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6 Weeks Barcelona return to Eastern Europe - Itinerary

Finally I'm starting to be convinced that we may get to Europe next year. We have cruises booked that will give us 6 weeks in Sept-Oct 2022 - arriving and departing from Barcelona.

I'll be 60 (gulp)- he'll be 70! We've travelled a lot, normally backpacking style, I tend to mix cheap places up with 5-star places. We like history, museums, local food. He's not as fit as he used to be heart issues means that he may need to go with a roll-along rather than a backpack this time. We also might need to take a few more taxis/ubers and less just walking around. We intend to mainly travel by train - thinking about hiring a car in some places - but not for the majority of the trip - because parking + medieval cities - yuk We'll leave a bag of cruise clothes in Barcelona and travel light.

We were last in Europe 10 years ago - that was Netherlands, Berlin, Prague, Munich, Ireland (family). We've both done the "classic" Europe stuff before (him on a tour, me on a Eurail pass). The cruise will give us port stops at Barcelona, Villafrance, Naples, Rome, Mallorca.

We want to focus on the Balkans and Eastern Europe. I'm not interested in a day-byday itinerary but I'm thinking of something like this:
Week 1 : Barcelona- southern France (Le Petite Jeune train looks cool) - Venice (been before but like it)
Week 2: Slovenia (never been may hire a car). Croatia (never been - beaches look amazing - still warm in September I hope?)
Weeks 3: More Croatia - Mostar.
Week 4: This itinerary - Bar to Belgrade - Budapest (I've been before but in 89 - its probably changed)
Week 5;: Hungary, Krakow, love to go to Lyviv but visas are difficult for NZers - if not more time maybe Brataslavia?
Week 6: I'm thinking maybe back via some of the mountain railways of Switzerland or possibly Bilbao area of Spain - or are we cramming too much in

Covering too much? Too little? Would seem that most of it will work on trains/ ferries. Definitely don't want to do multiday tours - but happy for day trips recommendations. Must dos/don't mss - particularly in the East we've seen nothing.

We don't want to move too fast - I need to work - he can't walk all day like we used to - but hopefully will be fitter by then.

Budget is not a huge big deal - I'm working on RS's suggestion which comes out at about Euro310 / 2/day . Normally I just look at hotels for a idea of prices and then multiple x3 (1/3 hotel 1/3 local transport etc 1/3 food) - but I've no idea what the prices I'm seeing for Sept of this year will relate to Sept of next year. I'm expecting Bosnia, Serbia, maybe Hungary, Poland to be a bit cheaper?

We don't like airbnbs or bnbs but happy to stay in small local hotels. Don't mind sharing bathrooms - but probably care more about elevators than we used to! Not particularly fussed on breakfast - we tend to eat 2 meals a day when travelling breakfast / dinner or lunch /dinner.

And lets just assumed that everyone is vaccinated by then (including us) and the life has returned to normal.

Posted by
15 posts

I'm in your age range and we sound like the same type of travelers. I want to encourage you to spend more time in Poland which is now my favorite country. It is a real travel bargain and has everything except the warm sandy beaches (to be honest , it does have a few near Gdansk.) If you google my name and add dot com you can see my website which has some travel recommendations on visiting Krakow. My last time there was to research for a WWII book in 2018 so we visited many cities and sites with that interest in mind.

If you want to spend some time in the mountains, go to Zawoja or Zakopane mountain areas in Poland for hiking and beautiful scenery. Krakow has the largest medieval town square in Europe and has so many sites within driving distance. I took trains and buses to the Wieliczka Salt Mines, Zakopane, and Auschwitz and traveled to farther distant villages to visit family. I agree about L'viv. We were told about the traffic tie-ups and random difficulty at the border.

We rented an apartment near the town square in Krakow and found it to be an excellent way to enjoy the city. The standards were high and it was super clean and modern. We haven't had to share a bathroom in decades and don't intend to go back to that.

BTW- in Barcelona, we went to Monserret, a monastery in the mountain. We took the subway to a regional train and then to the cable car. Easy peasy. Barcelona is a great city!

Posted by
17765 posts

I've been everywhere you mentioned except Bar, the Bar-Belgrade RR, and Bratislava. I'm 69 years old myself but still average 7 miles a day in Europe on summer-long trips. I do think you're planning to move awfully fast through some places that have many days of interesting sights. Plus you're going to be spending a lot of time in transit, which will cut sharply into your productive sightseeing time.

