Bicycling In Europe
Bicycling in Europe is a lot of fun. You can bicycle almost anywhere in Europe – and not the kind of cycling where you put on your lycra and a helmet and push through 75 miles in a day. I am talking about riding a bicycle around town to see sights and visit neighborhoods, pedal through parks, and even ride to neighboring villages – all at a leisurely and enjoyable pace, and without getting run down by cars or feeling unsafe.
Before the days of e-bikes, many of us were limited to a flatter landscape. But now that e-bikes are becoming more and more popular, even us non-athletic types can expand the biking experience into hilly towns and sloping city centers. Most European cities and towns have much better bicycling infrastructure, bicycling acceptance, or both, than we do in the states.
It is a shame that when most Americans travel to Europe, their default preference is to rent a car and drive everywhere. Such travelers become limited by being a slave to the car. Where can I drive? Where can I park? And so on. With a bike, you are much more free and limitless — because you are car-less.
How Easy Is It To Bicycle In The Cities?
Most cities in Europe are adopting European Union initiatives to increase bicycle use as a form of urban transportation. With the influx of tourists, cities much prefer people on bicycles than in cars. A word of caution though – some cities are not yet well set up for cyclists, but quite a few are adding more and more bicycling infrastructure daily, offering an extensive network of well-marked bicycle facilities. In these cities, in addition to walking or public transportation, consider bicycling as your primary way to get around. Most cities also allow bicycles on trains (although you must buy a ticket to bring a bike on board!) so you can go far and wide in your travels when combining bicycling with trains and walking.
Bicycles reduce travel times by up to 75 percent compared to walking, so you can see so much more, and allows you more time to leisurely experience the sights. Bicycling is also physically LESS exhausting than walking. This is especially the case with an e-bike. A couple of years ago, I had sprained my ankle and it was tender for a few months after. It made it difficult for me to walk my 10 or so miles per day (which we typically do), but I had no problem riding a bike with my ankle injury.
In most cities you can rent bikes for about $15 per day (multiple days are cheaper). E-bikes will cost about 50 percent more. You don’t need to worry about wearing a helmet – almost no one wears a helmet while bicycling in Europe (Europe, by the way, has a lower per capita rate of bicycling head injuries than in America). Rental bikes do usually come with lights, a bell, and a locks, so you will be all set to ride day or night. And you can safely lock your bike when you are not using it. Be sure to ask your bike shop proprietor about the best way to lock a bike in your given country. They will usually give you the run-down when they are fitting you for your bike and before they send you on your way.
For short-term rentals, many cities also have city bike share programs that are open to tourists. But check the rules in each city, as some cities only provide bike sharing for the locals. When I travel, I search for and reserve bicycles using two main bicycle rental websites. Donkey Republic has bicycles in many cities in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and Spain. You download the app, find a bike near you, and unlock (and lock) the bike – all on your phone. I also use bikesbooking.com for bike rentals. They are a reservations system for bike rental shops all over the world.
Bicycling in the Suburbs or Countryside
In some cases, it is easy to ride to neighboring villages on a bicycle, rather than go by bus or train. We have done this in Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy. Often there are paths along rivers and through parks that will lead you through suburbs and into the countryside. I have ridden through wandering parks and nature preserves, along beach boardwalks, through vineyards, through olive groves, and more. I was able to experience beautiful scenery that I surely would have missed if I were in a car or on foot. For journeys that seem undoable as an out and back, I load the bike on the train, and travel with my bike on board to the destination. Upon arrival, I get off the train with my bike, bicycle through the town to explore, then make my way all the way back to our lodging on the bike. It is a pleasurable and an enjoyable form of exercise. One of the many nice perks of this way of travel is that you can stop at a cafe or a beautiful spot along the journey for a quick snack and rest.
Longer Bicycle Rides and Bicycle Tours
There are a lot of bicycling options for longer distance cycling, or if you want bicycling to be the focus of your travels. You can partake in leisurely bike tours where you bike from town to town, staying in lodging overnight. This form of travel, of course, will require you to pack more lightly, as you are bicycling to a lodge every night. I have not experienced these trips personally, but I have many friends who have done so, and they report thoroughly enjoying such travel.
Even more fun is a bike and barge trip. Think of the barge as a traveling hotel. The barge provides you with three wonderful meals a day, and you have a private room and bathroom on the barge. The barges can accommodate 22-100 guests, and travel all over Europe. Each day after breakfast, you bicycle on well-marked and comfortable paths to the next destination. When you arrive at the destination town, your barge is waiting for you, as it traveled down a canal or river while you were out bicycling. When you get back on the barge, you have a delightful dinner waiting for you. What could be better than that?
Tourradar.com offers multiple options for biking, bike/barge, and walking tours. You will find numerous cycle holiday tours all over Europe for all types of experiences, all skill and exertion levels, and all budgets.
You can find many good books on cycling in Europe. If you think a bike tour would be appealing, check out the websites and do some reading to see if it is right for you. I have listed a couple of books focusing on bicycling in Europe.
