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Balkans tour: from Budapest to Bucharest

Hello, I am seriously considering joining a friend on a coach tour through the Balkans (May). I have already extensively traveled independently through Slovenia and Croatia and have visited Budapest, the starting point. The rest will be all new. The 18-day trip goes from Hungary to Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania. It's with an upscale tour operator, so the coach bus will at least be comfortable for covering the distance. With this friend, a tour is the only option and she identified this one as her top choice. Here is the itinerary, in brief: Day 2, 3 - Budapest Day 4 - Puszta, Pali? (Serbia) & Belgrade Day 5 - Belgrade Day 6 - Through the Bosnian Mountains to Sarajevo Day 7 - Sarajevo Day 8 - Mostar & Dubrovnik Day 9 - Dubrovnik, Pearl of the Adriatic Day 10 - Kotor and the Albanian Capital of Tirana Day 11 - Ohrid (Macedonia) Day 12 - Skopje and Sofia Day 13 - Sofia Day 14 - Veliko Turnovo & village of Arbanassi Day 15 - Prahova Valley & Sinaia, Brasov Day 16 - Transylvania: Bran Castle, Castles, Sighisoara Day 17, 18 - Bucharest I find the itinerary appealing, from a historical and cultural viewpoint, but I really don't know much at all about this region... I never would have contemplated going through Macedonia and had never heard of Ohrid, which sounds quite interesting. What are your thoughts about and your experiences with these destinations?
Thanks for your input.

Posted by
1828 posts

Your trip sounds exciting and would be a good way for you to get acquainted with the area. I would go. The people in Romania call their capital city Bucuresti.

Posted by
6697 posts

To each his own, but this tour is what I call super rushed whirlwind tour that has a lot destinations packed in ( I think I counted 18, holy cow!). Some of these cities are quite big so they deserve more than a day (or day and half) but if you want to get the "top highlights", you'll likely get it. Sounds like you'll be on the bus every day, so find out how many hours each day is "bus time" vs. "sight-seeing time". See if the balance seems reasonable to you (if not, pick a tour that's less ambitious in terms of areas covered). It's a fascinating underrated region and worth going to, so take advantage of such a trip if that's the only way you'll make it out there. I spent 12 days just in Croatia (coast from Split to Dubrovnik), Montanegro and Sarajevo and Mostar on a regular (non-tour) trip, and would have liked more time (I loved them all and would go back anytime). My advice is to check out a book from the library about the Balkans and learn more. The region has a sad and very interesting history, and it will definitely enhance your experience if you know some background on it before you go there. By the way, "upscale" tour operators don't have any lock on comfortable buses. There are regular public coach long-distance buses in the region that are can be just as comfortable and clean as a tour operator's - I bet they are even the same bus types (tour groups rent a bus and a local driver on the ground, so they are available locally). I took a long-distance bus in Croatia and Bosnia and saw no difference in comfort or quality of the bus - they were both clean and modern.

Posted by
62 posts

I am on board with Agnes; just too much in too little time to actually enjoy the sights. More time along the Dalmatian Coast would be worthwhile and since Tirana and Skopje are (in my opinion) two of the least interesting capitals in Europe I would not even bother and use the time saved there to spend addiitonal in Dubrovnik. Lake Ohrid and Sveti Naum are worth seeing and then head to Sofia but if you miss making a day trip from Sofia to the Rila Monastery you might as well skip Sofia entirely (although it is my favorite since I have a home away from there). Veliko Turnovo and Arbanassi are a tight squeeze for a single day and be relaxed about the visit. I care nothing for Bucharest and after two visits I am only found there due to train transfers. As Rick Says..."Always assume that you will return".

