Cycling the Rhine River, Germany - A paradise to cycle
Cycling the Rhine River in Germany is an incredible experience. Cycling in Germany is easily done, as there are bike paths beside every road, as well as through the country side and far away from the roads. There is no fear of being taken down by a car or a crazy driver.
Cycling through the Rhine Valley is highly rewarding. The main area of the Romantic Rhine is between Bonn and Heidelberg. If you're short on time, I would recommend starting in Bonn, and continuing on through the Romantic Rhine, and if you still have time, continuing on along the Romantic Road. We ran out of time and money, and thus stopped in Heidelberg, but next time I would love to make Heidelberg my starting point.
Cycling the Rhine
Planning the Tour
I completed my Rhine Cycling tour in the summer of 2009 with my boyfriend. It was our first cycling tour of any sort, and very impromptu as well. We were returning to Canada after a year in Scotland, didn't have a lot of excess funds, but wanted to make the most of our summer. So with 10 days to spend in between leaving Scotland, and apartment sitting in the Netherlands, we decided to take the cheapest type of exciting vacation we could think of - a cycle vacation through Germany.
We didn't have bikes, we didn't have any gear, and only had a £20 tent from Tesco. After trolling through message boards and forums, I found a company online, MacBike in Amsterdam, which rented touring bikes complete with locks, panniers, and a repair kit. So we booked our bikes, took a train into Amsterdam to pick them up, and returned to Nijmegen, where we were staying. This unfortunately meant we didn't cycle in the Netherlands - likely the best country for cycling - but we'll save this tour for another time.
I spent many hours trying to figure out GPS software, which seemed to be quite finicky. Compiling data from other sites of proposed Rhine cycling routes, and finding a massive database of all campsites in Germany. The GPS was quite new, so this was quite a challenge. We thought we had all the necessary data on the GPS, but by day 2 we realized we were on our own with our paper map with little images of tents to find our accommodation.
The Rhine Route
From the Netherlands to Germany
We started our journey from Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, which added dramatics the sound of trip by saying we started in a different country. Although it did take us a while to get across the border - since we went way to far north before going east....and then south.... we hadn't yet mastered our directional skills, and our GPS wasn't too cycling friendly since it's more designed for hiking.
All of a sudden we realized the signs looked different, the words appeared to be German, and street names had changed. Clearly we crossed the border, but never new when nor had the opportunity to take a picture at the border.
Finding camp groups became easier and easier as we went along, although they can sometimes be quite spread out, so be sure to plan accordingly. Camping in Germany is a completely different experience - and one I feel is almost worthy of another hub of its own. There is no sense of privacy or 'getting away from it all'. You camp with thousands of other people within site. The facilities of the large sites are amazingly clean, but your tent is so close to other tents that you can share tent pegs. It is not like camping in Canada, where you drive deep into the forest to find your campsite, which is considered a bad site if your tent is easily visible from the next site. Enough about German camping now.
From Nijmegen to Bonn
Between Nijmegen to Bonn there is not too much of interest, especially compared to the rest of the Rhine. There are many routes which take you off the road and through nice fields, but as you continue you reach more highly industrialized areas, and quite frankly, so completely unimpressive areas I couldn't help but laugh. Duisburg was the highlight of the unimpressive - passing two nuclear power plants.
We passed many other areas which are worth a visit. Neuss is a pretty town, and Cologne is quite nice as well.
Cycling the Rhine River
Finally - the Romantic Rhine
Ah.. Bonn. Finally the countryside was changing. We could see up ahead the rolling hills of the Romantic Rhine. Although it was mildly concerning - not sure how many hills we would have to climb - we could tell we were almost into the heart of the tour.
There were so many cute little towns to visit from this point on. We took our time, stopped more often, and tried to make sure to enjoy our visit. The cycle route continued through vineyards, or along the Rhine. However, because this area is in the valley, the cycle route tended to follow alongside the road for most of the Romantic Rhine stretch, which wasn't quite as peaceful as the countryside routes. At least this means there's a positive to all the different areas. Well - aside from Duisburg. Though we did have a good lunch there.
The towns of highlight were Boppard, St. Goar, Oberwessel, and Bacharach. Each has their own character and were highlights for different reasons. Bacharach seems to have had the most written about it, and it is certainly a beautiful little town, however the beauty seemed to be a bit ruined by the excessive traffic along the tiny streets. I felt like these streets should have been made pedestrian only years ago. For this reason, I think we appreciated Oberwessel more.
Leaving the Rhine, through Mainz, to Worms
As the mountains faded, we knew the Romantic Rhine was coming to an end. We made or desired end point as Heidelberg, and I was determined to 'finish'. From the end of the Romantic Rhine we passed Mainz and then Worms.
Reaching Mainz we felt a little like we should explore the town, but we couldn't really figure out where the town center was, or which way to go, so we just continued on a little disapointedly. We made our way to Worms, and decided this would be our first night of luxury in a hotel room.
As the sun was setting, we wandered town looking for a hotel. After ringing the door bells of a few hotels and having no one answer, we came across Hotel Boos. They happily took us and our bikes in, and had a back garden where we could leave our bikes. Be sure to ask the man who runs the hotel you to tell you the story of his incredible stained glass windows. They are based on a popular German fairy tale which was said to have taken place in Worms. If you're lucky he may show you his special hidden treasures!
Our last cycling day took us from Worms to Heidelberg. We stopped in Heppenheim, a town I couldn't believe didn't make it to into our Germany tour guide. It was just a very appealing, cute, charming town which we stumbled upon on our journey.
Arrival in Heidelberg
The Finish - Heidelberg
After 10 days of cycling, arriving in Heidelberg was a rewarding finish. It's a beautiful town worth a few days to wander and explore. We ended up staying in a fancy hotel way over our budget, but we splurged since it was our last day.. okay.. last two days, since we should at least spend a bit of time in Heidelberg. The breakfast buffet came complete with orange juice & champagne! A far cry from camping in the worlds most populated campground!
From blown bike spokes, to climbing mountains for the "rewarding" view from the campground, this 10 day trip was enough to make us realize we want to make cycle touring a normal vacation consideration, and hopefully one day cycle across Canada!
More useful Links
MacBike is the company we rented our tour bikes from. Very helpful. Great experience.
- Upper Rhine Valley - My German City
A very useful website for planning a trip to this area of the Rhine.
- Germany Rhine Cycling Trip: The Plan For the Interim
My blog posting prior to this trip - it includes the GPS file for the route.