Tour from bustling Budapest to Turkey’s picturesque capital, Istanbul

Be mesmerised by the magic of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey on this explorer tour through the best and most beautiful regions of Eastern Europe. Explore the captivating capitals of Budapest, Bucharest, Sofia and Istanbul. Sample culinary delights with local folk in Viscri, be inspired by the traditional craft workshops in Plovdiv, hear enthralling myths from Transylvania and visit the quaint town of Bansko, snug at the foot of the Pirin Mountains. This is a journey full of culture and history, of mosques and monuments, markets and museums, tantalising towns and charming cities.

Start
Budapest, Hungary
Finish
Istanbul, Turkey
Countries
Bulgaria,
Hungary,
Romania,
Turkey
Themes
Explorer
Code
WMSEC
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1 Max 12
Carbon offset
242kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • Explore the grand boulevards of Budapest
  • Hear haunting myths and enchanting tales in medieval Sighisoara
  • Dine with a local family in Viscri
  • Enjoy the nightlife in Sofia
  • Visit the mountain village of Gorno Draglishte
  • Go market mad in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

Itinerary

Szia. Welcome to Budapest, Hungary. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take 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 ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. If you arrive early, take a stroll around Budapest to get your bearings of the city. In the evening, perhaps go for a meal with your fellow travellers so you can get to know them.

Notes: 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).
Today is a free to explore Budapest. With so much to see and do, it’s a good idea to hire a bike to move between the city sights. For art and history, Budapest has multiple museums to keep you busy, including the Museum of Fine Arts at Hero's Square, which offers free English tours of the permanent collections of Monet, Manet, Dutch Masters, Gauguin, Goya and El Greco (Tuesday to Saturday, 11 am daily). From here, perhaps venture to Statue Park to see communist monuments that were removed from the city streets after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

If you’re looking for a bit more structure, book an Urban Adventure (urbanadventure.com) such as the Bites and Sights tour. This will cover a bunch of attractions while you sample the best of Hungarian gastronomy. In the evening, why not spend your evening relaxing in one of the city’s thermal baths. These range from the luxurious to simple outdoor types.

Notes: Many museums throughout Europe are closed on Mondays. If you’re interested in a particular museum, you may want to check opening times and plan your arrival into Budapest accordingly.
This morning journey east on a train to Eger, which should take around three hours. On arrival, check in to the accommodation and then head out into Eger. This is an ornamental city that’s surrounded by hills and known for its famous vineyards. Possibly call on the 13th-century fortress of Eger Castle, which is etched into legend after withstanding the siege of 150,000 Turkish troops of the Ottoman Empire. If you have time, make sure you see the city’s cathedral and the Minorite Church in Dobo Square. In the evening, visit the wine cellars of Valley of the Beautiful Women to sample some of the town's famous 'Bull's Blood' red wine. You may even sing a song or two with the local folk musicians.
Today, travel by bus to Hungary’s second largest city, Debrecen (approximately three hours). While here, explore the fountains and pastel buildings of Deri Square, including the museum. If you have time, visit the Reformed Great Church of Debrecen. Afterwards continue on your journey by train and private vehicle to Romania, which takes around six hours. Don't forget to re-set your watch, as Romania is one hour ahead of Hungary. It’s also important to remember that Romanian visas are not available at the border. Should you require one, please organise this before the trip. On arrival to Maramures in the evening, check in to your accommodation and perhaps head out for dinner with the group.
Venture out on a guided tour of Maramures today, which is referred to as the ‘heart and soul of Romania’. This is a region of the country that’s soaked in tradition, customs, rich folklore and ancient superstitions that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. Set out to explore the region with visits to the vivid murals of Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, the village museum in Sighet and various other traditional villages. Maramures is particularly famed for its wooden churches, many of which are World Heritage-listed sites. After the guided tour, use your free time discovering your own piece of Maramures and seek out some traditional music along the way.
Today is a long day of travel (up to nine hours) through pastoral fields to the town of Sighisoara in Transylvania. While the name may conjure up images of haunted castles, gothic churches and vampires, this is only a small part of what makes Transylvania such an enchanting and exciting destination. Medieval Sighisoara is likely to seduce visitors more than any other place in Romania. Another World Heritage site, the town was first settled by the Romans but flourished under the Saxons from the 12th century. Those who are feeling energetic can take a walk around town, checking out the 64 metre-high clock tower that dominates the citadel.
While your next stop is less than an hour away, you'll feel like you've entered a different world. The small Transylvanian village of Viscri was originally inhabited by Saxons from the Luxemburg area. Visit the town's fortified church and museum, and learn about the Sock Project which supports the Roma community. Time permitting, you may even like to go for a horse ride through the area.

