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Istanbul, Budapest and the Lands of the Danube: A Journey by River

Program Number: 19361RJ
Start and End Dates:
5/29/2013 - 6/11/2013; 6/6/2015 - 6/19/2015; 9/26/2015 - 10/9/2015; 6/10/2016 - 6/23/2016; 10/8/2016 - 10/21/2016;
Duration: 13 nights
Location: Romania/Hungary/Croatia/Serbia/Bulgaria/Turkey
Price starting at: $5,173.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Adventure Afloat Study Cruise; River Boats
Meals: 32; 12 Breakfasts, 9 Lunches, 11 Dinners    
Meal Options: Low Fat; Low Salt; Vegetarian; Gluten Free    

Experience the magnificent palaces and mosques of Istanbul then journey to Bulgaria for a Danube River voyage that reveals treasures once obscured by the Iron Curtain: medieval castles, the idyllic vineyards of Villány, the spectacular Iron Gate where the river squeezes between mountains. Delve into the stormy history of this region and find out what life here is like today.

Activity Particulars

Walking for up to two hours at a time, sometimes twice per day; some uneven terrain.

Itinerary At-a-Glance

Istanbul (Turkey), 3 nights; Plovdiv (Bulgaria), 1 night; aboard MS AmaCerto, 7 nights; Budapest (Hungary), 1 night.

Day 1: Overnight flight from the U.S.A.

Days 2-4: Arrival Istanbul (Turkey):

Experience the grandness of Istanbul landmarks including the Hagia Sophia. Enjoy a boat excursion on the Bosphorus Strait. Lodging: Four-star hotel.

Day 5: Coach to Plovdiv (Bulgaria):

Discover the Selimiye Mosque, one of the most beautiful examples of Islamic architecture. Cross the border en route to historic Plovdiv. Lodging: Four-star hotel.

Day 6: Coach to Rousse / embark MS AmaCerto:

Journey through the Rose Valley to Veliko Tarnovo and its medieval fortress that once housed the rulers of Bulgaria. Continue to Rousse to board the vessel.

Day 7: Bucharest (Romania):

A field trip to the capital reveals the Arch of Triumph and the Palace of the Parliament, constructed by Ceausescu to be one of the world’s largest buildings.

Day 8: Vidin (Bulgaria):

Dock in the town of Vidin and venture to magnificent Belogradchik Fortress, built into and protected by the rock formations surrounding it.

Day 9: On River:

Pass through the Iron Gate, where the Danube winds through gorges between the Carpathian Mountains and the Balkan foothills.

Day 10: Belgrade (Serbia):

Discover Tito’s mausoleum, Republic Square and many of the city’s famous gates. Enjoy some free time to explore on your own.

Day 11: Novi Sad (Serbia) and Vukovar (Croatia):

Delve into the history of the former Yugoslavia in Vukovar, where the Croatian War of Independence began, and at the 17th-century Petrovaradin Fortress.

Day 12: Pécs and Villány (Hungary):

Journey to Pécs, selected the European Capital of Culture for 2010, then enjoy a wine tasting in the famous vineyard region of Villány.

Days 13-14: Budapest / disembark / departure:

Discover Heroes’ Square and the Great Synagogue on an expert-led city excursion. Lodging: Four-star hotel.

MS AmaCerto

This brand new 162-passenger river vessel debuted in 2012. Its state-of-the-art design includes a signature glass elevator. Public areas include a lounge, sun decks, swimming pool, walking track and fitness center. Fine regional cuisine is prepared under the direction of gold medal-winning chefs from Chaine des Rotisseurs.

