Reflections on a ‘Trip of a Lifetime’: Biking the Danube Bicycle Trail, Passau-Vienna

The famous Schlogen Bend in the Danube River, seen from the top of a hill, an enjoyable 30-minute hike from the Danube Bike Trail below, is a highlight of our first day’s ride © 2012 Karen Rubin/

by Karen Rubin

Our biking trip along the Danube Bike Trail from Passau, Germany to Vienna, Austria has been a trip of a lifetime for me, marking a milestone that took meticulous research and planning. With such high hopes, I am delighted how this trip exceeded my wildest dreams, from being immersed into the architecture, culture, history and landscapes of Old Europe, to the exhilaration and freedom you feel by using a bicycle as your main mode of transportation. It is a joy to travel at the pace and have the perspective from the slightly higher perch of a bicycle seat. There are no windows or motors between us and our surroundings, and we get to interact with local people and fellow travelers along the road.

Doing a self-guided bike tour lets us linger over a lavish buffet breakfast at the charming Jagerwirt guesthouse in Au on Donau © 2012 Karen Rubin/

I traveled with my two 20-something sons on an eight-day self-guided trip: our route has been mapped out for us by the Bike Tours Direct local bike tour operator, but we have the flexibility to linger over breakfast and start out the day when we want, veer off the road to visit some attraction, stop for photos where we like, discover a biergarten or a cafe. And we still have the benefits of an organized trip: all our hotel arrangements are made, and our baggage is transferred each day, magically appearing each evening as we arrive in a new destination. The hotels are perfection – local, authentic, charming, extremely comfortable and well located.

Our journey is as perfect as can be, but includes the few  things that don’t according to plan that are form the most endearing and cherished memories of a travel experience.

Like the detour and getting lost and finding the route through the cornfields – or frantically crossing the bridge from Enns, riding with the auto traffic to Mauthausen because we found the ferry closed for the day at 7 pm and it was 7:18 pm.

Figuring out the signs (or not), especially the ones that say Verboten; watching TV in German, deciphering menus when waiters do not speak English.

Enjoying the stunning scenery as we bike through Austria’s Wachau wine region © 2012 Karen Rubin/

Pedal power – the opportunity to see and engage the world at the pace and perspective of a bicycle, is an extraordinary experience. The physical exertion adds to the experience – engaging that part of the brain and releasing the endorphins. You feel you are participating in the scene, rather than watching it pass you by through a window. There is a cinemagraphic aspect to it – the scene constantly changing – but it is you who are moving.

Bike Tours Direct, the US-based-broker for local biking operators around the world (they offer some 300 tours in 40 countries), was marvelous to work with, advising me on which of their huge catalog of bike tours would be best for my particular interests. From their recommendation (picturesque, culturally interesting, relatively flat), I settled on the Danube Bike Trail which proved to be the most idyllic in every way – spectacularly scenic, every peddle push of the wheel brought you to a marvelous scene, very varied, easy to bike, and packed with fascinating sights to visit along the way. The route also is remarkably flat – mostly going along the river or just off it, through villages. and though I picked the Passau-Vienna route, instead of the Vienna-Passau route mainly because Munich proved the cheaper, most direct gateway (Air Berlin had the best fare), I discovered that the Danube flows east toward Vienna, so that the route actually sloped slightly in that direction, making it a little easier, still.

One of the best parts of doing a self-guided bike tour is discovering a local biergarten on the bank of the Danube © 2012 Karen Rubin/

Bike Tours Direct also picked a real winner for the local operator, DonauRadFreunde Travel Agency: the trip was superbly planned and coordinated, and offered excellent value for money, especially with the self-guided option.

The self-guided option proved ideal: a great compromise with adventure that my adult sons who wanted a total free-spirited adventure, and me, who wanted the convenience of not having to figure out a route, work my way through foreign-language maps, arrive at a town and first have to find a hotel, and not have to haul our stuff on our backs or bikes (as we saw many people do).

A self-guided trip means that our luggage was taken each day to the next pre-booked hotel, that we were provided maps, that our rental bikes were properly sized and waiting for us at the first stop, that we got directions (even train schedules and fares) between the airport and the first and last stops on the itinerary.

