Hiking trail

The trail

The Sultans Trail is a long-distance hiking trail through south-eastern Europe from Vienna to Istanbul.

This region has a long history of migration and settlement leaving a lot of different peoples living along the trail each with its own history, language and culture.

The dominant natural feature along a major part of the trail is the Danube river, the second-longest river in Europe, after the Volga. This river was once the long-standing northern frontier of the Roman Empire. The trail follows the Danube through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia, where it leaves the river which is left to continue its course east, through Romania unto the Black Sea. The Sultanstrail turns south from the Danube near Smederevo in Serbia at the mouth of the Big Morava, roughly following the ancient Roman via Militaris towards Niš and further to Sofia in Bulgaria, Edirne in Turkey and ultimately Istanbul, the ancient capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and later the Ottoman empire.

The route follows the major migration corridor into Europe since Neolithic times. For the Romans, this route was the backbone of their communication system on the Balkans. Invading tribes from the Asian steppes used the route to penetrate into the Balkans from the north and wrestle the land from the power of the Byzantine empire, leaving us with Slaves, Bulgarians and Hungarians now living in the area. For the crusaders, it was the road to the Holy land and for the Ottomans, it was the route to Vienna.

Along the route, we come across different languages, like German, Hungarian, Slovakian, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian and Turkish. Young people generally do speak some English, elder people may not or be reluctant. Due to their migration work, you may also meet people who speak German.

Similarly, we will find different currencies along the trail such as the Euro in Austria Slovakia and Greece, the Forint in Hungary, the Croatian Kuna, Serbian Dinar, Bulgarian Lev and Turkish Lira.

Sections

The hiking trail is divided into 115 day-stretches, based on available accommodation and 6 sections based on the available transportation facilities. Each section is described in a separate page.

These sections are ‘walkable’, documented and available.

Section 1 Vienna-Bratislava
Leitha River, the border between
Niederösterreich and Burgenland

Section 1 of the Sultans hiking Trail runs from Vienna to Bratislava. This section is relatively short, 110 km. It follows the right bank of the Danube river in ‘Niederösterreich’, partly following the Leitha river through what is called ‘Burgenland’. The banks of the Leitha river offer shade in the summer and its valley is like a wind tunnel driving the many wind turbines and cooling the hiker.

At Hainburg the Danube takes a sharp bend to the right, and so does the trail. From there the trail follows ‘der Treppelweg’ (towpath) towards Bratislava, its white square castle growing bigger and bigger as one approaches.

The landscape is relatively flat, agricultural land, with occasionally a field of wind turbines.

Accommodation

Windturbines in
Niederösterreich

The villages along this stage of the trail provide for the daily shopping needs. Recent government regulations make it difficult for accommodation owners to survive. Some close, others focus on migrant workers, which means that they are fully booked during the week, and closed in the weekends.

Local winegrowers organize in turn ‘Heuriger‘, at which food and wine is served. The heuriger-calendar is locally known.

Special places

Pagans Gate near Carnuntum

Vienna, of course, is worth a visit. The prologue of the Sultans Trail takes you to the Kahlenberg, where during the last Ottoman siege, the final battle was fought. The trail starts at the Stephansdom, in the heart of the ancient city and passes the imperial summer palace Belvedère, with its famous art collection, including works of Gustav Klimt, and the Military Historical Museum. It also passes the huge central cemetery where so many famous people are buried.

Outside Vienna, Carnuntum stands out. In Roman times larger and more important than Vienna, located at the crossroads of the Limes, along the border of the empire and the Amberroute, which connects the Baltic Sea with the Mediterranean Sea.

A bit further we find Hainburg a/d Donau, a medieval city, still fully enclosed by city walls. The Sultans Trail enters the city through Fisherman’s gate. And, in the Danube bend, across the river, we find medieval ruins of Devin before we get to Bratislava.

How to get there

Bratislava castle, seen from the Sultans Trail

Vienna International Airport (IATA code: VIE) is located 18km south-east of the city in Schwechat and is frequented by ca.100 international airlines, including low-cost carriers, providing regular connections to a wide variety of European destinations.
Vienna airport also serves as a gateway to Bratislava.
The airport is well connected to the city by public transportation.

Bratislava International Airport (IATA code: BTS), Letisko M. R. Štefánika, is located north-east of the town and has a regular bus connection to the city centre. See www.bts.aero/en/
Bratislava is also served by Vienna International Airport with which it has a frequent bus connection.

Between Vienna and Bratislava is a regular bus connection.

Both Vienna and Bratislava own good train and bus connections to many major cities in Europe.

The villages along the trail are serviced by a train and bus.