Books on Bicycling in Europe
I have experienced the joy of bicycling in each of the following European Cities. For each city, I provide my evaluation and impressions, and advice on how and where to rent bicycles.
The Netherlands: Amsterdam | Delft | Den Haag | Gouda | Leiden | Maastricht
Germany: Aachen | Berlin | Bonn | Munich | Nuremberg
Belgium: Antwerp | Bruges | Brussels | Ghent
Italy: Bari | Brindisi | Tranto | Putignano | Martina Franca | Locorotondo | Lecce | Siracusa (Ortigia) | Palermo
Spain: Barcelona | Madrid | Seville | Valencia
Bicycling in the Netherlands
The Netherlands has more bicyclists per capita than any other country on earth. More bicycles (Fiets) are owned in the Netherlands than any other nation. During the late 1800’s, bicycling was the most common way to get around in Amsterdam and it has been an important part of their culture ever since. Eventually, however, car travel began to predominate in Amsterdam. So much so that many citizens decided that cars were dominating and degrading the city. Streets were becoming unsafe — particularly for children, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Large numbers of residents started to fight to improve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Today, as a result of those efforts, most streets are now designed to favor pedestrians and cyclists first, then public transport, and then cars – in that order. This makes bicycling delightful and safe in almost every Dutch city or town.
Taking Bicycles on Trains in the Netherlands
On the days when we had day trips planned from Amsterdam to nearby towns, we discovered we could easily take our bikes on the trains, as long as it wasn’t during rush hour. To take your bike with you on the train, you need to remember that when purchasing your ticket for the train, you must specify that you will be carrying a bike on board. The cost for a bicycle is 7.50€ per day and you can add the bicycle to your ticket when purchasing at the self-serve ticket machines. If you are unsure how to do that, there are plenty of customer service personnel around who can help you. You can also purchase the tickets at the ticket counter. There are designated train cars for the bikes, so when the train arrives at the platform, look for the car that has the large bicycle symbol on the doors.
Getting your bike to the train platform is easy. All of the stairs have ramps for bicycles and many larger stations have elevators. Getting the bike up the ramp can be challenging if your bike is heavy, but I was fairly easily able to bring my bike up and down stairways on my own. Loading the bikes on the train is also easy, and there are racks on the trains that keep the bikes stable. On the day we went to Leiden, the racks were all being used. No problem! I simply sat in the bicycle car with my bike.
All in all, it was a relatively effortless process. If you don’t want to take your bike with you on the train, you can very easily rent bikes at just about any major train station in the Netherlands.
Click here to find out more about carrying bicycles on trains.
My first bicycling experience in Europe!
Bicycling is a wonderful, unforgettable way to get around in Amsterdam, and no visitor should leave without experiencing the city’s world-famous bike culture. All ages, skill levels, and demographic groups bicycle in Amsterdam!
In my opinion, Amsterdam is the best of the best for riding a bike. When I arrived at the train station, I was in awe at the number of bicycles I saw parked at the station. Beyond the station, the streets were full of bicyclists and none wore helmets. The area just outside the train station was bustling with bicyclists, pedestrians, trams, buses, and taxis – but mostly bikes and pedestrians.
As we walked down the streets to our AirBnB apartment, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the streets we walked were mostly car-free. The streets we were walking on were shared (bicyclists mixed with pedestrians and cars), but the pedestrians were walking carefree. If a taxi or infrequent car appeared, the walkers would give way but the bicyclists would not. In the larger streets, there were well-marked and highly visible cycle ways – all clearly delineated with red pavers or red asphalt. There were cycle ways and sidewalks adjacent to the car travel lanes, and each of those three lanes were slightly different in elevation — with sidewalks being at the highest elevation. The cycle ways were mini-streets just for bicycles. The bicycle ways even had their own traffic signal lights.
Upon arrival at our lodging, we were eager to join the fun, which meant we needed to obtain our own bicycles! Happily, we quickly found a bicycle rental shop near our apartment. We found a newly-opened shop and their bikes were in great condition. We rented the bikes for the full three days we were going to be in Amsterdam. We took off down the cycle street and slowly began to start riding as the Dutch do (when in Rome, do as the Romans!). We turned onto some of the older streets that were primarily pedestrian. That took some getting used to, as did crossing the street at an intersection. For a newcomer, things first appear chaotic and dangerous. Cyclists and pedestrians are large in number and seem to randomly appear in all directions. Yet everyone seems to be effortlessly weaving and gliding as they happily move along on their way. All show confidence — be they cyclists or pedestrians –in knowing how to maneuver. We were astonished to have seen no crashes during our entire time in Amsterdam, despite the thought that collisions must happen regularly in what to us as Americans seemed like a turbulent disarray of commuters. Instead, what we found was a delightful, graceful, seemingly choreographed ballet of bicycling and walking.
I was hooked.
I was never without my bike in Amsterdam. We were never without bikes during our entire trip in the Netherlands!
