- Explore eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, from the wood-carved temples of the Kathmandu Valley to fabled Samarkand and ancient Merv, one of the best preserved oasis cities along the Silk Road.
- Set out on walking tours of some of the Silk Road’s important port towns, discovering the spice-filled souks of Muscat, Hoi An’s charming harbor, and the historic Podil district in Kyiv (formerly Kiev).
- Venture to the ancient trading outpost of Dunhuang in northwest China and discover millennia-old Buddhist art in the spectacular Mogao Caves.
- Immerse yourself in timeless local traditions as you witness nomadic games in the Kyrgyz countryside, observe a paper craftsman at work in Samarkand, and learn about Georgia’s ancient winemaking methods on a visit to a wine estate.
The ancient Silk Road was more than a network of trade routes—it was a highway of ideas, beliefs, and customs that shaped Asia and Europe for more than a millennium. Join a team of National Geographic Experts on a breathtaking adventure along this legendary crossroads, soaring from the Arabian Peninsula to China and beyond. As you travel, gain insights into rural traditions and time-honored crafts, and discover unexpected connections with the peoples you encounter—a testament to the Silk Road’s enduring cultural legacy.
Arrive in enchanting Venice and settle into our elegant hotel. A powerful maritime city-state during the medieval period, Venice once controlled much of the trade that flowed into Europe from the East. Tonight, join your National Geographic Experts and fellow travelers for a welcome reception and dinner.
Fly by private jet to Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman, and check in to our stunning hotel overlooking the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Oman. The next morning, set out on a tour of the city, an important port along the maritime routes of the Silk Road. Begin at the splendid National Museum, which showcases this ancient Arabian kingdom’s long and rich history of human settlement. Stroll past the opulent Al Alam Palace, one of the six royal residences of the sultan of Oman; and wander the labyrinthine alleyways of the Mutrah Souq, filled with exotic spices, perfumes, and handicrafts. Enjoy a stroll along the Mutrah Corniche in the evening, and cap off your day with a traditional dinner at a local restaurant.
Alternatively, choose to embark on a full-day tour of the historic town of Nizwá, which lies about a hundred miles south of Muscat amid groves of date palms. Visit the impressive Nizwá Fort, dating to the mid-17th century; and witness the lively Friday cattle market, where farmers from around the country bring their cows, goats, and camels to auction to the highest bidder. Later, enjoy a performance of traditional Omani dances as you sip aromatic Arabic coffee and nibble on succulent dates before returning to Muscat for the night.
Soar by private jet to Kathmandu, the bustling capital of the Himalayan nation of Nepal. Upon arrival, pay a visit to the atmospheric Bodhnath Stupa, one of the largest stupas in the world and the center of Tibetan Buddhism in the country. Later, settle into our elegant heritage hotel, where the skill of traditional woodworkers can be found in every detail, from intricate window and door carvings to exquisite handmade furniture.
Choose from three available excursions in the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Kathmandu Valley. Venture to Bhaktapur, a medieval capital of Nepal, which prospered thanks to its strategic location on the trade route between Tibet and India. Discover elaborate temples and palaces adorned with carved wooden windows and latticework; or opt to visit Patan, once an independent city-state, where we’ll explore spectacular Durbar Square and the Hanuman Dhoka palace complex. Though severely damaged in the 2015 Nepal earthquake, many of the historic buildings around Kathmandu still stand, and concentrated efforts are underway to restore them. Alternatively, immerse yourself in the incense-laden atmosphere of Pashupatinath Temple, the largest and holiest Hindu temple complex in Nepal.
Fly by private jet to Da Nang and drive to Hoi An, an enchanting port city that thrived between the 15th and 19th centuries when traders from Japan, China, India, and beyond frequented the harbor. Make yourself at home in our tranquil riverside resort, and set out to explore the area in a variety of ways.
Join a temple preservationist to discover the mystical ruins at My Son, an ancient Hindu temple complex and World Heritage site that lies to the south of the city. Or travel to the former imperial capital of Hue— another World Heritage site—situated on the banks of the Perfume River, which was caught in the crossfire of the north and south during the Vietnam War. Here, we’ll explore the grand citadel and the imperial tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty.
