Tour de Europe
To the uninitiated, cycling vast distances across a country might sound like a torturous idea. But anyone who’s hopped on the back of a bike and pedaled their way around a new destination will likely tell you there are few better ways to take in the sights.
In many ways, cycling offers you the best of both worlds. At cycling pace you cover just enough distance not to feel dejected — even those unaccustomed to the sport can cover several dozen miles in a day, more if you opt for an electric bicycle. This will expose you to various attractions and changing landscapes in a matter of minutes, and although you can cover good distance, you’re not going so fast that the world is whistling on by.
You’ll be exposed to the elements — the fresh smells, the crisp air, the baking sun, chirping of birds, and the odd bleat or bray. You’ll work up a sweat on the uphills, and relish in the downhills.
If you’re a fan of pedal-powered sightseeing, then Europe is packed full of options suitable for all skill and fitness levels, both guided and self-guided. These are some of the best biking tours on the continent.
Rhine Valley - Amsterdam, Germany, Switzerland
The Rhine Valley makes for one of the most scintillating train rides in Europe, but far fewer tourists have ditched the tracks for the tarmac. The benefits of riding the Rhine Valley, with a starting point in Amsterdam, are clear — aside from the physical accomplishment of the journey, you’ll also be coasting at a pace slow enough to take in the medieval castles, glistening river and idyllic vineyards.
You’ll also have ample opportunity to stop off along the way to sample local wines and other delicacies, arriving in Basel, Switzerland some eight days later.
It’s possible to plot a route that uses only paved roads, and there are several hundred miles of bicycle paths that allow for a safe and relaxing experience. Although the route might sound daunting, it’s possible to spread it out to no more than 40 miles per day at a fairly leisurely pace.
Most cycle tour companies in Europe offer guided tours along this famous route, but the EuroVelo website offers comprehensive details on how to go it alone — from the river’s source, all the way to its mouth in the Black Sea.
West Balkan Triangle - Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina
The Balkan countries of Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina have seen a surge in tourism in recent years — a trend that’s hardly surprising given their mediterranean climate, wallet-friendly prices and remarkable natural scenery. From fjord-like mountains to tranquil bays, unspoiled lakes, vast flats and remote islands, there’s an endless tapestry of sights in the region labelled the West Balkan Triangle.
Of course, these factors all make the region perfect for a multi-day cycling trip. The terrain between the three countries is relatively flat, and though you may have to venture onto some busy roads and up a few hills, there are also large stretches where it’ll likely just be you, the bikes and the ocean.
Though you could explore this route on your own, given the border crossings, language changes and some difficult roads to negotiate, a tour like the one offered by BikeTours.com is perhaps the most rewarding way to take it all in. They offer a fully supported trip that starts in Dubrovnik, Croatia, moves south to Kotor, Montenegro, and then heads up through stretches of Bosnia-Herzegovina, before returning you to your starting point by shuttle.
Malaga to Seville - Spain
Spain is not short of avid cycling fans, thanks to the legendary cyclists who cut their teeth on the slopes of the terrifying Pyrenees, and continue to rake in medals and accolades in major events around the world. Fortunately, there are cycling tours throughout the country that offer somewhat easier terrain for the less accomplished rider.
The south of Spain is particularly conducive to rewarding cycling tours, and there are several companies — including Cycling Country, Euro Bike and Andalusian Cycling Experience — that lead groups between the region’s most revered destinations, or can point you in the right direction for a self-guided trip.
Most of these rides include the likes of Granada, Cordoba and Seville. Old train tracks, now converted into bike paths, make for safe travel much of the time, and you’ll likely only encounter traffic close to big cities. Although the terrain isn’t quite that of the Pyrenees, there are enough hills along the way to ensure an elevated heart rate, earning you a few plates of tapas at the end of the day.
Trieste to Pula - Italy, Slovenia, Croatia
If you like the idea of trundling along the Istrian Peninsula from Italy all the way to Croatia, with a quick stop-off in Slovenia, then there’s a fantastic cycling trail to consider along this route. It starts off in the Italian border city of Trieste, and winds its way down the Adriatic coasts of Slovenia and Croatia, all the way to the city of Pula.
It’s a dazzling route along the Adriatic that takes riders through quaint fishing villages, past verdant vineyards, and along remote valleys. Freedom Treks offers a self-guided option to explore the route at your own speed, including route notes, directions and all accommodation bookings. The route is generally flat and suitable for most fitness levels, with a total distance of 155 miles.