Posted by
12320 posts

I am sort of in the "too much too fast" camp. But some people just love those trips. If there is any room for options here you might find private guides and form your own trip. Don't know how much you are paying but figure about $400 a day for a private guide(s) through those regions. I can hook you up with good guides in Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. In about 15 days of real touring you will spend about 45 hours on the bus; which I don't guess is real bad. Bottom line, everyone has different interests and expectation. I wouldn't refuse the trip but If I were going to plan it I would do it differently. I will be back in Bulgaria in May, maybe we will cross paths. Here is the itinerary, in brief: Day 2, 3 - Budapest I assume day one is when you leave the US and day two is the day you arrive. So that amounts to 1.5 days in Budapest. Fine (maybe) if you have been to Budapest but a little short for your friend. That half day is after 19 hours of traveling and with jet lag. Two more days would be better. Day 4 - Puszta, Pali? (Serbia) & Belgrade (4 hour drive time) Doable but a long day. I imagine you will stop for the show which means it will be pretty late when you get to Belgrade. Day 5 - Belgrade
Yea!!!!

Posted by
12320 posts

Day 6 - Through the Bosnian Mountains to Sarajevo (5 hour drive time) Day 7 - Sarajevo Yea!!!!! Day 8 - Mostar & Dubrovnik (4 hour drive time) You will arrive in Dubrovnik pretty late in the day and not have much time in Mostar. Be better to spend the night and drive into Dubrovnik the next day. Day 9 - Dubrovnik, Pearl of the Adriatic One entire day!!! Guess it could be worse. Day 10 - Kotor and the Albanian Capital of Tirana (6 hour drive time) Kotor could be a day and you are missing some other choice stops in Montenegro. Day 11 - Ohrid (3 hour drive time) Don't know enough about Ohrid to comment Day 12 - Skopje and Sofia (6 hour drive time) Sounds like an all day road trip with a short stop in Skopje. I am guessing (everything here is a guess) that you will arrive pretty late in Sofia. Day 13 - Sofia A day is good. A lot of folks don't like Sofia but I do and I could spend a couple of days here. Day 14 - Veliko Turnovo & village of Arbanassi (3 hour drive time) Veliko Turnovo is a full day easily, Arbanassi is a good couple of hours. Great place Day 15 - Prahova Valley & Sinaia, Brasov (5 hour drive time) Sinaia and Brasov are both full day visits. Day 16 - Transylvania: Bran Castle, Castles, Sighisoara (4 hour drive time)
Sighisoara is great and requires the better part of a full day. Day 17, 18 – Bucharest (5 hour drive time) Bucharest gets a bad rap. I could spend two days here. But your day two is your return day so it doesn't count.

Posted by
226 posts

If you do this tour, plan on returning....you will want to! I've been to Budapest for 3 full days two different times and need to return again. It's a wonderful city, liked it better than Prague as it still has a 19th Century charm. Spent an entire day in Belgrade...it was not enough. Belgrade has such an interesting history and is so geographically important - I feel need to go back there also. Veliko Turnovo and Arbanassi were thoroughly enjoyable and beautiful - we spent 1 1/2 days. Another area we did not allocate enough time for was Brasov/Translavania - we only had 2 days....should have been 3, at least. Do not underestimate Bucuresti - we spent 3 full days and enjoyed every minute of it. I felt I needed to experience "former Eastern Europe" (as some refer to it) before it looses a lot of it's charm and am glad I did. It will be interesting to compare my trip last year to another in a few years.

Posted by
226 posts

@James - you might be right. We both live in Texas, but I'm not a native....

Posted by
1828 posts

Just go and have a good time. We went from Bucuresti to Budapest on the train. There's lots of farm land between and patches of forest here and there. Other than that I don't know what to see.

Posted by
7 posts

I am originally from Budapest, grew up in California & now live in Ireland. I have been back to visit family dozens of times...and still find something new all over the country everytime I go back. I am sure all of these cities will be the same. Depending on what your interests are...cathedrals, museums, historical, foodie, etc. you may want to plan ahead & stick to it as there are so many things packed into this Capital city you may get easily side-tracked. Not to mention the rest of the country!
Have a great time & make notes of where you would go back to next time you have a chance to visit these places!!