Renting Bicycles (Fiets) in Amsterdam
There are numerous bicycle rental shops in Amsterdam. If you do not have luggage, you can rent bikes right at the train station. Otherwise, it may be better to rent bikes once you drop your luggage at the hotel. You can also search for bike rentals as you walk to your lodging, or use BikesBooking.com to secure your bicycle before you arrive in Amsterdam. Donkey Republic has a fleet so you can always use the app to find a bike near you as well. Try to choose a rental company close to your lodging so it will be easy to pick up and drop off. The cost should run about $10 to $17 for a standard bike. Most bicycle locks in the Netherlands consist of a frame lock and chain lock combination. This lock is quick and easy to use, which is what one would expect where a large number of bicycle commuters are found — commuters who need a quick and easy way to lock and unlock their bikes throughout the day.
Be sure to discuss how to properly lock your bike with your bicycle rental vendor. You do not need to rent a bicycle helmet. If you do decide to rent a helmet, you will be about the only one wearing one. Wearing a helmet will, to the amusement of many in the Netherlands, immediately signal that you are an American.
Delft is a gratifying, lovely city for bicycling. Most of the historic town center feels like the calmer neighborhood streets of Amsterdam. There are no cycle paths in the town center, as the streets are too narrow and city government restricts car use within the center. The result is that you will find many bicyclists and pedestrians, with the occasional service/delivery vehicle. If you venture outside of the city center, there are cycle paths for bikes that connect to neighboring towns. These routes and are easy to navigate.
There are a handful of bicycle rental shops in Delft. You can rent a bike at the train station or in the city center. BikesBooking does not service Delft, so I would search for bike rental companies before arriving.
The Hague (Den Haag)
The Hague is the capital of the Netherlands. You won’t find the old world charm in the Hague like you do in the other cities in the Netherlands. The area was bombed in WWII and has been rebuilt with modern high-rise office buildings, so the feel is a little different. There is more car traffic in The Hague, but there are quality cycle paths in and around the area as you leave the town center and head into the local neighborhoods.
You can rent bikes in and near the train station since people from all over the region train into The Hague to work daily, and many of them use a bike to get to work.
We enjoyed a day trip to The Hague from Delft, where we took our bikes on the train so we could explore the city by bike. We bicycled through The Hague and some surrounding neighborhoods, and then we bicycled all the way back to Delft. The ride back was just under 10k (6 miles). The pathways (along with our Google Maps app) led us back to Delft with ease. We traveled through beautiful parklands and along canals through quaint villages. It was an easy ride that took us about 1.5 hours (we stopped a lot). This was a highly enjoyable part of the country for bicycling. It is a good opportunity to try your hand at a longer bicycle ride if you haven’t ridden a bike in a while.
Gouda (home of Gouda cheese), like most other Dutch towns, was a wonderful place for bicycling. Again, we took the train to the city and found that the streets were pedestrian and bicycle friendly. This is largely due to the government restriction on car use in the old town. We did not take our bikes beyond the city center, but there were enough people on bikes in Gouda that it was clear that bicycling was how a large percentage of people got around.
Utrecht is a college town with a lot of vibrancy. We took our bikes on the train from Amsterdam to Utrecht and were delighted to see the city full of bicyclists when we arrived. The city center is just a few short blocks from the train station and it seemed like everyone got around by bike. It did not feel as bustling as Amsterdam, so navigating by bicycle was a bit easier. Utrecht has wonderful cycle paths that allow you to bicycle quickly within the city. There is a canal and greenbelt surrounding the city. So if you have time, follow that route to absorb a bit of nature.
You can rent bikes at the train station in Utrecht or from one of the many bicycle rental shops in town. Alternatively, if you download the app for Donkey Republic, you can easily grab a bike nearby the train station using your phone app. You locate a nearby bike and request to rent it by using the app. The app will also unlock the bike for you. We have used Donkey Republic in Spain, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany without any issues.
We found Leiden to be a very sweet town. We visited Leiden the day after we had traveled to Den Haag. We took our bikes on the train from Delft to Leiden, got off the train with our bikes to explore the city, and had a wonderful lunch at an outdoor cafe. People were relaxed and friendly. Similar to the other smaller villages, cars had limited access to the old town, which allowed pedestrians and bicyclists to comfortably and predominantly use the streets. We were enjoying our bike rides so much that we decided to bicycle back to Delft rather than take the train. The journey was about 25k (15 miles), but after our relatively effortless ride from The Hague to Delft, we figured we could enjoy a longer journey. It took close to 2 hours and we only got “lost” once. Of course, getting “lost” just added to the enjoyment of the day.
The ride was beautiful. There was a cycle path almost the entire way along a canal that backed to some exceptionally lovely homes and quaint villages. There was also quite an expansive amount of parklands. The ride turned out to be one of my most enjoyable rides of our three-week trip.
If you travel to Leiden, you can rent bikes at the train station or at bicycle shops around town.
This college town borders Germany. It is not as flat as Amsterdam and Delft. The town center is very lovely and is bikeable, but we saw noticeably fewer bicyclists in this town. Most people seemed to walk rather than bicycle in the city center. There are no cycle paths in the town center but again, similar to the other small towns, car access to the town center is restricted. We found it easy to rent bikes right at the train station, so if you opt for a day trip to this town, you can bring your bikes or rent them there. You can comfortably see the entire town in one day on bikes.