Section 2 Bratislava-Budapest

Section 2 of the Sultans Trail, from Bratislava to Budapest, is about 225 km long and, for the major part, stays close to the Danube, in Slovakia.

Major cities along the way are Komárno (SVK) and Esztergom (HU).

Danube Rapids

At this stretch of the Sultans Trail, the course of the Danube is checked by two dams. Both will be used to cross the river. Between these dams, the original flood land is preserved, albeit controlled by permeable dams. The trail meanders through these natural wetlands.

After crossing the second weir, the trail stays close to the Danube in Slovakia until Komárno and Štúrovo. At Štúrovo the Danube is crossed by a bridge, and the trail enters Esztergom, the former capital of the Hungarian kingdom.

From Esztergom to Budapest the trail passes through the wooded hills of the Pilis mountains, (Pilisszentkereszt), a former crown dominion. It is here that the trail reaches its highest point, in this section, at Dobogókö in the Visigrád hills (700m.).

From Dobogókö the trail continues to Óbuda, where Aquincum can be found, the Roman roots of Budapest. From Óbuda it is only a short distance to Castle hill of Buda and the Parliamentary building in Pest, on the other side of the Danube. The landscape is predominantly flat, river land, with large agricultural fields and small, spread-out villages. And between, Esztergom and Budapest, low hills

Accommodation

New city centre of Komárno, Slovakia

This section is sparsely accommodated. Therefore the journey has to be carefully planned. Places with accommodation along the way are Gabčíkovo, Komárnó, Stúrovo/ Esztergom and finally Budapest.

For the route along the Danube, it is advisable to continue from the weir at Gabčíkovo (Gabčíkovo – Vodné dielo) to Ňárad (Penzión Platan), instead of staying overnight in Gabčíkovo.

Between Bodíky and Komárnó two alternatives to the main route are offered, one via Veľký Meder in Slovakia and one via Győr in Hungary. Both will be discussed briefly.

Alternative route Veľký Meder

For this route, one needs to cross the Danube at the weir at Gabčíkovo and stay overnight near or at Gabčíkovo and Veľký Meder. Veľký Meder has a spa resort and thus plenty of accommodation. The route leaves Gabčíkovo to the north-east, along the asphalt road to Pataš and Veľký Meder.
From Veľký Meder the route follows a rather busy road, Route 63, for a few kilometres. (An alternative for asphalt is a short ride by train, the regional express in the direction of Komárnó and get off at Bodza, or one stop further at Zemianska Olča. Don’t forget to press the stop button in time or the train may not stop to let you off).
The better part of the trail follows a pleasant course along the Lipovský kanál and the Kormátnanský kanál.

Alternative route Győr

This alternative route crosses over to Hungary, using the ferry to Dunaremete/Lipót. Lipót has a spa and accommodation facilities. From Lipót the trail continues towards Győr and further to Komárom on the Hungarian side of the Danube.

Special places

In Rusovce the Roman fortress Gerulata is worth a visit. Unfortunately, Kaštieľ Rusovce is closed to the public, but the castle park is accessible and the trail runs through it.
The wetlands between Čunovo and Gabčíkovo are very much worthwhile.
Győr is a regional industrial center with Roman roots and a small Medieval center.

Komárnó has a charmingly refurbished center and interesting fortress. It’s twin city Komárom, on the Hungarian side of the Danube used to locate important fortifications dating from Roman times.
Stúrovo is situated near Esztergom at the Danube. Esztergom is a fortified town with a large episcopal cathedral.

Esztergom, seen from the Sultans Trail

The hills between Esztergom and Budapest reach up to 900m and used to be the crown dominions of the Hungarian monarchy.

Budapest is very much worth a visit. With its remains of ancient Roman Aquincum, Castle Hill, Fisherman’s wharf, House of Parliament, Art Nouveaux architecture, and numerous spa’s. Too much to mention.

Sultans Trail sticker in Pilis mountains

House of Parliament in Budapest
Budapest, Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Wharf

How to get there

Bratislava International Airport (IATA code: BTS), Letisko M. R. Štefánika, is located north-east of the town and has a regular bus connection to the city centre. See www.bts.aero/en/
Bratislava is also served by Vienna International Airport with which it has a frequent bus connection.

Budapest Liszt Ferenc International Airport (IATA code: BUD) is frequented by ca 50 airlines, including various low-cost carriers. The airport serves as a hub for Wizz Air and as a base for Ryanair.
The airport is located 16km southeast of the city. It is connected to the city by bus lines; bus 100E to Deák Ferenc tér and bus 200E to Köbánya-Kispest Metro Station, transfer to Metro line M3 and city bus line 61, see also www.bud.hu/en and www.imhd.sk

Budapest also has good bus- and train connections to many major (eastern) European cities, see www.bahn.de and www.goeuro.com

Section 3 Budapest – Belgrade

Section 3 of the Sultans Trail runs from Budapest to Belgrade. and is 649km in length. The route stays close to the Danube for most of the way. The only deviation of this course is when the trail passes by Székesfehérvár, the Royal city of the Hungarian kingdom, and the place where most kings were crowned and buried.

