Cycling the Length of the Rhine

13 Dec 2023

Adrian Allen

I’m always looking for somewhere interesting to tour in the summer, generally taking about three weeks and averaging ~100kms per day, with occasional breaks. 

The Rhine route passes through six countries and several completely different but spectacular landscapes. What could be more compelling? 

So in July 2023 I set off, following Mike Wells’ splendid book (by Ciccerone) on EuroVelo 15. Also Michelin regional maps. I’m a bit old-school so no Strava.

Stage 1: Chur-Basel (Days 1-4)

 Chur to Bregenz (103km)
Bregenz to Schaffhausen (105km)
Schaffhausen to Basel (116km)
Day off! 

The route took in a rest day on the outskirts of Basel after just over 500km, comprising the short route from the ferry port at Dieppe to Yvetot (~65kms ) and after a train day on Sunday then the ride from Zurich south to the old city of Chur (~120km ) where my Rhine route began. 

It then heads north through the wonderfully picturesque valley up to Lake Constance or Bodensee. From Bregenz where the Rhine enters the lake from the south the route tracks anti-clockwise to Meersburg where regular ferry services cross to the town of Constance. The route then follows the south side of the Gdansee and Untersee before the river flows west and continues to wind its way through a mixture of more-gentle hillside and steep gorges all the way to Basel. 

The weather had been very mixed to this point although set to improve, with overcast conditions sometimes wet, occasionally very wet with two sunny days mixed in. Fortunately, the ride up the valley from Chur was in glorious sunshine setting off the breathtaking scenery perfectly. There are abundant wetlands along the Linkkanal, which support a healthy population of stork, heron, egret, kites and many other species offering plenty of opportunity for risky multitasking the functions of birdwatching and cycling! The agriculture is also interesting with much maize, beets and cabbage farmed together with apples, pears and vines. The clinking of the cowbells is another giveaway that we’re not in Sussex. 

Igis, Canton of the Grisons

Salez, Canton of St Gallen 

Bad Ragaz, St Gallen

On the route around Lake Constance, you pass through the town of Friedrichshafen, original home of the Zeppelin. In fact, they still make New Tech Zeppelin today which can often be seen over the lake. The lake is also in full holiday mode and caters for Everyman. Extravagant lakeshore properties mix with more prosaic campsites. And sailboats and motor yachts share the water with paddle boards and canoes. Thankfully no jet skis in sight. Hopefully that menace is banned.  

After the river narrows at Stein am Rhein/ Wagenhausen it then flows west through a number of beautiful spa and medieval towns. It passes through Schaffhausen which Henry informed me is the home of IWC (trust him to know). 

 Shortly after leaving Schaffhausen, you pass the Rheinfell, all sound, fury and spray. The route then deviates from the river because of the steep gorges and climbs to the top of the hillside following very quiet roads through farms and villages offering some lovely panoramic views. At Koblenz the path crosses the river and thence follows it more closely all the way to Basel. It passes through many lovely old towns on the way including Waldshut, Laufenburg and Bad Sackingen. 

The cycle paths are very well used. Of course, there is the seasonal flow at this time of the year with many tourists and holidaymakers. But it’s evident that people of all ages and genders use the bicycle as a principal mode of transport. The vast majority are e-bikes and it’s much less common to find an entirely leg-propelled version. One reason must be that the cycle routes are for the most part separated from the road. Occasionally it’s a shared space but for crossing or for a short distance and clearly demarcated with dedicated lanes. This means it’s safer and creates more harmony between all road users. The infrastructure has been specially designed to achieve this rather than compromised (badly) to appease a minority. Anyway, it’s been a real pleasure not to have been called an f***ing c*** since my last Horsham ride. 

One other thing I found fascinating was the rail service along the river.  On Tuesday I managed to visit four countries. Admittedly my stay in Lichtenstein lasted all of five minutes but they all count!  I was getting quite used to my phone pinging a text to advise that 'you have now entered……' 

Swiss railway runs its services on the south side and German rail on the north. They both follow the river closely and where a town spans the river it will usually proudly boast two stations! What a wealth of riches. 

 Stage 2: Basel-Worms (Days 5-9)

 Basel-Neuf Breisach (67kms)
 Neuf Breisach-Strasbourg (67kms)
 Strasbourg-Karlsruhe (90kms)
 Karlsruhe-Worms (100kms)
 Day off!