Back in Hoi An, head out on a relaxing bike ride through emerald green rice paddies. Pedal past quaint bridges and pagodas; and stop to meet weavers and farmers along the way. Visit a fishing village to accompany fisherman on the water as they cast their nets to sea; then hop into a traditional handwoven basket boat and try your hand at maneuvering these bobbing vessels. Explore Hoi An’s charming old town, lined by merchant homes and strung with brightly colored silk lanterns; and piece together your own vibrant creation under the guidance of a lantern-maker. Or join a chef for a stroll through the delightfully chaotic central market, and marvel at the exotic ingredients central to the city’s unique cuisine. At a private cooking class, create mouthwatering noodle dishes and enjoy them for lunch.
Travel by private jet to Dunhuang, an oasis city in northwest China bordered by the Kumtag Desert. Situated at the crossroads of two major Silk Road trade routes, this age-old garrison town is still watched over by the crumbling ruins of the Han Dynasty-era Great Wall. Visit the Dunhuang Museum for a look at precious Buddhist manuscripts recovered from the area, and observe examples of the diverse goods that used to pass through this ancient hub of commerce.
The following day, set out to explore the famed Mogao Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage site that comprises the richest treasure trove of Buddhist art in the world. The first caves were carved out by Buddhist monks in the fourth century for use as shrines; over the next thousand years, subsequent monks, emperors, artists, and merchants added their touches to the subterranean chambers, creating stunning Buddhist sculptures and detailed murals that provide a record of daily life in western China over the course of a millennium.
Later, opt to take a bicycle tour of Dunhuang, or venture to the Singing Sands Dunes—massive mounds of golden sand at the edge of the city which produce a pleasant musical sound when the wind blows over them. Take a walk along the shores of pristine Crescent Moon Lake, located at the base of the dunes; then choose to delve into Dunhuang’s Shazhou Night Market, sampling delicious local delicacies and browsing a variety of local handicrafts.
Arrive in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, and drive to the 11th century Burana Tower. This lonely structure, set in the midst of rolling green fields against a backdrop of snowcapped peaks, is all that remains of the once flourishing Silk Road city of Balasagun. Here, we witness a demonstration of eagle hunting, a tradition practiced by Central Asia’s nomadic tribes for thousands of years, which allowed them to procure food and fur during the harsh winter months. Spend the night in a comfortable guesthouse located in the folds of breathtaking Chon-Kemin National Park.
The next morning, experience several of Kyrgyzstan’s unique equestrian games, including kyz kumai—“girl chasing” in the local language—which features an entertaining horse race between male and female jockeys. Later, you may choose to take part in one of four workshops, each hosted in a different yurt—a traditional tented dwelling used by nomadic groups across Central Asia. Learn to make felt carpets alongside an expert weaver; prepare boorsok, the square-shaped fried bread that is a staple of Kyrgyz cuisine; try your hand at making kumis, a popular fermented dairy drink; or listen to a traditional storyteller as they enthrall you with Kyrgyz legends and folk tales. Return to Bishkek in the afternoon and opt to take a tour of the city, including visits to the State History Museum and Ala-Too Square, graced by a statue of Manas, Kyrgyzstan’s national hero.
Fly by private jet to Turkmenistan—a country rich with archaeological sites that once served as vital stops for Silk Road caravans. In contrast, Turkmenistan’s modern capital, Ashgabat, glimmers with mosques, skyscrapers, and Soviet-style monoliths, and holds the Guinness World Record for the highest density of buildings adorned with white marble. En route to our hotel, take in some of city’s iconic sights, including the golden-domed presidential palace and the Neutrality Arch.
The following day, choose from a variety of options to explore this fascinating metropolis. Visit the National Museum complex, home to rare treasures that showcase the diverse cultural heritage of Turkmenistan—from Bronze Age weapons to statues of Parthian goddesses and Russian watercolor paintings. Wander the resplendent marble Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Central Asia and the resting place of the country’s eccentric president-dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov; and admire the ornate interior of the Ertugrul Gazi Mosque, dedicated to the famed Turkmen warrior and father of Osman I—the founder of the Ottoman Empire. Head to the Carpet Museum to learn about the importance of this timeless art to Turkmen culture, and view one of the world’s largest handwoven rugs. Or, venture outside of the city to the ruins of Nisa, a capital of the Parthian Empire. The Parthian Empire ruled much
of Central Asia from the third century B.C. to the third century A.D., and rivaled Rome in prestige and military power; the Parthians also controlled the flow of precious silk goods from China to Rome. Tour the remains of the Parthian Fortresses at Nisa, a World Heritage site, before returning to Ashgabat.
