Best Biking Trails in Europe, Part 2: Lake Constance

Germany, Switzerland, Austria (& Liechtenstein)
260km (161mi), 3-6 days

Three countries meet at the shores of the largest lake in the German-speaking world (with a fourth just a half-day’s ride away), allowing the excitement of a multicountry tour while maintaining the close pespective of cycling — all in under a week!

Gentle lakeside terrain together with a well-marked bicycle route through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland combine in a unique, enjoyable tour packed with views — a tour that’s one of my top favorites in all Europe. Castles, vinyeards, medieval towns, and prehistoric sites punctuate a typical day’s ride, and Switzerland’s Alps form a spectacular backdrop to the sail-dotted waters of Lake Constance (aka Bodensee). An excellent cycling guide to the area, Bodensee Radweg by Bikeline, makes touring even easier with its maps and detailed information on sites, accommodations, bike shops, and more.

This is a a great trip for all but the most hardcore cyclists who might seek a less popular and more challenging ride in the nearby Alps. I’ve done the Bodensee ride three times — once alone, once with my husband and our young son, and once as leader of a high school group — so I can attest to its suitability for kids. Unteruhldingen’s open-air museum and Friedrichshafen’s Zeppelin museum score especially high with kids.

The most convenient places to begin this ride are Konstanz and Lindau, both easily reached by train. It’s also possible to start or end the tour a day’s ride away in Schaffhausen, Switzlerland, with its impressive Rheinfall (Rhine waterfall; 48km/30mi from Konstanz). Ferries link many points around the lake, allowing cyclists to shorten parts of the ride or even tackle this ride from a single “home base.”

The lake is shaped more or less like a fish, with Bregenz at its “nose” in the east and Konstanz at the junction of the forked “tail” on the western end. Konstanz is small enough to get an overview in a single afternoon, but big enough to make for a full day stopover too. The main sights are the historic Rathaus (town hall) and Münster (cathedral), as well as lovely Stadtgarden with its views over the lake.

Every day of this ride makes for superlative biking, but most points of particular interest and the best views can be found along the northern, German shore of the ride. There, you’ll pedal through vineyards and orchards while looking over the water to the Alps in the south. That means even a long weekend is enough to experience the “best of” this ride between Konstanz and Lindau (plus or minus Bregenz and/or Schaffhausen).

Day 1: Konstanz to Meersburg - 64km (40mi)
Follow Bodensee Radweg signs (a bicycle with the rear wheel colored blue) out of Konstanz, heading for Meersburg, a distance of 64km around the upper arm of the lake (Überlingersee). The first half of this ride is the only difficult part of this tour, crossing a quiet hilly area between the lake’s western arms. However, many cyclists take advantage of ferries to shortcut to the lake’s northern shore. The first ferry is just outside Konstanz, heading directly to Meersburg. However, that isn’t just a shortcut — it misses all the best sights of day 1! So ride on for Mainau, a lush garden island reached via a causeway that’s well worth an hour’s exploration (entrance fee €12).

Once you’ve seen your fill of exotic species and beautiful flowers, continue on the bike trail around Überlingersee with signs for Bodman. The lake’s English name stems from the town of Konstanz but the German name comes from this small town at the western end of the Überlingersee. One-third of the way to Bodman lies the town of Wallhausen with ferry service to Überlingen on the north shore — a shortcut worth considering that will roughly halve this day’s total.

Either way, Überlingen is the next point of moderate interest along the way, with good examples of the usual historic buildings (Rathaus and Münster) as well as a well-preserved moat and several guard towers. 7km later you’ll arrive at a real gem, Birnau. This is a pilgrimage church surrounded by vineyards and commanding a tremendous view of the Swiss Alps across the lake. The church’s Rococo interior and terrace views make the detour uphill worthwhile.

Next up on the trail is Unteruhldingen with its amazing Freilichtmuseum Pfahlbauten where you can explore reconstructed post-house settlements built right over the lake by the area’s earliest settlers (a UNESCO World Heritage site, dating from 3000 BC). Even if you’re not initially excited about archaeology or the €12 entrance fee, you’ll find this wonderful museum a real highlight of the Bodensee bike tour.

Just 5km later, you’ll pass Meersburg’s ferry landing and pedal into the pretty lower town. Two castles crown Meersburg, a well preserved medieval town. The Altes Schloß has the distinction of being Germany’s oldest inhabited castle with parts dating to the seventh century. Although it is tempting to simply enjoy the view from below, trek to the upper town for a close look at the castles, Martkplatz, Rathaus, and ancient, twisting streets.