The self-guided tour, we found, is the best of both worlds – as organized as needs to be yet free to go at our own pace.

And as we discovered, it gave us wonderful flexibility to explore, stop for photos, linger over breakfast, stop at a biergarten. We had all the advantages of a guided trip – marked maps, pre-arranged hotels, livery of our luggage – and still had the adventure we wanted.

And, when I calculated the cost of booking the hotels on my own, the value is tremendous. Self-guided cycling trips are also significantly less expensive than guided tours, perhaps as much as 40% less.

Biking through Durnstein Castle on the Danube Bike Trail as night falls © 2012 Karen Rubin/

I was very impressed with the pre-trip information provided by Bike Tours Direct – the packing list especially, and the detailed instructions on how to get to each place, beginning with how to get to the train station from the Munich Airport (shuttle bus, the fare, even the schedule), the schedule for trains (we were happily surprised to find we could purchase a family fare at less cost than a single adult ticket purchased in advance from the US by another couple), and how to get to the first hotel in Passau (taxi proved to be the best way, but it was the only taxi we ever needed to take during our trip), as well as how to get to the train station in Vienna, the end point of the trip.

Before we left the US, I had a list of all the hotels, but not the actual vouchers. When we checked into the first hotel in Passau, I received a fax telling me that the bike company rep would arrive early evening with the bikes, vouchers and guide materials.

I called the company to arrange for the guide to come earlier, and he did. He brought a selection of bikes (the company had already asked for our sizes to make sure they would have appropriate bikes), and we tried them out, and he made any adjustments, fitted them with panniers, gave us a repair kit and spare tire. We also received the most wonderful Danube Bike Trail book (one per room).

Taking the ferry across the Danube from Mauthausen to Enns © 2012 Karen Rubin/

Then he provided us with sheets that detailed the route for our trip, and spent about an hour with us telling us which side of the Danube to travel on because of the sightseeing features or because the trail was better (there is a north and south Danube trail); how you cross over on bridges and ferries (ferries cost about 2E each trip and take a few minutes, however, he forgot to warn us that the ferries shut down at a certain hour). He marked on the trail where the hotel was on the route for each night (based on the book, we could approximate how many kilometers we would need to travel each day), and our instruction sheet gave precise information on how to find the hotel from the route, and how to get back to the trail the next day (some of the hotels were located on the route and were never more than a short distance off it).

Leaving the Dieplinger Guesthouse, ideally set right on the Danube Bike Trail. The charming guesthouses were the most pleasant surprise of our trip © 2012 Karen Rubin/

The hotels were the most delightful surprise of all. I booked the “C” category (the lowest cost), expecting these to be modest, very local hotels (I mean, if we would have done the trip purely ourselves, we would be looking at hostels), and, remembering back to by college backpacking days, was expecting bathrooms to be located down the hall. In fact, each of the hotels was charming, comfortable, immaculately clean, with private bathrooms and televisions (some had Internet available); each served breakfast in a charming dining room, and each guesthouse also offered a restaurant for dinner.

We could have purchased a dinner option, but I made a good choice in opting for having more choices when we traveled. One of the pleasures was finding local restaurants, and sometimes we just got hungry before we reached the hotel or guesthouse and would find a lovely place along the route in a village. Twice, though, we arrived so late, the guesthouse accommodated us for dinner and this was most pleasant, as well.

One of these was the Jägerwirt, which proved the most charming of all. Located just off the trail, amid cornfields and farms, we rode the last hour in dusk and made it to the guesthouse just as full darkness set in (thank goodness for the bike lights) at 8:30 pm. The proprietor, Johanna Landerl a delightful woman who is also the chef, said there would be no problem in having dinner (especially since there was nothing else around), and her recipes were absolutely inspired, gorgeous presentation (we were struck by a flowers that looked exactly like parrots, arranged around the lip of a glass of water). It was the best meal of our trip, washed down with the local beer.

The book you receive at your start hotel is Danube Bike Trail, a 200-page, English-language book of maps, route information, sightseeing, and photographs in a 9″x5″ book format made especially for cycling.