Caveat: I spend much, much more time at each destination than the typical traveler. I love art museums and seldom pass up a sight related to WWII or the Cold War (and there are lots of those in central and eastern Europe). I'm much more worried about having to leave a city with sights unseen than I am about being bored; there's always a day-trip to be take if I run out of local sights (which almost never happens).

I agree with your supposition about expenses being lower to the east, but I can't comment on your estimated daily cost because I travel a lot more cheaply than you do and am a solo traveler.

I love the architecture in Barcelona, and the city also has a lot of worthwhile museums. The public transit system is very good. Many sights required timed entry tickets even before the pandemic (and those tickets are not cheap, so you won't want to cut your time short once you've bought them) and many of them are popular to the point of being crowded, which slows one down. Having to build in padding at each step of the way to avoid missing entry times makes it difficult to be a super-efficient tourist in Barcelona. I'd suggest reading the Barcelona chapter of a good guidebook and making a list of sightseeing targets to get an idea of how many days you'll want in the city. My guess is that it will be a minimum of 4 days (5 nights), but you may disagree. One not-crowded sight I especially like is the Sant Pau modernista site. I also enjoyed the Barri Gotic walking tour offered by the tourist office. Note that the tour doesn't cover the entire Barri Gotic, so if you like wandering around medieval districts, you'll want to spend some additional time there.

There are some very worthwhile day-trips from Barcelona. I love Girona with its large medieval old town (walkable wall, two historic churches, nice small art museum, Jewish Museum, etc.). The Miro Theatre-Museum in Figueres is fun; don't miss the jewelry collection nearby. The former fishing village of Cadaques is lovely if touristy, and there's a second Dali-related sight in that area. Getting to Cadaques requires a (very scenic) bus ride from Figueres. Those three places are more efficiently seen while staying in Girona (less out-and-back transportation). I would definitely not try to do all three from Barcelona in one day, though I wouldn't be surprised to find there's a bus tour that combines them. I haven't been to Montserrat.

Another poster has highly recommended the one-day Medieval Catalunya bus tour that hits some small towns not easily accessed via public transportation.

I do recommend the Yellow Train, but be aware that it takes time to get to the starting point, then the trip itself takes many hours and you end up a regional-train ride away from the point at which you'd be able to continue your trek on to Venice (probably Perpignan). I didn't start that leg of my journey in Barcelona, so I'm just guessing when I say you may need to allow about two days just to make your way to Perpignan. Of course there are also some interesting places to see in that part of France beyond the Yellow Train route, and on the Spanish side of the border are such very attractive towns as La Seu d'Urgell and Puigcerda.

I don't think it's workable to try to cover Barcelona (even without day-trips), the Yellow Train and Venice in just one week. Even if you fly into Venice, it will take time to get to a useful airport from either end of the Yellow Train route.

Running out of space. More in another post.

Posted by
17765 posts

Ljubljana is charming. It's not terribly large but is a lovely place to spend 2 days or so just wandering around. It's not rich in important museums. I think a car for a few days to see some of rural Slovenia would be a great idea, but I haven't done that. I used buses plus a taxi or two to get to Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj and Vintgar Gorge. You should find some useful ideas about the Julian Alps in earlier threads on this forum. It may be worth knowing that Lake Bled is really small. I walked all the way around it (on a nice flat path), and it didn't take long--maybe two hours. That might be more than your husband would want to do, though.

Croatia is a long, skinny country with a very limited rail network. The links between Slovenia and Croatia that I'm aware of are bus and train service between Ljubljana and Zagreb and bus service from Ljubljana to the Istrian Peninsula. I like Zagreb a great deal. It has a bi-level historic center and lots of art museums. It can be cool and/or rainy as you get into October. The Istrian Peninsula is worth a few days. Rovinj has a medieval center, Pula has some Roman ruins, Porec is a colorful coastal town, and there are some atmospheric inland towns like Motovun and Groznjan. I took a once-a week one-day bus tour of inland Istria that I really enjoyed.

Plitvice Lakes National Park is special. It does involve walking. The paths are partly on wooden walkways over the shallow lakes (usually without handrails) and partly over uneven ground whichmay have have fallen leaves; they could be slippery when wet. There's a short boat ride and a bus ride that help reduce the amount of walking one does, and there are multiple mapped-out routes of different lengths. However, there's a fair amount of walking needed. The park has become massively crowded in recent years and now guarantees entrance only to those who've bought a ticket ahead of time. I only recommend Plitvice to folks who can spend a night near the park, allowing them to get in first thing in the morning before the folks commuting from other bases arrive. That will make a huge difference in a visitor's enjoyment of the park.

