Tour Date: 18 to 30 SeptemberLocation: Serbia, North Macedonia, Bulgaria

Travel through the Balkans by train with us and along the way visit the culturally rich cities of Belgrade, Skopje and Sofia and other smaller, but equally historic, towns on route.

Each city or town has its own story to tell and is overflowing with history and charm at every turn. There is the option of a 7, 8 or full 12 day trip. Where possible we travel by train with our tour bus shadowing us and taking care of our luggage.

We travel on the amazing “Šargan Eight” railway, one the most scenic railways in Europe and is considered a unique construction masterpiece in the world among the narrow-gauge railway lines. Narrow gauge railway fans will love this holiday as we also visit the stunning Septembri to Bansko line. A two foot six gauge line, known as the “Alpine Railway of the Balkans” and takes 5 hours to cover the full length.

Tour Manager: Maria

From: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh

Availability

Tour Highlights


  • Travel on the “Alpine railway of the Balkans”
  • “Šargan Eight” narrow gauge railway
  • World famous Rila Monastery
  • See the oldest inhabited city in Europe
  • Incredible range of scenery
  • Includes dinner every night
  • First class rail travel where available
  • Tour Itinerary
  • Prices & Options
  • Booking
  • Gallery
  • Transport & Accommodation

Day 1 Friday 18 September (D)

Flights from Heathrow (12:45), Gatwick (12:00), Stansted (11:45), Luton (17:25), Birmingham (11:00 via Munich), Manchester (13:00 via Vienna), Edinburgh (19:00) to the Hungarian city of Budapest. Overnight in Budapest. If you have not visited the Hungarian capital before then we suggest you fly out a day or two earlier. For this particular tour we are using Budapest as a convenient start point to enter Serbia.

Day 2 Saturday 19 September (B,D)

This morning we will depart towards Serbia. The train leaves Keleti station at around 11:30 so we will have ample time to make our way to this magnificent station after checking out of our hotel. Our InterCity (loco hauled) train today will travel only as far as the border, at Kelebia. Here, we will need to transfer to a different train (most likely a diesel unit) for the remainder of the trip (14 minutes) to Subotica – the most northernmost city in Serbia. Total journey time is around 4 hours. Upon arrival in Subotica, we will have a panoramic tour.

Day 3 Sunday 20 September (B,D)

Unique in Serbia, Subotica has the most buildings built in the art nouveau style. Places of interest include: The City Hall, the Synagogue, the Artistic Encounter building, the National Theatre, the Cathedral of St. Theresa of Avila dating from 1797, the 1723 Franciscan friary, the Orthodox churches, etc.

Morning departure by train from Subotica to Novi Sad. Arrival Novi Sad train station, where our minibus will wait us for a panorama tour. Novi Sad is the second largest city in Serbia, lying on the banks of the Danube river and facing the northern slopes of Fruška Gora. It will be European Capital of culture in 2021. Departure to Belgrade for a short panoramic tour before we meet up again and transfer to Skadarlija for dinner.

Day 4 Monday 21 September (B,D)

Early breakfast at the hotel Morning visit of Tito’s blue train (Serbian: Plavi voz) – a luxury train, once used by Josip Broz Tito, while president of the former Yugoslavia.

Depart from Belgrade to Uzice by train, arrival to Uzice and transfer to Mokra Gora. Free time for lunch and Visit Drvengrad ethno village, built by Emir Kusturica. Located on Mećavnik hill in Mokra Gora nature park, the meeting point of two beautiful Serbian mountains Tara and Zlatibor, ethno village “Drvengrad” is a product of film director Emir Kusturica’s imagination, and was built for the production of his film “Life is a miracle”. It has only 605 residents not far from the city of Užice.

“Drvengrad” has an art gallery, a library, a cinema called “Underground” after one of Kusturica’s most famous movies, a cake shop with home made sweets, a restaurant with traditional Serbian cuisine, a souvenir shop etc.