London to Amsterdam - Belgium, England, France, Holland
The ride from London to Amsterdam is up there on many cycling bucket lists, and for good reason. It’s another journey that takes you between two European capitals, and it’s an impressive feat in its own right. It also traverses diverse landscapes in four separate countries, includes a short ferry ride, and offers possible stops in towns like Dunkirk, Flanders and Bruges, all rich in fascinating history.
The route is mostly flat, and at a push it’s possible to get between the two cities in just four days. If you’re looking for a slightly more relaxing approach, most choose to break it up into approximately eight days of 40 miles each.
Because of the good roads and cycle paths, and the ample accommodation along the way, this is a journey that many cyclists take on alone. But if you’re looking for support vehicles to take some the stress out of the trip, there are several companies that will tag along as support and help you with advance bookings.
l’Etape du Tour - France
If you’ve always harbored dreams of competing in the Tour de France, but never quite had the mettle, then l’Etape du Tour might just be your closest alternative. This famous one-day cycling event allows rookie cyclists to tackle a single Tour de France stage, while the professionals put their feet up on a rest day.
Though the stage will no doubt push even accomplished amateurs to their maximum limit, many choose to tack this on to a bigger sightseeing tour around the country. Each year, Trek Travel facilitates a multi-day cycling adventure, with the l’Etape du Tour day featured as one of several grueling challenges.
In previous years, Trek Travel’s tour has included some of the Tour de France’s most legendary climbs and descents, accompanied by a handful of celebrity guests to keep participants motivated along the way.
Salzburg to Vienna - Austria
Austria’s stunning lakes, rivers and forests may make cycle tours easy on the eye, but anyone who’s been to the small Central European country will know there are several towering peaks that dominate vast regions. Fortunately, the cycle route between Salzburg and Vienna includes all of the scenery, and very little of the climbing.
This popular cycling route typically traces long stretches of the famous Danube. Many people choose to start in Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart and the home of inescapable Sound of Music Tours, before heading to cycle paths alongside the waters on the way to Linz. A particular highlight is the teal water of Lake Attersee — the largest freshwater lake in the country.
From Attersee, you’ll skirt the fringes of several more beautiful bodies of water, before cycling through the wine-rich Wachau Valley, a short cycle or train ride away from the capital.
Most people aim to finish the route in about seven days, with cycling legs ranging between 19 and 40 miles. Given its popularity, it is easily cycled as a self-guided trip, but there are also several companies that will deal with all accommodation bookings, return train trips and supply support vehicles, including BikeTours.com and TripSite.
Paris to Moscow - France, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia Estonia, Russia
This may just be the most dramatic cycling tour on the continent, spanning the vast distance between Paris and Moscow. The route, nicknamed “The Napoleon” because it loosely follows Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812, will require you to cycle some 2,700 miles over the course of 45 days.
The ride starts out in the regal streets of Paris, where cyclists can take in the sights of the French capital before embarking on the epic expedition. From France, riders venture east through Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, eventually arriving in Russia.
The route may sound daunting, but it takes you through some of the most spectacular scenery on the continent. You’ll see everything from sprawling capitals to medieval towns, and cycle through pristine vineyards and the densest of forests.
The route is, conceivably, one you can undertake on your own steam. You can also commit to just a few of the multi-day legs. But if want to ensure you stick to the best possible route, and have the benefit of a support vehicle carrying your luggage and a few spares, it might be worth signing up for a guided tour. Ride&Seek is your best bet for information on tackling The Napoleon as part of a guided tour.
Berlin to Copenhagen - Germany and Denmark
There’s something truly satisfying about journeying between two capitals on your own pedal power, and there are few better to connect by bike than Copenhagen and Berlin.
Obvious attractions of each capital aside, the cycling between the two cities is remarkable. Most of it takes place on well-maintained cycle paths, and it’s possible to cover the 400-odd miles over 10 relatively stress-free days, including a short ocean crossing.
You can choose to take the journey from either city, or, if the mood takes you, do it all again in reverse and return to your starting point.
The towns you’ll pass through along the way are all notable destinations, made all the more special by the fact that those traveling in faster modes of transport tend to overlook them. You can also plan your route to cycle to some beautiful natural attractions, including Lake Stechlin, several canals, and both Nossentiner Heide and Mueritz National Parks.
There’s no shortage of companies offering to guide you through this trip, but it’s one that you can easily accomplish on your own. The comprehensive Bikeway Berlin-Kopenhagen website will help you plan your route, download GPS coordinates, locate accommodation, and shares highlights and interesting activities to include along the way.
The (Full) Danube - Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary
If the sound of the Salzburg to Vienna journey is music to your ears, but you’re looking for something to really get those thighs burning, why not include a comprehensive Danube cycle on your bucket list? It’s 1,800 miles from the river’s source to where it empties in the Black Sea, and for many touring cyclists this is the ultimate biking tour on the continent.