Lodging: Comfortable cabins aboard riverboat launched in 2009; centrally located hotels.
Meals and Lodgings
   Armada Hotel
  Istanbul, Turkey 3 nights
   Hotel Dedeman Trimontium Princess
  Plovdiv, Bulgaria 1 night
   MS Amacerto
  MS Amacerto - At Sea, At Sea 7 nights
   Danubius Hotel Astoria
  Budapest, Hungary 1 night
 Armada Hotel
Type: Four-Star Hotel
  Description: The 4-star Armada Hotel is located in the historic peninsula of Istanbul, with views of two of the great masterpieces of world architecture; the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The hotel offers modern comfort and convenience discreetly incorporated into the Turkish-inspired architecture, and period engravings throughout the hotel provide an insight into Istanbul's by-gone eras. The name of the Armada Hotel is a tribute to the memory of the renowned Ottoman Admiral Hayrettin Pasha Barbarossa. Located in the heart of the Old City, the hotel is within walking distance of museums, churches and other major attractions.
  Contact info: Ahirkapi Street 24
Sultanahmet, Istanbul,  34122 Turkey
phone: +90 212 455 44 55
  Room amenities: Each room has a mini bar, hair dryer, bathrobes, telephone, LCD television, safe box, free wireless Internet, 24-hour room service and air conditioning.
  Facility amenities: The hotel offers two restaurants, a bar, lounge, meeting rooms, business center with computers and printers, library, free WIFI Internet access throughout the hotel, laundry service and air conditioning. The rooftop restaurants offer magnificent views of the area.
  Smoking allowed: Yes
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: N/A Please contact Road Scholar Travel Services if you would like assistance making hotel reservations for additional non-program nights. 1-800-241-1404
  Check in time: 2:00 PM

 Hotel Dedeman Trimontium Princess
Type: Four-Star Hotel
  Description: Hotel Trimontium is one of the best hotels in Plovdiv, a hotel of international repute for almost half a century. It enjoys a superior location right in the downtown, at the beginning of the High Street, adjacent to the City Garden, and facing some of the most attractive local historical and archaeological attractions - the Roman Amphitheater and the Old Town.
  Contact info: 2 Kapitan Raicho Street
Plovdiv,  4000 Bulgaria
phone: +359 32 605000
  Room amenities: Each room has a telephone, mini bar, 24-hour room service, free wireless Internet, television, central air conditioning, iron and ironing board in the room (on request), and hair dryer.
  Facility amenities: The hotel offers restaurants, lobby bar, panorama bar, wireless Internet access throughout hotel, business center, currency exchange bureau, fitness and sauna, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, shop, casino, and a hairdresser.
  Smoking allowed: Yes
  Elevators available: Yes

 MS Amacerto
Type: Cruise Ship
  Description: AMAWATERWAYS has redefined the concept of luxury travel. From gorgeous contemporary artwork in the lobbies, to the inviting hallways, you will feel at home the moment you step onboard the MS Amacerto. The professional ship staff does their best to ensure that each day is filled with memorable experiences.
  Ship Information: Built in 2012. Decks: 4 - Bottom to top; Piano Deck, Cello Deck, Violin Deck, Sun Deck Crew: 49 Passengers: 164 Registry: Switzerland Length: 443 ft; Width: 38 ft
  Contact info: 21625 Prairie Street
Chatsworth, CA 91311 USA
phone: 800-626-0126
  Room amenities: Deluxe down bedding, marble bathrooms w/multi-jet shower (bathtubs in Jr. suites), premium toiletries, plush terry bathrobes, hair dryer, safe, telephone, flat screen TV, individually controlled air-conditioning, an Infotainment System and ample closet space.
  Facility amenities: With a design inspired by classic ocean yachts, the new 164-passenger MS Amacerto (2012) offers a distinctive river cruise experience on the Danube, Rhine, Main and Mosel. Featuring our exclusive “Twin Balconies” in the majority of spacious staterooms and suites (which range up to 350 sq. ft) the ship also boasts a magnificent glass elevator. A member of the prestigious Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, guests on the MS Amacerto enjoy fine dining in the main dining room, an intimate Chef’s Table restaurant, two wine bars plus a casual al fresco bistro. The MS Amacerto also features a heated Sun Deck swimming pool with a “swim-up” bar; fitness center, Massage, Hair and Beauty salon; complimentary in-stateroom Internet access and first-run Hollywood movies; ship-wide Wi-Fi plus a fleet of bicycles.
  Smoking allowed: Yes
  Elevators available: Yes