Afternoon train ride – Nostalgija train (2h 20min). “Šargan Eight” is one the most attractive tourist museum railway in Europe and is considered a unique construction masterpiece in the world among the narrow-gauge railway lines. The track of 760 mm gauge width passes through the most beautiful mountain areas of Mokra Gora with 5 bridges and 22 tunnels.  On the total length of the railway line, on the Mokra Gora – Šargan Vitasi route, in the length of 15.5 km passes the height difference of 300 m.Transfer to to Zlatibor, arrival at the hotel, dinner and overnight.

Day 5 Tuesday 22 September (B,D)

Breakfast and some free time in the morning to enjoy Zlatibor – situated at an elevation of just over 1,000 metres, Zlatibor is a climatic resort, characterized by a cool alpine climate and clean air. The tourist era of Zlatibor officially began in 1893, when the King of Serbia Aleksandar Obrenović decided to establish a health resort on an initiative from the local hosts. Most probably its name stems from the Serbian words zlatni (golden) and bor (pine). 12.00 – transfer by coach to Niš (appr 4 hours transfer with comfort stop enroute). 16.00 – panorama tour of Niš – the 3rd largest city in Serbia. Niš has long been a crossroads between East and West and is the birthplace of 3 Roman emperors: Constantine the Great, Constantius III and Justin I. The city’s past would earn it the nickname – The Emperor’s City. Dinner and overnight at your hotel.

Day 6 Wednesday 23 September (B,D)

Breakfast and departure to Skopje, Macedonia. Arrival around 12:00 o`clock followed by a tour of Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia – the City square, the house of Mother Theresa, Stone bridge, St. Spas Church and the Old Bazaar. It is also possible to join the tour today by catching the daily 08.55 flight direct from Luton to Skopje.

Although Skopje has been destroyed many times through its history, it still has many historical landmarks which reflect the successive occupations of the city. It was also a ground for modernist experiments in the 20th century, following the 1963 earthquake.

Free time or afternoon train ride from Skopje to Gostivar (this is part of the Ohrid line  – a narrow gauge railway which ran to a gauge of 600 mm). The original route was Skopje to Ohrid, a distance of 167 kilometers. The section from Skopje – Gostivar was converted to standard gauge in the 1950s. The remaining 600 mm lines were closed altogether in 1966. Back to Skopje by coach, overnight Skopje.

Day 7 Thursday 24 September (B,D)

Packed breakfast and early morning train from Skopje to Bitola, the 2nd largest city of Macedonia.  The city stands at an important junction connecting the south of the Adriatic Sea region with the Aegean Sea and Central Europe. Arrival before noon and short walking tour of Bitola – the former Military school, the main street Shirok Sokak, the main square with St. Dimitrius Church. Transfer to Ohrid UNESCO town (1.5 h) with free time for lunch and walking tour, followed by a short boat cruise on the lake.  Transfer to Skopje by coach. Dinner and second overnight in Skopje.

Day 8 Friday 25 September (B,D)

At the moment there is no train connection between Macedonia and Bulgaria. Bulgaria has a rail line upto the border, but Macedonian has only just started their construction. For those who have visited Bulgaria before you can end your tour with transfer to Sofia Airport for flights back to the UK. For those on the full tour we transfer by coach from Skopje to Bulgaria. Stop to visit Rila Monastery – the largest monastery in Bulgaria, located at an altitude of 1147 m above sea level in Rila Mountain National Park.  Admire wooden balconies, azure fretwork, collonades, facades and colourful frescoes, silhouetted against a fantastic panorama of mountain peaks.  Proceed to Bansko museum town, located at the foothills of Pirin Mountain National Park  (UNESCO site). In winter, Bansko is a host of many world cup alpine ski races, while in summer time international jazz, opera and theatre festivals are organized. We will have a walking tour of the Old Bansko to see St. Trinity Church and the complex of National Revival houses with their typical architecture Check in at the hotel, dinner and overnight.

