Exploring the Balkans: An Amazing Adventure From Istanbul to Skopje

Travel throughout the Balkans on this incredible adventure—from the bustling streets of Istanbul, Turkey, all the way up to the ancient landscapes of Skopje in North Macedonia. This immersive itinerary covers the key aspects of traveling to different cultural, historical, and natural sites during a seven-week adventure.

This tour is based on my six months of travel through the Balkans and Turkey. It is not designed to rush from one place to another. But to have time to enjoy the time you have. There’s no running from town to town, and most bus rides are under five hours.

I have been to all these cities except Viliko Tarnovo. This list is not meant to be all-inclusive; it is just meant to give you the highlights without having to separate the more attractive cities from the less-than-great cities for yourself.

Istanbul Turkey

Duration: 10-14 days

Things To Do In Istanbul

  • Hagia Sophia of Istanbul. This is a splendid museum representing the religious history of this city.
  • Blue Mosque is a world-known mosque with six minarets and walls faced with more than 20,000 blue tiles.
  • Topkapi Palace is the actual residence of Ottoman sultans, where you can see invaluable historical and religious relics.
  • Grand Bazaar. It is one of the largest covered markets in the world and is a part of the Earth.
  • Bosphorus River Cruise to watch ancient fortress ruins and the confluence of Europe/Asia.

Sozopol, Bulgaria

Duration: 4 days
Approx. 5-6 hours by bus from Istanbul

Things To Do In Sozopol

  • Old Town with Fortress Walls, Ancient Wooden Houses.
  • Great sand beaches with clean water. Offers to spend time easy or involve in water sports.
  • Local fresh fish from the sea are caught every day. Local restaurants offer a great view of the sea and coastline.

Varna, Bulgaria

Duration: 4 days
Approx. 2-3 hours by bus from Sozopol

Things To Do In Varna

  • Great town center. You can easily walk around and always be close to the sea.
  • Archaeological Museum of Varna, exhibiting the oldest gold treasure in the world.
  • Sea Garden is a beautiful, vast, and well-groomed city garden near the coastline.

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Duration: 4 days
Approx. 3-4 hours by bus from Varna

Things To Do In Veliko Tarnovo

  • Reconstructed Tsarevets Fortress, an old stronghold of the Tsars of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
  • Tour the ‘Old Town,’ walk through the historic buildings, and visit the local artists’ shops.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Duration: 6 days
Approximately 3 hours by bus from Veliko Tarnovo

Things To Do In Plovdiv

  • Tour the Roman ruins throughout the city center. The most well-maintained site is the Plovdiv Roman Theatre. If you’re lucky enough to find tickets, concerts are still held here.
  • The Great Basilica is a museum of mosaics uncovered while building a road. Before the Basilica, there were Pagan rituals; later, a cemetery and houses were built on top of the Basilica mosaics. Over 200 thousand years of history in a fascinating museum.
  • Kapana Arts District is the pulsing heart of the city, boasting art galleries, stylish cafes, and shops.
  • Old Town, with lots of cobblestone streets and many museums situated in historic residences.

Sofia, Bulgaria

Duration: 5 days
Approximately 2 hours by bus from Plovdiv

Things To Do In Sofia

  • Sites to visit include the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the Boyana Church, dating back to medieval times.
  • Take a stroll down Vitosha Boulevard, the primary commercial street in Sofia, with an array of shops and cafes.
  • Housed in the former bath complex, the National Historical Museum tells the long story of Bulgaria.

Ohrid, North Macedonia

Duration: 5 days
Approximately 4 hours by bus ride from Sofia

Things To Do In Ohrid

  • Experience the beauty of Lake Ohrid on a kayak. Or visit towns that line the lake with many of the daily boat tours.
  • The beautiful Ohrid Old Town with old churches and great shopping.
  • Visit the castle and the many Roman Ruins that are scattered around town.

Skopje, North Macedonia

Duration: 7 days
Approximately 3 hours by bus from Ohrid

Things To Do In Skopje

  • The historic Stone Bridge and the vibrant Macedonia Square.
  • The Old Bazaar: get lost in the cultural and historical center of old world Skopje.
  • Matka Canyon: spend a day at this serene place by boating or kayaking in the artificial reservoir.

Summary of Travel Days:

  • Istanbul to Sozopol: 5-6 hours
  • Sozopol to Varna: 2-3 hours
  • Varna to Veliko Tarnovo: 3-4 hours
  • Veliko Tarnovo to Plovdiv: 3 hours
  • Plovdiv to Sofia: 2 hours
  • Sofia to Ohrid: 4 hours
  • Ohrid to Skopje: 3 hours

Total Days:

  • In Destinations: 45 days
  • Travel Time: ~24 hours

The wonders that the Balkans have to offer, from the bustling streets of Istanbul, Turkey, to the historical landscapes of North Macedonia, will be experienced. This really wide-reaching itinerary will cover the cultures, histories, and extraordinarily beautiful landscapes of the region over just short of 2 months.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Till next time, enjoy lifes journey.

Joseph O’Brien

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *