Resources, Links and Apps for Bicycle Touring in Europe

Bicycle touring in Europe has something for everyone, with terrain ranging from flat, well-signed bike paths to mountains and the challenge of the Alps. After 3.5 months exploring by pedal power, I absolutely recommend a cycling trip here. Whether your trip is long or short, self-guided or with a company, there’s great times to be had for both newbies and seasoned cyclists.

Why? Logistics are easy, with frequent lodging, water, and food sources; it seems there’s town every 5 miles in most of Europe. Plus, businesses cater to cyclists. And if you’d like to skip certain areas, train routes are plentiful. Throw in the fun of varied languages and cuisine, tons of history, and beautiful architecture and it’s simply a fantastic cycling destination.

This post describes technology and online resources to help make your European bicycle tour a success. I also list each of the 13 countries we visited and link to my favorite cycling and lodging networks in each of them. Using my external brain in Evernote, I compiled and organized these as we traveled, which made sharing easy. Hopefully it saves you a ton of time!

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains.

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains.

Technology to Make Your Trip Easy

Given my love of technology, I’d be remiss to not start here. In fact, only one set of paper maps were harmed during our trip (it was in England, I confess). Otherwise, we didn’t use hard-copy maps at all.

“Real” maps weren’t necessary – really! And neither was a turn-by-turn GPS device; a smartphone loaded with the right apps made navigation a cinch. That said, the correct tool spells the difference between pedaling happily along versus pushing your bike through stinging nettles on a forgotten animal trail. (I did both, but prefer the former.) Below are specific tools that I used, and perhaps also read my post about tech details for traveling:

  1. Galileo Offline Maps – my go-to phone app for touring, Galileo pulls info from the Open Cycle Map database. I tried others (Long Haul Trekkers have a great list of offline navigation apps), but Galileo is my favorite. It costs just $2 and you can download individual countries (for free) as you need them. I toyed around with downloading .gpx routes into apps like Bike Hub from, but decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. If you use a GPS, perhaps it could help you out.
  2. ACSI – this app dials into the ACSI European database for 8,500 campgrounds that are inspected on a yearly basis (i.e. they don’t suck). You can buy individual country info or just snag the entire continent’s worth of data for $13.
  3. WifiMap – if you aren’t traveling with a hotspot or don’t have Google Fi service, this offline list of wifi hotspots and their passwords can come in quite handy, though the utility varies depending on the area because the info is crowdsourced.
  4. – this network of cyclists is a great resource for staying with local people. We used it frequently during our U.S. tour in 2014, but found it tougher to arrange in Europe with everyone on holiday. It’s definitely worth checking out! There’s a great app for it as well.
  5. and – after a long day of cycling where you don’t feel like camping (such as when it’s raining or 100 degrees outside), it can be nice to book a place and not search around at the end of the day. We used the app mid-ride some days to nail down a place so we could land without having to search for lodging. It was our favorite since there isn’t any time-sucking back and forth communication with a host, but we used Airbnb probably 25% of the time, especially for longer stays in one place when we wanted a kitchen or a full apartment. I should note that also has apartments in some locations.

    Enjoying the view from a balcony in Resia, Italy.

    Enjoying the view from our balcony in Resia, Italy. I loved how many balconies were festooned with bright flowers.

  6. Google Maps – an oldie, but a goodie. Same as with Galileo, I’d save locations or map things before we left for the day. I tried voice navigation using ear buds initially, then decided it was unnecessary.

With the above, you’ll be fit as an Olympic marathoner for figuring out where you are, where you’re going, and where the heck you’re going to sleep. The pedaling is still up to you – I haven’t found an app for that. But now that you know how to find routes, which ones should you follow? Read on!

Crossing from Italy to Austria, Switzerland in the background.

Crossing from Italy to Austria, Switzerland in the background.

Dedicated Bike Routes, Cycle Paths, and Other Resources

We landed in London with no set route beyond a ticket out of Prague. That’s always our favorite method for exploring, though we knew of 14 EuroVelo cycle routes criss-crossing Europe like strands of a golden cycling spiderweb. Following those routes or regional networks, we spent many days on quiet country roads or bike paths, not to mention that many cities also had great cycle-only routes.

