Europe’s size, diversity, and cycling culture make it the perfect destination for a month-long tour.
Each border crossing brings a new language, centuries of history, and local flair. The Capitals Route, arranged by Eurovelo, guides you along 5,500 kilometers of rolling landscape and national treasures, focusing on seven capital cities on the way.
Starting on Ireland’s western coast, you’ll follow the route, also known as Eurovelo 2, through the United Kingdom and on to the European mainland. After leaving the sea behind, you’ll head east and north, through the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Belarus, and a portion of Russia, finishing in Moscow. Many riders choose to do sections of the path, or combine parts of it with one Eurovelo’s remaining seventeen routes.
While some far eastern parts of the Capitals Route are still in the planning stage, it follows a network of bike paths and other infrastructure deemed cyclist-safe until Poland’s border with Belarus. Completing a portion of the ride is a reasonable goal for first-time bike tourists, but the entire route can be undertaken by the casual cyclist as well- as long as you’re mentally prepared to spend a few weeks living by bike.
Eurovelo’s interactive online map tool is the best resource for planning your trip. The solid line pictured on the map indicates established stretches of the route, while the dotted line signifies that portion remains in progress. Dashed lines mean the route is not yet complete, but based on bicycle infrastructure that is already in place. If you are hesitant to ride a portion that hasn’t been deemed complete by Eurovelo, consider designing your tour based on connecting EuroVelo routes; instead of heading west, join a route that crosses that continent north to south, for example. Using Europe’s train system is another way to customize your tour; make sure the train of your choice accepts bikes onboard before purchasing a ticket.
The Irish leg of the Capitals journey, starting in Galway and ending in Dublin, is mostly ready to welcome riders, save for the stretch connecting Galway to Athlone.
The path linking the two cities is still under development as part of the national 270 kilometer Galway to Dublin Cycleway. Starting in Athlone will put you a few days ahead of the game as you head towards Dublin.
Between Athlone and Mulllingar, you’ll be pedaling along a former rail corridor before moving on the Royal Canal Way and Ireland’s eastern coastline.
From the Irish capital, you will continue on to the United Kingdom via the Dublin-Holyhead ferry, which takes a little over three hours and runs multiple times a day – fortunately your bicycle can make the passage onboard as your plus one!
Soon after hitting dry land again on the Isle of Anglesey, you’ll be making your way through Wales’ Snowdonia National Park. Views of the highest mountain in Wales (called Yr Wyddfa in Welsh) will follow you eastward, through Brecon Beacons National Park and on to Cardiff, your second capital city thus far. Welsh language and culture is a unique part of the United Kingdom’s identity, and you’ll experience it firsthand as you cross the island’s western half.
Past the city of Bristol, gateway to the River Avon, you’ll ride canal side, then get on the Thames Path Cycle Route that leads to London. If you’ve been feeling less like a tourist and more like an athlete throughout your trip, take a leisurely ride from the Tower of London to Big Ben along the Thames and devote a day to at least one of London’s quintessential locales. Out of London, another ferry ride awaits you and your (newly) seafaring bike at the port of Harwich. Conveniently, ferries run both during the day and overnight.
The Dutch National Cycle Route system will be your go-to resource throughout the Netherlands, as the Capitals Route links two of the network’s paths. The LF4, followed by the LF8, will take you smoothly from The Hague to the German Border near Vreden. You’ll pass the urban hubs of Utrecht and Arnhem, and plenty of pastoral panoramas in between.
In Germany, you’ll be introduced to yet another national route system as you follow one of the German Cycling Network’s renowned D- Routes. The D-Routes are long distance rides that connect the country in nearly every direction, used by Germans and international visitors to get to know the far reaches of the country. You’ll be catching D- Route 3, which comes in at just over 950 kilometers.
You might expect the highlight of the German section to be culture-savvy Berlin, but the wealth of historical relics, idyllic towns and river scenery that precede your entry into the capital come pretty close. Germany hosts portions of ten Eurovelo Routes, meaning you can be creative and join another route if you want to stay in Central Europe (Eurovelo 13, also known as The Iron Curtain Trail promises rugged shores and nautical history as it traverses Germany and Poland’s Baltic Coasts). Once in Berlin, take a day to cycle a mere six kilometers along a stretch of the Berlin Wall, starting at the expressive East Side Gallery murals.
From the German-Polish border on, the official Capitals Route is classified as in the “Planning Stage,” meaning you may have to improvise and research cycling conditions before hitting the road. The general route is mapped out, and you can use it as a framework to shape the rest of your journey, but don’t expect signage or an abundance of cycling services.
At the German border, Poland will welcome you at the entrance to one of its twenty-three national parks, after which you’ll weave through small towns until you reach Poznan. There, you’ll find yourself pedaling in the shadow of Renaissance architecture in one of Poland’s oldest cities; don’t miss Cathedral Island, the birthplace of the city of Poznan and home to a house of worship that dates back to the tenth century. For those who prefer a beachy end to their tour over Moscow, EuroVelo Route 9 crosses through Poznan, leading all the way south to the Croatian town of Pula. This option takes you through six nations before reaching the Adriatic Sea.
If you stay on the Capitals Route, you will get to know the haunting history and rebuilt cityscape of Poland’s capital next. Ride along the Vistula River to sandy Praga beach, a tiny oasis right across the water from the rooftops and steeples of Old Town. After a day or two in Warsaw, look forward to riding through Bialowieski National Park, Europe’s most precious old-growth forest (park entry requires a ticket). Disappear into its ancient groves via a series of marked trails and emerge from Poland’s revered woodland and wildlife sanctuary to meet the Belarussian border.
The route continues through the National Park, which spans the border between Poland and Belarus. This stage of the route remains in progress, so plan ahead. The drafted route runs through six of the country’s districts, featuring restored architecture, tight knit communities, and a true taste of the Belarussian country side, dotted with unexpected reminders of a turbulent history. After a pit stop in Minsk, you’ll be off towards the Russian border- and your seventh and final capital.
Don’t miss the Katyn Memorial outside of Smolensk, a crucial marker of not only Russian history, but Poland’s role in it as well. Once in Moscow, ring in the finish line with a loop around the Red Square before settling in for a few days of well deserved sightseeing. Like many of the capitals on the route, one of Moscow’s most relaxing casual bike paths runs along the bank of the meandering Moscow River.
While Eurovelo doesn’t supply a list of available campgrounds, inns, and other lodging along the Capitals Route, a bit of research will go far. Countries with more established cycling route networks often publish information about lodging along their routes. Though bike touring is always unpredictable, it helps to plan out a general itinerary that includes potential places to stay before you leave; you don’t want to find yourself stranded.
Be aware of your ideal daily distance and plan lodging based on how many kilometers you can comfortably ride in a day. If straying off route, make sure you stay on established bike paths to avoid getting caught in a torrent of traffic or other unsafe conditions.
Once you’re ready to begin, it’s time to get excited to tour some of Europe’s top destinations from a vantage point that is hard to recreate by any other means of transportation. Allow rest days for exploring, resting your muscles and filling up on local cuisine; you’ll need the calories.
As a traveling cyclist, you’ll meet locals, take in roadside attractions and challenge yourself long before you roll into any of the seven famous capitals (though that will be a moment to remember as well)! Eurovelo’s Capitals Route is special in the counterintuitive way it allows you to appreciate the in-between as much as it does the continent’s greatest cities.