Best Biking Trails in Europe, Part 1: Mosel Valley

263km (163mi), 4-6 days

There are lots of great biking destinations in Europe, but only a few tick all the boxes: easy-going riding, beautiful views, and convenience. That’s why the meandering Mosel Valley is one of my favorite bicycle touring destinations in all Europe. Cycling allows a relaxed pace and closeup view of medieval towns, Roman ruins, and sloping vineyards. The Rhine Valley portion of this trip is much more bustling, but it is a great way to extend your tour while seeing the most dramatic, castle-packed stretch of the river — in fact, it lays claim to the greatest density of castles in the world!

In the Mosel valley, you’ll enjoy easy cycling on well-marked riverside trails, so you rarely have to consult a map — just follow Mosel Radweg signs. You’re never more than 10km away from the nearest room, hostel, or campground, and it’s easy to reach the start and end points of this tour by train (plus most of the places in between). Nowhere are the advantages of bicycle travel better combined with a beautiful natural setting, interesting historic sights, and an array of convenient travel services.

Note: the Mosel Valley is a popular destination for travelers of all kinds, including many cyclists. But while some towns swell with tourists during peak times, most go about their traditional way of life undisturbed. The best time to do this tour is early fall when the vineyards start to show brilliant colors. There’s no advantage to cycling this route in a particular direction since the altitude change is minimal.

Trier, the starting point of this trip, is easily reached by train from Koblenz. It’s best known for the imposing Porta Negra, a monumental gateway that’s one of the biggest, best-preserved examples of Roman architectural outside Italy. The nearby amphitheater and baths are also interesting, as is the medieval town square and impressive Dom (cathedral). While in town, keep your eyes peeled for Marx’s birthplace (Karl’s, not Groucho’s).

There are many places to break up the ride, so the following is just an outline you can adjust to suit your pace and interests. I won’t attempt to describe the trail since it’s so well marked, but I do recommend the excellent Mosel-Radweg guide by Bikeline, which has maps of every segment of the trail and lists of bike shops, accommodations, etc. Although written in German, it’s easy to understand. I’ll list other handy resources at the bottom of this post.

DAY 1: TRIER to BERNKASTEL-KUES - 64km (40mi)
Well-marked bike paths and beautiful valley scenery make for idyllic cycling over this first day of the ride. Like the Mosel itself, the bike trail takes some wild detours, but it’s always well-signed. Highlights along the way (other than vineyard benches or shady trees from which to soak in the scenery along the way) include the reconstructed Roman villa near Mehring and a short stretch of original Roman road.

There’s a steady climb in the middle of the day, but you’re rewarded with spectacular views of a dramatic bend in the river. Neumagen, with its Roman Weinschiff (wine ship) and shady churchyard, is one of my favorite stops in the Mosel Valley. This 220 A.D. sculpture depicts a galley with inebriated-looking rowers peeking out between wine barrels, and was part of the tomb marker of a wealthy Roman wine trader.

Bernkastel is a town that has it all — a castle, beautiful surroundings, charming market square with half-timbered houses, wine tasting on every corner — and many, many tourists. Still, it’s a memorable spot to spend the night.

DAY 2/3: BERNKASTEL-KUES to COCHEM - 84km (52mi)
Some will find this 84km day a bit long, especially if you want to poke around the towns and sights along the way. There are plenty of places to break this stretch into two, such as Traben-Trarbach or a tiny town like Bullay close to the midpoint of this segment.

For the first 20km of this ride to Traben-Trarbach, you’ll meander quietly along the river. At one point, you’ll see dramatically situated Starkenburg, perched high above the river on the opposite shore. Take a short detour off the trail to visit lovely Pünderlich, then continue around a curve of the river to Zell, a lively market town with a pleasant river promenade. Alternatively, you can shortcut this horseshoe bend of the river by pedalling up and over the hill at Marienburg, where there’s a historic monastery and incredible views of this narrow “pinch” of the river and the entire Mosel valley. This bend in the river (the “Zeller Hamm”) is 7km around and only 300m across at the narrowest point of the “peninsula”!