Touch down in Mary and drive to ancient Merv, one of the most influential and best preserved of the oasis cities along the Silk Road. Spend the day discovering the many ruined monuments, towers, and ramparts of this once magnificent metropolis and World Heritage site, which lay on the primary route to fabled Samarkand. Stroll the walled city of Erk Kala, founded in the sixth century B.C.; and visit the 12th-century mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, a ruler of the great Seljuk Empire. Later this afternoon, continue to Samarkand by private jet, retracing the footsteps of merchants of old.
Arrive in Samarkand, the breathtaking blue-tiled capital of legendary conqueror Timur and one of the oldest and most prosperous trading centers along the Silk Road. We’ll spend some time exploring the city—dubbed a “crossroad of cultures” by UNESCO—which flourished as a center of commerce, science, and art in the 14th and 15th centuries under the patronage of Timur and his successors.
In grand Registan Square, admire the mosaic-covered minarets of some of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the world. Discover the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis, a complex of mosques and mausoleums adorned in stunning blue tiles, and gaze up at the glittering dome of the Bibi-Khanom Mosque, dedicated to Timur’s favorite wife. Visit the conqueror’s tomb at Gur-e Amir, capped by a brilliant, azure-colored fluted dome. Then choose from three available activities: Step into the remains of the Ulugh Beg Observatory, once the most advanced facility of its time; tour the Afrasiyab Museum to examine relics excavated from the ancient core of Samarkand; or learn about the ancient art of Central Asian paper-making on a visit to a private workshop.
Travelers who have already visited Samarkand may opt for an overnight trip to Bukhara, another ancient Uzbek city and former Silk Road outpost. Bukhara is known for its beautiful mosques, madrassas, and palaces and an outstanding medieval center, which has changed little since the days when caravans passed through.
Travel by private jet to Tbilisi, the capital Georgia, which boasts a dramatic setting straddling the swift Kura River. Upon arrival, embark on a walking tour of the delightful old town, winding down narrow cobbled streets and admiring the whimsical architecture of the colorful houses and carved, wooden balconies. Weather permitting, take a cable car to the ancient Narikala Fortress to enjoy panoramic views of the picturesque city and the lush Caucasus Mountains.
The following days include a variety of opportunities to explore the environs of Tbilisi. Choose to drive to the valley town of Step’antsminda in the Greater Caucasus Mountains via the spectacular Georgian Military Highway, passing by medieval stone fortresses and flocks of sheep. Here, we venture to the windswept Gergeti Trinity Church, dating to the 14th century and framed by the rugged slopes of Mount Kazbek, Georgia’s third highest peak. Or, spend a day in Kakhet’i, one of the country’s celebrated wine regions. Learn about Georgia’s 8,000-year old tradition of winemaking on a visit to a historic wine estate, and enjoy a traditional barbecue as you sample local vintages. We may also make a stop at Sighnaghi, an attractive hilltop town.
Alternatively, travel to nearby Mtskheta, Georgia’s ancient capital, whose medieval churches have been designated a World Heritage site; or choose to explore the fascinating cave town of Uplistsikhe. Established during the Bronze Age, this rock-hewn settlement witnessed a flowering during the heyday of the Silk Road. Enjoy a wine tasting in the village of Mukhrani before returning to Tbilisi.
Fly to Kyiv by private jet and immerse yourself in the grandeur of the Ukrainian capital. Discover the 11th-century Cathedral of St. Sophia and the five-domed Church of St. Andrew, a jewel of baroque architecture; and descend into the mysterious catacombs of Kyiv, carved out by monks more than a thousand years ago.
The next morning, head out with a local guide on a walking tour of the Podil district. One of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Podil was a bustling center of trade for several centuries, when goods from China, India, and Central Asia were delivered to its docks via the Volga River. Here, we’ll visit the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum, which tells the story of the devastating Chernobyl nuclear accident.
This afternoon, you may opt to explore the Jewish heritage of Kyiv. Visit the Great Choral Synagogue and tour of the Sholom Aleichem Museum, dedicated to the life of Yiddish author Sholom Aleichem. Or, venture to the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War, where we’ll have the opportunity to meet with soldiers who have fought in the ongoing conflict in southern Ukraine. Alternatively, discover the Ivan Honchar Museum, which works to preserve and showcase the country’s folk culture. Try your hand at decorating a pysanka—or traditional Easter egg—alongside a local artist. The following morning, we’ll stop by St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery en route to the airport, and take a stroll in the romantic, forested pathways of Volodymyrska Hill.
The private jet brings us to Milan, where we'll set off for the picturesque Italian Lake District. Settle into our luxurious villa on the shores of Lake Maggiore, and celebrate our journey with a farewell dinner. The next morning, transfer to the Milan airport for your commercial flight home.