Bicycling (Bicicleta) in Spain
Spain has some fantastic bicycling cities. Seville, the cycling capital of southern Europe, has a well-developed and easy to navigate path system. Bicycling is not as common in Spain as it is in the northern European countries but it is still enjoyable and safe to explore by bike. We did not travel to mountainous regions so our experience was on a relatively flat landscape.
Barcelona and Valencia have a good supply of dedicated bike lanes and plenty of opportunities to bicycle within the historic center without worrying about cars.
Taking Bicycles on Trains in Spain
It is possible to take your bike on the local Spanish commuter trains and on the regional trains. Most of the larger cities in Spain have commuter trains that feed into the surrounding suburbs and a few regional trains where you can quickly and easily venture to neighboring towns. You can take your bike on a local train with you and you do not need to buy a ticket for your bike. You will need to find train cars with bicycle racks. If the trains do not have racks. you can stay with your bike near the doors away from the platform side.
Some of the longer distance trains (from Barcelona to Valencia) will require that you have a ticket for your bike but there is no extra cost for the bike. Bike space is limited and if the bike racks are full you may be denied entry to the train – although this does not happen often.
The high-speed trains do not allow bikes on board so it isn’t advisable to travel longer distances with rented bikes.
You will have to carry your bikes up and down stairs as Spanish train stations are not as accommodating for bicycles as the Dutch train stations.
For more information about transporting your bike on the trains, click here.
Barcelona is the perfect city for bicycling. With sunny, warm weather for most of the year, you will surely be comfortable on a bike no matter when you travel. Many of the streets have dedicated bike lanes and separated bike paths, which makes it easy to navigate around the city to most of the sights. You may have to go up-hill slightly if planning on getting to Parc Guell by bike but you can park your bike and walk up the short distance to the park. It is an unforgettable pleasure to ride the bikes along La Rambla and into the gothic district. During the high tourist season, you will find La Rambla to be a bit crowded, but for us, that makes it all the more fun. Bicycles in Barcelona will cost about 16€ per day and can be reserved in advance on BikesBooking.com. You can also find a bike using the DonkeyRepublic app. Barcelona also has nearly 1000 regular and e-bikes in their bike share program, bicing, however they are primarily for short trips.
Madrid is a beautiful city. The architecture is simply amazing and there is so much to soak in. As with most large cities, it is difficult to get to most sights on foot. While you can take public transport, you can easily get to most places in the historic old town by bike. Madrid is not necessarily a cycle-friendly city and has fewer dedicated bike lanes than other major Spanish cities, but if you stay off of the main streets, you should have very little to worry about regarding bicycling with car traffic. The only place I would not advise riding the bicycles is down they Gran Via (although you MUST go there on foot!) because there are no dedicated bike lanes and it is filled with traffic. There are four greenways in Madrid that you can access by commuter train if you are looking to explore beyond the central city. For short-term rentals, you can use the bike share (Bicimad) in Madrid. There are over 1500 bicycles in 123 bike share stations throughout the city, so they should be easy to find. Bicimad is designed for short trips only so for daily or multiple day rentals you can reserve through BikesBooking.com.
Seville has some of the best bicycle paths in Europe and is known as the cycling capital of southern Europe. Seville expanded their cycle network in the late 2000’s and saw commuter bicycle trips increase from about 6k per day to 70k per day. The cycle paths are not as wide as those in the Netherlands, but they are pretty impressive for a town that built their bicycle network in just 5 years. You will find the cycle paths along many roads outside of the historic center, so you can comfortably and safely ride to explore the outer areas of Seville.
The historic center has narrow roads and plenty of pedestrian and cycle traffic, which means you don’t have to worry much about high-speed cars while exploring the city center.
The historic center of Seville is quite large, so having bikes makes it easy to navigate between the major historic sites in the city. You can also cycle the western perimeter of the historic center from Maria Luisa Park to the north. Bicycles will run about 15€ per day. There are plenty of bicycle rental shops in Seville and you can reserve in advance using BikesBooking.com. Seville also has a bike-share program, Sevici, but the system is designed for short trips.
Valencia is a lovely town to visit in Spain and very easy to navigate by bike since it is flat and has a respectable number of bicycle paths. The city continues to grow the network that connects the neighborhoods with the city center. It was probably my favorite city to explore by bicycle. The city does not feel as congested as Barcelona or Madrid, so your ride will be much more relaxing. You can ride virtually anywhere in the city center and enjoy a leisurely bike ride through Parc Gulliver. You can also easily ride out to the town of Alboraya (5k). Valencia has a bike share program (Valenbisi) or you can rent bikes for one or more days at Bikesbooking.com. Bicycle rental costs are as low as 9€ per day – the cheapest we have encountered per day in any of the many European cities we have visited.