 Just follow the stickers! Crossing into France from Germany on the EuroVelo 5.

Just follow the stickers! Crossing into France from Germany on the EuroVelo 5.

Compared to the United States, there are far more resources in Europe for bicycle touring. I used the below to plan:

  1. EuroVelo (EV) routes –  the backbone of any route planning for a European cycling trip for those seeking to follow bike paths or cycle routes. The EV frequently follows local/regional maps (see below), but this overview is great for developing a general route plan.
  2. Updated October 19, 2017: looks like a great service to check out. I haven’t used it during a tour, but it looks clean and simple to use. Here’s the instructions for using it.
  3. – this compiles both the EV routes and regional maps to show low-traffic roads or bicycle paths. Most touring apps that I found pulled from this database.
  4. – if Google Maps doesn’t have cycling options in the country (Italy, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Czech Republic), this is a great option to scope out potential elevation profiles, such as this quad-tester from Sudtirol in Italy.
Jen and Dave from Long Haul Trekkers cruise through a misty day in the rolling valleys of Slovenia.

Jen and Dave from Long Haul Trekkers cruise through a misty day in the rolling valleys of Slovenia.

Regional Bike Routes in European Countries

The EuroVelo routes are great, but what if you want or need to deviate from those? Fear not – there are many local resources available. Here’s each of the 13 countries we visited and the resources I used to navigate, all arranged in alphabetical order:

Many of the bike paths are old train lines, which means we rode through many cool tunnels like this.

Many of the bike paths are old train lines, which means we rode through many cool tunnels like this.

  1. Austria – not only is the scenery fantastic, but it doesn’t get any better than Austria’s bike infrastructure. Clear signage, car-free paths, and even bike maintenance stops. The best part? The word for “bike” in German is RAD. North to south, the Alpe Adria route rocks through the Austrian Alps. East-west, try the mountain-cutting Inn River Path from Switzerland to Germany and the Drau Cycle Path from Italy to Hungary (we rode both of them). Or just check out all of the country’s paths.

    Digging the views near Innsbruck on the Inn River Path.

  2. Belgium – you’ll need multiple resources here. First the Fiets Routes for the Dutch-speaking Flanders (northern Belgium), where we followed the famous Tour de Flanders. Then the southern, French-speaking part has two – RandoVelo and Ravel will help you through the famous WWII battle zone of the Belgian Ardennes. Fair warning that an 80k day will stack up 1000 meters of climbing in these steep hills. Here’s my post about our Belgian experience.
  3. Croatia – cycle routes here are more, shall we say, suggestions? Narrow, winding coastal roads with no shoulders and a few country roads for a breather. I recommend riding here in the shoulder seasons and getting up early to avoid traffic. It’s beautiful, but stressful riding. We joined two friends and their dog for this portion of the trip.
  4. Czech Republic – this country features an insane number of cycle routes. I can see why cycle touring is one of the favorite activities in this country, as routes are well-signed and typically follow quiet country roads. It holds a special place in our hearts since Chelsea and I met there in 2006.

    Cesky Krumlov in the southern CZ.

    Cesky Krumlov in the southern CZ.

  5. England – the National Cycle Network is the place to go for designing your cycle tour through Britain. We spent a week riding from Oxford east to the coast, and I’m looking forward to returning to explore the Lakes District up north.
  6. France – sorry, not much help here as we simply followed the EuroVelo 5 route through eastern France into the pretty Alsace wine region near Strausborg and Colmar. The super-popular EuroVelo 6 runs from France’s western edge straight east and is reportedly quite good.
  7. Germany – as you might expect, the Germans have cycle touring figured out. Their cycle network is solid, as is their list of accommodations (bike and bed, as they call it) for cyclists. We didn’t spend many days in Germany, but I found it easy to navigate.

    Storks are good luck in Europe and we saw nests like this all over.

    Storks are good luck in Europe and we saw nests on houses all over.

