Europe truly is a paradise for cyclists, thanks to its huge network of exemplary bike paths, gorgeous scenery and historic cities. The continent’s rivers, in particular, set the stage for some of the best long-distance cycle paths in the world.
Pedalling alongside rivers is one of my favourite ways to travel. Rivers often flow through major cities and towns, so not only do I get to enjoy scenic rides each day, but it usually also offers the opportunity to explore capitals and other bustling hubs on route.
This article will showcase five of the most beautiful riverside cycle paths in Europe:
- Passau to Vienna (along the Danube): Enjoy the Danube’s beautiful scenery as you cycle from the German border to Austria’s capital.
- Rhine Cycle Route (EuroVelo 15): This trail takes cyclists on a journey from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea, following the picturesque Rhine, one of Europe’s most well-known waterways.
- The Loire Valley: Known as the ‘garden of France’, the Loire Valley’s cycle route offers a journey dotted with fairy-tale chateaux and lush vineyards.
- Adige Cycle Path: Travel along Italy’s second-longest river, the Adige, and drink in the stunning landscapes of the South Tyrolean Alps and Veneto’s vineyards.
- Elbe Cycle Path: Follow the picturesque Elbe from its source in the mountains of Northern Czechia, all the way through Germany, and to the North Sea.
Passau to Vienna (via the Danube Cycle Path)
Distance: 324 km | Time needed: 5-7 days
The Danube Cycle Path is one of the most iconic bike routes in Europe. It offers the perfect introduction to cycle touring, as the paths are very well maintained, the topography is flat, and there is lots to see and do along the way. There are also plenty of fellow cyclists on the route to keep you company.
The entire Danube Cycle Path is a whopping 2,860km in length, but the most popular section is the 300km stretch from Passau to Vienna. This section begins at the German border in Passau, before crossing into Austria and traversing some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes on its way to Vienna.
The scenery really is picture-perfect, as you’ll pedal through verdant vineyards, apricot orchards, quaint villages, historic sites and more, all while the beautiful Danube accompanies you on your way.
- Passau: Begin your journey in the enchanting city of Passau, often referred to as the ‘City of Three Rivers’. Here, you can explore the stunning St. Stephen’s Cathedral, home to the largest cathedral organ in the world.
- Linz: Next, pedal towards Linz, a vibrant city where the old meets the new. Make sure to visit the Ars Electronica Centre, a museum dedicated to the future of technology, and the Old Cathedral, a remarkable example of Baroque architecture.
- Melk Abbey: Continue your journey to the Melk Abbey, a stunning, hilltop Benedictine monastery overlooking the Danube. Its golden exterior, ornate chapel and beautiful gardens are truly a sight to behold.
- Wachau Valley: The Wachau Valley is famous for its wine production. As you cycle, you’ll pass numerous vineyards, providing ample opportunities to stop, taste the local wines and even take a tour.
- Vienna: Your route concludes in the illustrious city of Vienna, where the imperial Schönbrunn Palace awaits. A grand finish to a scenic journey along the Danube.
The Loire Valley (Loire à Vélo)
Distance: 800 km | Time needed: 2-3 weeks
There’s a certain magic to cycling along the Loire River. Known as the “Garden of France,” the Loire Valley is home to a charming blend of vineyards, chateaus, old villages and tranquil riverside scenes.
The cycle route along the Loire is known as the Loire à Vélo, and is part of the larger EuroVelo 6 route which stretches across the entire European continent. The Loire à Vélo itself, though, is 800km long, beginning in Saint-Nazaire on the Atlantic Coast and ending in the town Nevers.
If you’re looking for a ride that combines natural beauty with historical grandeur, the Loire à Vélo should be at the top of your list. There’s so much to see in the valley, and the cycling really is sublime. The terrain is also flat and the path is well-marked, making it an accessible journey for cyclists of all ages and fitness levels.
- Château de Chambord: With its majestic façade and vast parkland, it’s not surprising that Chambord is often considered the highlight of the Loire. This fairy-tale castle is a stunning example of French Renaissance architecture.
- Château de Chenonceau: Up next, cycle towards the Château de Chenonceau, an enchanting castle stretching across the Cher river, often referred to as ‘the ladies’ castle’ for its female-centric history.
- Tours: Take a leisurely ride through the charming city of Tours, filled with architectural and historical treasures, including the gothic Saint Gatien’s Cathedral and the beautiful Jardin Botanique de Tours.
- Saumur: As you pedal towards Saumur, you’ll be greeted by stunning vineyards, cave dwellings and the striking Saumur Castle, an emblem of the city.
- Nantes: The route concludes in the vibrant city of Nantes, where the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany awaits. A peaceful end to a picturesque journey along the Loire.
- Vineyards: The Loire Valley is renowned for its wine. You’ll cycle past countless vineyards, with ample opportunities to stop, sample the local produce and even take a tour.