 Danubius Hotel Astoria
Type: Four-Star Hotel
  Description: The newly renovated Danubius Hotel Astoria was built on the site of Budapest's medieval town walls and is one of the most charming old-style hotels of Hungary's capital. It was opened in 1914 after the world famous Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The hotel is centrally located and is home to the popular Mirror Cafe & Restaurant.
  Contact info: Kossuth Lajos utca 19-21
Budapest,  H-1053 Hungary
phone: +36 18896000
  Room amenities: Each room has a telephone, television, soundproof windows, minibar, room safe, wireless Internet access (for a fee), and a hairdryer.
  Facility amenities: The hotel offers a restaurant, cafe, air conditioning, Internet access (for a fee), business services (for a fee), porterage, souvenir shop, room service, laundry services (for a fee), and an airport shuttle (for a fee).
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights after: N/A Please contact Road Scholar Travel Services if you would like assistance making hotel reservations for additional non-program nights. 1-800-241-1404
  Check out time: 10:00 AM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Istanbul, Turkey. Program starts at 6:00 PM at the hotel. You will be staying at Armada Hotel that night.
  End of Program:
Budapest, Hungary. After breakfast on the last day You will be staying at Danubius Hotel Astoria the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required.
  Parking availability:
Transportation (For Independent Travelers)
To Start of Program
  Location:  Istanbul
  Nearest city or town:  In town
  Nearest airport:  Atatürk International Airport
  Transportation to site: The Armada Hotel is located about 10 miles from the airport. A taxi ride from the airport to the hotel costs approximately $30 USD and takes approximately 30 minutes. To book a private transfer, please contact
  From End of Program
  Location:  Budapest
  Nearest highway: Road 4, M1, M7
  Nearest airport:  Budapest Liszt Ferenc
  Transportation from site: Take a taxi from the hotel to the airport. It will cost approximately 5000 Hungarian Forint and take approximately 30 minutes.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: In Transit
(Wednesday, May 29)
 In Transit: Depart US/Canada on international flights.

