Get wild on two wheels: a beginner’s guide to cycling the Danube River
So you’re thinking about cycling the Danube River, huh? It’s a pretty incredible journey to do on two wheels and definitely one for the courageous. I know because I cycled it myself this summer – all 420kms of it. As the Danube cycle path is such a big journey, it’s super important to have everything you need before you put those legs to work, as there’s no going back once you start. Being prepared will bring you peace of mind knowing that you’re as organised and ready as you can ever be to do this epic ride. So here I am with the answers to all your questions. You can thank me later.
Why the Danube River?
The Danube River may not take the title for the longest river in Europe, but it is definitely the most visited. Stretching from Germany to the Ukraine and crossing through 10 countries, the Danube is home to many ecosystems, beautiful landscapes and cyclists – both those kitted out in lycra and the adventurous, inexperienced a.k.a. mwah. With around 40,000 cyclists cycling the Danube River every summer, the paths and signage are well maintained, making it easy to move in between towns.
The path is predominately flat, apart from a few hillside villages. This makes it suitable for everyone and although it can be difficult riding up hills with luggage on the back, it is manageable. You’ve just got to think of how much fun it will be when you are cruising back down.
Where to start and finish?
The most popular section of the Danube River starts from Passau in Germany and ends in Vienna, Austria. This is by far the easiest, most organised and busiest section of the river making it a great introduction to bicycle touring. You can also opt for another country and ride an extra 60km to Bratislava in Slovakia – this gives you a taste of what the paths are like away from the main section.
How long does it take?
To ride from Passau to Bratislava is approximately 420km, with most of the distance covered overland in Austria. It can be done in a week but to really make the most of the journey, two weeks is a perfect amount of time. This allows you time for a day off your bike in places you really enjoy and not have to be rushing to get to the final destination.
Where can I get a bike from?
Unless you’re lucky to have your own bike, then you’ll be faced with the decision of whether you should hire or buy a bike for the journey. Both are fair options, it really depends on what your plans are at the end of the bike ride.
After much deliberation, I decided to buy a second-hand bike when I was in Munich – and named her Gertie. Ideally, I was chasing freedom over anything and knew that I would rather not have to worry about something that wasn’t actually mine. As soon as I started the bike ride I put everything for sale online and was able to sell it pretty quickly at the end of my ride.
Where should I stay?
In the cities, hostels are the way to go. They give you a spot to comfortably rest your head, provide peace of mind with your belongings when you go out exploring during the day and are a great place to meet other travellers. I stayed in a private room at both Wombats Munich and Wombats Vienna, which were both awesome hostels that I highly recommend. In Bratislava, I stayed at Hostel Blues which was within walking distance to all of the sights, including plenty of street food vans.
Sophie hanging at the dreamy Wombats hostel in Munich
For the smaller towns in between, you have the option of carrying a tent and camping or staying in a bed and breakfast. There are plenty of options but it’s important to book in advance, especially if you plan on attempting the journey between July and September.
How do I carry my luggage?
The true cycling tourist carries their bags on the back of their bike. In saying this, it’s possible to arrange a pickup and drop-off bag service if you decide to hire a bike with Velotours. Carrying your gear on the back of the bike isn’t problematic if you pack light, which is highly advisable.
If you buy your own bike, make sure you buy bags for both the front and back wheel, to balance the weight out. This will make it easier to move the bike around and may reduce the number of falls you have.
How much money do I need?
This really depends on your priorities when travelling. If you value comfort and want to stay in private rooms in hostels and bed and breakfasts, then allow up to €50. Whereas, campsites range from €9- 15 a night. Be aware that some sites may also charge per person which is usually an extra €3- 6.
To reduce costs, go grocery shopping in the bigger towns and cities to stock up on staple ingredients. You’ll always be able to find fresh fruit and vegetables in the small towns, which will only set you back a Euro or two.
