Learn about the dark history and rebuilding of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, then visit Mostar’s famous Old Bridge and – if you’re lucky – witness a traditional bridge jumper hurl themselves into the icy waters below.. Enjoy plenty of free time at your own pace to discover the communist past and progressive present of Budapest – the Pearl of the Danube.. Explore the streets, medieval buildings and restored castle of Ljubljana’s charming Old Town on foot. Your local leader will know all of the hotspots, plus the best cafes for a coffee break.. Explore rocky coastal pathways and pastel-coloured villages with a Cinque Terre day pass, which allows you to hike at your leisure and use the coast’s public transport.
Grand standing capitals and quaint seaside villages, hidden mountain hamlets and a city set on water – Eastern Europe flaunts a pretty impressive display of attractions. Discover the best of this entrancing region, plus a whole host of its lesser-known spots, making your way down from Hungary through the Balkans and east over to Italy. Encounter the up-and-coming vibes of once war-ravaged Sarajevo, fall in love with the popular Dubrovnik, kick into adventure mode in Ljubljana and feast until your tastebuds are content in Italy. Get expert local guidance and travel with a small group of likeminded travellers on this exciting 26-day Lonely Planet Experience, powered by Intrepid.
Szia! Welcome to Budapest, Hungary's vibrant capital. This is a city split in two – Buda and Pest – right on the banks of the Danube River. In the evening, after the welcome meeting at 6 pm, perhaps head out with your new travel pals and group leader for dinner, then take a night walk along the Danube to see the buildings and bridges lit up in lights. Why not continue the night going in one of Budapest's quirky ruin bars, full of good vibes and eclectic decor.
This morning you have the option to join your leader on a short orientation walk of the city. Afterwards you have a full free day to explore Budapest. This is a great city to enjoy from the water, so perhaps take a boat trip along the river, or catch a funicular up to the castle for spectacular views of the Parliament Building. With so much to see and do, hiring a bicycle is another great way to move between the sights. You could head to Statue Park to see the communist monuments that were removed from the city after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Alternatively, you might like to take a tour of the beautiful Hungarian State Opera House or check out the Hungarian National Museum. One unmissable activity is a healing soak in one of Budapest's thermal bath complexes, so try and fit that in your schedule, too.
Take private transport and head to Belgrade, Serbia’s surprising capital and one of the oldest cities in Europe. Sitting at the junction of two major rivers – the Sava and the Danube – it’s an important intersection between Eastern and Western Europe. Upon arrival, there is the option to join a guided tour, then you'll have plenty of free time to explore the city. Perhaps begin with a wander around the city’s wide boulevards and squares, and the historic and green heart of Kalemegdan Park. The park is home to Kalemegdan Fortress, which has overlooked the river here for centuries. In the evening, head down to Skadarska Street in the bohemian quarter of Skadarlija to sample some authentic local food and enjoy the lively atmosphere, in a place where Orthodox churches vie for space next to heaving nightclubs.
Today is another day to discover Belgrade. You might like to take a cruise along the Danube River, passing Kalemegdan Fortress, Pancevo Bridge and Zemun. Otherwise, the local market Zeleni Venac can keep you occupied for hours. Perhaps take a stroll through the Nikola Tesla Museum to learn about the life and work of Serbia's greatest inventor, or check out the city's Ethnographic or Military museums. If the weather is warm, you could brave the crowds on Ada Ciganlija beach, where you can swim, take up some water sports or soak up the sun. During summer months, Belgrade hosts a variety of musical and cultural events and the city is abuzz with people and activities.
Travel by bus through the countryside to Sarajevo. The journey will take around 8 hours in total, so sit back and enjoy the scenery. Sarajevo is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s small but vibrant capital. The city often draws comparisons with Istanbul as a place that mixes east and west – dotted with minarets, mosques, bazaars and the aroma of coffee. On arrival, perhaps head on an optional guided tour to gain insight into the history and culture of the city. Sarajevo is one of the few cities in the world that features an Orthodox church, a Catholic church and a mosque (the famous Begova Dzamija) all within close proximity. Make sure you explore Bascarsija – Sarajevo's old bazaar. Out from here the city’s history unfolds – Ottoman-era buildings beside elaborate Austro-Hungarian and communist structures. In the evening, be sure to keep a look out for the local speciality of bosanski cevapi – local grilled and spiced meats.