Bicycling (Fiets) in Belgium
Belgium has a pretty impressive bicycle (Fiets) culture, as would be expected from the Netherlands’ closest neighbor. At least this is true of the northern towns. I had the opportunity to cycle in Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, and Ghent. Brussels was probably my least favorite place to ride. It does have plenty of bicycle lanes and routes, but it is pretty congested so sometimes made for unpleasant cycling.
Similar to other countries, the cycle paths are clearly marked and in most cases are protected from cars. Once you enter into the historic center, though, you will find that there are shared roads with low speeds or pedestrian/cycle access only. You will find many bike tours that travel between Belgium and the Netherlands. To see the bike lanes for each city, you can simply look at google maps and be sure to turn on the bicycling routes.
Belgium does have a national bike-share program, Blue-bike, that you can subscribe to. If you think you will be traveling to the cities where offered, it may be a good option for you. Blue-bike is designed for regular commuters and tourists. For 12€/year, you can rent a decent city bike for €3,15 max per 24 hours at bike points located in or near more than 44 Belgian stations. If you plan to use the bike for more than a day, this is worth it.
Taking Bikes on Trains in Belgium
You can take your bike on the train in Belgium during the off-peak travel times. The cost will generally run 4€ per trip – no matter the distance. When your train arrives at the platform, you must find the conductor and he/she will tell you where to load your bike. You will find both having racks and multi-use cars, depending on your train. Some train stations do not accommodate bicycles well, such as Brussels-Centraal, Brussels-Congres and Brussels-Kapellekerk so if you are looking to train to a neighboring town, you will need to find a different station to travel from.
You can find out more about taking your bike on the train at SNCB, Belgium’s national train service.
We did a stop-over in Antwerp when we were traveling from Delft to Bruges and after spending the day there, I was disappointed we didn’t plan an overnight stay. Antwerp was a bustling city but it did not feel as big or hectic as Brussels. The bicycling was easy in the town center and there were plenty of shared road and cycle paths to follow when we ventured a bit outside the city. It was a great way for us to see the key sights in the few hours we were there. The cycle paths are not as well-maintained as those in the Netherlands but they are still very good. If you have time, be sure to ride east and explore the Provincial Domain Rivierenhof, the large city park just outside the city center. You can take in a bit of quiet while you ride through the beautiful parklands and stop in at the Kasteel Sterckshof. Antwerp has a bike-share (Velo city bikes) but they are designed for short trips only so if you plan to use a bike for more than 1-2 hours, you should find a bike rental nearby. You can rent bikes right at the main train station. We were able to store our bags and rent bikes which made it convenient and easy. If you decide to subscribe, you can also pick up a Blue-bike in Antwerp.
Bruges is a picturesque storybook town on the northeast of Belgium that tourists flock to each year. You will find many bike/barge or bike/B&B trips (Tourradar.com) that start in Amsterdam and end in Bruges so needless to say it is an easy town to bicycle in. Just outside you will find quaint towns and bits of the countryside along canals that are ideal for venturing beyond the city center if you are looking to explore. The city center is easy to navigate by bike, although I noticed the cobblestone streets to be a bit rougher on the bikes than in cities in the Netherlands. Head out of town to see some of the neighborhoods and cycle some of the designated and separated bike lanes. We traveled through some lovely parks and along a canal to neighboring Damme one afternoon.
Bruges has an abundance of bicycle rental shops and you can rent a bike at a shop adjacent to the train station. Unfortunately, BikesBooking, Blue-Bike and Donkey Republic do not service Bruges.
Brussels has been pushing to become more bicycle-friendly. We noticed that there were fewer bicycles in Brussels than in any of the other cities we visited in Belgium. Brussels is a big city with a lot of cars (once outside of he historic center) and some wide roads but if you stay on the small streets, you will be fine. There are plenty of shared road and designated bike lanes throughout the city. From the Grand Place, we rode out to the canal and over to Parc du Cinquantenaire and the Palais de Justice, which was about 6-7k – very easy. You will encounter some incline so opt for an e-bike if you are not comfortable riding uphill. The Watermael-Boitsfort parklands are about 5k southeast of the city. For a peaceful afternoon, you ride through the park and view some historic buildings and lovely scenery. For something different, take a small trip along the Brussels Canal on the city’s Waterbus. The ticket to ride the water bus is 3€ but you can take your bike on for free (ticket required). It is about a 10k ride on the river to the northernmost stop at Villorde. Ride along the canal back to Brussels for a wonderful afternoon of adventure.
There aren’t many independent bicycle rental shops in Brussels but there are two bike-share options:
- Villo!, is designed for short trips but you can get a day-use pass. The day-use fees are reasonable and if you don’t mind locking and grabbing a new bike at each stop, it may work for you. We did use Villo! but found the bikes to be heavy and in only fair condition.
- Blue-bike is designed for regular commuters and tourists. For 12€/year, you can rent a decent city bike for €3,15 max per 24hours at bike points located in or near more than 44 Belgian stations. If you plan to use the bike for more than a day, this is worth it.