Day 9 Saturday 26 September (B,D)

We depart by narrow-gauge passenger train from Dobrinishte and Bansko to Septemvri. This is the only operating narrow gauge (760 mm) line in Bulgaria nowadays, built in the period 1921-1945. The journey takes almost five hours through the valleys and gorges. The route leaves Bansko, passing Razlog, Yakoruda and Velingrad, linking the western part of the Upper Thracian Plain with the Western Rhodopes, Rila and Pirin mountains. Along the route there are 35 tunnels, 11 stations and 10 stops. Transfer from Septemvri to Brestovitsa village by coach. Wine tasting and visit of a boutique wine cellar. Transfer to Plovdiv by coach.  Dinner at the hotel and overnight. Plovdiv was the European Capital of Culture in 2019.

Day 10 Sunday 27 September (B,D)

Day tour from Plovdiv to the Rhodope mountains, transfer to the town of Haskovo, where remains of 1st settlements have been discovered dating from 5000 BC. A landmark of the city is the 32-metre-high monument of the Mother of God and the Infant Jesus – entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the highest monument to the Mother of God in the world. Free time for lunch.

We take the train from Dimitrovgrad to Podkova – the southernmost rail station in Bulgaria and the end of a major railway route. Take the train from here and you can end up in Ruse and from there travel to Romania, Ukraine and Russia, or, if you change in Plovdiv, to Istanbul or Vienna. Back to Plovdiv by coach. Dinner and 2nd night at the hotel.

Day 11 Monday 28 September (B,D)

We start the day with a guided tour of Plovdiv – considered the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe and the 6th oldest in the world. The Eternal City, as Rome is conventionally called, is much younger than Plovdiv. Athens, Carthage, Constantinople came into being later.

We will visit the Old Plovdiv architectural reserve, awarded golden medal for architecture by UNESCO – the national revival houses complex, the ancient Amphitheatre, the Roman Forum and Stadium, St. Constantine and Helena Church.

We take the train Plovdiv – Panagurishte. Panagyurishte is primarily known for being the centre of the April Uprising against the Ottoman rule in Bulgaria in 1876. It was capital of the Fourth Revolutionary District which was the main centre of the rebellion. The uprising was bloodily suppressed after 10 days of declared freedom, and the town was burnt down and almost completely destroyed by the Ottoman Turks. Lady Strangford arrived from Britain later that year and established hospitals and mills to assist the Bulgarians. Tour of Panagurishte – one of the museum houses and the treasury of the History museum with Panagurishte Thracian golden treasure (400-300 BC).  Check in at a SPA hotel. Dinner and overnight.

Day 12 Tuesday 29 September (B,D)

We start with a tour of Panagurishte then transfer Panagurishte – Sofia by coach (2 h). Tour of Sofia – the capital city of Bulgaria, which Emperor Constantine the Great once called “My Rome”.  The city covers ancient Serdica, founded 4,000 years ago by the Thracians, while its numerous monuments and buildings reveal as well Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Russian influence. Visit Alexander Nevski Memorial Cathedral, St. Sofia 6th c basilica, the Parliament Square, the Old City garden and the former Royal Palace, National Theatre, Presidency, St. George rotunda (4th c, the oldest building preserved in Sofia), the ruins of Ancient Serdica and Arena di Serdica. Farewell dinner, overnight. It is also possible to fly back to Birmingham at 16:45 today.

Day 13 Wednesday 30 September (B)

Return flights to several UK airports. Heathrow (14:20), Gatwick (11:50), Stansted (12:05), Luton (11:35). For Birmingham (16:45), Manchester (12:30) and Edinburgh (13:20) you have an extra night in Sofia before flying back to Thursday 1 October.

Place(s) available

Holiday Prices (per person) – first price is 8-day tour

  • From Heathrow: £1,475 (£2,025)
  • From Gatwick: £1,395 (£1,945)
  • From Stansted: £1,395 (£1,945)
  • From Birmingham: £1,445 (£1,995)
  • From Manchester: £1,445 (£1,995)
  • From Edinburgh: £1,445 (£1,995)
  • From Budapest to Sofia: £1,195 (£1,745)

Options

  • Single room supplement: £170 (8 day), £270 (13 day)
  • With flight prices might increase for late bookings

Deposit

  • £600 with flight option or £300 for all other options

Please note that you cannot book a flight inclusive trip on our website but if you select the flight option you prefer then we will contact you with the flight details and convert your booking into a flight inclusive package.

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