From Székesfehérvár, the trail turns back to the Danube, in Roman times the border of the empire, here called the Ripa Pannonica. At Dunaföldvár the trail is back at the Danube again. All the way to Mohács, the land is flat and marshy. The Danube used to meander through the plain here. Some of the former landscape has been preserved in the large nature reserve called ‘Gemenc forest’ at the convulsions of the Sió river and the Danube.

Hiking in the Hungarian countryside, near Mezöfalva

The trail meanders too, crossing the Danube a number of times by bridge or ferry.

Beyond Mohács, where the Hungarian kingdom was crushingly defeated by the Ottoman army of Sultan Süleyman in 1526, the trail enters the Serbian region of Vojvodina.

At first, the landscape in Serbia is much like that in Hungary, albeit more wet with creeks and ditches. We also come across a number of extensive fish farms. The inhabitants of the region are from a mixed origin, Croats, Hungarians, Serbs, each preserving its culture of origin as is demonstrated by the different churches. 

Halfway Vojvodina a low mountain range, called Fruska Gora,  forces the Danube to bend eastwards until, at Novi Sad, it can continue south again. Where the Danube turns east, the trail crosses over to the other side and briefly enters Croatia at the town of Ilok, and continues through the Fruska Gora towards Novi Sad, a vibrant college town.

All the way to Belgrade the altitude of the right bank of the river is substantially higher than the left bank, allowing for sometimes spectacular views into the Pannonian plain, down below.

From Novi Sad a number of routes can be chosen to get to Belgrade. The main route follows the right river bank, but an interesting alternative route visits 3 of the 16 orthodox monasteries which are hidden in the Fruska Gora.

Accommodation

The imperial orb, in the centre of Székesfehérvár

In Hungary accommodation is well provided for, partially due to the popularity of the ‘Donau Cycle Path’ which attracts plenty of cyclists from all over Europe.

In Vojvodina the situation is different. Here the journey needs a bit more planning.

Provisions are easy to find. Each village has a (super)market.

Special places

A number of interesting places along the Trail are worth mentioning, starting with the plateau of 100 tumuli near Százhalombatta, just south of Budapest, next is the medieval city of Székesfehérvár. Just south of Székesfehérvár, at the crossroads of ancient trading routes, we find archaeological park Gorsium-Herculia. And, near the Danube, the fortress of Dunaföldvár. Further downstream we come across the episcopal library of Kalocsa and the battlefield of  Mohács, all in Hungary.

Episcopal Library in Kalocsa

In Serbia, we first find the Danube-Drava National Park and at its edge the famous Jelen Beer factory followed by the city of Sombor, and Bač Fortress. Near the Fruska Gora, the trail briefly enters Croatia at the city of Ilok. After visiting Novi Sad and Petrovaradin Fortress, the trail passes through Sremski Karlovci and visits 3 monasteries in the Fruska Gora, Stari Slankamen at the Danube and, in the final stage of this section the city of Zemun and of course the historic city of Belgrade and its strategic important fortress Kalemegdan, at the confluence of the Sava and the Danube.

How to get there

Bács fortress
The medieval fortress in Bač is known as one of the great fortresses of its time in the Pannonian plain.  Build in the years 1338-42, the fortress was the most important Hungarian rampart against the invading Ottoman forces and today is the best-preservedmedieval fort in Vojvodina

Both Budapest and Belgrade have an international airport which is used by a number of low-cost carriers.

Budapest, Liszt Ferenc International Airport (IATA code: BUD) is located 16km southeast of the city. It is connected to the city by bus, bus 100E to Deák Ferenc tér (900 HUF) and bus 200E to Köbánya-Kispest Metro Station, transfers to Metro line M3 and city bus line 61 (see www.bud.hu/en and www.imhd.sk). City journey planner www.futar.bkk.hu, or download the “BKK Fútar app

Budapest also owns good bus and train connections to many major (eastern) European cities. (see www.bahn.de and www.goeuro.com).

Connections to the Hungarian hinterland by train and bus are well organized. (see www.mavcsoport.hu or www.checkmybus.com

In Vojvodina, the major means of public transportation is the bus, although hard to find in certain places. Train lines are cut at the Hungarian border.

