Travel from Dubrovnik to Istanbul via Skopje, Athens and Gallipoli

From Croatia’s blue seas and delectable cuisine, to Turkey’s epic history and whimsical East-meets-West culture, everything in the middle blends into a perfect mixture of exciting tradition and contemporary style. An adventure through the ages, laze on white sandy beaches, explore ancient historical ruins, visit quaint fairytale towns and hike through postcard-like scenery. Afterwards, dine on mousaka and kebabs with a hearty supply of vino, ouzo and riki for the ultimate gastronomic experience.

Start
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Finish
Istanbul, Turkey
Countries
Albania,
Croatia,
Greece,
Macedonia,
Montenegro,
Turkey
Themes
Explorer
Code
ZMSTC
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1 Max 12
Carbon offset
413kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • Stroll through bustling Placa in Dubrovnik
  • Cruise the Kotor fjord
  • Explore the impressive Et’hem Bey Mosque in Tirana
  • Hike to Car Samoil’s Castle in Ohrid
  • Meander around picturesque Lake Prespa
  • Educate yourself in Ioannina’s wealth of museums
  • Hit the beach in Levkas
  • Take a history lesson in Athens
  • See the future in Delphi

Itinerary

Dobro Dosli! Welcome to Croatia. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, 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.

Croatia has recently piqued the interest of curious travellers searching for sunshine, sand and scenery. The chic cities of the glittering Adriatic coast, charming cobblestone towns, UNESCO World Heritage sites and thriving food and wine scene ensure visitors' curiosity is amply rewarded. Like many others, fall in love with the treasures of this Balkan beauty. The undisputed jewel of the Dalmatian Coast, Dubrovnik is a beautiful white stone town surrounded entirely by city walls. Although it experienced devastation during the war in the early 1990s, the old town - with its tiled roofs and stone buildings - remains as charming as ever. Extensive restoration has taken place to return it to its original splendour, and even today repairs are still being undertaken. With the sparkling water of the Adriatic in the background, Dubrovnik is picturesque, full of character and can easily be covered on foot. If you arrive early, 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 and Sipan, which is the most populated of the isles and reputedly has the most hospitable inhabitants. Alternatively, you might choose to simply laze about on one of Dubrovnik's beaches and people-watch for hours.

There are many monuments to explore in the city 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.
An optional walk around Dubrovnik's city walls (approx 2 km) is a highlight not to be missed. The walk takes around an hour and provides panoramic views over the city's rooftops and out across the Adriatic Sea. The walls are on average 24 metres high and 3 metres thick on the seaward side, and were also put to modern use during the eight-month siege of the city in the early 1990s. Thankfully most of the damage done has now been repaired.

Later today we will take our private transfer to Kotor on the Montenegrin coast. Set on a secluded bay, Kotor is listed as a World Heritage site, and its crooked alleyways give lots of opportunities to get lost and mingle with the locals. Perhaps take a cruise on the Kotor Fjord - the longest fjord south of Scandinavia - and visit an island with a church that is almost as big as the island itself!
After breakfast we will be transferred 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 a 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. 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 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. Tirana is the capital of Albania and its biggest city, though it's 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 ongoing.
Today take a half-day trip to the mountain village and former Albanian capital of Kruja. Kruja was the last stronghold of Skanderbegs 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 ethnographical museum housed inside the fortress. Return to Tirana after lunch.

