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Detailed Day by Day Itinerary for the

2013 Balkan Baltic Bucket List Tour
 

Join me - David Rowell - your hopefully friendly, helpful and possibly even intrepid tour leader, seen here in downtown Bucharest with the Palace of the Parliament in the background, on an earlier Travel Insider tour.

 

Scottish Islands tour itinerary mapTour Itinerary

This 20 day tour (also available in three shorter modules) gives you an opportunity to visit 17 different countries, most of which you've probably never been to before.

Starting in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, you then tour through all the Balkan countries to Odessa on the Black Sea before taking two overnight trains, one to Kyiv and the next to Minsk and then continuing by coach through the Baltic states and by ferry across the Baltic Sea to Helsinki.

An amazing kaleidoscope of a part of the world very rich in history, beautiful geography, and diverse culture.


Please click here to open up a Google Map showing the daily itinerary in summary form.  Note that this is a bit, ahem, experimental.  But hopefully it will help you understand in more detail where we'll go.

And please click here to return to the main Balkan Baltic Bucket List Tour page.

Itinerary
 

Day 0  (Monday 10 June)  Leave the US

To arrive in Ljubljana on Tuesday, you probably need to take an overnight flight on Monday

You should make your own arrangements to fly from the US to Ljubljana today (or leave earlier if you plan to avail yourself of any additional pre-Tour activities.

Typically, with flight times and time zone changes, to arrive into Ljubljana on 11 June, you should leave the US one day prior, ie today.

Day 1  (Tuesday 11 June)  Arrive into Ljubljana, Slovenia

The Ljubljanica river in Ljubljana, rich in historical treasures.

Your flight should arrive into Ljubljana sometime today (or earlier if you'd like an 'emergency' day for just-in-case things like missed flights or lost luggage).  Indeed, we specially timed the start of the tour to make it easy for you to use one or two weekend days so as to depart and arrive early.

Make your own way to our hotel, and enjoy the rest of the day as it suits you.

The old town area is sufficiently compact as to be conveniently explored on foot.

 

Day 2 (Wednesday 12 June) Coach to Zagreb, Croatia

The area around Bled and its lake

Bled Castle, dating back to 1011


Zagreb's central Ben Jelacic Square at night

It might seem counter-intuitive, but we start the day off going west rather than east, as we travel to the beautiful town of Bled, previously renowned as the most beautiful health spa at the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Bled is also home to one of the icons of Slovenia - Bled Castle, the oldest in Slovenia.

After time in Bled, we go back the way we came, and then on to Zagreb.  We're sure you'll agree the side trip to Bled was time well spent.

It is a relatively short day on the coach today, giving us more time to sightsee along the way.

We'll have a group welcome dinner this evening in Zagreb.

Special Features - Group Welcome Dinner

 

Day 3 (Thursday 13 June) :  via Bosnia & Herzegovina to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Trogir's Kamerlengo Fortress, dating to the 15th century
 
A lovely view of Split on the shores of the Adriatic Sea
 
An impression of the enormous Diocletian Palace as originally built.
 

A full day today, and a wonderfully varied one, which sees us visiting two World Heritage sites - the Hellenistic and Roman island town of Trogir and the historical complex of Split and its well preserved ruins of the Diocletian Palace.

Trogir dates back 2300 years, and Split almost as long.

We pass briefly through Bosnia & Herzegovina as we travel down the coast, alongside the Adriatic Sea, to Dubrovnik.

The significance of Split (and Dubrovnik) is marked by their being among the first 50 World Heritage sites designated (today there are 962 sites).

Here's a Google map showing today's route.

Special Features - Two World Heritage Sites

 

Day 4 (Friday 14 June) :  Dubrovnik

The ancient walled city of Dubrovnik.
 
Dubrovnik's 17th century Cathedral



Onofrio's Fountain, Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik, known as 'the Pearl of the Adriatic' is a World Heritage Site and has been undergoing excellent restoration with the assistance of UNESCO since its 1979 designation.

Yesterday was the longest touring day - in terms of distance covered - for the entire trip.  And it wasn't too hard, was it!

So today we have an easy relaxing day, spending the full day to experience this lovely town, which dates back to the first half of the 7th century.

We start off with a walking tour of the historic center of the town, then you can do whatever you'd like for the rest of the day.

Special Features - World Heritage Site

 

Day 5 (Saturday 15 June) :  Via Montenegro to Tirana, Albania

Kotor is blessed with an incredibly beautiful location
 
What a contrast from Kotor to Tirana - lots of buildings, lots of traffic, even some smog

We travel on south along the Adriatic Coast today, stopping in another World Heritage area - the natural harbor of Kotor in Montenegro, an important artistic and commercial center in the Middle Ages, with its own famous schools of masonry and iconography.