  8. Hungary – the EuroVelo 6 is the most common way people ride through Hungary, which is predominantly farmland. We came in from Slovenia/Croatia and pedaled around Lake Balaton, which was…ok. The beautiful north side of the lake is the only part of the trip I’d recommend (here’s the blog post about our experience).
  9. Italy – we only cycled in the NE part of the country, the beautiful Sudtirol. These two resources laid out the routes nicely. A German traveler in England insisted we visit this place and described it as a combination of Austrian efficiency and Italian quality of life (all menus and signs are in both languages, which was interesting). He was right: go here. This was our favorite mix of scenery and silky cycle paths, most next to rivers through the Italian Dolomites. (Side note: the mountain biking here rocks. Check out the riding in Reschenpass, which starts in Italy, into Switzerland and Austria, and then back to Italy. First time I’ve been to three countries in one ride. Did I mention there are four gondolas that haul you and your bike uphill?)

    A perfect bike path through Sudtirol.

    A perfect bike path through Sudtirol.

  10. Luxembourg – this tiny speck of a country has a great cycling network both in the countryside and in the picturesque capital. And lots of steep hills.
  11. The Netherlands – all you need is Nederland Fietsland. Flat terrain, perfect cycle paths, and more e-bikes than you’ll see anywhere in the world, Holland is a cycling paradise. It also has a “friends of cyclists” network where locals host cyclists. According to my friends there, the downside is the terrible weather. Here’s my post about our time there.
  12. Slovenia – a favorite country from our trip, especially the NW portion in the Julian Alps. Nice people, laid-back cities, and varied, pretty landscapes made for a great time there. However, while Slovenia lauds its cycling, I couldn’t find a digital copy of their bike routes. Luckily, the Galileo app worked well.

    Chelsea gives a final switchback into Slovenia the what-for coming over the pass from Austria.

    Chelsea gives a final switchback into Slovenia the what-for coming over the pass from Austria.

  13. Switzerland – of course the Swiss have their cycle network totally dialed. We didn’t spend much time there, but look forward to coming back.

And that, my friends, is the logistics download for countries we visited during our European cycle tour. For countries not mentioned, I recommend simply Googling “country name + cycling network” to see if there’s a regional resource. It seems there usually is.

Europe has my vote as a great cycling destination. And we weren’t the only ones out there – I saw an incredible number of people of all ages using the excellent bike infrastructure. Don’t let the language barrier intimidate you either, as nearly everyone speaks English and people are very helpful. For your next trip there, leave the backpacks at home and try exploring on your bike. It’s an experience you won’t forget.

What resources, tools, apps or other intel do you have for anyone looking to cycle tour in Europe? This post is intended as a long-term resource that will build over time, so please add your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an email.

Heading up to the top of Reschenpass in NE Italy.

Climbing to the top of Reschenpass in NE Italy. With views like this, we lingered and spent over a month in the Alps.

Cycle Touring in a Hungarian Heat Wave

Pedaling Lake Balaton

The situation was dire. “They don’t have chocolate-covered rice cakes!” Chelsea reported, walking out of our favorite European grocery store, Spar. “And no ajvar either.” We were scarcely 100 pedal strokes over Hungary’s border and already were forced to continue sans our favorite snack and red pepper spread. Whatever – we hadn’t made it this far to only to crumble so easily.

The country’s history is a tough one. Smack-dab in the middle of Central Europe, Hungary was once a wealthy empire ranging from coastal Croatia east to the Black Sea. It was an industrialized nation and Budapest rang with discourse, music and art. Then the ramifications of two world wars carved up the illustrious empire and resulted in half of ethnic Hungarians living outside the new borders and 70% of its previous land holdings stripped away and handed over (or returned) to other countries. This split the beating heart of industry from the lifeblood of raw materials necessary to feed it, crushing the economy.

Sign of the times? Progress rooted in the old.

Sign of the times? Progress rooted in the old.