Tirana is dotted by many museums. You can't miss the National History Museum if you look for the gargantuan mosaic on the facade which represents the development of Albania's history with everyone from the time of the Illyrians. Inside, each hall of this vast building covers one of the stages in the development of the Albanian nation. The main sight in Tirana is the Et'hem Bey Mosque which is right on the city's main square. Construction of the Xhamia e Haxhi Et'hem Beut started in 1794 and was finished in 1821 by Et'hem Bey. 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.
Travel by private bus to Ohrid in Macedonia, a drive of about 3 hours, situated on a lake with the same name. Get your bearings on an orientation walk around Ohrid, before embarking on a cruise on the turquoise waters of Lake Ohrid to take in the views of the town and the surrounding scenery while afloat.
At 34km long, 14km wide and over 300 meters deep, and shared between Albania and Macedonia, vast Lake Ohrid is one of Europe's oldest lakes and there's plenty of it to explore. Today is free for you to discover the area. Possibly visit the Macedonian Orthodox Church of Sveti Jovana Kaneo, situated on a rocky outcrop above town overlooking the lake. The Sveti Naum Monastery is also a great option and is situated on the shores of the lake south of town. During your time here you may also want to hike to sample some of the flora, fauna and spectacular views found in the mountainous Galicica National Park.
This morning hop onto public bus to Skopje, Macedonia's capital city. In Macedonia’s political and cultural centre, walk through Macedonia Square and sample gozleme and tasty baklava. Take a step back to Ottoman 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. Skopje's stone bridge over the river Vardar is an iconic sight and 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 a unique piece of history itself. It's 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 mountains by the Treska River. This area is home to several medieval monasteries, caves and to 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 valuable frescoes of great artistic importance. There is also Vrelo Cave, 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 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.
A 3 hour public bus ride will take you to Pelister National Park, located in the Baba Mountain massif, a perfect location for a walk, and a beautiful landscape with views that go on for miles. Enjoy a great wine tasting experience at our homestay. The owner produces his own prize winning wine while trying many local delicacies including home baked bread, jams, salami...
Take another private transfer across the border into Greece, and on to Ioannina. 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. Opa!
Discover the wonders of Ioannina while ambling through the city’s old town, castle district and along idyllic Lake Pamvotis. Located in the center 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. One of the most notable attractions of Ioannina 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. In the evening, 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. In the birthplace of Greek goddess Aphrodite, there will be plenty of time to rest and relax on blue waters and 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 take you to this and other beaches.
Continue to explore the island further today as it is a free day. 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.
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.
Today you'll have more time to explore Athens. As this is a combination trip, your leader and the composition of your group may change at this point. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary. You're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers. In the evening after the meeting, why not head out for some gyros and ouzo with your new friends?
Spend more time in Athens to explore and discover the history this unique place has to offer, or you might like to take part in one of our Urban Adventure day trips, such as 'Taste of Athens' or 'Markets, Ruins and Ancient Athens'. Many other options are available, including day trips to the Peloponnese peninsula, taking in ancient Epidavros and the ancient Corinthian canal.
Travel by public bus to Delphi (3hrs). Located on the slopes of Mt Parnassos, this modern town with it's ancient ruins overlook the Gulf of Corinth. The ancient Greeks regarded Delphi as the centre of the world and today is one of the country's most inspiring archaeological sites. Your tour leader will take you on an orientation walk of the town of Delphi. Make the most of your afternoon by visiting the ancient site of Delphi with the famous Temple of Apollo, the oracle, the theater, and the mountain-top stadium, which were used for the Pythian Games, a precursor to the Olympic Games, held every 4 years as early as 586 BC.
Travel by public bus to Kalambaka (4.5hrs) After leaving your bags at the hotel we will embark on a short orientation walk of town where your leader will point out amenities and help you get your bearings. Then it's off to nearby Meteora, home to 14th century monasteries that sit at the top of rocky pinnacles. Only 6 of the once 24 monasteries are still occupied.