We then say goodbye to the Adriatic and start to move inland - the next significant body of water we'll encounter won't be until reaching the Black Sea on Day 12 (although we'll also encounter the River Danube on our travels, too).

Our destination today is Tirana, capital of Albania.  To be fair, Tirana is not the most attractive of cities these days, having suffered the consequences of uncontrolled building and unplanned expansion and it feels bigger/busier than its half million population would suggest.

Here's a Google map showing today's route.

Special Features - World Heritage Site

 

Day 6 (Sunday 16 June) :  Via Kosovo to Skopje, Macedonia

The Shadervan square in Prizren, happily showing little damage from the 1998-9 Kosovan war.
 
Skopje, where old meets new, and east meets west - the entrance to the Old Town

It is another two country day today.

We travel first to Kosovo, and travel through the ancient town of Prizren, originally founded by the Romans, and under the control of the Ottoman Empire from 1455, during which time it became the cultural and intellectual center of the Ottoman Kosovo, before becoming a focal point for Albanian nationalism and becoming part of Yugoslavia.

We continue through the beautiful Sharr Mountains National Park where bears and wolves roam free and wild.  We pass through the town of Kacanik before entering Macedonia and arriving into its capital, Skopje, the birthplace of (among others) Mother Teresa.

Here's a Google map showing today's route.

Special Feature - Sharr Mountains National Park

 

Day 7 (Monday 17 June) :  Coach to Sofia, Bulgaria

A lady in the Kumanovo traditional folk dress
The unassuming exterior of the Boyana Church does nothing to hint of its treasures inside

An easy day with not much driving (135 miles) as we travel on from Skopje.

We pass through the multi-cultural town of Kumanovo, famous for its mineral water springs, and continue on into Bulgaria.

We travel through assorted towns, some old and others newer, with a contrast between ancient and ugly architecture.

On the outskirts of Sofia, we will stop at the World Heritage listed Boyana Church, dating back to the 10th century and one of the most complete and perfectly preserved monuments of East European medieval art.

Our evening will be spent in Bulgaria's capital, Sofia.

If you are joining us for Section 2, today (or earlier) is the day you should plan to fly from the US to Belgrade.

Here's a Google map showing today's route.

Special Features - World Heritage Site

   

 

Day 8 (Tuesday 18 June) :  Coach to Belgrade, Serbia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Parliament Square, Sofia
 
The central downtown square in Nis
 

A moderate day of touring today, taking us from one capital to another; from Sofia to Belgrade, an attractive city on the banks of the Danube and the capital of modern Serbia (as well as formerly the capital of Yugoslavia).

We visit Nis en route, the third largest city in Serbia, and one of the very oldest in the Balkans, having been inhabited all the way back to the Neolithic and early Bronze ages.

If you are joining us for Section 2 of the tour, today (or previous to today if you want to give yourself some emergency time) you'll be arriving into Belgrade.

Here's a Google map showing today's route.

 

Day 9 (Wednesday 19 June) :  Belgrade

St Sava Cathedral, the largest in the Balkans
Belgrade's Kalemegdan Fortess has fine views over the Danube
Two great leaders?  Marshal Tito and, ahem, your tour leader.

We take it easy today, enjoying a day of sightseeing in and around Belgrade, including a visit to Marshal Tito's memorial.

Belgrade and its Kalemegdan Fortress date back to hundreds of years BC.  There's a lot of history, both ancient and modern.

Hopefully the bombed out buildings that were present last time I visited have now been repaired/replaced.  If you see any, don't ask what happened - because, ooops, it was us who bombed them, in 1999.  Yes, the Balkans are complicated.

Today will be the last full day for people who are only doing the first section of the tour, and the first full day for people joining us for the second section, so we'll have a group dinner this evening to say goodbye to some friends and hello to some new friends.

Special Features - Group Dinner

 

Day 10 (Thursday 20 June) :  Coach to Sighisoara, Romania


One view of the extensive Carpathian Mountains which frame Transylvania on two sides
 
Perhaps the birthplace of Vlad/Dracula - now a restaurant
 
Sighisoara at night

If you only chose Section 1 of our tour, this morning marks the end of your time with us.

Now, for the rest of us - did you remember your garlic, your silver, and your wooden crosses?  Today we head into Transylvania in the west of Romania, an area famous for vampires and Dracula, and with the beautiful Carpathian mountains on our right most of the day.