Novi Sad and Belgrade are well connected by a high-frequency bus connection, operated by various carriers, leaving from bus terminals at the respective central stations. Travel time ca. 1hr 45 min, price RSD 400-750, see: www.busticket4.me

Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport (IATA code: BEG) is located ca.12km west of downtown Belgrade. Public transportation to the city is carried out by (mini)bus.
A1 minibus to Slavija Square also stops at the central station, ticket price ca. RSD 330 (pay on the bus), approximate travel time 30 minutes.
Bus line 72 to Zeleni venac square (downtown Belgrade), ticket price RSD 89 (when bought at the kiosk) of RSD 150 (when bought on the bus), approximate travel time 30-40 minutes.
Bus line 607 to New Belgrade, ticket price RSD 89 (when bought at the kiosk) of RSD 150 (when bought on the bus), approximate travel time 30 minutes.

Taxi service is best arranged at TAXI INFO to ensure the best rate. TAXI INFO is located in the baggage claim area at the airport.

For city transport see www.eway.rs or download the EasyWay public transport App

Belgrade has good bus connections to the Serbian hinterland, check www.checkmybus.com or www.busticket4.me

Treaty of Karlovci

Negotiations hall of the Treaty of Karlovci

In Sremski Karlovci representatives of the Ottoman empire and Holy League negotiated a peace treaty, after the defeat of the Ottoman army at the second siege of Vienna in 1683. The negotiations were moderated by Dutch and English diplomats. More..

Section 4 Belgrade – Sofia
Stamboli gate at the Kalemegdan in Belgrade

Section 4 of the Sultanstrail runs from Belgrade to Sofia and is 558 km long.

The trail leaves Belgrade from Stamboli Gate at the Kalemegdan fortress. It runs via the mountain Avala, through the hills at the Danube shore, to Smederevo where the Danube is left behind. The trail turns south at Smederevo into the Morava valley. The direction of travel is the one that in Roman times was known as Via Militaris. In the east, the mountains of the Stara Planina (Slavic: old mountains) also known as Balkan (Turkish: a range of mountains covered with forests), are closing in. In the west low hills at first, followed by low mountains of the Johur massive near Kruševac and the Jastrebac before Niš will be passed.

At Niš, the Via Militaris branches off, one branch towards Skopje and Thessaloniki, the other one to Sofia and Istanbul. The later branch seeks its way around the Suva Planina (Dry Mountain) and so does the Sultans Trail. Two alternative roads are presented here, both with logistical issues. The first route follows the old Roman trajectory through the Sićevo gorge, the other one penetrates the Suva Planina area and passes over the ridge at the Preslap mountain pass. Both routes join again at Bela Palanka.

The old road to Sofia has disappeared, probably paved over with the concrete of the international highway E-80, which is currently being replaced by a new motorway.

The Morava valley in autumn near Varvarin

After crossing the Bulgarian border near Dimitrovgrad the trail crosses the hills at the border and enters the plain of the Sofia valley. The trail continues into the heart of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.

While agriculture in central Serbia is carried out on small scale private plots, where everybody seems to possess a red tractor, villages are lively and full of children. Bulgaria, on the other hand, conducts large-scale agriculture with huge fields, large machines, and extensive villages.

Accommodation

The villages along the way provide for the necessary provisions.

Accommodation is generally well available, albeit sometimes widespread, except for the specific sections between Nis and Bela Palanka where accommodation is an issue.

Special places

The mighty Donjon of Manasija Monastery
This monastery had the largest scriptorium in medieval Serbia, which continued working in Ottoman times, thus preserving many sacred books for the Serbian orthodoxy

In Serbia, we come across remarkable places. Such as the Smederevo fortress (15th), the temporary capital of Serbia in the Middle Ages. It’s mighty walls and towers survived intact until during the second WW when a German ammunition train exploded nearby. But the remains are still very impressive.

Further on, the Trail passes through the lovely monastery of Koporin.
A few legs further, at Despotovac the majestic fortified Manasija monastery is found.

In Kruševac remains of the mediaeval city are preserved.

Tucked away in the Jastrebac mountains, the trail passes through the lovely medical spa-resort, Ribarska banja.

A meeting in the Suva Planina

Across the Jastrebac we find the city of Niš, a landmark on the trail in Serbia. The history of Niš goes far back in time. Its present-day fortress was built in Ottoman times on the foundations of an earlier Roman fortification. Memories of Roman times are also exhibited in Mediana, the birthplace of emperor Constantine the Great (272-337).
Of a different order is the testimony of the violent encounter between Serbian insurgents and Ottoman forces during the first Serbian uprising (1809), which are preserved in the  Skull tower, located at the old road to Istanbul. More recent atrocities are commemorated in the SS-prison camp.