Rhine Cycle Route (EuroVelo 15)
Distance: 1,233 km | Time needed: 3 weeks
The Rhine Cycle Route, also known as EuroVelo 15, follows the Rhine River from its source in the Swiss Alps to the North Sea in the Netherlands. Stretching over 1,230km, this cycle path is filled with awe-inspiring landscapes, historic landmarks, and vibrant riverside towns.
The Rhine really does offer some fantastic natural highlights, including Lake Constance and the mighty Rhine Falls. It also offers the opportunity to visit some great towns and cities, such as Schaffhausen, Basel and Cologne, so make sure to give yourself enough time to explore.
Like many bike paths that follow rivers, EuroVelo 15 is mostly flat, making it another excellent option for novices looking to dip their toe into the world of cycle touring.
- Swiss Alps: Your journey kicks off in the Swiss Alps, where the Rhine River originates. Expect picturesque mountain scenery!
- Lake Constance: One of the largest lakes in Europe, the stunning Lake Constance is a fantastic place to relax by the water.
- Rhine Falls: Prepare to be mesmerised by the impressive Rhine Falls, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Here, huge volumes of water fall over rocks across a width of 150m.
- Basel: It’s worth spending an afternoon exploring this modern Swiss city. There are lots of great places to eat, and if you’re into art, there are lots of art museums to check out.
- Middle Rhine Valley: As you traverse the Middle Rhine Valley, you’ll encounter picturesque vineyards, medieval castles, and the famous Lorelei rock.
- Cologne: Don’t forget to take a break in Cologne and visit its iconic cathedral, an impressive example of Gothic architecture.
Adige Cycle Path
Distance: 300 km | Time needed: 5-7 days
The Adige is Italy’s second-longest river at 400km. It springs in Reschen am Reschensee in South Tyrol and meanders through most of northeast Italy, before flowing into the Adriatic Sea near Venice.
The Adige Cycle Path runs alongside the Adige for most of its course, although the cycle path officially ends in Verona, rather than Venice. The bike route offers a quintessential Italian experience: you’ll begin in the Tyrolean Alps, before meandering through vine-clad valleys and charming towns. You’ll then pedal to the iconic Lake Garda, before finishing up in Verona, one of Italy’s most romantic cities.
The Adige Cycle Path is very well-constructed, consisting mostly of smooth asphalt. It also rolls gently downhill the entire way. This makes it a very easy ride — perfect for those wanting to relax and enjoy the Italian scenery, rather than challenge themself on steep inclines.
- Resia Pass: The Adige Cycle Path starts its journey in the heights of the Resia Pass, a gorgeous start to your cycle tour amidst the stunning panorama of the Italian Alps.
- Lake Resia: As you pedal further, you’ll encounter Lake Resia, a tranquil body of water that hides the submerged village of Graun beneath its surface. This mysterious lake is also home to the iconic submerged bell tower.
- Merano: The route then winds down to the charming spa town of Merano. Here, you can relax and rejuvenate amidst the town’s thermal baths and lush, subtropical parks.
- Bolzano: Do take a pit stop at Bolzano, a city where Italian and Austrian cultures blend seamlessly. The city is a treasure trove of historical sites, including the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology home to Ötzi the Iceman.
- Lake Garda: Beautiful Lake Garda is one of Italy’s most famous lakes for a very good reason. It’s simply stunning, with lots of pretty villages to explore around its shores.
- Verona: Concluding in the romantic city of Verona, do take the the chance to explore the city of Romeo and Juliet. From its world-renowned Roman arena to the charming Piazza delle Erbe, Verona offers a picturesque end to this beautiful ride.
Elbe Cycle Path
Distance: 1,280 km | Time needed: 3 weeks
The Elbe River meanders from its source in the Czech Republic’s Giant Mountains, through Prague, and into Germany. Here, it continues its journey through Dresden, Dessau, Magdeburg and Hamburg, before finally flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven.
The Elbe Cycle Path follows the river as it winds its way from Northern Czechia to the North Sea. It’s approximately 1,280km long, and offers an unbeatable blend of natural beauty and cultural highlights. If you’re strapped for time, you may choose to only cycle the most popular stretch of the route from Prague to Dresden.
A bonus of the Elbe Cycle Path is its flat terrain, making it ideal for beginners and families. However, don’t be fooled — the diverse landscapes along the route, ranging from the rugged Sudetes mountains to the tranquil Lauenburg Lakes, ensure seasoned cyclists will not feel left out.
- Prague: The Elbe Cycle Path will take you to the Czech Republic’s capital, Prague. Make sure to allocate some time to explore this magical city.
- Dresden: Dubbed ‘Florence on the Elbe’, Dresden is a hub of art and culture. Enjoy the meticulously reconstructed historic architecture, especially the iconic Frauenkirche.
- Meissen: Meissen is home to Germany’s oldest porcelain manufacturing company. Take a break from cycling to explore the town’s charming streets and sample its famous wines.
- Hamburg: The bustling city of Hamburg is a major highlight on the Elbe Cycle Path. With its unique maritime charm, winding canals, and architectural masterpieces, it’s a wonderful place to explore.
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