The bike book became our Bible, providing details about important sights to see along the way (even hours of operation), in one case, advising that route on the north side of the Danube was more physically arduous and involved getting closer to cars than the south side which was recommended for families with children (that’s for me!). But it always was simplest to revert back to the map with the hand-drawn directional arrows and stops marked on it by Justin, the BikeToursDirect representative, and the notes I made from our first evening.

I thought we would be riding about 30-35 miles a day, but somehow, it seemed to work out more to  40-60 miles, partly because we got lost, or missed the ferry, or had a detour, or we backtracked to do what we missed the day before. And that was fine, because you aren’t riding continuously, and because the trail is mostly flat, even going slightly downhill in the easterly Passau-Vienna direction.

Biking across a bridge on our way to tour Melk Abbey © 2012 Karen Rubin/

Expect to ride 4-6 hours a day, and take 2-4 hours for sightseeing. That’s not a problem in summer when the days are long (got dark at 8:30 pm).. Our routine was to start off at about 10:30 am and arrive at 8:30 pm. If you want to ride less during the day or sightsee more, you can opt for the 9 or 10-day trip instead. Otherwise you should arrange for at least one night in Munich before the start of the trip, and at least two nights in Vienna at the end.

Being self-guided, we are mostly on our own, without the benefit of a van in case that day’s ride was too arduous, as guided trips usually have. But if it would have been necessary (which it wasn’t), we could have taken a train or ship along the way. Many trains have cars specifically for bicycles, and ships carry them with no problem as well. And we had phone numbers for repair shops along the way.

A bike holiday is definitely, the best way to see, experience and travel the world.

BikeToursDirect serves as a central resource for bicycle tours around the world, representing nearly 60 tour companies that offer almost 300 tours in 40 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North America. Tours in new destinations such as Cambodia, Tibet, Jordan, Mexico, Bhutan, and Nepal add to programs in ever-popular regions like Tuscany, Provence, and the Loire and Danube Valleys.

BikeToursDirect offers a variety of resources to help travelers choose tours and handles the entire booking and payment process. For more information, visit,  call 877-462-2423 or 423-756-8907, email:

See also:

Danube Bike Trail Ride is Trip of a Lifetime and slideshow

Day 1 on the Danube Bike Trail: Passau-Eferding and slideshow

On the Danube Bike Trail, Day 2: Eferding-Linz-Au/Donau and slideshow

On the Danube Bike Trail, Day 3: Au/Donau-Mauthausen-Enns-Persenbeug and slideshow

On the Danube Bike Trail, Day 4: Persenbeug-Durnstein-Krems and slideshow

On the Danube Bike Trail, Days 5-6: Krems-Tulln-Vienna and slideshow

Seeing Vienna by Bike and slideshow


© 2012 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit, and Send comments or questions to Blogging at ‘Like’ us at


On the Danube Bike Trail, Days 5-6: Krems-Tulln-Vienna

Self-Guided Trip from Passau-Vienna is Ideal for Family

by Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman and Dave E. Leiberman

The charming historic district of Krems, where we start out day © 2012 Karen Rubin/

The fellows – my two adult sons whom I am sharing this self-guided biking trip along the Danube Bike Trail – have decided to sleep in this morning, our fifth day on the trail since we left Passau, so I stroll over from the Parkhotel, into the historic district which has been converted to a pedestrian zone, and watch it come to life.

I walk through the city’s major landmark, the Steiner Tor, the ancient gate to the old city built in 1480 with four Gothic towers with Baroque embellishments added in 1754.

We enjoy another marvelous breakfast at the Parkhotel-Krems (, a delightful small city-hotel fronting the park, and after, stroll with the fellows through Old City, now bustling with people.

A street band plays American jazz and popular music – “My Way”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”

Riding through the picturesque historic city of Stein, Austria, on the Danube Bike Trail © 2012 Karen Rubin/

It’s noonish when we start today’s ride (about 43 km to Tulln). At my insistence (and after we get lost getting out of Krems, which compared to the places we have traveled so far, is a big city), we backtrack to neighboring Stein, which was such a pretty old city. A church bell tolls as we cross the bridge from Stein, from the north to the south side of Danube.