There's no rail line running down the Dalmatian Coast, so you'll need to use buses unless you want to drive. The buses are generally very comfortable. One thing to be aware of is that there's a small fee to place a bag in the hold of the bus; when the bus-company employee asks for money, it is not a scam (or a tip). There's bus service from Zagreb (and I think also from Split) to Plitvice Lakes National Park. For the islands you may need to take a ferry or two. Really there are lots of attractive places along the coast. I liked Zadar, whose historic center is flat.

I visited Mostar (and Sarajevo) ages ago and don't remember the details. I suspect that Mostar is accessible by bus from both Split and Dubrovnik.

Belgrade is an interesting city. You'll probably find it feels more foreign than your other destinations. It definitely gets fewer American tourists. I'd recommend allowing at least one full day there just for the experience. There are enough sights to justify a longer stay.

Budapest is, for me, like Barcelona: Just full of interesting architecture and museums, plus it has an overlay of 20th-century historic sights. The sights are somewhat spread out, but there's good public transportation. You could easily spend a full week there without getting bored; I'd certainly recommend at least 4 full days (5 nights). The city has been cleaned up and westernized since 1989, and the food is very good and reasonably priced.

Hungary has many, many other interesting cities. I do plan to visit Bratislava on my next trip to central Europe, but I don't think I'll find it as interesting as some of the smaller Hungarian cities I've visited. I think you're going to end up trimming you itinerary a lot, and Bratislava is a cut I'd make.

Remaining comments in next post.

Posted by
17765 posts

I totally agree with dgawell: Poland is great. And it's big. I spent 6 weeks there in 2018 and could have stayed longer. Krakow is lovely, but so is Gdansk. Warsaw doesn't get as many American visitors, I don't think, but it has lots of very interesting sights. The Warsaw Rising Museum and POLIN (the Jewish Museum) both took me about a full day to see, spread over multiple visits. I had to keep extending my time in Warsaw.

I didn't have to get a visa for Ukraine and am surprised that you would need one. However, given the time you have available and the territory you'd like to cover, I agree that L'viv shouldn't be attempted as part of this trip.

In fact, I'd recommend dropping Poland as well. Plan another trip to Poland and Ukraine. Give yourself more time in the other places. I'm concerned that you're going to end up with a trip that has too much time spent moving from place to place. In addition, I fear the weather might be getting sub-optimal in Poland by October. Really, from my perspective you have at least three 6-week trips laid out here.

I like the Basque Country a lot, but you seriously don't have time for it as part of this itinerary. I like that area for a summer trip, when it is likely to provide a very pleasant break from the hot weather elsewhere in Spain. There are many other great stops stretched out all across northern Spain, all the way to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. You could spend nearly your entire 6 weeks just in that area and Barcelona.

I should have mentioned in my earlier post that the small country of Montenegro is gorgeous. Kotor is sort of a mini-Dubrovnik (though I've come to agree with James E that there's no need to go to both on the same trip--and Dubrovnik is more dramatic). Budva is also attractive. Ulcinj (quite near Bar) has a strong Turkish vibe, and Herceg-Novi and Cetinje are interesting as well.

Posted by
11989 posts

Never been to Barcelona. All the rest, yes. All sorts of options

If you started in Barcelona there are discount flights to Budapest. Maybe $100.

From Budapest you can head to Belgrade by air (another discount route) or ground then take the train to Bar. There is an excellent blogger that describes this train ride, He also has posts on most of the region, I think he is the best in the business

From Bar work your way north through BiH and Croatia and Slovenia, and then Venice is a short hop away.

Sorry about L’viv. A wonderful place. I am surprised US citizens don’t need a visa and you do.

Posted by
413 posts

Hi Lis, you can fly nonstop on a budget carrier for less than $75 from Barcelona to Zagreb on Vueling. Since it’s a low-cost carrier it will cost more to check a bag.
From Zagreb you can take a direct train to Ljubljana and sleep there. A good day trip from Ljubliana is to take a bus to Lake Bled and walk around the lake. Make sure you sample the cream cake while there.
Return to Zagreb and take a bus to Plitvice Lakes National Park for a day. Once you’ve exhausted Zagreb fly nonstop to Sarajevo on Croatia Airlines (approximately $108). From Sarajevo take a train to Mostar:
From Mostar take a bus to Dubrovnik and make Dubrovnik your home. You can take a day trip to the Bay of Kotor from there. From Dubrovnik I would take a boat to Korcula and sleep there before moving on to Hvar sleeping there too. I would then take another boat to Split and spend some time in Split before taking a bus to Rovinj and explore that area. From Rovinj you can take a boat to Venice and fly nonstop from Venice to Barcelona for less than $25.