Day 2: Meersburg to Lindau - 48km (30mi)
Another day of highlights and easy cycling will bring you to the Bodensee’s most unique town, Lindau, near the eastern end of the lake. But first, you’ll reach Friedrichshafen, 19km out of Meersburg. This small city is synonymous with Count Zeppelin, who invented and tested his distinctive flying machines here. We spent a good hour in the Zeppelin Museum and found the €12 well-spent. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a real-life zeppelin flying overhead — scenic flights are scheduled regularly!

A concentration of pretty towns (Langenargen, Nonnenhorn, and Wasserburg) toward the end of the ride will slow your progress to Lindau. One special highlight is the suspension bridge over the river Argen. Built in 1896, it was one of the first of its kind in Germany and served as inspiration for San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

In Nonnenhorn, keep your eyes open for the Weintorkel on the left — a huge, historic wine press. Not long after, you’ll reach pretty Wasserburg with its castle and lakeside promenade. Only 6km later, you’ll cross one of two long bridges that connect Lindau to the mainland like mooring lines, making the island appear only temporarily anchored in place, able to move about the lake with the sailboats.

Lindau’s unique island character, along with its historic harbor and old town, make it a favorite Bodensee sight — and a great place to look back over all the ground you’ve covered. Accommodations on the island can be pricy, but there’s a hostel and other budget accommodations just over on the mainland and a campground 3km down the road. Wherever you end up, it’s nice to end the day with dinner and a harborside walk in the old town.

Day 3: Lindau to Konstanz - 80km (50mi)
I like to celebrate international border crossings by ringing my bike bell, and on this day, it saw plenty of action with three countries on the menu! The ride back to Konstanz is entirely flat and easy to follow with the exception of a short, zig-zagging stretch in Austria. Bikers with more time can also leave the lake shore for a 48km (30mi) one-way detour to Vaduz, capital of tiny Liechtenstein, making this a four-country ride. Bike trails to Vaduz are clearly marked and will bring you right into the tiny principality and a spectacular section of the Alps, so it’s well worth the detour and an extra night on your itinerary.

But Austria comes first, with its own 28km of lakeshore. The only town of note is Bregenz, with its lakeside promenade and Festspielhaus. That huge, open-air concert/theatre built right over the lake is world-famous in the German-speaking world, and a scene in the James Bond film “Quantum of Solace” played there.

After Bregenz, follow red bike route signs on a serpentine route to Hard, Fußach, and Schweiz (Switzerland). You’ll cross the Rhine and enter Switzerland, where the usual Bodensee Radweg signs are supplemented by square blue bicycle signs and solid red arrows indicating Radweg (bike path) and each successive town.

The two best places for a break are Arborn, with its pretty port backed by old town towers, and Romanshorn, with its colourful harbour scene. Ferries connect these to Konstanz, back in Germany. Once back in Konstanz, you will have circled the main body of the lake, leaving only one last day trip around the Untersee (lower arm of the lake) to make your Bodensee tour complete.

Day 4: Untersee day trip - 75km (47mi)
The official Bodensee route will lead you around the lower lake on a combination of separate trails and sections of road, all starting from the bridge spanning the lake’s narrow neck at German/Swiss border just west of Konstanz. As you pedal the Untersee’s south shore, the lake will gradually narrow and eventually funnel out as a river at Stein am Rhein.

Stein an Rhein is a pictureque town with beautifully painted houses, an excellent place for a break. From there, the Bodensee trail continues looping around the Untersee, but another great option is to cycle 20km west to Schaffhausen and the impressive Rheinfall (Rhine waterfall) and nd your ride there. To do so, simply follow the north bank of the Rhine westward.

Otherwise, follow the official route back into Germany to visit the last important site on the lake, Insel Reichenau, now connected to the mainland by a causeway. Monastic centers on this quiet island date back to the seventh century, with the 11th century wall paintings in St. Georg church being the island’s principal attraction. Reichenau is only 4km across, a lovely place to explore. Finally, retrace your route to the mainland and return to Konstanz along a busier road.

Ferries connect several points along the Untersee, making it easy to trim a few kilometers off this ride. The cutest is the little solar ferry that trundles between Mannenbach on the south shore to Insel Reichenau, but only on calm, sunny days! A bigger ferry connects Konstanz to Schaffhausen, with stops at Insel Reichanau and Stein am Rhein.

This tour ends back in Konstanz, where you can look out over the lake, replay the highlights of your trip, and plan your next bicycle tour. Check out my post on biking the Mosel Valley for details on one great destination to consider!

Full disclosure: I usually take pride in only posting my own photos here, but I’ve added a few from royalty-free image sites since mine mostly feature school groups or my family.

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!