In April 2017, Ghent closed its city center to car traffic, allowing only trams, pedestrians and bicycles. When we visited Ghent in May of 2017, we had no idea this had just occurred. In fact, it wasn’t until recently that I discovered the closures occurred just a couple weeks before our arrival! We, of course, rented bikes while in Ghent but noticed that there were not many bikes or cars on the roads and the city center seemed pretty quiet. Our bikes took us everywhere in Ghent and we spent a full day just riding through different neighborhoods. We found ourselves wandering along the canals with no real plan or destination and then enjoying an afternoon drink in the sunshine at a local pub downtown along the canal.
We didn’t see a lot of other bicycles in the historic center but the city had just closed it streets. I believe that today there are many more people who travel around the interior of the city by bike.
The Danish bicycle (cykel) culture is famous world-wide. You will find the bicycle infrastructure much like that of the Netherlands (and Belgium) where there are designated cycle paths that sit between the sidewalk and the street. There are more than 12,000 kilometers of bicycle tracks and lanes throughout the country, which contributes to making bicycling in Denmark a safe and respected way to travel. Biking is so much a part of the Danish culture that 75 percent of Danish residents continue biking all through winter. There is even a Danish Cycling Embassy. More than 50 percent of Copenhageners cycle to and from work every day, and average 3 kilometers of bicycling daily. Copenhagen now has more bicycles than cars and Denmark has made it easy to travel by bicycle. I did find bicycling to be daunting on the main thoroughfare through Copenhagen as cars were aggressive, but once of the main road, was a breeze to get around.
Taking Bicycles on Trains in Denmark
You can take your bikes on the trains in Denmark but you will need to buy a ticket for your bicycle. Most stations have ramps or elevators for easy access to platforms so you shouldn’t have an issue getting your bike to the train. Bicycles are free to transport on local trains in Copenhagen but for regional travel, you will need to buy a ticket (cykelbillet) for your bike (price varies with distance traveled, but is generally pretty inexpensive. You may also need to reserve a place for your bicycle (called the cykelpladsbillet). The Bicycle cars are clearly marked on all trains with a bicycle symbol on the windows or doors of the bicycle cars.
For quick an amusing tutorial, DSB has created a YouTube video showing bicycle etiquette on trains. Visit the DSB website for more information about traveling with bikes.
I was excited to experience bicycling in Copenhagen. For years I had heard about what a great cycling city it is. Copenhagen was great for bicycling but I didn’t think it compared to Amsterdam. There were very good cycle paths but they were often next to busy roads, which detracted from my overall enjoyment. As in Netherlands and Belgium, you will feel pretty safe on the paths, it was just the car noise that made it unpleasant for me. Once we moved from the main roads where the streets were narrow and speeds were slow, it was much more enjoyable.
We were able to see quite a bit in the 2 days we were in Copenhagen. We cycled to Norrebro, to see some neighborhood art projects. We then cycled to see the Kastellet, had a coffee by the Little Mermaid statue. We rode to Nyhavn then crossed the canal using the well-known inderhavnsbroen (freeway cycle bridge). Of course, no trip to Copenhagen would be complete without checking out Christiania (a must-see when in Copenhagen). Although not accessible to cars, it was easy to get there and navigate Christiania by bike.
Copenhagen has a bike-share program (Bycyklen), which are all e-bikes. The bike-share is for single short trips and the price is a bit hefty for longer rentals so I would opt for a different option for daily rentals. Donkey Republic has numerous regular and e-bikes parked all over the city so remember to download the app if you decide Donkey Republic is your best option. Bicycle rentals should cost about $15 per day.
Germany is one of the most bike-friendly countries in the work with over 70,000 kilometers of well-maintained cycle paths. So why not enjoy this environmentally-friendly form of travel on your next vacation. We have ridden bikes in a few cities in Germany and I look forward to bicycling in many more. For Germany being a very car-centric country, car drivers are courteous and accommodating to bicyclists.
Germany has a bicycle (fahrrad) subscription service (Nextbike) where you can rent bike-share bikes for up to 24 hours numerous cities. We used this service in Nuremberg and it worked really well an the bikes were very nice. Donkey Republic also has bikes in Munich and Berlin so they are also a good option.
Taking Bicycles on the Train in Germany
You can take your bike on most trains in Germany (except the high-speed ICE Intercity Express Trains). You do need to buy tickets for bicycles (fahrrads) in advance AND reserve a spot for your bike so be sure to plan ahead. We didn’t know this and had to leave bikes behind at a train station when we traveled to Dresden for a day from Berlin. It was a disappointment to find out we could not take our bikes with us so be sure to book your bike ticket and reserve your spot in advance. When taking your bike on the train, you will find ramps to easily cart your bikes to platforms and bicycle cars are clearly marked so you should have no problems finding the right carriage to house your bike. The cost is a bit higher than some other trains so consider renting bikes at your destination.
Find out more about taking bikes on trains on the BAHN website.
Achen is a small town that sits on the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. They have a decent bicycle network and you can easily ride a bike from the train station to the city center. We visited Aachen for a day and peddled to the city center to see the old cathedral and had a traditional German lunch (brats & beer). Then we cycled over to Aachen University, over to the Ponttor (old port to the city) and rounded up our afternoon with a ride through the Kurgarten to the northeast of the city center. There wasn’t much to see or do in Aachen but it was pleasant enough to ride around and see a German city that is not too touristy.
