Bike the Danube
Bike the Danube Budapest Reviews
Jul 06, 2006
If you're into bike touring, the Danube is a very popular trail, probably the most famous in Europe. We biked a 700 km section of this trail from the German border town of Passau via Vienna to Budapest, the capital of Hungary. Along the way we also biked through Austria and Slovakia. The trip took us two full weeks, with only one day off from biking per week. We biked between 50-70km each day, stopping along the way for picnic lunches and frequent visits to nearby tourist attractions. It would be possible to do the trail faster, but it probably wouldn't be as enjoyable. Most of the time the trail is located right next to the river Danube and is very flat. It is well-maintained in both Germany and Austria, with dedicated paved bike lanes set apart from the roads. In parts of Slovakia and Hungary the trail can also be quite nice, but just as often it can be broken, pot-holed, full of traffic, or unpaved. There are occasional ferry crossings (often necessary) to travel to the other side of the river, usually costing a few euros and solely for bikers. In Hungary, there are a few sections where it is better to take a short train ride and avoid the heavy roads. Unfortunately the trains in Hungary dramatically lower in quality the farther you get outside of Budapest.The trip is very beautiful and full of many wonderful distractions. Just biking beside the Danube is often a treat, with cool breezes coming off the river and colourful wildflowers sprouting alongside the trail. In Austria, the trail runs through the lovely Wachau region, its terraced vinyards growing towards the sun's heat. In Hungary the trail winds through many farm fields, full of beautiful, colourful , vibrant crops fed by the Danube's flood plain. The fields of sunflowers are an especially nice treat to behold. The sunsets over the east-west river can be a nice way to end the day.Other attractions we saw along the way included the eerie Mauthausen Concentration Camp, the colourful Melk Abbey, the precipitous Castle Aggstein, various monasteries and churches, amusement parks, Roman ruins, nudist colonies, people floating down the river on pool toys, cruise ships, and various hiking trails. There are many other sites and activities worth checking out along the route, but it is tough to visit them all in one day. There are many companies offered bike tours along this route, especially the section from Passau to Vienna. We went with a Viennese company named Pedal Power, who provided us with a self-guided package consisting of two bikes, panniers, guidebooks, bike tools, helmets, locks, and bike delivery for about 500 euros. Their bikes were good quality, but the feeble hand pumps weren't quite powerful enough to pump up the flat tires we occasionally had. They took care of a lot of the bike details for us, including delivery to Passau and drop off in Budapest. The English Rad & Reisen bike guides they provided us were very informative, containing all the information you might need about routes, attractions, and accommodations. We even got free tune-ups when we passed through Vienna. One weird thing: they didn't really seem to know who we were when we arrived at their office in Vienna to settle the bill half-way through our bike trip. I would have thought they'd take more interest in people arriving to pay them 500 euros.Our trip was self-guided, so we had to make all of the room reservations ourselves. This wasn't a big problem for larger cities such as Vienna or Budapest, but could be quite tough for smaller spots. We had a German-speaker call and make most of our reservations in Austria and parts of Hungary. The accommodations' phone numbers were all helpfully listed in our guide. Fortunately, the route is very well travelled, and zimmer frei (room available) signs are plentiful in all the places we passed. Breakfast is always included.Finally, here are some important tips we want to pass on from our trip down the Danube. Most importantly, give yourself plenty of time. It may be nice to check out three castles and stop at two beer gardens during the day, but if you're still pedalling at 7pm, maybe you should have planned better. Accommodation is ubiquitous, so you can plan to stop or start anywhere. Bring your own trusted bike pump, and make sure it fits the European valves. It can be quite an ordeal wandering around small towns in Hungary asking for a real pump. That leads to another point: language. Forget English; German is by far the most useful language in these parts. Not only in Germany and Austria, but even in Hungary, a bit of German can help you be understood. Take some lessons or bring a phrase book. Make sure you know key bike phrases in German (hint: pump is Pumpe). Depending on what time a year you go, the weather might be a problem. We biked through Austrian vinyards during a heat wave and felt like we were melting off our bikes. Consider starting early so you can beat the heat. Sunblock doesn't seem to be too popular in these parts, so consider bringing your own if you don't want a bright red sunburn. Finally, the route has many miniscule bugs that fly into your eyes when you pass by on your bike. They are small enough to burrow under your eyelids and can be very tough to get out, especially if you have bike grease on your hands. Bring a pair of sunglasses to keep them out. Above all, enjoy the trip. It's one of Europe's most famous routes for good reason.
Part of the Europe 2006 travel blog
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