Day 2: Istanbul, Turkey
(Thursday, May 30)
 Morning: Arrival at Istanbul Ataturk airport (IST). Transfer to the Armada Hotel.
 Lunch: Explore local fare on your own.
 Afternoon: Meet in the hotel lobby at 6:00 PM for welcome orientation and introductions.
 Dinner: Welcome Dinner in the hotel dining room.
Accommodations: Armada Hotel
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 3: Istanbul, Turkey
(Friday, May 31)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in hotel dining room.
 Morning: Start the day by visiting the 17th century Blue Mosque, world renowned for its exquisite Iznik tiles surrounding the interior of this wonderful mosque. Field trip to the Hippodrome, the civic center of ancient Constantinople, where chariot races were run between the four teams of Blues, Greens, Whites, and Reds. Explore the amazing church of Hagia Sophia, possibly the most important architectural monument in the city, standing gracefully since 537 AD.
 Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.
 Afternoon: In the afternoon, visit the Chora Church/Kariye Museum to witness its exquisite mosaics and frescoes from the 14th century, a period of Byzantine reawakening in arts. Continue the day with a visit to the Grand Bazaar to discover its maze-like streets and alleys and 4,000 shops!
 Dinner: Explore local fare on your own.
Accommodations: Armada Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 4: Istanbul, Turkey
(Saturday, June 1)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in hotel dining room.
 Morning: Explore the Topkapi Palace, the seat of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years and a great testimony to the wealth and power of the Ottoman Empire. Explore the beautiful Underground Cisterns, built by the illustrious Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 532 AD to store water underground. Continue on to the Spice Bazaar, where exotic aromas immediately capture its visitors.
 Lunch: Explore local fare on your own.
 Afternoon: This afternoon, embark on a private cruise on the Bosphorus to explore the stunning palaces, mansions, and fortresses dotted along the Asian and European shores of this marvelous strait.
 Dinner: Dinner at a local restaurant.
Accommodations: Armada Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 5: Edirne, Turkey / Plovdiv, Bulgaria
(Sunday, June 2)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in hotel dining room.
 Morning: Transfer by coach from Istanbul to Edirne. Our local Turkish expert will accompany us and will present a lecture on Turkey and Istanbul during the morning coach transfer to Edirne. Edirne, the ancient city of Adrianople, was the second capital of the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century and a city with many monuments, mosques, and caravan sarays all from 14th - 16th century. The most beautiful is the Selimiye Mosque built by the great architect Sinan.
 Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant in Edirne.
 Afternoon: Transfer from our Turkish bus to our Bulgarian bus in Edirne where we will meet up with the local Bulgarian guide. Continue to Plovdiv, Bulgaria and check into the hotel. Enjoy a guided walk in Plovdiv, one of the oldest cities in the world, with a history that spans 6,000 years. Plovdiv is among the few cities with two ancient theatres, remains of its medieval walls and towers, Ottoman baths and mosques, a well-preserved old quarter from the National Revival period with beautiful houses, churches, and narrow paved streets.
 Dinner: Dinner at a local restaurant.
Accommodations: Hotel Dedeman Trimontium Princess
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria / Embark
(Monday, June 3)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in hotel dining room.
 Morning: We drive to Kazanlak, the major town in the Valley of the Roses, founded in medieval times as a military fortress to protect the Shipka Pass. Explore the Museum of Rose before departing for Veliko Tarnovo, the former capital of Bulgaria, often referred to as the "City of Tsars."
 Lunch: Set lunch at a local restaurant in Veliko Tarnovo.
 Afternoon: This afternoon transfer to Rousse where we will embark the MS Amacerto.
 Dinner: Dinner on board.
Accommodations: MS Amacerto
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: Bucharest, Romania
(Tuesday, June 4)
 Breakfast: Breakfast on board.
 Morning: This morning we dock in Giurgiu where we take a coach to Bucharest, Romania for a full day field trip. This morning we visit the Bucharest Open Air Village Museum where you will see a large variety of housing from Romania.
 Lunch: Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant with live music.
 Afternoon: This afternoon we will pass the Arch of Triumph, Soseaua Kiseleff, the Atheneum, the library, and then visit Parliament Palace.
 Dinner: Dinner on board.
Accommodations: MS Amacerto
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 8: Vidin, Bulgaria
(Wednesday, June 5)
 Breakfast: Breakfast on board.
 Morning: This morning we dock in the Bulgarian border town of Vidin, where the Baba Vida Fortress guards over the Danube. The construction of the fortress began in the 10th century around an ancient Roman watchtower. The building of Baba Vida is tied to a legend, according to which a Danubian Bulgarian king who ruled at Vidin had three daughters: Vida, Kula, and Gamza. Prior to his death, he divided his realm among the three. Vida, the eldest, was given Vidin and the lands north to the Carpathians, Kula was awarded Zajecar and the Timok Valley, and Gamza was to rule the lands west up to the Morava. Although Gamza and Kula married to drunkard and warlike nobles, Vida remained unmarried and built the fortress in her city. The name of the castle means "Granny Vida." Take in a lecture by your Group Leader titled "Central Europe - United We Stand, Divided We Fall."
 Lunch: Lunch on board.
 Afternoon: Field trip to the 6th century Belogradschik Castle. Initially, the Belogradchik Fortress served for surveillance and not strictly defense. The Bulgarian tsar of Vidin, Ivan Stratsimir, extended the old fortress in the 14th century, building fortified garrisons before the existing rock massifs. During Stratsimir's rule, the Belogradchik Fortress became one of the most important strongholds in the region, second only to the tsar's capital fortress of Vidin, Baba Vida.
 Dinner: Dinner on board.
Accommodations: MS Amacerto
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 9: The Iron Gates
(Thursday, June 6)
 Breakfast: Breakfast on board.
 Morning: Take in the breathtaking scenery while participating in Open University on deck. Themes like school system, taxes, healthcare, and politics in Europe will be discussed on request in sessions of about one hour.
 Lunch: Lunch on board.
 Afternoon: Enjoy cruising through one of Europe's most awe-inspiring natural wonders, the Iron Gates. Here the Danube narrows as it winds through a range of magnificent gorges between the southern Carpathian Mountains and the northwestern foothills of the Balkan Mountains, forming the natural border between Serbia and Romania. Today's passage will be an unforgettable highlight of your adventure.
 Dinner: Dinner on board.
Accommodations: MS Amacerto
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 10: Belgrade, Serbia
(Friday, June 7)
 Breakfast: Breakfast on board.
 Morning: Lecture: "The Yugoslav Puzzle." We dock in Belgrade where you will have a guided excursion passing Tito's memorial, the Town Hall, Republic Square, Terazije Street, Parliament Buildings, and Varos Gate.
 Lunch: Lunch on board.
 Afternoon: Free time to explore the Serbian capital of Belgrade on your own.
 Dinner: Dinner on board.
 Evening: Enjoy an on board Folklore performance.
Accommodations: MS Amacerto
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 11: Vukovar, Croatia / Novi Sad, Serbia
(Saturday, June 8)
 Breakfast: Breakfast on board.
 Morning: After some sailing we dock in Novi Sad, Serbia where we will have a guided city excursion. Novi Sad is the capital of the Vojvodina province of Serbia.
 Lunch: Lunch on board.
 Afternoon: The Amacerto arrives in Ilok. From Ilok, drive to Ovcara, a moving memorial to the Croatian victims of the Civil War. From here, drive to Vukovar where the Yugoslav Civil War started.
 Dinner: Dinner on board.
Accommodations: MS Amacerto
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 12: Mohacs, Hungary / Pecs / Villany
(Sunday, June 9)
 Breakfast: Breakfast on board.
 Morning: Sail on the Danube, bordering Serbia and Croatia. Docking in Mohacs, we enjoy a walking excursion of the old city of Pecs. Explore the Christian Basilica and the former Mosque. Enjoy a guided excursion of the Cella Septichora, the early Christian necropolis of Pecs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
 Lunch: Lunch on board.
 Afternoon: We sail towards Budapest.
 Dinner: Captain's Gala Dinner on board.
Accommodations: MS Amacerto
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 13: Disembark / Budapest, Hungary
(Monday, June 10)
 Breakfast: Breakfast on board.
 Morning: Disembark and transfer to hotel. Enjoy a guided excursion through the city passing all places of interest such as Andrassy street, Hero's square, the Parliament building, and the Synagogue. Enjoy the magnificent view of the twin cities from the Buda side.
 Lunch: Explore local fare on your own.
 Afternoon: Enjoy some free time.
 Dinner: Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.
Accommodations: Danubius Hotel Astoria
Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 14: Departures
(Tuesday, June 11)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in the hotel dining room.
 Morning: Transfer to Budapest's Liszt Ferenc International Airport (BUD) departures.
Meals Included: Breakfast
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