We rented bike right next to the train station and had to find someone to translate for us as they did not speak English. Donkey Republic and BikesBooking.com do not service Aachen so you should check out bicycle rentals in advance. Aachen does have a bike share program (Velocity Bikes) but they are designed for short trips. That may work well for you if you plan to ride from the station to the city center and then explore on foot. the train station is about a mile from the city center.
Berlin was my favorite city in Germany to bicycle in. There were plenty of cars and large roads but as I mentioned earlier, car traffic is very accommodating and respectful toward bicycle traffic. They had many raised cycle paths on major roads and plenty of shared roads. We rented bikes from Donkey Republic for the 3 days we were there and rode our bikes daily from Prenzlaurberg to the Cathedral, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, and Tiergarten. The ride was about 15-20 mins, depending on where we were going everywhere we went seemed to accommodate bicycles comfortably. On shared roads, no matter how crowded, cars passed slowly and with caution. It was no wonder we saw quite a few tourists on bicycles in the central party of the city.
Berlin has a myriad of bicycle rental options including Nextbike, Deutsche Bahn (Lidl Bikes/Call A Bike), Jump, Mobike, and Donkey Republic just too name a few. Lidl, Donkey Republic and Mobike are better for longer rentals.
Bonn was fantastic. We took the train on a day trip from Cologne to Bonn and decided to rent bikes to see more of the site in our short time there. There is a Bicycle rental right in the train station so it was fast and easy. It was very easy to ride through the old town (stop by Beethoven’s birthplace) and into the surrounding neighborhoods. We took the bikepath along the Rhine and rode south about 5 miles along the river, then rode through some really beautiful neighborhoods as we headed back to the train station. Bonn is only about 16 miles from Cologne so we could have actually taken bikes from Cologne and ridden to or from Bonn (we had an inexperienced cyclist with us so we didn’t plan any longer rides).
If you wish to rent bicycles in Bonn, you can either rent at the Radstation am Hauptbahnhof, which is in the train station, or through Deutsche Bahn (Lidl Bikes/Call A Bike), which is adjacent to the station. Nextbike also offers service in Bonn.
Munich is the capital and most populous city of Bavaria, the second-most populous German federal state with 1.5 million inhabitants. The city center is compact with a mix of old an new buildings. Fortunately, the glorious Marienplatz retained it’s old world charm. We were only in Munich for 1 1/2 days while meeting up with a group for our bike and barge trip along the Danube so we didn’t spend enough time in the city to give an extensive overview of the city beyond the old town. Unfortunately, our hotel was not in the city center but it was in an area where road traffic was extensive and loud, plus there were no cycle paths on our street. We found ourselves riding over to the adjacent street to use a bike lane to travel outside of our immediate area. The bikes lanes and cycle paths were abundant and in good repair so it was a breeze once on the paths. The old town was easy to navigate with the bikes since cars were restricted and streets were narrow. We also cycled along the Isar River and through the English Gardens. This was a lovely ride and there were quite a few other cyclists out enjoying the warm, sunny weather. We event saw surfers carrying their boards on bikes so they could “surf” in the river.
We rented our bikes from Donkey Republic. One bicycle was not in good order so we were able to just find another bike and switch it out. There is also Deutsche Bahn (Lidl Bikes/Call A Bike) and Jump. All three options do require you to download an app to secure your bicycles.
Nuremberg was just o.k. to bicycle in. The city center and old town was pretty compact so we could have easily bypassed bicycles. There were noticeably fewer bicycle on the road too. The cycle path network was not as developed as with other German cities. We did ride through town and then along the Pagnitz River to see the Memorium of the Nuremberg Trials (plan at least 3-4 hours – it was fascinating). The bike ride along the river was enjoyable and we stopped and had an eiskaffee on the way back in the afternoon.
There are not a lot of rental options in Nuremberg but you can rent very nice city bikes using NextBike app. The bikes were clean and in great condition.
Whether a challenging mountain bike ride, a leisurely ride along the Danube River, or a sightseeing pedal through a medieval city, you can do it all in Austria. More and more tourists hope on a bike to see the towns so you will be fit right in on a bike. The Danube River and cycle path cut right through Austria, which means if you are visiting Vienna, taking a day to venture down the path can give you a different view of Austria, and vice versa, while traveling through small towns on a cycle-tour, spending a day or two in Vienna will be an exciting stopover. The city if vibrant and full of beautiful historic architecture and culture. Along with the Danube cycle path, there are excellent cycle paths that lead into and around Linz, Salzburg and Innsbruck.
Taking Bicycles on Trains in Austria
You can take your bike on most trains regional and long-distance trains in Austria. You will need a ticket for your bike, which costs 10% of a full fare 2nd class ticket (min €2). There are also weekly and monthly tickets you can purchase if you plan to be in the country for extended periods or plan to take your bike to multiple cities within Austria. Regional trains do not require a bicycle reservation, however, the long-distance trains require you purchase a bicycle reservation (€3) along with the bicycle ticket. There are multiple additional options for transporting bicycles so I would advise looking over the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) website so you are familiar with different service options.