Bela Palanka houses two working watermills and displays a Roman milestone and remains of Ottoman city walls.

The city of Pirot had its name written in Greek, in ancient times. Thus indicating the cultural demarcation line between the Latin and the Greek world. The small castle of Pirot is recently restored.

Enjoying the view from the Suva Planina

How to get there

Both Belgrade and Sofia have an international airport used by a number of low-cost carriers. Niš airport is frequented far less.

Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport (IATA code: BEG) is located ca.12km west of downtown Belgrade. Public transportation to the city is carried out by (mini)bus.
The A1 minibus airport shuttle to Slavija Square, stops at the central station also, ticket price ca. RSD 330 (pay on the bus), approximate travel time 30 minutes.
Bus line 72 to Zeleni venac square (downtown Belgrade), ticket price RSD 89 (when bought at the kiosk) of RSD 150 (when bought on the bus), approximate travel time 30-40 minutes.
Bus line 607 to New Belgrade, ticket price RSD 89 (when bought at the kiosk) or RSD 150 (when bought on the bus), approximate travel time 30 minutes.

Taxi service is best arranged at TAXI INFO to ensure the best rate. TAXI INFO is located in the baggage claim area at the airport.

For city-transport see www.eway.rs or download the EasyWay public transport App

Niš Constantine the Great Airport (IATA code: INI) is located 4 km northwest of downtown Niš. The airport has a limited number of connections. Airliners using it are Ryanair and Wizz Air.

Sofia Airport (IATA code: SOF) is located 5 km east of the city centre. The airport has two terminals, connected by a free shuttle bus.
Next to Terminal 2 is the final stop of Metro Line 1 a fast connection to the city centre. Travel time ca. 18 minutes. Price 1.60 LEV, tickets from the ticket machine at the station.
Two bus lines, 84 and 184, also connect both terminals to Sofia University at the east side of the city centre. Travel time 35-45 minutes. Price 1.60 LEV, tickets from the ticket machine on the bus. See www.sofia-airport.bg
For city-transport see www.eway.bg or download the EasyWay public transport App

Section 5 Sofia – Edirne

Section 5 of the Sultans Trail runs from Sofia to Edirne and is 550 km in length. It runs predominantly through the mountains of southern Bulgaria, with three distinct landscapes. First, starting at the outskirts of Sofia, the Rila mountains, with alpine conditions. Next, between Velingrad and Kardzhali the heavily forested Western Rhodopes and finally between Kardzhali and Edirne the Eastern Rhodopes.
In the Rila mountains, the trail gains height, at first at Cherni Vrah (2290 m) in the Vitosha Mountains and next at mount Mechit (2572 m).
The Rhodope mountains are less high.

The trail starts in Sofia, at the foot of Cherni Vrah (Black Mountain) and continues uphill until its very summit. From there it passes through the Samokov Valley until at Samokov it meets the Iskra river, which is followed upstream for a while to prepare for the cross-over of the Rila range following parts of the prestigious King Ferdinand Road to the eponymous Rila Monastery. From the monastery the trail crosses the Rila national park until the spa-resort Velingrad, gradually losing height.

Crossing mount Mechit (2536 m) in the Rila mountains on the prestigious King Ferdinand road

The Rhodope mountains extend into Greece and were part of the historical region Thrace. The region is particularly notable for its karst areas with their deep river gorges, large caves and specific sculptured forms. The Western Rhodopes are rich in lakes and are famous for the largest coniferous woods in the Balkans, its rolling hills and lush vegetation.

The Eastern part is significantly lower and houses almost every species of European birds of prey including the rare Black vulture and Egyptian vulture.

Near the mining town of Rudozem in the Western Rhodopes the Trail touches upon the river Arda which runs all the way through the Rhodopes until it confluences with the Maritza river near Edirne. This river will be the Sultans Trail hiker’s companion until Edirne.

The Trail briefly passes through Northern Greece, before it crosses the Turkish border.

Visitors of Turkey may need a visa which can be obtained on-line, here.
Recently, Turkey reached an agreement with the EU by which a visa is no longer needed for European citizens.

Accommodation

Rila Monastery, spiritual and religious center of Bulgaria

In the mountains, we have to rely on mountain huts, the quality of which varies considerably, depending on the attitude of the staff.  In the valleys, hotels and holiday homes can be found for overnight stay. In mountain villages, you may also find B&B’s. All villages have some kind of shop for provisions.

Special places

The Rhodope mountains have been populated since prehistoric times. The first known people are the Thracians who built many temples, cities and fortresses. The most famous town in the area is the sacred city of Perperikon located 15 km northeast of Kardzhali.