Continuing along back at river level, you’ll see the ruins of intriguing Stuben Convent on a bend opposite Bremm. The offical route continues along the west bank all the way to Cochem, but that route bypasses Beilstein. This tiny town is one of the nicest stops in the Mosel Valley, with a little huddle of medieval buildings and a castle only a five-minute hike above.

Cochem is another fantastically preserved medieval town complete with the requisite town square, fountain, and castle. However, it’s also the main Mosel destination for day-trippers detouring from Rhine cruises, so it gets really packed at times.

DAY 3/4: COCHEM to KOBLENZ - 52km (32mi)
As you continue following the Mosel Radweg toward Koblenz, you’ll wind through vineyards all the way to Kobern and Gondorf, both pretty little towns with a castle or castle ruins. For a 10km (one way) detour to Burg Eltz, grind up the road from Moselkern to Wierschem. Or, for a quieter route to the same destination, pedal from Hatzenport to Metternich and then double back to the castle. Burg Eltz is a very picturesque castle that dates back to the 12th century. However, it’s extremely popular with bus tours, so I have to admit to having skipped what is probably a worthwhle detour all three times I biked the Mosel Valley.

As your day continues, you’ll gradually leave the peace of the Mosel behind for the far more bustling Rhine Valley. Once in Koblenz, make your way to the confluence of the two rivers (a place called Deutsches Eck with its monument to Kaiser Wilhelm I) to watch barges go by. Then bid the lovely Mosel goodbye as you prepare for cycling the most dramatic stretch of the Rhine Valley on the final day of this tour.

DAY 4/5: KOBLENZ to BINGEN - 63km (39mi)
Like the river traffic that has flowed through the valley for centuries, you’ll pass through the territory of one percariously perched castle after another during this ride along the Rhine. A steady stream of barges will remind you that rivers weren’t just the Autobahns of a by-gone era — they still continue to serve as a vital artery of commerce in central Europe. There are too many castles for me to detail along this streth — over 40! Suffice to say, you’ll be constantly turning your head from left to right and stopping for photos!

Follow signs out of Koblenz to Rhens and Spay, where you’ll find medieval walls, towers, and a town gate marked with high water marks from past centuries. Farther south, you can wander Boppard’s lively waterfront and pleasant old town streets. St. Goar and Oberwesel are two more nice towns, but the former suffers from over-tourism. The famed Lorelei Cliff makes a very nice picnic view if you can find a quiet spot along the river away from tour groups.

In contrast to all the towering castles and ruins you’ll spot on the upper valley walls is little Burg Pfalzgrafenstein, a toll station built on an islet just north of Bacharach. Once you reach Bacharach itself, duck under the town gate to enter a world of tidy half-timbered houses meandering drunkenly down narrow streets. Time-warped beams are decorated with rhyming verses or Biblical quotes.

From Bacharach to Bingen, you’ll catch views of the last several castles along this busy stretch of the Rhine. Bingen itself isn’t much to write home about, but it does make a convenient end point to this tour, with the densest stretch of castles now behind you — all 40 of them!

You can begin a Mosel tour 115km (71mi) farther “back” in Metz or bike this route in the reverse direction and continue on to see the amazing battlements of Luxembourg City by following some lovely, woodsy bicycle trails from Trier to one of Europe’s smallest countries. Of course, you can also continue south along the Rhine. However, unless you’re hell bent on pedalling one continuous line along the Rhine, you’re better off hopping a train to Strasbourg and re-starting there for great cycling through the best of Alsace.


Note: Check out my post on biking around Lake Constance for details on another great cycling trail in Europe — a three (or four) country loop around the third-largest lake in Europe!

Full disclosure: I usually take pride in only posting my own photos here, but all my Mosel photos were damaged (big bummer!) so I had to resort to royalty-free image sites.

I hope this has been helpful and interesting, either as a planning tool or armchair adventure. For other exciting trips and ideas, click on “HOME” at the top of the page. Thank you for visiting and happy travels!