Though many Hungarian leaders pushed for neutrality during WWII, geography forced it to join the Axis powers. One book I read said, “they could either be broiled by the Germans or boiled by the Russians.” When Hungary tried to negotiate a surrender to the Allies, the German forces stomped in to occupy the country. Then the Russian troops invaded and pillaged. They also extracted onerous war reparations that undermined the Hungarian economy, weakened the previous government and paved the way for 50 years of Communism.

President Harry Truman, a die-hard Midwesterner, once told a Hungarian diplomat that he’d like to visit to learn about their agriculture system. He never made it before the Iron Curtain slammed shut, but if I had a few lines to report back my superficial findings based on my 10 days touring there, I’d say:

“Dear Prez Truman – fields of corn, wheat, rye and sugar beets cover the majority of the countryside. It feels like a Soviet-influenced version of Illinois. Uniform boxy homes cluster together in empty villages, the eerie silence broken occasionally by a tractor gnashing up the street. Elderly people creak by on bikes so rusty it’s a miracle the frames hold together. The cheery flowers in window boxes, so often seen in Western Europe, are gone.”

And then I’d tell Harry to watch the video I put together from our time in Hungary; it’s at the bottom of this post.

Hills of Hungary

Frankly, cycling through Hungary felt more like survival than fun, and we had a hard time enjoying it. The agricultural terrain felt monotonous and the heat hung on our backs like a scorching blanket of coals. We struggled to connect with the place in our usual way, though everyone we interacted with was incredibly cordial and friendly. One memorable evening was a nice Warmshowers stay with a lovely family in the countryside. They told us of the difficulties of starting a business or homeschooling children in a country that is still shaking off old Communist conformity.

Rising in the dark to beat the heat, Chelsea and I were pedaling each day by the time sunrise tinged corn stalks with a crimson hue. One memorable bonus was the roadside stands with delectable, juicy watermelons from southern Hungary. I ate mounds of the delicious fruit every day, spooning it directly out of the rind until my belly swelled, round and taut as the melons themselves.

Sunrise start!

Sunrise start!

Our route was a 400-mile loop out of Slovenia. The destination: Lake Balaton, a blue oval in the midst of Central Europe’s Great Plains that attracts tourists from all over the area. We put the lake in our sights after reading about the excellent bike paths circumventing its shores. Parts of the lake are so shallow that it’s possible to wade out hundreds of feet and still only be up to your waist; people stand around chatting like they’re hanging out in a park.

Wading in Lake Balaton

Balaton felt like two different worlds depending which side we pedaled. The flatter south shore featured rental houses and resorts that spawned hundreds of people and their inflatable beach equipment. Bike paths were often crowded with tourists (takes one to know one) who wandered about like bowling balls between bumpers.

The north was less developed, hillier, and more scenic, and we wound our way through grape vines as we gazed out over the crystalline blue lake from excellent vantage points. Our favorite stop was a rest day in the town of Balatongyörök, where we gulped delicious homemade strawberry lemonade on a restaurant terrace overlooking lake and enjoyed a couple hours of respite before retreating to the comfort of air conditioning. Unless squeaky beach toys and crowds are your idea of a fun bike tour, my recommendation would be to stick to the northern side of Lake Balaton.

North side of Lake Balaton

The silver lining to difficult days on the bike is that they make the rest of life easier in comparison. Cranking on pedals through blinding heat and boring scenery steels me to other tasks that might seem tough, but really aren’t too bad. Plus, hard days of cycling usually (but not always) beat a day in my old engineering office or dealing with a plumbing leak at home. At least that’s what I like to tell myself.

Our last day in Hungary was a good one, and years from now I’ll probably recall our entire trip there in a positive light. We were on the road by six a.m. and rode through winding country roads lined by corn. Tractors chugged past and we cruised with scarcely a break. Five hours and forty miles later, we’d crossed into Slovenia and were sitting by the pool at an odd Soviet-era pool complex. We then cooled off and ambled over to Spar to pick up some chocolate rice cakes. It’s the small things that keep us going some days.

Here’s that little 2-minute video I put together for Mr. Truman documenting our experience in Hungary. Enjoy.

Chelsea rolls along a bike path on the south side of Balaton.

Chelsea rolls along a bike path on the south side of Balaton.