The Danube Cycle Path is the most popular holiday cycling route in all of Europe! It attracts families, seniors, recreational cyclists and serious cyclists alike!
Europe’s second longest river starts in Donaueschingen. It’s a town located in the Black Forest in Germany and runs 2900km through 10 countries to the Black Sea!
I cycled the most popular section – 340 km from Passau, Germany to Vienna, Austria with two friends. Prior to that, my longest cycling trip had been a whopping 38 km! My main motivation for cycling it was to prepare for my 1350 km cycling trip along the Iron Curtain Trail in Finland. Although that was initially my main motivation, I fell in love with cycling the Danube almost immediately!
Here’s what you need to know to get the most of cycling the Danube from Passau to Vienna:
Choosing Which Direction to Cycle the Danube:
OK, this is an easy one. Most cyclists, myself included, cycle it from west to east – from Passau to Vienna. It slopes slightly downhill and normally the wind is on your back making for an easier ride! Plus, Vienna makes for a rather impressive finish. You can easily spend a few days exploring there – which I highly recommend if you have the time!
Choosing When to Cycle the Danube:
If you choose a self-guided cycling tour, it’s available from near the end of March through to October 15th. From my perspective, weather in March can be unpredictable, so I personally wouldn’t do it until mid-April. I did it the beginning of May, and the weather was relatively good.
We had a couple of rainy days, but temperature wise it was perfect – warm, but not too hot. Ideally you would want to cycle before the end of June, or alternatively, in September or October. Passau to Vienna is the most popular section of the Danube Cycle Path. It sees up to 600,000 cyclists a year with the majority of those in July and August. If you do choose to cycle it in July and August, make your hotel/B & B reservations early (or let us do it for you ), as places fill up quickly. One hotel that we stayed at in May was 80% booked for June already and fully booked for July and August.
Who Will Enjoy Cycling the Danube?:
What surprised me most, was the variety of people we saw cycling. My friends and I ranged from our late 30s to early 50s, but we also saw speed demons, parents pulling young children in wagons and seniors. So in other words, the Danube is suitable for pretty much anyone in reasonable shape.
I throughly enjoyed myself, even with my limited cycling experience. Having said that, I do recommend doing longer cycle rides before biking the Danube. While I was fine physically, I ended up with a compressed nerve in both of my hands which was really painful. Had I done longer trips prior to this one, I would have installed a handlebar extender for my bike. That could have prevented this injury which took several painstaking weeks to heal.
Where to Stop Along the Danube?
This is a personal choice of course and will vary according to your interests, but a few of the highlights include:
- Passau: Before you start cycling it’s worth exploring Passau’s Old Town. It was rebuilt in the 17th century by Italian baroque masters after a fire.
- Schlönger Loop: one of the most photographed parts of the river where it makes a complete 180 degree turn.
- City of Linz: It’s the capital of Upper Austria, and was the European Cultural Capital in 2009. In addition to some outstanding museums, there is also Linz Castle and the nightly riverside light show.
- Enns: the oldest town in Austria, dating back to 1212.
- Nearby is the Mauthausen concentration camp (note: it’s a steep climb to get there).
- Celtic village of Mitterkirchen: you can visit the Outdoor Museum of Mitterkirchen and view the reconstructed Prehistoric Celtic Village.
- Baroque village of Grein: I stopped for lunch here. It was one of my favourite places along the entire route.
- UNESCO Melk Abbey in Melk: We did the self-guided tour and I loved it. You also get a fantastic view over the city from the top. The small city of Melk is also worth exploring and makes for a great coffee, lunch or overnight stop.
- Wachau region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its wine and sometimes referred to as the Tuscany of Austria. This is a wonderful area to stop and do some wine tasting, while cycling among vineyards. I also highly recommend stopping at the picturesque village of Dürnstein. It also happens to be perfect for wine tasting. Note: many of the wineries are closed on Sundays, so try to visit this region on any other day, but Sunday.
- Just outside of Vienna, you’ll cycle through the Vienna Woods and through the Gates of Vienna.
- The Klosterneuburg Monastery is also worth a stop. If possible, you’ll want to spend a few days exploring Vienna as well.
- There are numerous other villages, castles, churches and museums to visit along the way. This gives you an idea of just how much there is to see.
How Long Will It Take to Bike from Passau to Vienna?