Dyavolski Most
The spectacular 18th-century Ottoman bridge over the Arda river, in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains

Since Roman times it has been an important mining area (lead, zinc, gold, chromite), crisscrossed by trading routes. Mining continued in Ottoman times resulting in many beautiful bridges, where trading routes had to cross a river, such as in Trigrad, Smolyan, Edirne and most impressive of all, Dyavolski Most.

Rila Monastery (10th), hidden deeply in the valley of the Rilska river, is regarded as one of Bulgaria’s most important spiritual, cultural, historical and architectural monuments.

The population of southern Bulgaria has been ethnically and religiously diverse for centuries. The mountains are home to a number of Muslim communities, including Pomak (converted Bulgarians) and Bulgarian Turks.

The Sv. Nedelya church in Batak bears witness to atrocities that took place during the struggle for independence in 1876.

At Belitsa, in the Rila Mountains, the French actress Brigitte Bardot helped to finance a bear sanctuary, which the trail passes.
In the Arda valley, the trail passes the vulture centre in Madzharovo.

Near Ivaylovgrad the remains of a Roman villa have been preserved.

Finally, Edirne, once the capital of the Ottoman Empire, before the capture of Istanbul, still preserves architecture from that ‘golden age’ of the Ottoman Empire, many of which were designed by its most renowned architect Sinan (1490-1588).

How to get there

Sofia Airport (IATA code: SOF) is located 5 km east of the city centre. The airport has two terminals, connected by a free shuttle bus.
Next to Terminal 2 is the final stop of Metro Line 1 a fast connection to the city centre. Travel time ca. 18 minutes. Price 1.60 LEV, tickets from the ticket machine at the station.
Two bus lines, 84 and 184, also connect both terminals to Sofia University at the east side of the city centre. Travel time 35-45 minutes. Price 1.60 LEV, tickets from the ticket machine on the bus. See www.sofia-airport.bg
For city-transport see www.eway.bg or download the EasyWay public transport App

Sofia-Velingrad, bus from Sofia Avtogari, (3 times a day, duration 2h, price 4€-7€), see www.avtogari.info
Sofia-Kardzhali, bus from central station Sofia to Kardzhali, (3-4 times a day, duration 4h 20m, price 9€-€14€).
Sofia-Plovdiv, multiple bus operators from Sofia Avtogari, (1-2 per hour, duration 2h 40m, price 4€-28€).
Train (every hour, duration 2h 30m, price 4€-6€). See www.bdz.bg
Sofia-Ivaylovgrad, train to Svilengrad (3 times a day, 5h, 18€-22€), taxi to Ivaylovgrad, (42m, 11€-14€). See www.bdz.bg

Plovdiv Krumovo Airport (IATA code: PDV) is located 12km south-east of the city centre. It has a limited number of connections. See www.plovdivairport.com.
The airport has a train connection with Plovdiv (leaving every hour from station Mavrudovo, duration 14min, price €1-€2) see www.bdz.bg

Edirne has no airport but does have a bus connection to Istanbul Esenler Otogari (leaving every 2 hours, duration 3h 55m, costs 5€-11€).
From Esenler Otogari into Istanbul use Metro M1 (leaving every 5 min, duration 22 min, price  1€). See Metro Istanbul.

From Esenler Otogari to Istanbul Havalimani Airport (IATA code: IST), Havaist bus IST-3, departure every 30 minutes (between 05:00 and 01:30), duration approximately 75 min., depending on traffic, price 16 TL. See IETT

The train from Edirne Şehir to Istanbul Halkali leaves once a day and takes 3h 45m, price 3€-4€. See Seat61

.Overlooking the western Rhodope mountains towards Greece
Mountain hut Makadonia (2166m)

Section 6 Edirne – Istanbul

Section 6 of the Sultans Trail runs from Edirne to Istanbul and is about 341km long.
It follows the northern course of an old Byzantine route, through the foothills of the Istrancalar or Yildiz Mountains (Bulgarian: Strandzha), the mountain range at the Black Sea coast. Larger towns along the way are Kirklareli, Pinarhisar, Vize and Saray.
From Saray the Trail moves north towards Ҫilingoz Tabiat National Park to avoid the sprawl of approaching Istanbul. Development of Istanbul’s new airport at the Black Sea coast and urban development rapidly changes the landscape, notably for the final 66km, from Sazlibosna at Lake Sazlidere onwards.

Accommodation

Hiking in Turkey in springtime

Hotel accommodation will only be found in the larger towns, Kirklarali, Pinarhisar, Vize, Saray and Istanbul. The villages along the way may be able to provide nightly accommodation through the mediation of the village major or “Muhtar”. This accommodation is often offered free of charge, yet a donation of ca 10€ per person per night is appreciated.

