon's sights by boat. One of the monasteries worth exploring is St Andrew's Monastery, which contains many superb frescoes of great artistic importance. There is also Vrelo cavern, a water-filled cave with incredible stalagmites and unchartered depths – it's speculated to be the deepest underwater cave in the world. Alternatively, you can take one of the many nature walks in the canyon, or up to tracks that hug the ridge high above the valley. In the late afternoon, take a local bus back to Skopje, with the remaining part of the day free for you to continue exploring this exciting city. Perhaps take the Mount Vodno cable car to the giant 66-metre high Millennium Cross, mainly for the views back down across the city. For dinner this evening head to the Old Bazaar, or the restaurants in the Debar Maalo area.
A 3-hour public bus ride will take you to Pelister National Park, the oldest national park in Macedonia. Located in the Baba Mountain massif, it’s a perfect location for a walk, taking in fresh, crisp and clean air in a beautiful landscape with views that go on for miles over to Lake Prespa in the west. The surroundings are known for their ancient Molika pine trees, and two crystal-clear lakes (‘Pelisterki Oci’) near the Mt Pelister summit known as Pelister’s Eyes. It’s also home to rare species like bearded eagles and lynx, along with wolves and bears. You’ll enjoy a homestay tonight in a wonderful restored traditional house, built in the typical Macedonian stone-and-wood style. There are nearby natural rock pools for swimming in the River Sapungica, which runs through the village. Enjoy a great wine tasting experience tonight – the owner produces his own prize-winning wine, and you’ll get to taste it while trying many local delicacies, including homemade bread, jams, and salami.
Take another private transfer across the border into Greece to Ioannina (approximately 3 hours), located in the Epiros region, and built on the banks of Lake Pamvotis. With astounding archaeological sites, islands of extreme beauty, bucolic villages and some of the greatest food you’ll ever consume, Greece should be on every traveller's list. This gem of the Aegean will satisfy your thirst for knowledge, lust for adventure, desire for partying and craving for cuisine. Ioannina harnesses the best of this region – eating, drinking, history, brooding mountains, and lakeshore serenity. Take an orientation walk around the town, discovering the wonders of Ioannina while ambling through the city’s old town, castle district and along idyllic Lake Pamvotis. Located in the centre of the town, Ioannina's castle was the heart of the Despotate of Epirus, and the maze-like layout of the old town's streets, many of which lead to dead ends, was allegedly designed to confuse pirates who would get lost within the fortress and be captured before escaping with their booty.
Embark on an excursion to some of the area's Zagoria villages. The region has a number of villages perched on the dense green mountainsides, with traditional tumbledown stone cottages. You might start with a stroll through pretty Vitsa village, enjoy views of the upper and lower town, and perhaps stop for a morning coffee at a local cafe. Continue on to Monodendri village to explore Paraskevi Monastery, with great views over the stunning sheer cliffs of Vikos gorge – by some definitions the deepest in the world. Later, you’ll return to Ioannina to enjoy some free time. One of the most notable attractions here is Nisaki Islet in Lake Pamvotis. Take one of the frequent motorboats that ferry visitors to the monastery of Agios Panteleimon located on the islet. There is also time to visit the Ali Pasha Museum. Ali Pasha was a Muslim Albanian ruler who held court in Ioannina for the Ottoman Empire until 1822, and the cruelties he inflicted on his subjects were notorious. In the evening, why not jump into Greek culture with a shot of Ouzo before a lively night out.
Take a private bus over the causeway to the island of Levkas (also known as Lefkada) on the Ionian sea (approximately 2 hours). The island is said to be the birthplace of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, and it has avoided the overdevelopment that has affected some Greek islands. The rural atmosphere remains, with locals making a living through fishing, farming and artisanal crafts. There will be plenty of time to rest and relax on blue waters and expansive white-sand beaches. Choose to follow the crowds to Porto Katsiki beach, which is surrounded by white cliffs. There are daily boat trips that leave from Nidri and Vasiliki harbour that will take you to this and other beaches. Lefkada is also a great place for hiking and nature walks – the island boasts splendid scenery of green rolling hills, rocky limestone mountains, and magnificent waterfalls. The town also has many restaurants that serve excellent seafood and regional cuisine.
Today is free to continue your exploration of the island. If you’re hanging around Lefkada town you can blend beaches with shops, restaurants, bars and cafes, along will small streets to explore and interesting museums to visit. If you can tear yourself away from the mesmerising mix of bright white sand and heavenly blue water, perhaps try your hand at a challenging hike or mountain bike ride around the surrounding mountains, all of which will afford great views of the Ionian Sea and the rugged coastline. The island is around 70% mountainous and so is one of the best mountain biking spots in Europe. This evening, maybe seek out some local specialities like Savoro, fish seasoned with vinegar and raisins, and Bourdeto, fish cooked in a savory tomato sauce.
Leave the islands behind and head to the heart of Greece, and the centre of the ancient world. Catch a public bus from Lefkada to Athens (approximately 5 hours). After arriving and transferring to your central hotel, there's much to be seen in the ancient capital of Greece, vibrant and refreshed following the 2004 Olympics, yet still retaining so much visible history. Named after the goddess of wisdom, Athens has a weighty history that spills out over the modern city, represented most dramatically by the ancient Acropolis, where you can enter the Pantheon and enjoy fabulous views over the city. The birthplace of Western civilisation, Athens has an amazing array of historic sites to explore, including the National Gardens, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the original Olympic Stadium. Another highlight is the renowned changing of the guard at Syntagma (Parliament) Square. Afterwards, say a fond farewell to the group and your adventure by perhaps tucking into a final dinner of Greek cuisine and a shot (or two) of ouzo.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. As there is so much to see and do in Greece's capital you may want to extend your stay here, perhaps taking part in one of our Urban Adventures day trips, such as ‘Taste of Athens’ or ‘Markets, Ruins and Ancient Athens’. We are happy to assist with additional accommodation, subject to availability. Please enquire at the time of booking.
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Inclusions

Meals
13 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 1 dinner
Transport
Public bus, Ferry, Private vehicle, Taxi
Accommodation
Hotel (13 nights), Homestay (1 night)
Included activities
  • Kotor Orientation Walk
  • Orientation Walk - Tirana
  • Orientation Walk - Ohrid
  • Lake Ohrid Boat Ride
  • Orientation Walk - Skopje
  • Wine Tasting - Dihovo
  • Orientation Walk - Ioannina
  • Day Trip to Zagoria Villages
  • Boat trip and Ali Pasa Museum - Ioannina
  • Orientation Walk - Levkas

Dates

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Important notes

A single supplement is available for 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.

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Reviews

Our Dubrovnik to Athens trips score an average of 4.67 out of 5 based on 45 reviews in the last year.

Dubrovnik to Athens , July 2016

Dubrovnik to Athens , July 2016