Given the sheer length of the river, you’ll never be short of epic views and dramatically changing scenery as you wind your way between remote, fertile valleys and four of the continent’s most iconic capitals.
In spite of its length, this is one of the easier routes in Europe to do on your own steam, free from the confines of an organized tour. There is a wealth of information online that details the best routes and other details like campsites and suitable stopover towns along the way. There’s even a Danube Cycle Path website that charts the route from the river’s source in Germany, all the way to Slovakia, Hungary and even further east.
Danish Isles - Denmark
Denmark is a fantastic cycling destination — just ask the the millions of cyclists who use two wheels for their daily commutes. According to the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, up to a quarter of Danes use bikes for trips of less than 3 miles, and 16 percent use them for all trips.
If you choose to tour the country by bicycle, you’ll fall into the latter group, but the stunning natural scenery and fascinating history will keep you motivated throughout. Most tours will take you past castles and historic towns, and through some spectacular mountain and ocean-side scenery.
If you’re looking for a truly memorable way to see Denmark while on a bicycle, then the obvious trip to choose is one that explores the Danish Isles, neatly marketed as Viking country. There are several companies, including Austin Adventures, that will lead you on a week-long expedition starting in Copenhagen, then connecting you to destinations like Helsingør, Svendborg and Odense, before returning back to the capital.
Though some of these tours will easily cost upwards of $3,000 for a full week of touring, the returns in terms of food, accommodation and bucket-list-worthy sights tend to justify the initial capital outlay.
Bologna to Parma - Italy
There are few countries in Europe better suited to sightseeing by bike than Italy. Though it’s possible to embark on a trying trip around the Alps or Dolomites, most choose routes that take in the more tranquil aspects of Italian life — the food, drink, historic towns and serene rolling hills between them.
If you’re looking for the ultimate Italy-by-bike highlights package, then you don’t need to look much further than BikeTours.com's A Taste of Italy. This kicks off in the town of Bologna, and takes you on a week’s journey through pasta country.
You’ll end up in the town of Parma, but also embark on several loop rides from your bases along the way, which means a welcome emphasis on the good life. That said, the average day includes up to 30 miles of cycling, so those glasses of Lambrusco wine and overflowing plates of pasta will be well deserved.
Provence - France
France’s Provence is idyllic biking tour country. Imagine sitting up on your saddle and taking in your surroundings of lavender fields, snow-capped peaks and historic hilltop towns, then nestling down for the night with celebrated Provencal wine and food.
Most organized tours start in the southern city of Avignon and take you on a circular route through to Orange, Beaucaire and St. Remy. Each destination shares the sights, sounds and flavors familiar to the south of France, and yet each is pleasantly unique.
There are routes through the region to suit all skill and fitness levels. There are several companies that will guide you through the journey, but Discover France offers a wide range of the most extraordinary self-guided bicycle tours in the country, including several in Provence.
Galway to Slan Leat - Ireland
There are few better ways to celebrate, or commiserate, a long day in the saddle than with a pint of Guinness. Fortunately, there’s a lot of Guinness to go around in Ireland, particularly on a cycle tour that leads you from Galway all the way to San Leat.
Couple the vibrant pub life with warm and welcoming locals, intriguing Gaelic culture, and the breathtaking Connemara and County Galway coastlines, and you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled across bike tour heaven.
Ciclismo Classico offers cycling tours of the region, which includes vehicular support, guided historical walks, a cycling detour to the Cliffs of Moher and all creature comforts in between.
If you’d prefer to explore Ireland by bicycle on a self-guided tour, Irish Tourism outlines some of the best and most accessible options through the country’s most incredible scenery.
The Amber Trail - Hungary, Slovakia, Poland
The Amber Trail, which connects Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, is so named because of the historic trading of amber along the route. Though no longer used for its founding purposes, the trail is still accessible — as a popular trekking and cycling course through some of the region’s most charming small towns.
There’s an otherworldly pace to many of the regions that you’ll pass through on this trip, which will contrast starkly with the beautiful bustling cities of Budapest, Prague and Krakow. The scenery along the way also varies dramatically, from the beautiful Danube, right through to the tough slopes of the Low Tatras.
As the route follows a historic trail, it’s a fantastic option to take on as a self-guided ride. Much of the riding is on quiet backroads, with the occasional detour onto light off-road tracks and trails. If you do decide to venture out without an organized tour, there are several useful online resources — including a comprehensive route profile, covering all 270 miles, on the Bike Map website. BikeTours.com and Footloose Travel Guides also offer information on guided and self-guided options.