Special places

In Kirklareli is the Hizirbey Complex (Mosque and Hamam) worth visiting. Pinarhisar has visible remains of Pınarhisar Kalesi a fortification of Byzantine origin. In Vize remains of a Roman Amphitheater are still visible. The lake near Istanbul ‘Alibey Baraji’ is crossed by two major aqueducts that are worthwhile seeing. The waterway enters Istanbul and is still visible at the Valens Aqueduct and feeds the Basilica Cistern at the heart of the city. Istanbul has many historical monuments from all ages, among which the Sultans Trail related Süleymaniye-mosque and the Imperial Topkapı Palace.

Sinan, most renowned Ottoman architect
Tea, tea, tea, at every time of the day

How to get there

Edirne has no airport but does have a bus connection to Istanbul Esenler Otogari (leaving every 2 hours, duration 3h 55m, costs 5€-11€).
From Esenler Otogari into Istanbul use Metro M1 (leaving every 5 min, duration 22 min, price  1€). See Metro Istanbul.

From Esenler Otogari to Istanbul Havalimani Airport (IATA code: IST), Havaist bus IST-3, departure every 30 minutes (between 05:00 and 01:30), duration approximately 75 min., depending on traffic, price 16 TL. See IETT

The train from Edirne Şehir to Istanbul Halkali leaves once a day and takes 3h 45m, price 3€-4€. See Seat61

Istanbul has 2 international airports, Istanbul airport (IATA code: IST) on the European side and Sabiha Gökçen Airport (IATA code: SAW ) at the Anatolian side of the city. Former Atatürk Airport does no longer service civil aviation, it is reserved for cargo and military operations.

Istanbul Airport is located 40 km north-west of the city at the Black Sea. It has a taxi connection to the city (duration 30m, price 16€-20) and a HAVAIST shuttle bus to different locations in the city. See Istanbul Airport

For the use of public transport in Istanbul, you need an Istanbulkart, available from the ticket machine at the bus terminal in the airport, 6 TL.
The bus terminal is located in the Airport building at floor -2.

Sabiha Gökçen Airport is located 35km southeast of the city, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. The airport is connected to Taksim square by a shuttle bus Havabus (every 30 min. duration 1h 30m, price 2€-3€).
From Taksim square leaves metro line M2 into the centre (every 5 min., duration 7 min., price 1€/10TL). See www.sabihagokcen.aero

Suleymaniye Mosque

Next to these two more sections are under development:

Section 7: Wenen – Köszeg – Belgrade
Fortress of Köszeg

This section is under development. The route is inspired by the attempts of Süleyman to reach Vienna by travelling east of lake Balaton and the Neusiedler See, following the valleys of the Drava river, Raab and Mur.
The Austrian emperor avoided a right out battle, by not showing up, leaving the Ottoman to roam the area, causing death and destruction.
At Köszeg (Güns in German) stubborn resistance of the local forces in 1532. Under the leadership of the fort captain, Nikola Jurišić, a small garrison of only 800 Hungarians and Croats repelled an Ottoman force numbering some 80,000 men in the Siege of Kőszeg. This even delayed the Ottoman campaign to an extent that Vienna got out of reach.

Accommodation

You can help us developing this branch of the trail by sending us details of facilities that could be used by our travellers.

Special places

You can help us developing this branch of the trail by sending us details of the places of interest.

How to get there

Vienna International Airport (IATA code: VIE) is located 18km south-east of the city in Schwechat and is frequented by ca.100 international airlines, including low-cost carriers, providing regular connections to a wide variety of European destinations.
Vienna airport also serves as a gateway to Bratislava.
The airport is well connected to the city by public transportation.

Between Vienna and Sopron ÖBB operates a train connection 21 times per day. (duration 1 hr. price € 7,90-€ 58). See ÖBB Scotty

Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport (IATA code: BEG) is located ca.12km west of downtown Belgrade. Public transportation to the city is carried out by (mini)bus.
The A1 minibus airport shuttle to Slavija Square, stops at the central station also, ticket price ca. RSD 330 (pay on the bus), approximate travel time 30 minutes.
Bus line 72 to Zeleni venac square (downtown Belgrade), ticket price RSD 89 (when bought at the kiosk) of RSD 150 (when bought on the bus), approximate travel time 30-40 minutes.
Bus line 607 to New Belgrade, ticket price RSD 89 (when bought at the kiosk) or RSD 150 (when bought on the bus), approximate travel time 30 minutes.

Taxi service is best arranged at TAXI INFO to ensure the best rate. TAXI INFO is located in the baggage claim area at the airport.

