Szia! Welcome to Budapest, Hungary's intoxicating capital. Make your own way to the hotel, where your trip begins with a 6 pm welcome meeting. There are no planned activities for today, but if you arrive early, there is plenty to do and see. This historic city, complete with hilltop castle overlooking the Danube, is beautiful any time of the year, but it becomes even more magical at Christmastime when its draped in lights and dusted with snow. Get acquainted with the city on an afternoon stroll, taking in its charming mix of Roman, Gothic and Turkish architecture. Head to Fishermen’s Bastion – a white-stoned, seven-towered structure that looks straight from a fairy tale – for the best view of Budapest. After your important evening meeting, perhaps head out with your new travel buddies and tour leader for dinner, then take a night walk along the Danube River to see the surrounding buildings and bridges lit up in lights. Not to be missed are Budapest's funky 'ruin pubs'.
Get acquainted with Budapest on a morning orientation walk with your tour leader, finishing with a visit to the Budapest Christmas Fair at Vorosmarty Square. Not only is this the oldest and biggest Christmas market in Budapest, it is frequently cited as one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in the world. Discover why as you browse wooden stalls selling local handcrafts, as your senses are treated to wafts of fresh Hungarian pastries (like chimney cakes and home-made strudel), dodolle (potato dumplings), grilled sausage, paprika-infused goulash and other various street foods fill the air. Don’t miss sampling a freshly baked chimney cake (Kurtoskalacs) or dough shaped as a cone, covered in sugar and cinnamon. Enjoy an included food tasting a warming glass of mulled wine in the market. Afterwards, you have a free afternoon to further explore on your own. You might want to check out some of the smaller markets scattered around the city – head to Deak Ferenc Steet (frequently called Fashion Street), Varoshaza Park, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Erzsebet Square and Gozsdu Udvar to find just a few – or jump on a tram and make your way to City Park for outdoor ice skating in front on the gorgeous Vajdahunyad Castle. Follow this is a warm soak in the Budapest baths. Keep the Christmas spirit going in the evening, taking in festival music at one of the many venues in town.
Travel by train to Graz (about 6 hours). Austria’s second largest city has no less than 14 Christmas markets open over the holiday season. Start off with a visit to the main one at Hauptplatz square in front of the town hall. Find vendors selling a mix of traditional Austrian handicrafts and culinary treats, a towering Christmas tree decked in lights and a carousel for the young at heart. In the evening, an advent calendar is projected on the town hall to great effect. Afterwards, enjoy free time to explore a few more of the markets scattered around town; all 14 are within easy walking distance. Otherwise, simply stroll the UNESCO-crowned historic Old Town and savour the sights.
Travel by train to Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana (about 3.5 hours). Set amongst grand lakes and mountains, Slovenia’s picturesque towns offer an idyllic backdrop at any time of year. But in winter, the spectacular scenery becomes even more captivating with a dusting of snow and frost-covered trees. Upon arrival, set out to explore the town with your leader and visit the main Christmas market on the banks of Ljubljanica river. Head out to Metelkova Mesto in the evening to experience the local nightlife.
Today you’ll take a one-hour bus ride to the lakeside town of Bled. Gifted with immense natural beauty, Bled ranks among the most beautiful alpine resorts in the world; its fairy tale-like scenery – which includes an 11th-century cliff-top castle, a stunning lake and a picturesque island topped with a church – is a dream to explore. Depending on the weather, you can choose to visit Bled Castle, join your leader on a 6-kilometre/4-mile walk around the lake or climb to Ojstrica viewpoint for some amazing vistas. Warm up with coffee or hot chocolate and a slice of kremsnita (Bled’s famous cream cake) before taking the public bus back to Ljubljana.
Travel to Zagreb this morning (about 2.5 hours by train). Nestled below Mt Medvednica, Croatia’s thriving capital is an exciting winter destination. A month-long Advent festival transforms the city into an illuminated winter wonderland, complete with acres of fairy-lights, huge Christmas trees, nativity scenes, temporary ice rinks, mulled wine stalls and igloo-shaped rakija (a potent local drop) bars. The Christmas market here is considered among the best in Europe. Head out on an evening walking tour to see the city in full Christmas splendour. A local guide will provide an insight into Croatian Christmas tradition, such as why Croatian’s used to keep their turkeys out on their balconies before Christmas dinner.
Take a short drive out of town to Mt Medvednica. If you weren’t fortunate enough to see snow at previous destinations on this trip, you’ll likely get the chance to experience a true winter wonderland here in the mountains, which always see a fair bit of snow during the winter. Savour the snow-covered sights on a short walk with your tour leader, before enjoying a traditional Croatian lunch. Feast on local specialties like soup, meat stew or sarma (cabbage rolls stuffed with meat), then return to Zagreb for your final night.
Your festive adventure come to an end after breakfast. There are no planned activities for today.
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