The trail turns away from the river and I think about how wonderful the Danube Bike Trail has been throughout  – these surprising, picturesque and interesting scenes and settings, the variety of what we see.

A castle on a hill comes into view on the Danube Bike Trail © 2012 Karen Rubin/

Suddenly, we are riding through cornfields and farms again, a castle looming on a hilltop in the distance; another turn and we are in village, rambling along on cobblestones. A church comes into view, always the centerpoint and soon again, we ride on a berm beside the Danube River.

This isn’t what I expected from the Danube Bike Trail – and our 6-day ride between Passau Germany and Vienna Austria. I imagined it to be a path beside the river and parts are like that. But this is so much more – every moment the scene changes with such variety – now we pass ruins of a castle high on a hill, a monastery, now we veer off to visit a village or old city.

The trail is magnificent, and gives you the best experience of touring by bike (see slideshow).

We see things at the pace and perspective of being perched on a bicycle, putting you in the scene. The scene is always new and unfolding, like a movie, only it is we that are moving. It is exciting to see it, frame by frame, but fluid and flowing.

Each day, we put out our bags in the lobby, and at night, after a day’s adventure, we pull in to hotel or guesthouse  and see our bags  again – what a welcome sight.

The ride today from Krems to Tulln is anticlimatic compared to yesterday’s exciting attractions and dramatic scenes and compared to the adventure we had the day before.

Zwentendorf was built but never opened as a nuclear plant, now used to research photovoltaics © 2012 Karen Rubin/

But one area of interest is when we come to the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant alongside the river. It was built, but never opened, Justin, our representative from BikeToursDirect, told us when he gave us our orientation at the start of our trip.

Apparently, the government built the reactor and only held the referendum to authorize opening it after it was already built. The referendum was narrowly defeated less because of opposition to nuclear power but because of the Governor had become unpopular. This was two years before Chernobyl. Today, the facility is used for research in photovoltaics. It is striking to see.

The plant has taken on new significance in light of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. As Joëlle Stolz of Le Monde, writes:

Cold and concrete, the building is a mausoleum of sorts, a monument to Austria’s thwarted nuclear ambitions, which died on the vine thanks to a 1978 referendum.

Nowadays this same area of lower Austria features an almost complete range of energy alternatives — projects that presumably would not have been needed had the Zwentendorf been allowed to operate. There is a hydroelectric plant, a bio-ethanol station operated by the multinational sugar company Agrana, and plenty of solar panels. There is also a waste incinerator built opposite the abandoned nuclear plant.

Back in 1978, the rest of the world commiserated with Austria – which had invested millions in the project and was suddenly obliged to give up its dreams of joining the nuclear elite. But since Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, people are now looking at Austria as a pioneer. Austria’s chancellor, Werner Fayman, recently called for “a major public debate on nuclear energy not just in Europe, but in the world as a whole.”

Swimming in the Danube River © 2012 Karen Rubin/

About 8 km outside of Tulln, our destination for the day, the boys find a pebble beach where people are swimming in the Danube River.  They join in

Even with our late start today, it is only 4:30 pm -a record for us) when we arrive at Tulln, a garden city, and as we ride the trail, we find ourselves alongside the city’s main botanical gardens. We are used to arriving when it is already dark, but today’s early arrival is a – we are used to arriving in the dark – a combination of not much sightseeing – except for a swim in the Danube – and only about 43 km of travel.

Nibelungenhof, our cozy guesthouse inTulln, is right beside the Danube Bike Trail. The inn was completely renovated in 2005 and has 18 rooms © 2012 Karen Rubin/

We arrive at the Nibelungenhof, a cozy guesthouse right beside the trail, that is utterly, scrumptiously charming . Literally, you can eat it up – a green stucco inn with Mediterranean style roof, lovely dining room and outdoor terrace.  The hotel was completely renovated in 2005 and has 18 rooms (

My room is green with pink-colored furnishings and Victorian style furniture. Very charming, but cramped, but it has a nice bathroom, remote-control TV. I am completely content.