For city-transport see www.eway.rs or download the EasyWay public transport App

Section 8: Sofia – Plovdiv – Edirne

This section of the Trail is under development. It follows the itinerary of the ancient Via Militaris, closely.
It is an alternative for the Rhodope route described in Section 5 Sofia – Edirne

Accommodation

Plovdiv, Roman road to Constantinople at Philippopolis’ east gate.

You can help us developing this branch of the trail by sending us details of facilities that could be used by our travelers.

You can help us to develop this branch of the Trail by sending us details of places of interest.

Special places

It is beyond any doubt that Plovdiv is the most interesting place in this section of the trail. A Thracian city which, for most of its history was known as Philippopolis and called Filibe by the Ottomans.

Ancient Seljuk mosque in Plovdiv
Roman Amphitheatre in Plovdiv
Regional Ethnographic Museum Plovdiv

How to get there

Sofia Airport (IATA code: SOF) is located 5 km east of the city centre. The airport has two terminals, connected by a free shuttle bus.
Next to Terminal 2 is the final stop of Metro Line 1 a fast connection to the city centre. Travel time ca. 18 minutes. Price 1.60 LEV, tickets from the ticket machine at the station.
Two bus lines, 84 and 184, also connect both terminals to Sofia University at the east side of the city centre. Travel time 35-45 minutes. Price 1.60 LEV, tickets from the ticket machine on the bus. See www.sofia-airport.bg
For city-transport see www.eway.bg or download the EasyWay public transport App

Sofia-Velingrad, bus from Sofia Avtogari, (3 times a day, duration 2h, price 4€-7€), see www.avtogari.info
Sofia-Plovdiv, bus from Sofia Avtogari by multiple operators, (1-2 per hour, duration approximately 2h 20 m, price 4€ -23€), see Rome2Rio
Train connection from Sofia train station, (every 1-2 hours, duration approximately 2h 40m, price 4€ – 6€), see Bulgarian Railways
Sofia-Kardzhali, bus from central station Sofia to Kardzhali,(3-4 times a day, duration 4h 20m, price 9€-€14€)
Sofia-Ivaylovgrad, train to Svilengrad (3 times a day, 5h, 18€-22€), taxi to Ivaylovgrad, (approximately 45 min, 11€-14€).

Plovdiv Krumovo Airport (IATA code: PDV) is located 12km south-east of the city centre. It has a limited number of connections. See www.plovdivairport.com.
The airport has a train connection with Plovdiv (leaving every hour from station Mavrudovo, duration 14min, price €1-€2) see www.bdz.bg

Assets

The trail is in general well provided with accommodation facilities, except for a few areas that require a bit more logistical planning.

Camping is possible all along the way. In Austria, Slovakia and Hungary it is expected that you use official campsites, beyond Hungary rules are more liberal or totally absent. It is advisable however to check with local residents (if any) about the best place to pitch your tent.

Finding shade near the Arda river in Greece
Manasija Monastery in Serbia

In cities and villages, you can find small shops for replenishment. “Cash is still king” in this part of the world. Even though bank cards are widely accepted, it is necessary to have cash on you too. Major cities and towns generally have ATMs where you can get it.

Places of interest

The trail follows the Roman Limes and Via Militaris so it will not surprise that you will witnesses roman culture surface along the way. Very noticeably in Petronell-Carnuntum in Austria, Budapest, Niš, Sofia and Istanbul.

In the middle ages, various kings ruled the lands. The visual remains of these kingdoms can be seen in Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Székesfehérvár, Belgrade, Kruševac, Edirne and Istanbul, along with medieval cities and fortified monasteries.
The major religions along the way are Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim, each with different rites, symbols and architecture.
Among Ottoman remains are mosques, cisterns, hammams, caravanserai, bridges and clock-towers.

In some cities, it is possible to take a “communist tour” that takes you back to more recent history.

If you are interested in pre-historic cultures, interesting places are Százhalombatta in Hungary (bronze age Hallstatt culture), Vinča near Belgrade (Neolithic Vinča culture) and the Thracian city Perperikon in Bulgaria.

How to get there

Walking through Turkish Thrace

The major cities on the trail such as Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Sofia and Istanbul are easily accessible by low-cost airliners, Good train connections to western Europe exist with Vienna and Budapest.

Within the region, the primal means of transportation is by bus. Some countries also have a well-functioning train system, like Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. It is not always possible to take a bicycle on the bus or train.

Map

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The Sultans Trail Digital Information Package contains all GPS-tracks, the full POI-list and addresses of accommodations and more…

Sultans Trail hiking App

For Android devices, we have the Sultans Trail Hiking App which incorporates all available information; maps, tracks, accommodation, means of transportation, sights to see, etc. The App is available from Google Playstore.