Our destination is Sighisoara, a World Heritage site and one of the most beautiful and well preserved medieval towns in Europe.

It is also the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler and Vlad Dracula, made famous in Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula.

Transylvania has a complicated past, like so much of the Balkans - this map helps to show the ethnic diversity in what was formerly the Austro-Hungarian empire.  It is probably fair to say that no country today accurately reflects a single cohesive ethnic group.

Here's a Google map showing today's route.

Special Features - World Heritage Site

 

Day 11 (Friday 21 June) :  Through Transylvania to Bucharest, Romania

The former mayoralty building in Brasov
 
Bran Castle, known as the home of Dracula
 
Victory Avenue in downtown Bucharest.

We have a bit more time in Sighisoara this morning then we travel on to Brasov, founded by the Teutonic knights in 1211, and where we then detour to Bran Castle, known as the home of Dracula, and now a national monument of Romania.

We then continue on to the capital of Romania, Bucharest, and home to the world's largest civilian building, the Palace of the Parliament.

Much of this building is still incomplete today.  Building commenced in 1983 and largely stopped after the death of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.

Bucharest is sometimes called the Paris of the East - perhaps because it has a structure similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Here's a Google map showing today's route.

Special Features - Bran Castle

Day 12 (Saturday 22 June) :  Through Moldova to Odessa, Ukraine

Bucharest has some very wide and grand avenues
 
A huge number of cranes line the bank of the Danube at Galati
 
Catherine the Great Square, Odessa

Today is a two country day.

We travel first to Moldova, passing through Galati, the largest port town on the Danube, and crossing the Danube as we do so.

Then after spending a short amount of time in Moldova we continue on to Ukraine, ending up on the shores of the Black Sea in the city of Odessa.

Here's a Google map showing today's route.

 

Special Features

Day 13 (Sunday 23 June) :  Odessa then overnight train to Kyiv

Odessa's glorious Opera Theater
 
Odessa's Black Sea shore, very inviting on a warm sunny day
 
Experience for yourself the odd optical illusions at the Potemkin Steps

We have a fairly relaxing day in Odessa today, and then later this evening we'll take an overnight train to Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.

We'll spend a bit of time touring around the area, then you are free to stroll about yourself - perhaps even going down to the sandy beach on the shore of the Black Sea.  Or maybe go on a one hour cruise along the Black Sea coast.

This evening promises to be fun - taking an overnight sleeper train for a nine hour journey up to Kyiv.  We will be in private two person sleeping compartments.

If you are joining us for Section 3 of the tour, today (or earlier) should be the day you leave the US so as to arrive into Kyiv tomorrow (or earlier).

 

Special Features - Overnight Train to Kyiv

Day 14 (Monday 24 June) :  Kyiv, then overnight train to Minsk, Belarus

Busy downtown Kyiv
 
Statue of Bohdan Khmelnytsky
 
Kiev is a city of churches - this one is St Michael's Cathedral
Our two overnight sleeper trains will look like this

We arrive into Kyiv, capital of Ukraine, shortly after 8am today, giving us 13 hours to enjoy this stately capital.

We'll start off with a guided city tour, including a visit to the World Heritage listed site, the Saint Sophia Cathedral, built in the 11th century and designed to mark Kyiv's role as 'the new Constantinople' and intended to rival the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Many of the regions in the Balkans have had a complex past in terms of which countries have claimed them, but none can match Kyiv - it changed hands sixteen times in a two year period 1918-1920.

Today marks another change-over point, where some people will be leaving us at the end of the second section and others joining us at the start of the third section.  So as to try and have as many people together as possible, we'll have a group lunch at the end of our morning of city touring.

This afternoon allows you some free time to sightsee the city as you may wish.  Maybe visit the Chernobyl Museum, or the gigantic Motherland Statue (largest non-religious statue in the world), or the sobering Babyn Yar site.

Take a ride on their metro (not as ornate as in Moscow, visit the State Aviation Museum; whatever you do, you'll find the afternoon passes very quickly.

We meet up again this evening for our second overnight train journey, this time 11.5 hours on to Minsk in Belarus.

Our entry into Belarus marks the only time in the entire 17 country itinerary we need to have obtained a visa prior to our travel.

Note - if you are joining us for Section 3 of the tour, you'll meet us either when we arrive into Kyiv, or at our group lunch, or in time for the train to Minsk this evening.  We recommend you should plan to arrive into Kyiv yesterday (or earlier) giving yourself a bit of 'emergency time' in case of travel problems en route.