The landscape from Basel to Worms has altered in its various forms and is much different from the route south/east of the city. As it trends north it has been a mix of canal towpaths running alongside variously the grand canal d’Alsace / canal du Rhône au Rhin or cycle paths routing through farmland adjacent to the river, all reflecting the broader flatter plains. 

Some of the canal system is disused but fortunately it has not been allowed to fall into disrepair. And that which is functioning has been notable for its very light traffic. That was a little disappointing to me as there’s nothing better than watching busy canal traffic plying its way to and fro and seeing the lock system at work. 

I detoured a few kilometres at the town of Marckolsheim to visit the Maginot line memorial. You can enter one of the turrets there and I believe descend into the tunnel system to get an idea of the scale of the project. It must have cost an absolute fortune to construct and was of course completely useless. Another example of planning the future while living in the past! 

The route then passes through Strasbourg to the east side and thence through forest before more riverside paths or cycle embankments and more or less continues in this rural fashion until it crosses the Rhine via ferry at Neuberg just south of Karlsruhe. 

The city of Karlsruhe has a modern fan design radiating from the palace at the centre. The route then runs north through extensive woodland before crossing the river via ferry south of Speyer. 

This ancient city was significant for the Holy Roman Empire and is the final resting place of eight Emperors. It is apparently also responsible for the birth of Protestantism in 1529, the ‘Protestation of Speyer’ decree and with apologies for rushing through the centuries it also has a fine technical museum boasting a Lufthansa Boeing 747 perched on its roof. With its gear down and open to the public it is a fine example of German engineering. I dare say they explain how  

the museum managed to get it up there but it left me scratching my head. 

The path crosses the river again via ferry at Altrip across from the enormous power station and at the southern end of the huge agglomeration of Mannheim/Ludwigshafen. The earliest sign of the ‘Ruhr valley’, Mannheim was home of Karl Benz and indeed Daimler Benz still produce buses and diesel engines here. 

More impressive is the BASF chemical facility across the river in Ludwigshafen. The cycle route runs alongside its western perimeter for at least seven kilometers! There are bicycle parks with literally thousands of bikes for the employees to use just to get around the plant. 

Once you have finally escaped BASF you have about 20 kilometres of very welcome countryside and farmland before reaching Worms, home of Martin Luther and where I had a day off.

Stage 3: Worms-Dusseldorf (Days 10-13)

Worms-Bacharach (103km) 
Bacharach-Remagen (90km) 
Remagen-Dusseldorf (110km) 
Day off! 

The journey from Worms to Düsseldorf where I have my last rest day initially heads north towards Mainz. The route here is very picturesque as the river twists through gorges and steep hillsides where vineyards abound. Indeed, the cycle path takes you through the Rote Hang, a celebrated region producing mainly white Riesling. The towns en-route are an amalgam of old noble houses and traditional wineries. 

At Mainz you cross the river which starts to track west just south of Wiesbaden. More delightful wine producing countryside, with many holiday makers using the campsites by the river. There are many pretty spa towns on the rivers edge where summer visitors enjoy a variety of outdoor activities of which cycling heavy e-bikes seems to be amongst the most popular. But that’s hardly surprising given the fantastic cycling infrastructure. 

The cycle route continues to offer this lovely and spectacular combination of vineyards and spa towns until it reaches Koblenz. 

The route takes you around the Deutsche Ecke which is where the Mosel meets the Rhine and where you pass under the gaze of the huge statue of Kaiser Wilhelm 1, built originally in the 1890s and more recently following war damage, to celebrate German reunification in 1993. 

Crossing the Mosel you now continue on the south side with the route mixing rural farmland with more delightful spa towns. 

At Remagen the remains of the Ludendorff bridge sit on both banks with the structure on the south bank now doubling as a museum. 

At this point the route takes on a more industrial flavour reflecting the importance of the river to the German economy. After passing Bonn you soon reach the southern edge of Cologne, the largest city on the Rhine with a population in excess of 1 million. 

With one or two exceptions most of these large towns have extensive embankment areas which makes direction finding simple but in high season the going is slow.

