Published on February 15th, 2015 | by Tamsin0
Cycling the Danube: Vienna to Budapest
Cheap, fun and eye-opening, long distance cycling is one of the best ways to experience any country. Allowing you to get well of the beaten path and see a side of life well away from attractions, tours and guidebooks.
With this in mind, a few years ago I set off on a bike trip down the mighty Danube River along the Eurovelo 6, beginning in Austria’s grand capital Vienna and aiming for Hungary’s equally ornate Budapest.
Almost completely flat and clearly signposted, the route is perfect for beginners, families and those looking for a stress free journey. If you’re thinking of following in my wheel tracks, here’s a quick guide to the bike path and the sights and sounds along the way.
Vienna to Bratislava
Having come straight from Berlin, the grand buildings, wide boulevards and well-dressed inhabitants of Vienna came as a bit of a shock. But if you like opera, classical music and fine dining, the city is well worth a few days of your time.
To find the bike path out of Vienna, head for the Danube. The route, known as the Donauweg in German, is well signposted, so once you find the river, you should be ok.
Much of the 70km route to Bratislava runs on an old railway line, keeping cyclists well away from the road and making it easy to sit back and enjoy the landscape.
The main challenge of any self-directed bike trip is finding somewhere to stay at the end of every day. Though you can book hotels in advance, you’ll probably find there are days that you don’t cover the distance you expected to, leaving your hotel room empty.
If you travel during the low season, finding hotels, hostels or camping spots is very easy and in general I never book ahead when on the road.
Bratislava, Slovakia’s tiny, picturesque capital is perfect for exploring in an evening or over a couple of days. Very affordable, especially compared to Vienna, Bratislava has plenty of bars, restaurants and sights to discover.
From there, I headed for Gyor, an old spa town just over the border in Hungary. This part of the cycle offers some great views of the river and takes you through flat, undulating countryside and small Slovakian and Hungarian villages.
However, as it was raining all day the day I cycled the 90km to Gyor, I didn’t take too much notice of the landscape, getting my head down and peddling away instead.
Gyor to Esztergom
Grand, clean and pretty expensive, the spa town of Gyor wasn’t the Hungary that I was expecting. Though with plenty of hotels and a campsite it makes an easy place to stop for the night.
The 100 odd kilometres from Gyor to Esztergom are pretty uneventful and taking you onto a few busy roads as well as quieter paths and tacks. The best part of this leg is seeing the normal Hungarian towns and villages along the route, many of which had elaborate harvest displays when I passed through.
Slightly more run down than Gyor, Esztergom has a bit more character and a lot of charm. There is some great Hungarian food available in the traditional restaurants on the main road and some welcoming little bars and cafes dotted around town.
Esztergom to Budapest
With freshly tarmacked off road bike path for much of the way, the section from Esztergom to Budapest is one of the best parts of the journey. It even includes a trip on an ancient ferryboat that looks like it should be captained by Huckleberry Finn.
As with most big cities, the arrival into Budapest isn’t the most picturesque parts of the trip and takes you past a few old communist blocks and through some fairly non descript suburbs. However, once you get into the city itself your efforts will be rewarded with spectacular views of the Danube and the grand buildings that line it.
Now, if you’re going to end a long bike trip in a European city, make it Budapest. With its plentiful spas, rejuvenating waters, great food and cheap beer, there’s nowhere that will revive you quicker
There are plenty of thermal baths and spas around town, each offering something special. I went to the Gellért Baths and trust me, a day there is worth every penny of the £12 entry fee.
From Budapest, intrepid travellers can continue aling the bike path through southern Hungary, into Croatia, Serbia and finally Romania, finishing their epic journey where the Danube meets the Black Sea.
Less intrepid travellers can spend endless days exploring Budapest, eating goulash and trying out every spa the city has to offer.