Innsbruck has over 90 kilometers of cycle lanes and routes on streets. The Inn Valley Cycle Route is heavily used by both visitors and locals. Innsbruck also has its share of cycle highways that can get you in and out of the city quicker than if you were driving. Be aware that you cannot ride on Maria-Theresien-Straße and in the pedestrian streets in the Old Town. You can take your bikes on trains/trams for free and some bus routes have racks for bikes.
Innsbruck has its share of bicycle rental shops but they cater to mountain biking and road bikes – and both are a little pricey. You can rent the city’s bike share bicycles using the Next Bike app.
Linz is the 3rd largest city in Austria with about 200,000 residents. It sites along the Danube, so it is typically stopover for those cycling along the Danube. That said, you will find it is easy to explore the city by bike. There are e-bike charging stations and repair workshops in the city that ensure trouble-free cycling in Linz. There is no bike share program in Linz.
If you are traveling without a bicycle, you can arrive by train and rent bikes in the city but they will be expensive since most rental shops cater to weekly rentals for the Danube path tours. You may be better off to arrive with your bike on a day trip from one of the larger towns (Vienna or Passau).
Salzburg Austria (birthplace of Mozart), is the 4th largest city and is home to 150,000 people. It is considered one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in Austria. Here, you will find a well-built bicycling infrastructure (over 180k) and bicycle paths along both sides of the Salzach River. The city boasts an abundance of small bicycle repair stations and practical “bike boxes” for storing your bicycle securely.
Salzburg does not have a bike share and there are limited bicycle rental shops in the city. You can rent bicycles from three locations at aVelo for a few hours up to weekly rentals for a reasonable price.
Vienna is a strikingly beautiful and interesting city. The architecture is absolutely stunning and the public spaces are lovely. There is so much to see that the easiest way to discover Vienna is by bike. There are 1,400 km of cycle paths in and around Vienna so you can get almost anywhere by bike. Since Vienna is car-centric, using a bike means you bypass a lot of traffic. Plus, you can ride right up to any landmark easily. We visited the city for the day as part of our 4-Country Bike and Barge trip and we were able to explore quite a bit of the city, even in the peak travel month of August.
You will find numerous independent bicycle rental shops around the city center of Vienna. You can also rent bikes right in the main train station so there are plenty of options. If you are looking to rent for up to 4 hours, then the bike share Citybike Wien, might be a good option. There are 120 bike share stations throughout the city.
Bicycling is a common mode of transportation in Sweden. The country has a well-developed, and well-marked network of cycling paths that offer everything from urban exploration to long-distance rural rides. Their cycle paths are color-coded – black for local district signs, green for national signs and blue for local signs. Stockholm is still a little bit behind the curve when it comes to cycling
Taking bicycles on trains in Sweden
Sweden is less bike-friendly when it comes to trains. You can take your bike on some commuter trains in the Stockholm area. But you can not embark or disembark at the main train stations. Many trains do not allow bicycles but if there are no trains that will carry your bicycle to your intended destination, most long-distance bus routes will allow you to put your bike in the underneath compartment. You may have to pay $5-$10). Tickets must be pre-purchased so plan ahead. For train information, visit the SJ website. For long-distance bus service, you will need to contact the individual operators: Flixbus, Nettbuss.com, Svenskabuss.se, and Ybuss.se.
Stockholm is relatively bicycle-friendly and the bicycle network will take you across the water to numerous neighborhoods and pocket islands. The bike lanes are both raised and on-street and aren’t as well-maintained as those in the Netherlands. But from downtown, grab a bike and head over to see the Parlament House and Royal Palace. There are options for beautiful neighborhood cycling to parklands and forested areas that can be visited in a day’s time. Renting a bike is easy in Stockholm and there are options for all types of cycling. Gamla Stans Cykel, and Stockholm Adventures offer rental bikes all year round. Rent-a-bike offers both bike rentals both for several days or by the hour from May to September. For shorter journeys, you can use the city bike-share system. Purchase the 3-day City Bike card at a tourist office and you have access to 140 City Bike racks around the city for up to 3 hours per ride. To ride longer than 3 hours, you can just check-in and then check out a different bike.
Malmö (Sweden’s bicycle capital) is an easy 35 minute train ride from Copenhagen so it is easy to do a quick jaunt to Malmö to experience a bit of Sweden. There are over 500 kilometers of cycleways in the area so you will have no problems getting around by bicycle. All roads and cycleways are bi-directional too so it is easy to navigate. Kaptensgatan in Malmö is one of the busiest streets for cycling so be sure to seek it out. There are numerous options for renting bicycles in Malmö. Donkey Republic has bicycles right near the train station – and throughout the city. Malmö has a bike-share program, Malmö By Bike, in which you can purchase a long or short term subscription, although this is best for anticipated rides 1 hour or less.