It’s ~340 km long. We did it in 3 1/2 days. Our self-guided tours let you choose between 3 or 6 days of actual cycling (plus additional days to get there). A few factors to consider when planning your route:
- Do you want to just cycle or stop and experience the sights along the way? We stopped for leisurely lunches and made a special effort to stop at the incredible UNESCO Melk Abbey in Melk (highly recommended, as is taking a couple of hours to explore the picturesque town). Otherwise our schedule didn’t allow for many stops beyond a leisurely lunch. If you are interested in exploring some of the sites listed above, you’ll want to give yourself a few additional days (our six day tour would be perfect for you).
- Will you be cycling with a regular bike or an e-bike? I was amazed at how many 70-year old somethings whizzed past me. Then I realized they were on an e-bike. E-bikes can reach speeds of over 30 km/hour (20 miles/hour). If you choose an e-bike, the 3-day option would still give you a few hours a day for sight seeing.
- How fast will you be cycling? We aimed for a very leisurely 15 km/hour, but ended up averaging between 18 to 20 km/hour. We spoke with some speed demons who were averaging 25 km/ hour. Other cyclists we met were sticking to 15 km/ hour. It doesn’t matter how fast you go, but having an idea of what speed you want to maintain gives you an idea of how much time you’ll be spending cycling and how time you’ll have left for sight seeing.
Which Side of the River Should You Cycle On?
In most sections it’s possible to cycle on both sides, so you can choose a) the shortest route, b)the most scenic, c) the one with the best cycle path, d)the one that follows the river most closely, e) the one where the sites you want to visit are, f) the same side where you hotel is located.
Fortunately there are bridges and river crossings and we crossed the Danube almost every day. It does help if you plan your route in advance a bit so that you can choose what’s important to you. It’s also worth noting that some of the river crossings by boat are closed in the evening. Closing times vary depending on the time of year and the crossing, so it’s important to arrive at these before closing time. If in doubt, cross earlier.
In general, we choose to stick to the river as much as possible, but on sections that followed the highway (still a separate bike path), we choose to cross over to a more tranquil setting. We also choose to cycle on the right side of the river (heading from Passau to Vienna) through the Wachau Valley to explore vineyards, and Dürnstein, a charming town brimming with wineries. We also made sure that we were on the right side of the river to visit Melk Abbey. The city of Melk itself is also charming and a great place to stop for lunch or a coffee.
Should You Book Accommodation in Advance?
In my opinion, yes! After cycling all day, the last thing I want to do is to try to find a hotel. We didn’t book in advance. For the most part we were able to find hotels, but it was a pain stopping at each one, asking if there was availability, and then seeing if the price was within our budget. In one instance we had to call 7 different hotels/B&Bs before we found one that had an available room. It was several kilometres off the cycle path, and I don’t think it would have worked out had we not spoken German. In high season, it would be an absolute nightmare trying to find accommodation directly on the Danube Bike Path. That’s why I highly recommend booking in advance. Having guaranteed accommodation in a convenient location is one of the benefits of booking our self-guided cycling tour of the Danube.
How to Get to Passau from Munich:
The easiest and cheapest way is to take a regional train from Munich. The trip lasts ~2:15 with 0-1 train changes, depending on the train. Trains leave every hour from the Munich Hauptbahnhof (main train station). Note: regional train tickets are only valid after 9:00 am, so be sure your train leaves at 9:00 or later. If it leaves at 8:59 am or earlier, the regional ticket is not valid, and you require a different (usually more expensive ticket). Tickets can be purchased the day of travel at the train station at either the ticket machines, or you can purchase it from the Deutsche Bahn counter. Your bike also requires a ticket for the trip.
What Regional Specialities to Eat and Drink:
German and Austrian cuisine is anything but light, but fortunately you’ll be working off all the calories with all the cycling you’re doing. Specialities include Weiner Schnitzel, Stecklerfish (smoked trout impaled on a stick), Kaiserscharrn, a shredded pancake sprinkled with icing sugar and served with apple sauce. This was a favourite of Austrian royalty and should be tried at least once for dessert, but it is huge, so perfect if you’re really hungry, or to share.
You’ll also want to try the Grüner Veltliner and Reisling wines from the UNESCO Wachau region.
Have Your Luggage Transferred or Carry It Yourself?
If you’re just cycling the Danube, I found it easy enough to carry my own gear in two Ortleib rear panniers. However, if biking the Danube, is just part of your vacation and you have other clothes and luggage with you, it’s worth having it. We include it in both our 4-day and 8-day tours. For a complete list of what to bring, check out my Danube Cycling Packing List.
If you are doing the trip by yourself, you will definitely want to purchase the book, Danube Bike Trail 2, which will help you plan your route and choose which side of the river to cycle on and where to stop Alternatively, let us do it all the heavy lifting for you and help you get the most from your cycling trip along the Danube. You can find all the details here.