8 of the best European destinations for a cycling vacation
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Love getting out in the fresh air to cycle? Then plan a vacation around it. Of course, not all cycling vacations need to be super intense, eight-hour daily rides with your rucksack in tow (though they can be!). You can simply rent bikes in your destination to get around a new city, do a bike tour or take family cycling excursions together while on a vacation.
Here are some of the best cycling destinations in Europe, whether you’re an avid cyclist or simply love the occasional bike ride, as well as a list of tips if you plan to cycle during your vacation.
Best for city biking
For the leisure biker that wants to explore a new city, consider these spots.
Save the circular uphill route to Montjuïc or hills heading up to the famed Park Güell (consider e-bikes for these upward routes), Barcelona‘s central districts are fairly flat and full of bike lanes. The Mediterranean climate is also apt for biking year-round, just make sure to bring sun protection as it can get very hot.
While the city offers a number of half- and full-day bike tours, it’s easy and affordable to rent a bike and take in the sights on your own. Start off in Plaza Catalunya, then explore sites like the magnificent Sagrada Familia, the two famous Gaudi-designed houses Casa Mila and Casa Batlló, the Gothic Quarter and end up along the Barceloneta Beach and seafront.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Obviously, we had to include one of the most famous cycling cities in the world on our list: Amsterdam. With more than 300 miles of bike lanes in the city alone, getting from A to B on two wheels is the best way to get around the city. Just beware: Locals often bike to work, and well, to everywhere, so make sure to respect the bike rules of the road and not get in anyone’s way, as they ride fast and with purpose.
Start off with an easy ride through the verdant Vondelpark to get accustomed to your bike, then head out to the Rijksmuseum. Next, bike along the canals, exploring the hip Nine Streets area and to Jordaan, where you can break to see the Anne Frank House. You can also enjoy a ride over to the Botanical Gardens and the NEMO Science Museum. It’s easy to get out of the city and bike out into the countryside — do so with Mike’s Bike Tours, which combines biking experiences with cheese tastings and clog factory tours.
Best for beachfront biking
If you’re hoping to get some beach time in between bike rides, head to these coastal spots.
Gran Canaria, Spain
With easy bike lanes along the Maspalomas and Meloneras beaches of southern Gran Canaria, this is the perfect destination for beginning or family bikers that want to enjoy a seascape without worrying about traffic or too many other bikers. In fact, you may be able to find a bike rental shop that offers rates below $12 per day if you rent your bikes for longer than a day or two, using them to go to and from the beach each day.
Coastal cyclists will enjoy stopping at the Maspalomas dunes, the Maspalomas lighthouse and the Maspalomas Botanical gardens. If you’d prefer something more strenuous than a leisurely ride, there are plenty of mountain bike paths and rentals available around the island. We suggest the Bici Bike Vintage company for rentals or tours.
Brittany Islands, France
France is home to some of the best cycling routes in the world — does the Tour de France ring a bell? That being said, some of them are pretty intense for the average cyclist. For a leisurely dose of beachside biking, the Brittany Islands are a safe bet: A lack of vehicles and a charming local bicycle culture make it the perfect spot to get around on two wheels. You can bring your own bike on the ferry, or rent one upon arrival.
It’s best to plan your trip between the months of April and October for the best cycling weather. For the most idyllic coastal routes, we love Île de Batz, which has a variety of paths and trails to satisfy either more advanced cyclists or beginners. Île de Bréhat is another French island perfect for a ride through quiet fishing villages, past golden sand beaches and along pine-flanked trails.
Best for mountain biking
Serious bikers that don’t mind major uphill climbs should opt for mountain biking vacations.
The Alps, Switzerland and France
Best for intermediate or advanced cyclists, avid riders have neverending options when it comes to the Alps in various countries. Ski resort by winter and biking-and-hiking destination by summer, the Crans-Montana in Switzerland is ideal for adrenaline junkies that don’t suffer from vertigo. Take the lift up, ride over the peaks and then bike back down to the green valley and charming village below.
Another alternative in Switzerland is the Cuolm Sura, a circular route taking you through the Rhine Gorge that starts and finishes in the village of Ilanz. For those preferring to get their Alps fix in France, consider the Chamonix area. Beginners or those wanting a low level of difficulty can bike in the Chamonix Valley. More advanced riders can take the 2,300-foot climb through the Parc de Merlet.
The Dolomites, Italy
For a quiet biking vacation in the Italian Dolomites with great weather, consider the shoulder season, like May, September or October. The most famous route to cover is the Sella Ronda loop, but expect almost 6,500 feet of climbing here. If you’d prefer to do this loop with thousands of other bikers, the roads shut down for cars each June for Bike Day, and many locals and visitors travel here to do this particular ride.
Since most routes in the Dolomites are quite hilly, this is not the destination for beginners. The Fedaia route is considered to be the most difficult, with some seriously steep grades, but you’ll get some breathtaking scenery in return for your hard work.
Best alternative scenic routes
If you want something a little different, consider a visit to one of these destinations.
For anyone who prefers wine before, during or after their bike rides (though we suggest after), the tranquil region of Alentejo in Portugal is the destination for you. The region has rolling hills, but ones generally not too difficult for the average rider. This is a great place to bike through various areas, starting in Evora or Estremoz, destinations known for their delicious Portuguese cuisine, especially the local sausages, as well as their wineries.
Biking around Alqueva is beautiful during the day, and plan to return at night (not on bike!) to enjoy the stunning starlight paradise of the Alqueva Night Sky Reserve, one of Europe’s top Starlight Tourism destinations. If you want to add a little coastal riding into your itinerary, head south to the Algarve coast.
Danube River, various countries
Known as one of the most picturesque cycling routes in Europe, you definitely don’t have to do all 750 miles of the Danube River route to have an enjoyable vacation. In fact, since the route is riverside, you can easily combine a day of cycling with a vacation in a country like Austria, Germany, Hungary or Slovakia. True beginners will want to go downstream (read: downhill), which is nice and easy.
Those wanting to see it all may want to consider a bike-and-barge tour, where you’ll cycle by day and sleep on a river barge at night. Or, those doing quick city weekend escapes in spots like Bratislava, Vienna or Budapest can simply enjoy a quick bike ride or guided tour within these cities or along the river on the outskirts.
Vacation cycling tips to keep you healthy and safe
- Make sure to always have the proper safety gear. If you’re renting, check with shops ahead of time to make sure they can outfit both you and your family with whatever you need.
- Read up on local biking laws. Yes, you can get fined on a bike in many countries! Make sure to find out if it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk, if helmets are required or any other relevant rules that could affect you.
- If you’re bringing your own gear, make sure to check fees ahead of time with your airline or train.
- Try to find routes with bike lanes whenever possible, especially in busy cities.
- Consider the season/climate in your selected destination before booking or biking. It may be extremely hot or snowy during certain times of year, which are not great options for extensive biking trips.
- Check with your travel insurance. Make sure that your insurance will cover any incidents incurred while biking. If not, consider purchasing an additional plan.
- Think about the logistics. If you’re planning a more serious cycling trip, consider where you’ll stay, if you’ll also be driving, how long you realistically need to get from A to B and any other important details.
(Featured image courtesy of Drazen_/Getty Images)
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