Note: A strict dress code applies when entering any of the monasteries: No bare shoulders or knees are permitted, and women must wear skirts. It is possible to borrow a long skirt at the door if you don't have one.
Climb into the heavens, just like monks have done for centuries, to explore an ancient monastery precariously placed atop a 400-m-high rock formation. Enjoy some great views back over the town. The rest of the afternoon is free for you to explore the scenic area around Meteora. Your leader will have suggestions at hand.
It is a 2 hour bus ride to Kastoria. This medieval town is situated on the western shore of Lake Orestiada, in a valley surrounded by limestone mountains. Kastoria is full of interesting architecture, including old distinctive villas from the skin and fur trade times. While you are you here you will have time to walk along the lakeside, filled with pelicans and ducks. Consider visiting the unspoilt Dragon Cave, one of the most impressive caves in Greece, with its underground lakes and many stalactites. Or visit the Neolithic lakeside village and reconstruction at Dispilio, which gives you a real feel for life in a village in the middle of the 6th Millennium BC.
After a 2,5 hour bus ride to cosmopolitan Thessaloniki, you will have some time to explore the second largest city in Greece. Walk along the waterfront to the White Tower, and take in the Byzantine churches and Roman ruins. This city comes alive in the evening with its lively cafe scene.
The following day you embark on a day trip to Pella, the ancient Macedonian capital during the time of Alexander the Great. See the well defined city blocks and mosaic floors that are still visible today. In the centre of the city is the agora, built in the 4th century B.C and an architectural gem, unique in conception and size, as it covered approx 7 hectares. Pella is one of the first known cities to have had an extensive piped water supply to individual houses and a sophisticated waste water disposal system for most of the city.
The first thing you'll see when you arrive at the Chalkidiki Peninsula today is the azure blue of the sea and the green of the hills. Perhaps take a hike in the surrounding area and explore the countryside of this hidden beauty, or simply relax on the white sand of one of the beaches and enjoy the sun. Tonight perhaps feast on the local specialties of the area in a taverna in the town of Ouranopolis.
Today is a free day for you to explore the area. There is the option to head into the hills where there are a multitude of hiking options, all of which afford glorious views across the sparkling blue Aegean Sea, the rugged coastline and the mountainous spine of the peninsula. Alternatively head to the beach, and sit back with a cocktail in hand. For the adventurous, you might want to consider embarking on a cruise along the shore of Mount Athos, also known as the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain, where monks have been living in isolation since the 9th century.
Kavala, also known as the cyan city, is the principal seaport of eastern Macedonia, and is located on the Via Egnatia, a 2nd century Roman road whose remains can still be seen today. The town centre is dominated by the huge 16th century aqueduct, which was still used to supply the city with drinking water until very recently. There are plenty of fantastic beaches around with some free time to enjoy these, as well as delicious seafood with influences from Asia Minor.
Today you will visit the excavations of the ruins of Philippi and its archaeological museum which showcases finds from the ancient settlement. Philippi was established by Philipp II of Macedon in the 4th century BC to control an important east-west route, but didn't fully recover after an earthquake in the 7th century AD, and was finally abandoned after the Ottomans occupied the area in the 14th century.
Today we travel to private bus to Turkey. Cosmopolitan cities brimming with modern delights, archaeological sites filled with ancient splendour, curious landscapes straight out of a storybook and picture-perfect coastlines frequented by the jet set… this is tantalising Turkey! Visitors won't be able to forget travelling through this exotic land which sits at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, yet displays a fair bit of Middle Eastern flair. This afternoon we journey out with our guide to the Gallipoli Peninsula. The stunning natural beauty of Gallipoli makes it hard to believe that this is the site of one of the most tragic and fiercely fought battles of WWI. This is an opportunity to stroll through time; a moving experience for people from all nations. The battles fought on this land were a turning point in the creation of the Turkish Republic.
This morning we travel by public bus to the metropolis Istanbul. Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents, so it will come as no surprise that this vast metropolis is home to a beguiling mix of different cultures and traditions, blending the influences of both east and west. Originally founded by Greek settlers over 2000 years ago, Istanbul originally went by the name of Byzantium, then Constantinople when the Romans made it the capital of their eastern empire. Today, intriguing Istanbul is a bustling mega-city with a population of over 12 million people and a rich history and food scene waiting to be explored. During the orientation walk we will discover the hidden charms of Istanbul, the city that bridges Europe and Asia, including the areas around Sultanahmet and Eminonu. This could include the narrow streets around the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar - an amazing covered complex and maze of more than 4000 shops and Suleymaniye Camii - a mosque built by the great architect Sinan and sitting high above the Golden Horn (one of the world's greatest natural harbours flowing into the Bosphorus). We will see the myriad traders selling their wares and ferries departing for many destinations from the port of Eminonu. Each leader has their own hidden secrets to show you that they have found in their time in eclectic Istanbul. Among the must-see sights are the Topkapi Palace and harem, Istanbul's iconic Blue Mosque and the incredible ancient church of St. Sophia. The Archaeological Museum containing the tomb of Alexander the Great is also worth a look. After all that sightseeing, take a stroll down to the waterfront and hop on a boat up the Bosphorus, leaving the minarets and towers that give the city its distinctive skyline in your wake.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. As there is a great deal to do in Istanbul we recommend allowing a few extra days to make the most of this exciting city. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be able to assist.
View trip notes to read full itinerary

Inclusions

Meals
24 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 1 dinner
Transport
Metro, Private vehicle, Public bus, Taxi
Accommodation
Homestay (1 night), Hotel (26 nights), Pension (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
  • Boat trip and Ali Pasa Museum - Ioannina
  • Day Trip to Zagoria Villages
  • Orientation Walk - Levkas
  • Orientation Walk - Delphi
  • Orientation Walk - Kalambaka
  • Meteora Monastery Visits
  • Meteora Hill Hike
  • Orientation Walk - Kastoria
  • Orientation Walk - Thessaloniki
  • Pella Day Trip
  • Chalkidiki Peninsula Hiking
  • Orientation Walk - Kavala
  • Archeological Museum of Philippi
  • Guided Tour of Gallipoli Peninsula
  • Orientation Walk - Istanbul

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.

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