Cycling in Europe

Racing by...With so many countries in Europe, drawing a broad summary of what it’s like for bike touring is impossible.

The common currency of the Euro aside, there’s a new language, culture and cuisine to explore across every border. Unless you have several months to spare, you’ll have to pick an area to focus on.

On this page we talk about:

Highlights


Here are some country-by-country highlights to help you decide where to go:

  • The Netherlands is Europe’s most bike-friendly country, with a wide network of bike paths to explore.
  • Denmark delighted us on a 1,000km trip in 2011, with its wild camping facilities and natural beauty.
  • Spain offers beautiful and remote cycling in its interior. We’ve also cycled the south of Spain in the winter (although the weather proved challenging).
  • Belgium is the obvious candidate for beer lovers.
  • Portugal has very low prices if you’re on a budget.
  • Germany is another country with excellent cycle paths if you don’t want to tango with traffic.
  • Italy has the best coffee, amazing mountains and stunning vistas.
  • France is a classic and there’s nothing like a chocolate croissant to start your day.
  • Slovenia is a great choice if you’re worried about language – its citizens speak excellent English.
  • Hungary has lots of free wifi access if you need to work from the road.
  • Greece has plenty of northern hills and wild camping opportunities.

Exploring the back roads of Spain.
Exploring the back roads of Spain.

Costs


The cost of bike touring in Europe can vary wildly.

It’s a fairly developed region, so everything is on offer. If you want to eat in restaurants, stay in hotels and live the high life, you can easily burn through €100 euros or more a day.

On the other hand, if you’re content to cook your own, simple meals and stay in campgrounds where possible, you can probably get away in most regions with a budget of €20-30 a day. Some people even tour around on a mere €5-10 a day but then you’ll be sticking to a strict diet of peanut butter sandwiches and plenty of wild camping.

For most cyclists, it’s the ‘little things’ like entrance fees to museums and stops at cafés that will quickly eat up cash, so it might be wise to have a budget for your main expenses (campgrounds, foods) and also a fund for treats.

Zipping past the windmills of the Netherlands.Zipping past the windmills of the Netherlands.

After all, it would be silly to make a long journey to Europe for a bike trip but then not have enough cash to at least enjoy the occasional gelato in Italy or entrance to a special museum in France.

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Seasons


The ‘perfect’ time of year for cycling in Europe obviously depends on where exactly you’re planning to go.

Northern Europe is best experienced from May through late September. High tourist season hits from June through to the end of August but that’s also when the weather is at its hottest and sunniest – generally around 20-25°C during the day.

Summer is the best time to explore northern Denmark.Summer is the best time to explore northern Denmark.

Depending on the year and the location, you might also experience some very nice cycling days in the fringe months of April and October but it could equally be chilly and damp. Many campgrounds and tourist attractions also shut or have reduced hours outside the tourist season.

Moving further south, areas such as southern France, Spain, Italy and Greece remain pleasant for longer but can be unbearably hot in high summer. If you’re planning a bike tour in these regions in August, adjust your schedule to include early starts, a long lunchtime pause and lots of sunscreen and water!

As for winter cycling, most of Europe gets quite cold in winter. You’ll likely have to go far south in Spain, Italy or Greece to see the sun and even then you could experience snow or cold, wet days. Of course, some hardy cyclists revel in the joys of winter bike touring and if you’re one of those then the whole continent is your oyster!

Tom Allen tells about his winter bike tour in this video:

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Public Transport


Trains are the main way to get around in Europe and in most regions it’s not a problem to travel with your bike.

You’ll probably have to avoid high-speed services such as the TGV in France of the ICE trains in Germany but otherwise most local and regional trails will allow you to take a bicycle along, outside of peak hours.

Bike carriage on a German train.Bike carriage on a German train.

This does vary and sometimes you need to buy a separate ticket so check before travelling.

If you come with a folding bike such as a Brompton or Bike Friday, or a bike that can be easily stashed in a standard bike bag (and you happen to have a bike bag with you) to look like ‘normal’ luggage then you can travel on almost any train.

For longer distances, an easy solution is to take a City Night Line train. These overnight trains run between major European cities and usually have a bike carriage. It costs €12 to put your bike on the train, and tickets can be surprisingly cheap if you book ahead. From Amsterdam, it’s as little as €29 for a seat to destinations including Copenhagen and Munich.

Note: the cheap seats are not comfortable! Unless you can sleep in a straight-up sitting position, spend a bit extra for a bed. We tried the cheap seats on a trip to Denmark and ended up spreading out our sleeping mats on the floor of the bike carriage. This works well as long as the carriage is not too full and the train conductor has a sense of humour.

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Comments

  1. francie
    27th March 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    I’m looking into a bike trip in central europe this summer, but with so many companies offering tours, it is an overwhelming search process. Any recommendations ?

  2. Jen Fleming
    1st April 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    Thanks for this site. It has given me a start to researching cycling around Europe as an oldie.

  3. mark neal
    1st March 2012 at 1:04 am #

    PDF link isn’t working but find the info here about the route and if it has a dining car and the places for bicycles

    http://www.citynightline.de/citynightline/view/en/service/komfortklassen/schlafwagen/uebersicht_en.shtml

    • mark neal
      1st March 2012 at 1:05 am #

      then click on the tab routes with sleeping car

    • Bikeyyurop
      20th July 2014 at 4:43 pm #

      The City Night Line is so ridiculous. You cannot book it over the internet and you can only make a reservation within the country, so reservation is pointless. You can actually make a reservation by calling a hotline (ofcourse with a fee), but that is pretty much hidden on the CNL website.

      Typical German bureaucracy.

  4. Andy Welch
    21st October 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    Europe offers a fantastic introduction to bike touring. There is so much diversity in a small area and it is very bike friendly but still offering a challenge. You can also travel on a budget if you are careful. I would love to riding in Spain as my trip covered down to the Alps, across Hungary, the mountains of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey to the Caucasus. Europe is a great testing ground to go further afield.

  5. James
    12th September 2014 at 11:49 am #

    Don’t forget Austria…Fantastic mountain passes (Grossglockner, Timmelsjoch, Penserjoch etc), plus the highest paved road in Europe (Tiefenbackgletscherstrasse tunnelausgang 2829m), and some good cycle paths.

  6. Dale
    29th November 2015 at 4:17 am #

    Hi

    I am planing a first bike tour this winter and was wondering is it possible in europe (say starting mid to late January) at this time of the year?. Perhaps south is the only possibility for me on my first trip?. I have backpacked around the world, but as I get older (I am now 54) I find the backpack a bit hard on my back for long periods, so am now considering a bike tour instead. Any advise would be much appreciated. P.S. I am from northern Canada. thanks Dale

  7. Valentin
    2nd June 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    Biking is my new passion, on top of that it is a healthy activity and allows me to feel the nature ! Non polluting and very pleasant, I have been able to do some biking rides across London with my coworkers. Working in an events promotion company in London, I see that we list many trips. However I would love to see more people organizing biking trips, across UK and of course Europe. This would give newcomers like me, more opportunities to ride my bike, along with having some good company !

    Valentin @ jorlio

  8. Bernhard
    28th November 2021 at 9:08 am #

    you write “It’s a fairly developed region”.
    Maybe that’s what US folk want to read.
    But the truth is that of the 15 most developed countries, 11 are European – none is American.
    (human development index 2019)

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