Welcome to Budapest! Since the collapse of Communism, Budapest has experienced something of a renaissance. Glamourous and glitzy shops and restaurants now sit alongside old-world architecture and groomed boulevards. One unmissable activity is to soak in the city’s hot thermal baths. There are loads of these around the city centre and they range from classy and elegant to simple outdoor types. Some even have chess boards (so you can keep your brain busy while your body relaxes).
This morning you have the option to join your leader on a short orientation walk of the city. Afterwards you have a free day to spend in Budapest. Exploring the historical Buda castle is definitely one way to do it. Forget about the bustling city and lose yourself in the history of Buda castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings. The winding streets of the Castle District date back to the 13th century. Plus there’s an old, mid-19th century local pastry shop there! Alternatively, join your leader on a trip to Szimpla Kert, one of Budapest's famous ruin bars. They originated as squats hidden in inconspicuous side streets, and have since become an inherent part of Budapest's night life. In the evening, board an overnight train to Belgrade.
Wake up in Serbia in time to see the train pull into station. Also known as the ‘White City’, Serbia’s capital takes pride of place straddling the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers. Settle in at the hostel and then get to know the surrounding area with an optional orientation walk with your leader. After that it’s open slather. The bohemian quarter of Skadarlija is the perfect place to let your hair down and try some local food, or you can walk the ramparts of the imposing Kalemagdan Fortress. At night there’s no shortage of trendy clubs and smoky bars to visit where you can shout a hearty ‘zivjeli’ while drinking rakija with the locals.
Enjoy a sleep in (you deserve it) and then tackle a second big day in Belgrade. The day is all yours to explore, so ask your leader for some insider tips on how to spend your time. Perhaps sign up for a cruise along the Danube River, passing Kalemagdan Fortress, Pancevo Bridge and the artist village of Zemun. Maybe check out the Nikola Tesla Museum and learn about the life and work of Serbia's greatest inventor. Travelling in summer? Pack a towel and join the locals at Ada Ciganlija beach, where you can swim, take part in water-sports or simply soak up the sun with a cocktail. For dinner pick up a plate of cevap (little meat sausages) and prebranac, a Serbian take on baked beans. Continue exploring Belgrade’s nightlife by visiting one of the floating bars on the river.
This morning hop onto another train to the Serbian town of Nis (approximately 5 hours), followed by a private transfer to Skopje, Macedonia's capital city (approximately 3 hours). Devouring gozleme and baklava is probably at the top of your list but take the time to check out one of the city’s 30 mosques, innumerable caravanserais and hamams. Failing that, eat your gozleme while simply walking through the narrow lanes of Carsija, Skopje's most atmospheric neighbourhood. The Museum of the City of Skopje, which is housed inside an old railway station, is also worth seeing for its unusual, partially ruined facade (the result of an earthquake in 1963). The clock on the outside is stuck at 5:17, the exact moment the earthquake struck.
Today is another free day in Skopje, so why not venture out of town and check out Matka Canyon – a deep ravine cut into the Suva mountains by the Treska River, 15 kilometres southwest of the city. Here you’ll find caves, 70 different species of butterflies (count ‘em, we’ll wait) and several medieval monasteries. There is also Vrelo cavern nearby, a water-filled cave with incredible stalagmites and as-yet unchartered depths. Some experts believe it might even be the deepest underwater cave in the world. If caves and stalactites aren’t your thing, you can also tackle one of the many nature walks in the canyon. In the evening, grab your crew for dinner in the Old Bazaar or at the restaurants in the Debar Maalo area.
Catch a bus ride this morning and arrive in cosmopolitan Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece! Thessaloniki is largely considered the cultural capital of Greece, with plenty of shopping, nightlife and entertainment. After settling in, head out to the waterfront and visit the White Tower or check out some of the city’s many Ottoman and Roman ruins. Thessaloniki’s food scene combines 2,000 years of history to create an intriguing mix of French, Balkan and Mediterranean flavours (plus a dash of Eastern spices too). There are plenty of eateries to try around the Roman Agora, so why not try an authentic souvlaki for dinner and wash it down with a Mythos beer. Thessaloniki has a large student population, which means there are plenty of thumping bars and nightclubs to explore come nightfall.
After a short train ride (approximately 1 hour), arrive in the laid back beach village of Nei Pori. Check into the hotel before taking a short orientation walk, including a visit to Nei Pori’s Old Town. After that, the rest of the day is free to do as you please. Get into a swimsuit and perhaps while away the day on Nei Pori’s white sand beaches.
Make the most of a second day in relaxing Nei Pori. Perhaps head out to Mount Olympus, Greece's first national park. It is the highest mountain in Greece and the second highest in the Balkans, with a height of 2918m. The mountain is famous in Greek mythology as it is the dwelling of the twelve Olympian gods, headed by Zeus. Mytikas peak was the gods' meeting place, and Stefani peak was the Throne of Zeus from where he was said to have displayed his mighty power by throwing thunderbolts. Head out for a hike along the lush forested ravines and ridges of the mountain - there are several options from 3 to 6 hours. Your leader will be able to help you arrange transport. Back in Nei Pori you’ll find a range of differently flavoured ouzo and tispouro in the many shops, so pick up a bottle to share this afternoon or take back home. After more lazing on the beach, get ready for a night out at Nei Pori’s beach bars or head to the nightclubs in nearby Platamon.
This morning catch yet another train to arrive in Athens, the heart of Greece and centre of the ancient world. This incredible city was given a face lift in the lead up to the 2004 Olympics, which means it has updated streets and architecture plus all the Old World charm of the Acropolis, Pantheon and more. All of the highlights can be easily seen on a walk of the city, so don’t forget to check out the original Olympic Stadium and swing by Syntagma Square to see the changing of the guards (featuring a very dramatic and pom-pom filled walk). Another highlight is the Acropolis Museum, where you can walk over ancient ruins encased in glass. Later tonight, why not enjoy a farewell meze dinner with your crew. Toast the end of this railway adventure with a shot (or two) of ouzo.
This adventure comes to an end today and there are no activities planned. You are able to depart at any time. There’s so much to see and do in Athens so we don’t blame you if you’re planning on sticking around a little longer. We can arrange additional accommodation for you on request (subject to availability) and also set you up on one of our Urban Adventure day trips, such as ‘Taste of Athens’ or ‘Markets, Ruins and Ancient Athens’. Please enquire at the time of booking.