In June of 2019 myself, Emily and Jess left the office to try out one of our most popular tours, cycling the Vienna to Budapest section of the Danube.
The Vienna to Budapest tour offers a great mix of scenery with some routes along the river and some inland. You have the energy and tradition of the bigger cities; Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava, which are a big highlight of the tour. Along the way, you’ll also find towns and routes that are quiet, quaint and perfect for a bit of mooching around the small squares and local cafes.
For Emily, this was a first cycle tour of any kind and for myself and Jess our first hotel-to-hotel tour… and we loved it! Read on to find out why.
Bike collection was very easy. Dropping our luggage in the reception of our first hotel, we went downstairs to the garage where we were met and handed our rental bikes. These had been selected based on our pre-provided heights and were tagged up with our names on.
We were given time to ensure we were happy with the bikes and how they were set up. We had a quick test ride in the garage and had time to ask any questions.
Jess’ and my trusty steeds for the week were unisex hybrid bikes. Jess said about the bike: “The hybrid bike is perfect for the terrain, it managed very well on the short gravel sections and none of us experienced any punctures! The large gel saddle was comfortable, but I would always recommend investing in padded cycling shorts for extra comfort.”
Emily had an e-bike, she said: “Having recently torn my hip flexor, I knew riding an e-bike instead of a hybrid would make the route more manageable.
The added weight of the battery and heavier frame, together with my pannier made it a different bike riding experience, but I knew I had made the right choice when I sailed past Jess and Hannah!
The modes and gears were adjustable, so I was able to keep things as normal as possible for most of the time. When things seemed a little more challenging, I just turned the battery assist up. E-bikes still involve effort, I found myself out of breath a few times! Towards the end of the week I had some stiff muscles, the bike only works as much as you do!”
The cycle rides
The cycling on this tour was an absolute joy. The first few days of cycling were on well-marked paths following one of the main cycle paths in Europe, the Eurovelo 6. Towards the end of the week we found ourselves checking the maps a little more. Together with GPS, the maps helped ensure we were on the right path, but navigation was still very easy.
It was a lovely experience to cross between countries as we cycled. We found that navigation remained consistent throughout Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. Don’t forget to look out for signs when crossing borders, they make great photo opportunities!
The cycle paths varied with plenty of long paved stretches which made for easy riding. There were some hard-packed gravel paths and a day with a short section of loose-packed gravel. These were more challenging, but manageable on our well-equipped bikes. The roads that we cycled along were quiet and well maintained.
The scenery on the route also varied. Our first cycle day started out along the river Danube out of Vienna, following it along to our next hotel. The next few days we headed inland into the countryside, past working farms and quiet villages. On the last two days we met up with the river again. The final day followed the river closely around the Danube Bend and into Budapest.
This tour is rated easy to moderate, and with the option of an e-bike, it is the perfect tour for those new to cycle touring. There were no parts of the route that were so challenging that they weren’t enjoyable. Every part felt leisurely. On the final cycle day into Budapest, your trip is broken up with a few short ferries across the river. These ferry rides give you more time to relax and take in the scenery.
With three capital cities on the route, there are plenty of places to stop along the way. Ice creams, cakes and coffees are everywhere! There were also plenty of public parks, benches and quiet spots to take a break.
Beautiful cities and towns
Beginning our week in the Austrian capital was a joy. After a quick metro journey, we were into the pedestrianised centre of the city. During our afternoon in Vienna we saw St. Stephen's Cathedral & Karlskirche. We also wandered through the Hofburg and picnicked outside the museum quarter.
We would suggest buying a day ticket for the trains to see the Schönbrunn Palace. This is a further 45 minutes away from the hotel by foot. If you take an extra day in Vienna before your cycling holiday, this walk could be the perfect way to explore the city and warm up your legs for the week ahead!
With only 12 miles (20km) cycling this day we set out early to make the most of our time in Bratislava. It is small but fantastic!
Our first stop was to treat ourselves to some delicious ice cream. We then headed to Bratislava Castle – a hilltop area but worth every step up! The manicured gardens were free to wander. The area had wonderful views of the city below and the Danube river that cuts through it.
The old town of Bratislava has many squares and cobbled streets. These are lined with cafes and restaurants that are perfect for a bite to eat or drink and to watch the world go by!
Our top tip - visit the Church of St Elisabeth. It is a short walk out of the main tourist areas but well worth taking the excursion. You will be met with a vivid blue church that looks like bubble gum!
Gyor took us by surprise! Nestled between Bratislava and Budapest, it is the fourth largest city in Hungary. As we wandered the streets, we came across impressive buildings. Our favourites included the yellow Carmelite Church, Szechenyi Square and impressive town hall.
A resounding 'wow' was the first impression of Budapest! It is a unique experience to arrive by ferry, which stops outside the imposing parliament building.
Arriving later on the final cycle day does mean we recommend a later flight home or an extra night post-cycling.
On their final day, Jess and Emily took one of the wonderful free walking tours on offer around the city. This delightful tour took in sights such as St Stephen’s Basilica. If you are travelling in the warmer summer months, we recommend taking a trip to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. These are the largest medicinal bath in Europe!
Where we stayed
We stayed at a wonderful selection of 4* hotels along the route. The mixture of inner city and smaller accommodations along the route meant there was plenty of variety.
We opted for the half board basis. This eliminated the need to think about where we were going for dinner every night. The breakfasts in our 4* hotels offered a great spread and we were all geared up for our cycle day. The three course dinners were certainly filling after a long day on the saddle. If you prefer the independence of choosing your own restaurants, we would recommend not booking half board. Doing this means you are still able to book dinners in the hotel restaurant on check-in (you’ll have the full menu to choose from). You may also want to wander around town where you might find somewhere nice to eat.
Highlights and top tips
The penultimate day of our tour - the cycle to Esztergom - was wonderful. This day’s route featured a lot of cycle paths that dipped in and out away from the river’s edge. The sun was shining all day and when we arrived at our hotel for the night there was only one place to go – the pool! This was my final cycling day of the week and I could think of no better way to end my time.
Hannah’s top tip
Cycling along the Danube is a fantastic experience but it does mean that insects are present! As someone these insects seem to love, I can recommend packing some insect repellent! Some other essentials should be sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
Cycling into Bratislava was lovely. A short ride, and a small climb out onto the cycle path. There were quiet fields on either side and in the distance we could see Bratislava castle on the hill.
Emily’s top tip
Water is essential. Admittedly, we were cycling during the European heatwave, but having a few litres of water in my pannier was important. There were plenty of places to fill them up along the way as well.
My personal highlight of the week was arriving in Komárno. We took a very short stroll through this beautiful little town, then sat back in the square with a cold beer and watched the locals chatting.
Jess’ top tip
If you are a strong cyclist then I recommend cycling the entire 57 miles (92km) on day 4 of the itinerary. This is instead of taking the train from Mosonmagyaróvár. I did this myself and although it was a long day, it has rewards. At approximately 15 miles (24km) from your final destination, you will find the Lipót Thermal Bath and Spa. This is one of the most modern baths in Hungary and situated in a nature reserve. A long way for a dip… but pack your swimmers if you’re keen for a longer ride!