1453, The Holy War For Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West

Author: Roger Crowley

Description: In this well-paced history, Crowley recounts with drama the events surrounding the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks.

A Traveller's History of Croatia

Author: Benjamin Curtis

Description: Curtis untangles with alacrity the complex history of this nation at the crossroads of Europe.

Balkan Ghosts, A Journey through History

Author: Robert D. Kaplan

Description: Kaplan interweaves the history, art and culture of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece with his travels in this portrait of the region.

Balkans South-East Europe Map

Author: Freytag & Berndt

Description: A nicely detailed regional map, showing the route of the Danube from Budapest to the Black Sea, at a scale of 1:2,000,000.

Between the Woods and the Water

Author: Patrick Leigh Fermor

Description: Fermor continues with youthful adventures in Hungary and Romania, culminating with his arrival at the Iron Gates on the Danube.

Birds of Europe

Author: Lars Svensson

Description: Featuring 3,500 glorious paintings by Killian Mullarney and Dan Zetterstrom, the second revised edition of this exquisite guide has been brought up to date with revised text and maps.

Budapest 1900

Author: John Lukacs

Description: Written by a distinguished historian and native son, this richly detailed portrait of the city at its zenith includes hundreds of illustrations.


Author: Claudio Magris

Description: Mixing history, personalities and literature, Magris traces the course of the Danube from its source in the heart of the Austro-Hungarian empire through the Balkans to the Black Sea in this anything but conventional travelogue, first published in 1986.

In Search of Dracula

Author: Raymond McNally

Description: This history of Vlad Tepes (AKA Vlad the Impaler), the Romanian warrior prince upon whom Bram Stoker based his infamous blood-drinking count, draws on oral histories and archaeological evidence and also examines Dracula’s many incarnations in film and literature.

Istanbul, Memories and the City

Author: Orhan Pamuk

Description: Nobel Prize-winner Pamuk writes with quiet grace of the city of his birth, celebrated in his many novels: a magical place of crumbling mansions and Ottoman riches, mingling Asian, Islamic, secular and European influences.

Lonely Planet Central Europe

Author: Lonely Planet

Description: With dozens of maps, color photographs and sections on history and culture, this practical guide introduces Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland and their neighbors.

Lonely Planet Eastern Europe

Author: Lonely Planet

Description: This practical guide includes Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic as well as the Baltic States, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and the Balkans.

The Balkans, A Short History

Author: Mark Mazower

Description: A brief, provocative survey of the complex and often contentious history of the Balkans. With eloquence and insight, Mazower addresses the issues of geography, nationalism and modern nation-building in the region.

The Habsburgs, Embodying Empire

Author: Andrew Wheatcroft

Description: The Habsburgs ruled over more diverse peoples and cultures than any other European dynasty since the Roman period. With skillful scholarship and engaging style, Wheatcroft reveals the history of this family of eccentric monarchs.

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