General food costs:
Coffee: €2- 3
Pastries: €2- 3
Sit down lunch/dinner: €8-12
Make your own salad rolls: €2
Water: free – but BYO bottle.
Is cycling the Danube River suitable for solo travellers?
In terms of safety, the Danube River is solo travel friendly for both male and female cyclists. Coming from someone who did the journey all by herself, it’s important to note that it does get lonely. Although the cycle path can be busy in the peak season, you’ll sometimes ride for a few kilometres without seeing anyone. I would advise inviting a friend along for the journey, that way you can have someone to go through the good and the bad with and laugh about all the silly things that happen along the way. It also means that you can split the gear between you, cut down on food costs and it also makes set up and pack up a lot quicker.
I’m not a cyclist. Can I still do it?
Of course you can. If I did it, so can you. I should mention that I have never actually owned a bike in my adult life and was always that person that would hang back on a biking day tour, so I wouldn’t have to do any indicating. So, yes, it’s definitely possible.
Just because you haven’t got yourself a lycra kit, own the hottest Garmin watch or are yet to nail the one hand bike riding, it doesn’t mean you can’t go cycling along the Danube bike trail. All you need is a reasonable amount of fitness and an adventurous spirit.
My itinerary for cycling the Danube River
Stop 1: Munich, Germany
Munich is a great city to get yourself organised for the big cycle, especially if you plan on buying a bike. While you are there, go rest your legs in the Englischer Garden, which has got to be one of the most beautiful city parks.
Soph recommends staying at: Wombats Hostel
Stop 2: Passau, Germany
Catch the train from Munich to Passau, which only takes two hours and costs start from €7. This is the main starting point for most cycling tourists and it’s a gorgeous, pastel coloured town that is worthy of a wander through.
Stop 3: Schlogen, Austria
Schlogen is one of the smaller towns along the river but it’s the well-known location of the right-angle bend in the Danube River. If your legs are up to it, you can walk just 20 minutes up to the viewpoint to see it from above.
Stop 4: Linz, Austria
One of the bigger towns along the Danube, Linz is absolutely stunning and is not only a great place to stop in for a coffee, but to try a Linz cake which is almond based with a dollop of redcurrant jam. I highly recommend trying it at Jindrak Café.
Stop 5: Au an der Donau, Austria
A place of serenity and by far my favourite campsite along the river. If you don’t spend the night here, be sure to pop in to try their homemade strawberry soft serve. It’s to die for and is the perfect quencher after sweating it out on the bike.
Stop 6: Grein, Austria
Grein is one of the most beautiful towns that you’ll pass through on the bike ride. Be sure to either stay here overnight or at least stop and lock your bike up so you can explore on foot. Walk up to Schloss Greinburg to get a gorgeous view over the town – if you stay the night, this is an awesome spot to watch either the sunset or sunrise.
Stop 7: Melk, Austria
The most popular tourist attraction along the Danube is the Melk Abbey and it’s easy to see why. As well as taking time to go up and see what all of the fuss is about, be sure to get your hands on some apricot dumplings, a local, sweet delicacy of the region.
Stop 8: Wachau Region, Austria
For all of those wine fanatics out there, this will be your favourite part of the bike ride (actually, even if you don’t like wine, this will still be your favourite part). The scenery of the Wachau region is absolutely stunning and will give your camera a run for its money and test your ‘drink riding’ ability. I definitely recommend wine tasting at Eigl wines in Joching.
Stop 9: Krems, Austria
Krems is a university town bursting at the seams with restaurants, cafes and a whole lot of students. Although big, there isn’t too much to do here and is best used as a food stop or last-minute rest for the night.
There weren’t many times that I got lost, but this was a big one. There were roadworks happening leaving Krems which meant detours. After riding almost 400km, the word detour haunted me and still does to this very day. Most of the time, the signs have been super helpful, but this was the one case where they weren’t. There were signs pointing in both directions and of course the one I took first (right side) left me at a dead end having to backtrack.