Enjoy a free day in and around Sarajevo. You could take an optional day trip out to the thermal springs and green parks of Ilidza, the source of the River Bosna. You might prefer to discover local history with a visit to the History Museum, the Sarajevo War Tunnels and Sniper Alley, or learn about the tragedies faced by the city's Jews at the Jewish Museum. Maybe get cultural with a stroll through the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina or return to Bascarsija and get lost in the mosques, caravanserais, and stone-vaulted bazaars while snacking on burek. The Pivnica HS brewery, which also has a restaurant, is a good place to sample local award-winning beer and spend the night with your travel crew.
Mostar / Kotor
Early this morning, head out of Sarajevo by train to Mostar (approximately 3 hours). Thanks to the river Neretva, Mostar was able to develop as a city in the barren landscape of Herzegovina. On arrival, perhaps head to the famous Stari Most (Old Bridge), first built by the Ottomans in 1565 – it was the great architect Mimar Hajrudin who succeeded with the impossible mission to cross the Neretva River with a single span stone bridge. If you’re lucky, you might see the famous brave members of Mostar’s diving club hurl themselves into the icy waters below. It’s tradition for the young men of the town to make the jump, and it’s now an annual competition. However, it’s definitely not advised to have a go yourself, as the bridge is super high and water freezing. Instead, follow the local custom and hand the divers a few Marks (the local currency). Later today, continue to Kotor where you will spend the night (approximately 4 hours).
Explore Europe’s most southerly fjord, Boka Kotorska (Bay of Kotor) and Kotor town, with free time to discover the city’s narrow alleyways by yourself today. This fifth-century World Heritage-listed city is set on a secluded bay, with towering peaks surrounding a rocky coastline dotted with pretty waterside towns. Check out the 12th-century Cathedral of St Tryphun, the South Gates of Kotor (the Gurdich Gate) and the Armoury Square (Trg od oruzija). Afterwards, you might like to get lost in the crooked alleyways, checking out the boutiques and cafes, or climb the hills behind the city to visit Kotor's ruined fortification walls. A 1.5-hour hike up the stone steps, past churches, gates, and bastions to the Fortress of Sveti Ivan at the top rewards you with magnificent views across town and the Bay of Kotor. In the evening, the city walls are lit up to provide a unique night-time perspective.
Leave Montenegro by bus, riding along the beautiful southern coast of Croatia to Dubrovnik (approximately 2.5 hours). Once arrived, the day is free for you to explore Dubrovnik at your own pace. Take a walk along the city walls of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame, enjoying views of the sparkling Adriatic Sea in this renowned jewel of the Dalmatian Coast. Perhaps check out the 13th-century Franciscan monastery or the Sponza and Rector's palaces – the only Renaissance buildings in the city to survive a devastating earthquake and fire in 1667. Tonight, why not enjoy a harbourside meal with the group and toast to your adventures.
Today is a free day to explore the beaches and scenery of this idyllic coastal city that overlooks the Adriatic. The walled city of Dubrovnik is a great place to discover on foot, with its cobblestone streets, tiled roofs, white washed walls and stone buildings. Stroll down the main street of Stradun that runs straight through the World heritage listed Old Town, with its baroque monuments and gothic buildings.
Another free day allows you to delve deeper into this beautiful city. You might like to check out the city's War Photography Museum, or if you have time, even take a boat trip to nearby Lokrum Island, where you will find the French-built Fort Royal Castle, a monastery, and a botanical garden that dates back to when the Austrian archduke Maximilian had his holiday home on the island. Otherwise, find a secluded beach spot and have some time to unwind. Today is also an ideal time to get out your Lonely Planet app to see what's recommended by the experts!
Take a public bus up the coast to Split (approximately 5 hours). If Dubrovnik is considered the heart of Dalmatia, Split is certainly its soul. Situated on a small peninsula on the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea, it's the second largest city in Croatia. Enjoy a free afternoon in this stunning seaside town, exploring the historic streets, and make sure you see the World Heritage-listed Diocletian's Palace. Alternatively, for a more in-depth introduction to this fascinating city why not join an optional guided tour with a local guide.