If you are leaving us at the end of Section 2 of the tour, then you can leave us when we arrive into Kyiv, or after the group lunch, or at the end of the day when the rest of the group boards the train on to Minsk.

Special Features - World Heritage Site, Group Lunch, Overnight Train to Minsk

Day 15 (Tuesday 25 June) :  Minsk then on to Vilnius, Lithuania

Rarely seen in Russia these days, but prominently on display in front of the Government Building is this statue of Lenin in Minsk
 
The National Opera & Ballet Theater, Minsk
 
Minsk City Hall and Main Cathedral

We arrive into Minsk at about 8.30 this morning.

This gives us plenty of time to tour Minsk, the capital of Belarus, before then traveling on to Vilnius, capital of Lithuania.

On the way we'll make a slight detour to hopefully see an unusual World Heritage Site - one of the points on the Sruve Geodetic Arc - probably something you've never even heard of prior to now.

Here's a Google map showing today's route.

Special Features - World Heritage Site

Day 16 (Wednesday 26 June) :  Vilnius

A scene in the historic heart of Vilnius
 
Vilnius comfortably integrates old and new

Time to take it easy for a day, don't you think?

We have a guided tour around Vilnius, then the rest of the day is at leisure for you to do as much - or as little - as you may wish.

Oh - did we forget to mention?  Vilnius is a World Heritage Site (and a lovely historic city).

Special Features - World Heritage Site

Day 17 (Thursday 27 June) :  Coach to Riga, Latvia

A view of Riga's old town area.
 
Riga is renowned for its extensive collection of Art Nouveau style buildings

An easy day of touring from Vilnius up to Riga, capital of and largest city in Latvia.

Riga dates back to 1201 and is a former member of the Hanseatic League.  It lies on the Daugava river and is an important seaport, opening out onto the Gulf of Riga.

Although Riga has some surviving historical buildings, it is also considered to have the finest collection of art nouveau buildings in Europe.

Riga is a World Heritage site.

Here's a Google map showing today's route.

Special Features - World Heritage Site

 

Day 18 (Friday 28 June) :  Coach to Tallinn, Estonia

Very obviously Baltic - almost Scandinavian - architecture in Parnu
 
Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn
 
Tallinn's Old Town - but we'll be visiting in summer, not winter as depicted here

Another easy day today as we travel further north along the Gulf of Riga before cutting over to the Gulf of Finland, and passing through the popular seaside town of Parnu before arriving into Tallinn, the capital of Estonia and another former Hanseatic League city.

Tallinn is another World Heritage site, due to its opulent public buildings and churches, and the architecture of the merchants' houses; all due to the prosperity it enjoyed as a Hanseatic League member.

Here's a Google map showing today's route.

 

Special Features - World Heritage Site

Day 19 (Saturday 29 June) :  Ferry to Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki Cathedral dominates the skyline.  It was originally Orthodox but now is Finnish Evangelical Lutheran
 
The large Old Market building and its inside markets is close to a lovely outdoor market too
 
Downtown Helsinki

This morning we are taken down to the ferry wharf where we take a large ferry for the short two hour sailing across the Gulf of Finland and over to Helsinki.

Have a look on the right as we approach Helsinki - you might be able to make out the Fortress of Suomenlinna on a group of islands - it is a World Heritage Site (but we won't visit it).

Upon arrival in Helsinki we enjoy a city tour before being taken to our hotel for the night.

Helsinki was named the world's most livable city by Monocle Magazine in 2011.

This evening - our last evening as a group together - we have a final group dinner.

Special Features - Group Farewell Dinner

Day 20 (Sunday 30 June) :  Tour ends in Helsinki

Take a train, car, ferry or (of course) plane on to your next destination

Our formal twenty day tour ends this morning when you check out of our Helsinki hotel.

We have a post-tour suggested option, taking you mainly by train to three more countries (Sweden, Norway and Denmark) if you're interested, and of course, you are free to go anywhere else and do anything else you wish.

We do hope you have enjoyed this amazingly varied and extensive tour of much of the undiscovered Europe.

If you choose to fly directly home from Helsinki, you'll probably arrive back in the US also on Sunday, and so could go back to work on Monday morning.

For More Information

Please return to the main page for more information about our 2013 Balkan Baltic Bucket List Tour.

And here's a link to jump you directly to the booking form.

The Travel Insider is licensed by the State of Washington as a seller of travel - registration number 602 036 247.
 

Originally published 14 Dec 2012, last update 21 Jul 2020

 
 
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