Going cycling in Europe and not sure where to start?
I’ve spent 9+ years exploring Europe and I’ve cycled in a fair few countries now, so here’s my attempt at a guide.
Keep in mind that I am nowhere near an expert cyclist. I cycle for fun and because I love it. I’m not super fast. And I’m timid when it comes to sharing a busy road with cars. My longest cycle was from the Swiss border to the Atlantic Coast of France. But most of my trips have been smaller – day trips and short rides around a new town. Which means if you’re an experienced road cyclist, your preferences may be different. If you’re a mountain biker, my guide probably isn’t that helpful (since I’m riding a road bike). But if you’re looking for somewhere fun to plant yourself for some small cycle adventures, read on.
My entirely unscientific ranking system:
One is the lowest ranking. It means routes weren’t marked, were difficult to access, weren’t kept up, and/or I felt unsafe cycling here.
Two is a bit better, but still a less than average experience.
Three is average. Routes are generally marked and clear/not blocked. Cycling solo feels safe.
Four is exceptional. Routes are well marked and not confusing. The country puts resources into maintaining said cycle paths. They’re easy to access. And drivers are extremely respectful of cyclists.
Five is is the cream of the crop. In addition to all the basics, you’ll find extras like plenty of good bike shops along the way and extensive cycle networks that interconnect across the country.
So, based on my personal experience (with the caveat that others may feel differently!), what are the most and least cycle-friendly countries in Europe?
Here are my rankings, with countries listed in alphabetical order:
Reasoning: It was fairly easy to get around cycling in Austria. Cycle trails are abundant, and I felt safe sharing backroads with local drivers, who tended to give me and the bike a wide berth.
Reasoning: Flat landscape and respectful drivers mean cycling in Belgium was a treat. It’s not as pretty as some of my other cycle trips, but it’s safe and easy and there are so many great towns in Belgium to visit (Ghent and Brugge among my favorites).
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Reasoning: Drivers here didn’t give me as much space as I’d like, so I spent a lot of time cycling slowly on sidewalks when near the city. When I attempted a cycle trail/backroads, it was more relaxing but also not well signposted and I ended up lost.
Reasoning: Despite the truly incredible landscapes, I quickly became uncomfortable cycling in Croatia because of the drivers. Even on the backroads, they whip around corners, ignore speed laws, and come way too close to cyclists. I saw a lot of cyclists while I was there, so plenty of people give it a go. But until they have better dedicated cycle paths, I’ll be giving Croatia a pass when it comes to riding.
Reasoning: Dedicated cycle paths? Check! Cyclist-friendly culture? Check. Respectful drivers when you do have to venture onto roads? Mostly check. I highly recommend the Eurovelo 6, which crosses from the Swiss border to the Atlantic Ocean. And many rivers in France have dedicated cycle paths along them, which is always really lovely. My favorite cycling experience in Europe, hands down.
Reasoning: This is yet another country with so much beauty where I felt unsafe cycling. Roads tend to be narrow. Drivers tend to be reckless (and often drunk, even during the day). There may be rural areas that feel safer, but the places I tried to cycle felt decidedly risky.
Reasoning: Yet another pretty country where I did not feel safe cycling. I did one major day trip by cycle before hanging up my bike because of a lack of dedicated cycle trails in the Brasov area and drivers who weren’t giving me enough space on the road.
Reasoning: I loved cycling in Slovenia! It’s pretty and people tend to drive with caution on the backroads. That said, don’t expect great route markers (bring a good map).
Reasoning: Switzerland has some dedicated bike paths and they’re usually well signposted/marked. Many trails are partially gravel/dirt, so I’d recommend a mountain bike here instead of a road bike/city bike.