Tonight, experience a special village homestay in Viscri. The rooms are in different houses and you'll be sharing facilities with your host family. Eat dinner with them, sampling fresh produce, homemade wines and schnapps. This is a unique opportunity for local interaction and indulgence.
Today take a two-hour train trip to the 13th-century Saxon city of Brasov. Also known by its German name of Kronstadt, the city was once a major medieval trading centre. Enjoy free time to explore, checking out the ornate churches, townhouses and old city walls. It's worth visiting the town's main attraction, the gothic Black Church, which took its name from its blackened appearance after a fire in 1689. Perhaps explore nearby Rasnov Fortress or head to Bran Castle, the home of Bram Stoker's famous Dracula. For those looking for a little nightlife action, Brasnov has plenty of funky bars and restaurants to enjoy once darkness falls.
Head south to Bucharest today (approximately three hours). Romania's beautiful capital likes big things and is home to one of Europe's largest squares and the Palace of Parliament is the second largest building in the world. See for yourself on a guided tour. Alternatively, check out the Museum of the Romanian Peasant or indulge your inner foodie on a Home Cooked Bucharest Urban Adventure tour. Another great way to see the city is by bicycle.
Today is a free day to explore Bucharest. As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers. Your leader will provide you with the details closer to the time. In your spare time, perhaps visit the grand concert hall of the Romanian Athenaeum, the old windmills of Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum or take a walk around the city's National Museum of Art.
This morning cross the border from Romania into Bulgaria by bus, towards your next destination of Sofia (approximately six hours). As the Bulgarian capital, Sofia is an ever-growing, cosmopolitan city with wide tree-lined boulevards and pristine parks. There won’t be too much time to explore the city today, so perhaps head out on a short walk once you arrive so you can get your bearings.
Today is a free day to explore Sofia. Enjoy a walk through the city and pass some of its most striking buildings, none more so than the impressive gold-dome of Alexander Nevsky Church. This is a church that dates back to 1912 and was built as a memorial to the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgarian independence during the Russo-Turkish War. Other buildings worth visiting include St. Nikolai Russian Church, Sveta Nedelya Cathedral and Banya Bashi Mosque. At night, the city comes alive with a multitude of exciting bars and nightclubs.
In the morning jump on a bus to Rila, which should take around two and a half hours. On arrival, explore the most important of the orthodox monasteries in Bulgaria. Hidden away in a narrow, forested valley, this World Heritage-listed site is the largest and holiest of Bulgaria's monasteries. Stroll around the 14th-century Hrelyo Tower, the five-domed Birth of the Blessed Virgin Church and the original monastery kitchen from the 19th century. Afterwards, transfer to the small mountain village of Gorno Draglishte (approximately three and a half hours).

Here you’ll find a community of warm and welcoming people, a rich cultural heritage and delicious home-cooked food. Tonight, stay at a local friend's guesthouse where you’ll have chance to learn about traditional weaving. Accommodation is simple and not every room has an en suite bathroom, but the atmosphere is welcoming, warm and a sensory experience of Bulgarian cuisine.
Travel to the small town of Bansko today, which is just a short drive away. Set at the bottom of the majestic Pirin Mountains, Bansko is home to more than 150 cultural monuments and many of its stone houses have been transformed into charismatic mehanes (stone taverns). Perhaps head to the charity run Belitsa Bear Sanctuary in the afternoon, where rescued bears are cared for in their natural habitat. In the evening, use the opportunity to indulge in some local cuisine. Try some fillet Elena (spicy cured meat) or kapama (simmered meat, rice and sauerkraut), and wash it down with some delicious Melnik (dark red wine).

If you have the time you could stretch your legs with a hike up the mountains, which is home to crystal-clear lakes, jagged peaks and pine-forested alpine scenery.
Travel to Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second-largest city. Become familiarised with the locale on a guided orientation walk that takes in the magnificent Roman Amphitheatre and the hilltop fortress of Nebet Tepe. In free time, why not check out the underground crypt at Bachkovo Monastery or visit some traditional craft workshops.
Leave Plovdiv behind today and cross the Turkish border during your bus journey to Istanbul, which usually takes around seven hours. Every traveller entering Turkey needs to obtain an e-visa before arrival. 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. On arrival, don't miss the Aya Sofya, the home of beautiful mosaics and an incredible reminder of the city that was once Constantinople.

Depending on the time, perhaps visit the Archaeology Museum. This contains an incredible array of ancient exhibits, with a particular interest in the artefacts from infamous Troy. In the evening, it might be a good idea to head out for a farewell dinner with the group in this amazing city.

Notes: All of the information required for the e-visa can be found in the following link: evisa.gov.tr/en/
Your ‘Eastern Europe Explorer’ adventure comes to an end this morning. There are no activities planned for the final day and you’re able to depart the accommodation at any time. If you’d like to stay longer in Istanbul there are plenty more things to see and do, and our reservations team can help with booking additional accommodation (subject to availability).

If you do decide to stay on in Istanbul, head down to the Bosphorus and take a ferry cruise on one of the world’s most celebrated waterways. You could travel over to the stylish Taksim Square area and stroll along the main street with the local hipsters. Visit the atmospheric underground Cistern, a vast underwater storage tank built in 532 AD. If all of this makes you a little tired, then an hour or two in a hamam (Turkish bath) will leave you rejuvenated at the end of your journey.
View trip notes to read full itinerary

Inclusions

Meals
11 breakfasts3 dinners
Transport
Bus, Metro, Private minibus, Private vehicle, Taxi, Train, Tram
Accommodation
Guesthouse (1 night), Homestay (1 night), Hotel (11 nights), Pension (3 nights)
Included activities
  • Eger - Wine Tasting
  • Maramures - Guided tour
  • Plovdiv - Guided tour
  • Viscri Fortified Church

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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Reviews

Our Eastern Europe Explorer trips score an average of 5 out of 5 based on 13 reviews in the last year.

Eastern Europe Explorer , September 2015

Eastern Europe Explorer , September 2015