If the roadworks are still going on when you arrive, make sure you go left, in towards the town. It adds on about 4km to the trip but you will be greeted with your first sunflower field on the journey, which definitely makes up for it.
Stop 10. Tulln, Austria
Home to the Austrian painter Egon Schiele, Tulln is a gorgeous, green riverside town that has a unique charm to it. This is the last town before Vienna and is a perfect place to spend the night.
Stop 11. Vienna, Austria
Vienna is a city full of picture-perfect pastel buildings and is overloaded with art galleries and museums. There’s plenty to see and do in Vienna and is worthy of a few nights stay. Make sure you explore Shonbrunn Palace, eat to your heart’s content at Nacschmarket and live out your Beauty and the Beast dreams at the National Austrian Library.
Soph recommends staying at: Wombats Hostel at The Lounge.
Stop 12: Bratislava, Slovakia
The ride from Vienna to Bratislava is guaranteed to test your patience, bike balance skills and endurance but it’s also one of the greatest days on the trip. Not only do you come to the realization that you have just ridden over 400km on a push bike, but you pass through fields full of sunflowers.
Bratislava is an awesome city that is still considered off the beaten track in relation to its neighbouring cities of Vienna, Prague and Budapest. The food scene is remarkable here, which is great considering you will be craving all things naughty yet yummy. Be sure to have breakfast at Urban House in the old town.
Soph recommends staying at: Hostel Blues
Tips & tricks for cycling the Danube River
Even if the weather forecast looks perfect, make sure you come prepared for some rain too. I didn’t, and I ended up riding a whole day in a 65L black, makeshift garbage bag raincoat #fashionista.
This was the hardest day on my cycling journey and quite possibly one of the hardest travel days ever. The night before this day, a huge storm rolled in and the rain was so heavy that it made my tent cover slip and fill with water. Everything inside was damp, including myself, my mattress and passport. I had to pack everything up in the rain and then jump back on my bike and ride 45km to get to the next destination…in a garbage bag.
This is why you need to be prepared, no matter how beautiful the weather forecast is – you never know what mother nature is really going to do. Although it was the toughest day, it was also the most memorable. Whilst packing up in the morning, I had two people that were staying in motor homes come over to me and invite me in for coffee. One lady even offered to pay for a night’s accommodation, so I didn’t have to rough it out in the rain for another night.
I know it’s tempting to bring nice clothes and shoes for the bigger cities, but it’s much better to have less when you are cycling. This doesn’t mean you can’t pack anything jazzy, just limit it.
Bring a portable stove
I was relying on the campsites to have guest kitchens, but these aren’t available. Therefore, to cut down costs, bring a portable stove so you can not only whip up a beautiful meal, but you can make yourself a coffee or cup of tea in the morning. It will make a huge difference to both your mood and budget.
Plan for the shoulder season
If you can, plan to do your ride in May, June or October as this is when it’s less busy. Not only will you find more serenity, but accommodation is generally cheaper and with more options if you aren’t camping. The peak season starts at the end of June and goes until October.
Leave as early as possible
Aim to start riding before 9am every day as this will help you avoid most of the bike traffic, particularly tour groups. Plus, the more time you have you have up your sleeve to get to the next destination will mean more time for both exploring and relaxing.
I can guarantee that this trip will be one to remember, both for the good, the bad, the ugly and the downright hilarious. Plus, I’m sure you’ll make your friends jealous with all your incredible photos of castles, Sound of Music lookalike landscapes and an increased leg muscle definition. After all, from jealousy stems inspiration and that’s what we all crave at the end of the day.
About the author
Sophie Spencer is an Australian travel blogger who lives for adventure and thrives off breaking out of that pesky comfort zone. She created Adventures of Soph to inspire travellers to live their boldest life, full of courage, change and a whole lot of colour. But as with the good, she also shares the ugly yet realistic side of travel, talking openly about mental health, her travel mishaps and hardest times both on and off the road.
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