Posted by
6320 posts

Diane, I've never been to that area but would love to so I'd do it in a heartbeat! It sounds like a really good way to see a good sampling of that area and it goes to lots of places you might not even think of on an independent trip. For those who say it's 'too much' or 'too fast', if it's an independent trip I'd say yes, I agree. However for a guided tour it's really not bad - I've done more hectic tours. This one at least has several 2 night stays and only a few 1 nighters. On a tour, without any transportation hassles, finding hotels, etc. this kind of schedule can work just fine.

Posted by
1437 posts

Many thanks to everyone for your input. Nancy, you kinda hit the issue on the head for this one. The kicker is who I will be traveling with this time. I honestly do not want to be the one in charge of the logistics - she's a dear, but I would not want to be on the receiving end of her displeasure, if her expectations were not met, LOL! With DH, no question would we be visiting the region very differently. I've been to Budapest a couple of times before and will take any excuse to go back! ;-) I have talked her into arriving several days early, before the tour starts. I agree that there isn't much time allocated to really enjoying many of the stops - it's a good thing that I've already had the pleasure of exploring Dubrovnik (previous trip, when we zigzagged around Slovenia and Croatia on our own for 3 weeks.) Mark, Rila Monastery will be offered from Sofia. James, thank you so much for the detailed comments, "yeahs", and breakdown of the driving times - that was really helpful in getting an idea of the "bus-time" that we'll be dealing with. The buses are full-sized custom Mercedes, with only 40 seats - so lots of legroom. It looks like several of the days will at least have 4-6 hours on the bus... that'll be OK for this time. I appreciate the encouragement and the positive words about the region from all of you. I may even decide to stay behind when my friend goes home at the end, and make my way overland back to Budapest on my own. Any thoughts on traveling solo, from Bucharest back to Budapest? i.e. stopping in Sibiu? Anywhere else, if I were to allocate extra days at the end?

Posted by
12320 posts

Diane, A few years back I made a car trip from Sibiu to Budapest. That's the last two thirds of a trip from Bucharest to Budapest. It was a fascinating trip and I wouldn't mind doing it again. Now, i'm soft so I didn't actually drive. Our train to Budapest was canceled due to a strike and the tour guide we had hired for a few days said; what the heck, I've never been to Budapest, how about I drive you - and off we went. We think of him as a family friend now. His business has grown and I send people to him and have always gotten good comments at the end of the trip. His name is Daniel http://covinnus.com/ I am planning a little fishing trip in Bulgaria in the spring and have been looking for the best way to get me from Sofia back to Budapest. I even checked the flights from Bucharest back to Budapest and I wasn't real pleased with what I found. Wizz Air does fly from Tirgu Mures (TGM) to Budapest but that's a little out of the way for me and I don't much care for Wizz Air, they left me stranded once. For my particular trip it is beginning to look like I fly Budapest to Istanbul and spend some time there before driving the 3 or 4 hours to Bulgaria and then return to Budapest out of Istanbul; spending a day in Istanbul coming and going to do some site seeing. Have a blast and if you think you will find yourself in Budapest for a few days please let me know.

Posted by
1437 posts

Well, we're booked for it! :-)

I'll be spending 6 days again in Budapest before the tour and I'm really looking forward to it.

Thanks James for the info that you gathered about possibly returning to Budapest at the end. It helped make the decision to simply fly back from Bucaresti. I still haven't decided if and where I should spend extra days after the end of the tour (solo) - in or out of Bucaresti. Our tour doesn't stop in Sibiu, but does overnight (2 nights) in Brasov, so I probably would not head back that way.

Again, I appreciated the feedback and valuable info that you all shared.

Posted by
12320 posts

Diane,

You might contact Daniel and tell him all that you are going to see in Romania as part of the tour and ask for his recommendation of what to do at the end of the trip. Believe me its a big beautiful country and while I think Bucharest is under rated and I can spend a couple of days there, it would be my choice after seeing a lot of other things first.

If you need help with things to do in Budapest let me know.