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Photo by Jen Sotolongo
Cycling tours—both self-guided and with groups—are becoming an increasingly popular way to explore the best of Europe’s backroads. The Ciclovia Alpe Adria Radweg (pictured above) is so well-signed that maps are practically unecessary.
Interlinked paths and trails span countries across the continent, offering sweeping views along the way for riders of all skill levels.
Europe is fast becoming a standout destination for cycling holidays. Across the continent, beloved and (mainly) car-free routes accommodate all levels and ages of cyclists, whether you’re a beginner setting off on your first quick trip or you’ve pedaled thousands of miles across the world. From gastronomic cycle tours featuring delicious food and wine stops to historically immersive rides through medieval towns, the following routes offer a little something for everyone looking to see the best of Europe from two wheels.
Not to be confused with the hiking route of the same name, this 259-mile (416-km) bike path starts in Salzburg, Austria, winds through the Alps, and ends on the Mediterranean coast in Grado, Italy. The Austrian section was designed to show off the beauty of the Alps without impossible mountain climbs, while the Italian portion winds along rivers and lively towns offering copious wine and pasta.
The Danube Cycle Path is one of the most well-known and well-traveled bike routes in Europe. It follows the Danube River from its source in Germany all the way to the Black Sea, but the most popular stretch of the trail is the 190-mile (306-km) portion between the scenic German village of Passau and Vienna, Austria. Almost entirely car-free and fairly flat, this path—which crisscrosses the border between Germany and Austria throughout much of the ride—is perfect for cyclists of any age and ability.
Belgium has the beer lovers covered with a variety of brewery routes in the Flanders region. Choose your own adventure by piecing together several dedicated beer routes in the Flemish Brabant province. These loops, which range from 20 to 30 miles (32 to 48 km), will lead you to traditional Belgian breweries and abbeys producing some of the world’s best beer.
Just after you cross into Montenegro from Vučevo, Bosnia, a steep climb up the otherwise undemanding E762 road sends you nose-diving into a deep gorge carved by the teal waters of the Piva River. The Piva Canyon Road route continues along the river and passes through more than 60 tunnels, winding through a canyon before reaching Plužine, a little resort town where cyclists can take a dip in Lake Piva. [Editor’s note: Although tunnels normally pose a danger for cyclists, most tunnels along this 17-mile (26-km) stretch are short and cars are rare, drastically reducing the threat of an accident.]
Mountains, inexpensive spa towns, and delicious food and wine are all part of the journey along the Bulgarian section of the Iron Curtain Trail. The route begins on the low-traffic roads of the Thracian Valley, which is home to several wineries including Orbelus Organic. Then the path heads east into the mountains that form the border with Greece, passing through affordable spa towns like Gotse Delchev and Devin. From there, climb into the untouched nature of the Rhodope Mountains, where abundant sheltered picnic areas provide fresh spring water and free camping options.
The 185-mile (297-km) Hebridean Way Cycling Route—also known as National Cycle Network Route (NCR) 780—crosses 10 islands in the Outer Hebrides that are connected by ferries and causeways. The remote and peaceful roads meander alongside rugged Atlantic coastline and soar over hills that offer awe-inspiring vistas and plenty of opportunities for wildlife encounters in the Western Isles (think: sheep, miniature horses, and puffins).
The 75-mile long (123-km) Parenzana Railway used to connect Trieste, Italy, with Poreč, Croatia. It later became known as the “Path of Health and Friendship” and now unites all three countries of the Istrian peninsula. The hilly route cuts through olive and peach groves, vineyards, and colorful Adriatic villages, with plenty of opportunities for gourmet food stops along the way.
Cyclists won’t need to feel too bad about indulging in all the wine and food available in the Alsace wine region thanks to this 105-mile (170-km) route, which runs along the eastern slopes of the Vosges Mountains. The Alsace Wine Road is one of the most beautiful cycle routes in France; the route follows former rail lines and parts of the Roman road and often leads to intimate wine tasting experiences in villages.
Originally built to transport materials for the construction of the Bergen-Oslo Railway, this is one of the most popular scenic cycling routes in Norway. Hop on the train from Bergen or Oslo with your bike, or rent one in town, and set off on the dirt path between the towns of Haugastøl and Flåm. Combining history with in-your-face nature, the 51-mile (82-km) route can be completed in one day, or you can take it slow and extend the journey over several days, staying in towns along the way.
Formerly a train route, the converted 51-mile (82-km) Vasco-Navarro Railway (also known as the Vasco-Navarro Greenway) is now one of the longest bike routes in Spain. The flat path guides cyclists from the Basque capital of Vitoria-Gasteiz to the historic city of Estella, passing through mountains, rivers and gorges, and attractive towns and villages. In Estella (or Lizarra in Basque), the path connects with the Camino de Santiago, a UNESCO-recognized network of historic pilgrimage routes that can also be explored on bicycle.
This article originally appeared online in November 2017; it was updated on March 29, 2019, to include current information.
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