Vienna to Budapest cycling tours

Pelotons of coloured lycra pass you by and you start to wonder whether you’ve made a mistake. You’re in central Europe on the EuroVelo 6 – an ambitious, cross-continent cycling route that runs from Nantes in France to Constanta in Romania. This section, which follows the Danube through Austria, Slovakia and Hungary, is known among serious cyclists around the world, its combination of castles, capitals and cultural attractions making it one of the most popular routes in Europe. But on your sixth day of cycling you’ll be taken aback to find yourself already arriving into Budapest, three capitals, and three countries, later. Colour-coordinating kit wearers notwithstanding, this multi country tour is actually for the more casual cyclist.

“What surprises people most on this trip is the distance they have travelled,” says Christian Locke, head of product at our self-guided cycling specialists Exodus. But it’s no surprise really. Unlike the other riders on the trail, you have the best of both worlds: all the independence but none of the inconveniences. All your accommodation is arranged in advance, your journey is mapped out and you’ll find your luggage waiting at your next hotel when you arrive. With all the hard work done for you, you’re free to focus on your tour.

What do self-guided cycling tours entail?

Christian Locke, head of product at our self-guided travel specialists Exodus.:
“The joys of self-guided cycling are that you have the independence to start whenever you like, go at your own pace and make some fabulous memories in the company of people you love (or just some really good friends!)”
Self-guided cycling holidays are designed for travellers looking for independence, but without the stress of all the logistics. Cyclists are provided with a map and detailed notes of the route from Vienna to Budapest, including distance and timings, so you can travel at your own pace. Emergency assistance is available at all times, should anything go wrong.
The route is mostly on quiet roads and cycle paths, with some sections on busier roads – so although it’s suitable for families, children must be confident in cycling alongside traffic. Overall, the cycling tends to be fairly relaxed. Christian Locke advises: “This trip is for anyone that can ride a bike for up to 68km per day (this is the longest distance covered on day two then the remaining days vary between 41km-57km per day). The routes are predominantly flat as they mostly follow the River Danube from Vienna to Budapest, so the routes will be fairly gentle with some short climbs.”

Capital cities

You’ll want to see the capitals, but the truth is that many other tourists have got there before you, and it shows. Overtourism is increasingly becoming a problem for European capitals, particularly Budapest. Overcrowded streets and badly behaved stag and hen parties are common, while a proliferation of ‘ruin bars’, popular with tourists, has taken over certain districts. Cycle touring is the perfect way to discover a Europe untouched by tourism. By visiting smaller towns and the countryside in between, where life continues just as it did before the budget airlines arrived, you get a real feel for what each country is like.

The best time for cycling also coincides with the best time to visit cities. “There are obviously times of year when the major cities on this trip are very busy,” says Christian Locke. “The best months for cycle touring tend to be outside of the peak summer months of July and August, travelling in May, June and September. Hopefully this means that the burden on the cities is more spread out and the customer experience is also better.”

Environmentally conscious travellers can also enjoy knowing that their chosen mode of transport leaves next to no impact on the areas they visit. But as well as being greener, slow travel provides more time to appreciate the little things about the places you go. Cycle touring is the best way to see the changing landscapes of the different countries you travel through, alongside the small towns and sights you would miss if you were travelling by bus or car.

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Cycling holiday in the Netherlands, Germany & Austria

Cycling holiday in the Netherlands, Germany & Austria

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2020: 14 Aug
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Hidden highlights

Duna-Ipoly National Park

Beneath the feet of the residents of Budapest lies an underground network of crystal-filled caverns, a lesser known sight you may want to see during your free time in the city. Hot springs, which form the capital’s famous thermal baths, have carved out a labyrinthine cave system which stretches out below the city streets all the way from Duna-Ipoly National Park, 20km away. Above ground, the park – one of Hungary’s oldest – surrounds one of the most attractive sections of the trail: the Danube Bend. Here the river takes a sharp turn to the south, towards the city. Forests flank your left as views across the river reveal mountains and, amid a moat carved from rock, Visegrad castle.

Esztergom

Once a city of kings’ coronations, Esztergom is no longer the centre of the country, but it’s still Hungary’s capital of Catholicism. Its most prominent feature is a magnificent basilica that has earned Esztergom the moniker ‘the Hungarian Rome’. It’s the biggest building in the country, and can be seen from several kilometres away – although you might spot it even earlier on the back of the 10,000 HUF bank note. From the central dome of this towering church, on a blue sky day, you can see the Tatra Mountains in northern Slovakia. It’s a welcome reward for the 400 steps between you and the view.

Gyor

Travellers often recommend Gyor as the most memorable part of this cycling tour. This charming city is a colourful stop, where narrow winding streets thread through an assortment of buildings in different architectural styles, painted in pastel shades. Palaces, synagogues, castles and churches jostle for space among museums and fountains, but the centrepiece is the cathedral basilica on Káptalan Hill. Demolished during the Mongol invasion of Hungary, it has been restored and redesigned with a baroque interior stuffed with frescos and gilded artefacts.

Komarom

For Hungarian soldiers, the return home to Komarom at the end of the war came as a bit of a shock. Suddenly, they were Czechoslovakian. Overnight, the city – which straddled the Danube – had been split in two, the northern half claimed by the newly formed state of Czechoslovakia. Over the next 75 years, northern Komarom changed hands some more, its citizens switching nationalities six times before Komarno (as it’s now called) settled into Slovakia. Festivals now take place in the enormous fortress that sprawls along the river, and its open air thermal spas are a treat for cyclists’ feet.

Szigetkoz

Cycling through Szigetkoz, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d arrived somewhere a little more exotic. Here, tributaries flow from the Danube and funnel through the surrounding flatlands, forming a multi-island oasis for flora and fauna. Birdsong floods these backwaters and water lilies and willows line the river banks. Lucky cyclists may spot nesting storks or, much rarer, a white tailed eagle. En route, you’ll stop at the old Baroque town of Mosonmagyarovar – more simply pronounced as the ‘city of 17 bridges’.
Written by Bryony Cottam
Photo credits: [Page banner: Exodus Travel] [Entails: Brian Burger] [Capital cities: tatli-delilik] [Gyor: Nxr-at]
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