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

Program Number: 19361RJ
Start and End Dates:
5/3/2014 - 5/16/2014; 6/6/2015 - 6/19/2015; 9/26/2015 - 10/9/2015;
Duration: 13 nights
Location: Romania/Hungary/Croatia/Serbia/Bulgaria/Turkey
Price starting at: $5,353.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Adventure Afloat Study Cruise; River Boats
Meals: 33; 12 Breakfasts, 10 Lunches, 11 Dinners    
Meal Options: Low Fat; Low Salt; Vegetarian; Gluten Free    

Sail east from Budapest on the Danube River to find treasures once obscured by the Iron Curtain: the idyllic vineyards of Villány, the spectacular Iron Gate where the river squeezes between mountains and the medieval castles of Bulgaria. 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 / two miles at a time, sometimes twice per day; cobblestones and unavoidable stairs.

Itinerary At-a-Glance

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

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

Days 2-3: Arrival Budapest (Hungary) / embark AmaCerto:

Discover Heroes’ Square and the Great Synagogue before boarding the ship on the Danube. Lodging: Centrally located hotel.

Day 4: Pécs / Villány:

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

Day 5: Vukovar (Croatia) / Novi Sad (Serbia):

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 6: Belgrade:

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

Day 7: On River:

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

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: Bucharest (Romania):

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

Day 10: Rousse (Bulgaria) / disembark / coach to Plovdiv:

Journey to Veliko Tarnovo and its medieval fortress that once housed the rulers of Bulgaria. Continue to Plovdiv and explore its Old Town. Lodging: Centrally located hotel.

Days 11-14: Coach to Istanbul (Turkey) / departure:

Venture into Turkey and visit Selimiye Mosque, one of the most beautiful examples of Islamic architecture. Then on to Istanbul to absorb the grandness of the Hagia Sophia and see the Bosphorus Strait on a boat 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
   Danubius Hotel Astoria
  Budapest, Hungary 1 night
   MS Amacerto
  MS Amacerto - At Sea, At Sea 7 nights
   Ramada Plovdiv Trimontium Hotel
  Plovdiv, Bulgaria 1 night
   Armada Hotel
  Istanbul, Turkey 3 nights
 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 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

 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. 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

 Ramada Plovdiv Trimontium Hotel
Type: Four-Star Hotel
  Description: Ramada Plovdiv Trimontium Hotel 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

 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
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 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: 12:00 PM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Budapest, Hungary. Program starts at 4:30 PM at the hotel. You will be staying at Danubius Hotel Astoria that night.
  End of Program:
Istanbul, Turkey. After breakfast on the last day. You will be staying at Armada Hotel the night before.
  Required documents:
The Road Scholar Health & Safety Form is required.
  Parking availability:
Transportation (For Independent Travelers)
To Start of Program
  Location:  Budapest
  Nearest highway: Road 4, M1, M7
  Nearest airport:  Budapest Liszt Ferenc
  Transportation to site: Take a taxi from the airport to the hotel. It will cost approx. 5000 Hungarian Forints and take approximately 30 minutes.
  From End of Program
  Location:  Istanbul
  Nearest city or town:  In town
  Nearest airport:  Atatürk International Airport
  Transportation from site: The Armada Hotel is located about 10 miles from the airport. A taxi ride to the airport from the hotel costs approximately $15 USD. To book a private transfer, please contact
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
(Saturday, May 3)
 In Transit: Depart US/Canada on international flights.