The route pays its homage to the industrial economy by taking you past some enormous facilities including Evonik, Ford, Tata, Ineos and Bayer. The traffic of heavy barges passing up and down the river with cargo of ore, scrap, containers, vehicles and more seems to increase accordingly. The route avoids Leverkusen on the opposite bank and heads out eventually to rural farmland before re crossing the river at the Zons ferry. From there it is a relatively short hop north into Düsseldorf. 

With my destination almost within sight the bike disappeared from under me. A light shower had left the surface slippery and the roads are criss crossed with tram rails. I must have just switched off for a moment and caught one at the wrong angle. Happily the personal damage is minor and the bike seems fine. It was a slow speed incident and the panniers undoubtedly provide a cushion for both bike and rider. 

Stage 4: Düsseldorf to Hoek van Holland (Days 14-17) 

Düsseldorf-Xanten (81km) 

Xanten-Wijk bij Duurstede (116km) 
Wijk bij Duurstede, Rotterdam (100km) 
Ferry home!

A quiet day in Düsseldorf, resting weary bones and enjoying a touristic Rhine boat ride (where to my delight I discovered my ticket also contemplated two large ‘free’ beers). Thus rested and fortified I felt ready for the final push towards Rotterdam. Monday morning arrived bright and clear as I found the EV15 route alongside the river. 

The city soon gave way to pleasant countryside as I passed the airport but it’s no distance to the next industrial focal point, Duisburg, a major steel manufacturing centre accounting for some 50% of German steel production. It also holds the unenviable record as the most heavily bombed city during the war when it sustained 299 raids. Its reconstruction has also seen a large influx of immigrant labour, mainly Turks, giving it a cosmopolitan flavour.

The Rhine meets the Ruhr at Duisburg and what with the canals and inner harbour adding further waterway obstacles, tracking the route without e-services became something of a challenge. I am after all an old school paper map type! Eventually I tagged onto the back of a family group who seemed to know what they were about and they duly led me to the very large and impressive Friedrich-Ebert-Brucke bridge. The route then becomes flatter as it winds through the river plain and along the dykes.  

More big sky country as the river continues to meander across a broad agricultural flood plain with scattered communities. The river enters the Netherlands at Millingen aan de Rijn where it starts dividing into various channels flowing onwards towards the North Sea. Much use is again made of flood dykes. 

Of course Arnhem lies on the route. Now a busy multicultural town it is also famous for the bridgehead battle in 1944 immortalised in the movie ‘A Bridge too far‘. From Arnhem the route runs north of the river through wooded countryside and picturesque, almost chic riverside towns. Rhehen in particular looked utterly charming to me. I envied the holidaymakers enjoying a late alfresco lunch and a glass of white wine as I contemplated a further sweaty 30 Kms to my overnight destination! 

At this point the route starts to run mainly on the elevated dykes and heads almost due west towards Rotterdam. The headwinds slow progress significantly and the cycling becomes quite gritty. 

The route crosses the Amsterdam-Rijnkanal at Wijk bij Duurstede. Here the Rhine divides itself again with the Amsterdam-Rijnkanal branching off northwest. The countryside is flat cultivated polder land mostly below sea level protected by high flood dykes and sluice gates. 

The entire route from Wijk bij Duurstede to Schoonhoven is on quiet country roads along the top of the dyke, on the north side of the Lek, the Rhine arm which meets the North Sea at Hoek van Holland. From the dyke you look down on fertile farming countryside. Extensive orchards around Wijk give way to cattle and sheep, geese on lakes and wetlands and grazing goats and horses. 

After taking the Schoonhoven ferry the route continues now south of the Lek, partly along flood dykes with the countryside below. At Kinderdijk the route passes the finest collection of preserved windmills in the Netherlands. The stage ends in the sprawling industrial city of Rotterdam where dedicated cycle tracks allow the cyclist to traverse the city without any significant on road cycling. 

Once across the Erasmus bridge and in the city you have a further 35kms or so to reach the Hoek van Holland.

I treated myself to a last overnight stop at a hotel in Massluis and after 1506kms of thoroughly enjoyable cycling I let the train take the strain for the final 10kms from Massluis to the ferry terminal! 


Riders: 1
Distance: ~955 miles / 1500km
Speed: ~11mph / 18kph 
Elevation: not much
Ps & Ms: 1 puncture north of Cologne