I ride around the town while the fellows rest, then we all ride for hour – see where Tulln Gardens are – watching as the sun sets behind a modern bridge.

Biking beyond Tulln’s fountains © 2012 Karen Rubin/

We find a restaurant, Gastgarten, which is also along the trail and the river which boasts “Plain and natural cooking,” and “only meat from cattle that have been ranched by farmers following their principles of organic farming Nevertheless we are able to offer true high class dining at a reasonable price.”  It boasts spirits distilled by private supplier, Michael Neuberger from Donnerskirchen in the Burgenland. We take advantage of a coupon from the local tourist office for a free glass of wine – quite good, indeed.

The most intriguing items on the menu are a black pudding fried, and served with warm cabbage salad, 6.50, made with pork sausage and something to do with blood heated and congealed (I gather). Also, best neck of pork with cucumber, garlic cream and fried potatoes (8.60).

So much of the fun has been stopping at cafes, beer gardens and sampling local food and ambiance. Most of the time we don’t even know what the menu item is – the boys just ask what is the house specialty. They are invariably wonderful locations, where local people come.

Day 6 on the Danube Bike Trail: Tulln-Vienna

This is our last day riding on the Danube Bike Trail. We started out six days ago in Passau, Germany, and today, we will be riding into Vienna, a distance I estimate of about 210 miles. Each day has been glorious and different.

A woman from the DonauRadFreunde Travel Agency, the local operator that BikeToursDirect uses for this itinerary, calls us at the Nibelungenhof guesthouse to ask us how everything going. It is as if they have been keeping an eye out for us all along, even though we are on a self-guided bike tour, just my two 20-something sons and me.

All along, we have pretty much tried to follow the route laid out by Justin, the guide who oriented us to our trip when we started out in Passau, whose suggestions of when to ride on the north or the south sides of the Danube and what attractions and sights to see, have been spot-on. But I use this opportunity to ask whether to take the north or south side of the Danube Trail into Vienna, how many kilometers the ride is, what to do with bikes when we get to Vienna, and can we keep the bikes for the next day until we have to leave?

She says the south side (where we are) is a little shorter route but goes next to the street but the north side is more beautiful and you come over Danube Island, a preserve built to mitigate flooding in Vienna, which has no traffic. But she says we can stay south to Klosterneuburg, then cross a bridge to the north – 35 km.

Now we are conflicted because a lady at the Tulln hotel recommends to stay on the south side because the north is boring.

We set out at 10:15 am, deciding to start on the south side and take the shorter route.  I am anxious to get into Vienna as early as possible, since we will have less than a day to see the city.

Riding the Danube Bike Trail toward Klosterneuburg Abbey © 2012 Karen Rubin/

he highlight of the ride is passing by the Klosterneuburg Abbey – the most scenic part of the trail, today. Klosterneuburg seems like a interesting city, but I press on to get to Vienna, which is very near.

We stay on the south side instead of crossing over to the north (probably a mistake in terms of scenery, just as the bike company representative said).

Soon the landscape changes completely from rural to urban. We find ourselves on a path that is reminiscent of the Hudson River Conservancy path in Manhattan. There is a canal on one side, and asphalt, buildings and bustle on the other.

We’ve arrived at Vienna! © 2012 Karen Rubin/

We have arrived.

BikeToursDirect serves as a central resource for bicycle tours around the world, representing nearly 60 tour companies that offer almost 300 tours in 40 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North America. BikeToursDirect offers a variety of resources to help travelers choose tours and handles the entire booking and payment process. For more information, visit,  call 877-462-2423 or 423-756-8907, email:

See next:

On the Danube Bike Trail: Seeing Vienna by Bike

See also:

Danube Bike Trail Ride is Trip of a Lifetime

On the Danube Bike Trail, Day 2: Eferding-Linz-Au/Donau

On the Danube Bike Trail, Day 3: Au/Donau-Mauthausen-Enns-Persenbeug

On the Danube Bike Trail, Day 4: Persenbeug-Durnstein-Krems

© 2012 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit,, and Blogging at Send comments or questions to ‘Like’ us at