Day 2: Budapest, Hungary
(Sunday, May 4)
 Morning: Arrive at Budapest's Liszt Ferenc International airport (BUD). Transfer to the hotel Astoria.
 Lunch: Explore local fare on your own.
 Afternoon: Welcome orientation and introductions at the hotel at 4:30 PM.
 Dinner: Welcome dinner in the hotel dining room.
Accommodations: Danubius Hotel Astoria
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 3: Budapest, Hungary / Embark
(Monday, May 5)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in hotel dining room.
 Morning: 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. Transfer to the ship.
 Lunch: Light lunch on board.
 Afternoon: Check into your cabin, followed by crew introductions, and a welcome drink.
 Dinner: Welcome dinner on board.
 Evening: The ship sets sail from Budapest to Mohacs.
Accommodations: MS Amacerto
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Mohacs, Hungary / Pecs / Villany
(Tuesday, May 6)
 Breakfast: Breakfast on board.
 Morning: Sail on the Danube, bordering Serbia and Croatia. Docking in Mohacs, we enjoy an excursion to the old city of Pecs.
 Lunch: Lunch on board.
 Afternoon: We travel by coach to Villany for a wine tasting. In the late afternoon, enjoy some free time in Mohacs.
 Dinner: Dinner on board.
 Evening: We sail in the direction of Vukovar, Croatia where we will dock for the night.
Accommodations: MS Amacerto
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Vukovar, Croatia / Novi Sad, Serbia
(Wednesday, May 7)
 Breakfast: Breakfast on board.
 Morning: This morning we’ll have a combined bus and walking field trip in Vukovar city. It is here that the war started between Serbia and Croatia.
 Lunch: Lunch on board.
 Afternoon: Lecture: "The History of Former Yugoslavia." After some sailing we dock in Novi Sad, Serbia where we will have a guided city tour.
 Dinner: Dinner on board.
Accommodations: MS Amacerto
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Belgrade, Serbia
(Thursday, May 8)
 Breakfast: Breakfast on board.
 Morning: Lecture: "New countries, and now..." 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.
Accommodations: MS Amacerto
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: The Iron Gates
(Friday, May 9)
 Breakfast: Breakfast on board.
 Morning: Today we enjoy a full day of 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.
 Lunch: Lunch on board.
 Afternoon: 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.
 Dinner: Dinner on board.
Accommodations: MS Amacerto
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 8: Vidin, Bulgaria
(Saturday, May 10)
 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 at the place of 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 Zaječar 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."
 Lunch: Lunch on board.
 Afternoon: Field trip to the 6th century Belogradschik Castle. Initially, the Belogradchik Fortress was used 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: Bucharest, Romania
(Sunday, May 11)
 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. We will pass the Arch of Triumph, Soseaua Kiseleff, the Atheneum, the library, and then visit Parliament Palace.
 Lunch: Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant with live music.
 Afternoon: This afternoon we visit the Bucharest Open Air Village Museum where you will see a large variety of housing from Romania.
 Dinner: Dinner on board.
 Evening: Enjoy the last evening of sailing as we head to Bulgaria.
Accommodations: MS Amacerto
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 10: Disembark / Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria / Plovdiv
(Monday, May 12)
 Breakfast: Breakfast on board.
 Morning: This morning we disembark in Rousse, say goodbye to our ship and take a coach to Veliko Turnovo, the former capital of Bulgaria. We will have a stop near Tsarevets Hill, the citadel and old fortress walls, the Royal Palaces, the Patriarchal church, and Baldwin's tower, where you will have some free time to explore. Afterwards, we drive to Kazanlak, the major town in the Valley of the Roses.
 Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant in Kazanlak.
 Afternoon: We continue by bus to Plovdiv where we will check in at our hotel by the end of the afternoon and have a guided excursion of the Old Town.
 Dinner: Dinner in the hotel dining room.
Accommodations: Ramada Plovdiv Trimontium Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 11: Edirne, Turkey
(Tuesday, May 13)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in the hotel dining room.
 Morning: Transfer by coach from Plovdiv to Edirne, the second capital of the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century and a city with many monuments, mosques, and caravanserais all from 14th - 16th century. Transfer from our Bulgarian bus to our Turkish bus on the Turkish side of the border. Visit the Selimiye Mosque, the epitome of Ottoman architecture, masterpiece of the great architect Sinan.
 Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant in Edirne to try the local delicacy of kofte (meatballs).
 Afternoon: Our local Turkish expert will join us for the rest of the program and will present a lecture on Turkey and Istanbul during the afternoon coach transfer to Istanbul. Arrival in Istanbul. Check into the hotel, located along the ancient coastal walls of the city.
 Dinner: Dinner in the hotel dining room.
Accommodations: Armada Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 12: Istanbul, Turkey
(Wednesday, May 14)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in the hotel dining room.
 Morning: Explore the Topkapi Palace and the Harem. The Topkapi Palace was the seat of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years and a great testimony to the wealth and power of the Ottoman Empire. Enjoy guided field trip in Istanbul to experience such sights as the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Cisterns which were built to store water in 6th century. Continue on to the Hippodrome, the civic center of ancient Constantinople, where chariot races were run between the four teams of Blues, Greens, Whites, and Reds.
 Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.
 Afternoon: We continue our field trip through Istanbul.
 Dinner: Explore local fare on your own.
Accommodations: Armada Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 13: Istanbul, Turkey
(Thursday, May 15)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in the hotel dining room.
 Morning: This morning, visit the Chora Church/Kariye Museum to witness its exquisite mosaics and frescoes from the 14th century, a period of Byzantine reawakening in arts. Later, we 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.
 Lunch: Explore local fare on your own near the Spice Bazaar.
 Afternoon: Continue the day by exploring the Spice Bazaar, where exotic spices were sold for 300 years. Enjoy a visit to the Grand Bazaar to discover its maze-like streets and alleys and 4,000 shops!
 Dinner: Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.
Accommodations: Armada Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 14: Departures
(Friday, May 16)
 Breakfast: Breakfast in the hotel dining room.
 Morning: Transfer to the Istanbul Ataturk airport (IST) for departures.
Meals Included: Breakfast

Free Time Opportunities
  MS Amacerto - At Sea Bicycles
The ship has plenty of bicycles with helmets and locks onboard which can be used by passengers, free of charge, to explore the small towns. Most regions offer well-maintained bicycle paths along the river.
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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