Posted by
101 posts

Lis - this sounds like an awesome opportunity. Are your weeks between 2 cruises? If so and you want to focus on the East.. I'd rearrange and fly as far "east" and north as I wished to explore. Then head west towards Barcelona. Probably drop "outliers" of Bilbao, Switz. & southern France. To me - looks like a lot of ground and wonderful history to try to cover in 6 weeks if you try to include all of them.

I entered some of your key cities on Googlemaps for a "driving" route ( I know you won't drive any/much but it gives a great idea of your geography and relative distances). When we plan - I try to allow at least 4 full days for first time visits in any of the blockbuster cities. We have not been to any of the "eastern" cities.. So here is what I'd maybe plan (timing and transportation- I leave up to others location experts). First 5+ weeks - Prague, Krakow, Budapest,... Belgrade, Mostar.. up Croatian coast, finish in Venice - flight to Barcelona. If you have extra days - maybe add stops in smaller cities along the way or somewhere in Italy (Milan or Florence?) with quick flights back to Barcelona. Leave the last 4 or 5 nights for Barcelona (been here bunches and still find great "stuff"). This would give you time to explore the major cities, do some day trips and wander some of the countryside and, I think, get a good feel for a unique and "different" region of the world from NZ.

You can balance the amount of time in each city - based on your likes and interests. Have a wonderful trip.

Now you have me thinking of routes for next Fall.

Posted by
649 posts

For what it's worth: Rovinj, Croatia was great and there are several interesting hill towns nearby such as Grožnjan and Motovun. Also give a thumbs up to Piran, Lake Bled and Ljubljana, Slovenia. All of these places are fairly close together and easily accessible via car. Hope this helps!

Posted by
7 posts

OMG so much useful information! You guys are the best! You've basically confirmed what I suspected that was getting too ambitious!

I had totally discounted flying in Europe - for reasons I'm not sure of - but you're right flying east and working our way back makes a lot of sense. Yes we're between 2 cruises.

We've been to Barcelona before -and love it. Will definitely have some days there. However we will probably spend most of that time at the end of the trip - its not fun "having" to get back to not miss a cruise the next day. However @acraven you've now added a whole bunch of other small towns in the area! That would be a nice contrast I have a tendency to just focus on big cities and going rural is nice. My Catalan and French is rubbish so I hope they forgive me for speaking bad Spanish.

I'm sure Poland is lovely- but I think logically its for another trip (this is not our last trip to Europe) - I'd love to do a Poland/Ukraine/Baltics/Russia trip. Yeah the visa thing hits us sometimes - its just because we have little trade and so few links to the Ukraine we effectively get left off lists of countries! I'd love to see Ukraine - but not this time. We can get visas - its just they need that advance planning - so not really worth it for a quick day or 2.

Yes my partner loves WW2 stuff and I find the Cold War fascinating (we both do) - so basically @acraven I think you're right and we'll seriously have to slow down. Barcelona we really want to catchup with progress on Sagrada Familia in the last 20 odd years, plus do side trips like Girona which we haven't done previously. And eat and drink - Spain is my favourite food country of Europe.

Weatherwise was why I discounted going too far north this time. We have managed to arrange this entire trip (Hawaii-SF-Panama Canal-Barcelona-Italy-Barcelona-Eastern Europe-Barcelona-Suez Canal-Oman-Sri Lanka-Singapore-home) to be in the summer / warm/hot zone. We've had to do a couple of winters in NZ so very happy to go with warm weather clothes for the entire trip LOL

@quilter17 - that's a good tip of dropping locations into Google maps and seeing how they join up. We're both perfectly capable of driving if necessary - but I just think it adds a big hassle factor when it comes to parking and getting around cities. I think I will get a "wish" list of top locations x 4 days - and see where I end up with !

I'll post again when I have another go LOL

We have until January to commit to the first cruise - by then hopefully it will be somewhat clearer how travel in Europe will play out - e.g. how many airlines and hotels will actually survive.

Posted by
15 posts

Ukraine sounds strained for travel now. I read just today that Biden is planning on placing more troops near the Ukraine border because of Russian aggression.

Posted by
11989 posts

The situation in Ukraine is frightening at the very least. This is one of those situations where its not COVID but Geopolitical situations that might shape your decision making. But, if you were to decide to go, given the size of the country and where the threat exists, I cant imagine L'viv not being safe. Ukraine remains open for US Tourists with a PCR test. However most cities are in lockdown and will be for at least another 10 days ... then we see.