The Bodensee, or Lake Constance in English, is a lake and mountain region that winds around the borders of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The area, with its stunning natural beauty and relaxed atmosphere, is a popular vacation spot for those in the know -- yet remains relatively under the radar to most of the world. While there are plenty of reasons for travelers to visit, the appeal of Lake Constance is particularly high with bicyclists of all skills and levels.
The 170-mile cycle path that winds around the circumference of the lake is a wide and flat track void of car traffic in a majority of its length, making it an easy yet rewarding cycling trip for beginner cyclists and even children. Most cyclists take between four and eight days to complete the loop, though it's likely that you'll want to leave plenty of time to explore the stunning vistas and quaint towns rich in history within the region. Here, our guide for biking the Bodensee.
Top sights in the German Portion
Meersburg Castle, overlooking Lake Constance from the German side, dates back to the 7th century and is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Germany. Portions of the castle are open for self-guided tours year-round (€9.50), but most parts are restricted as they're currently occupied by the residents.
Over in Lindau, a lovely town with impressive views of the Swiss Alps, explore the medieval houses and half-timbered buildings. Lindau’s promenade is bustling with lakeside restaurants and cafes, street performers and musicians, and artisans touting their handmade wares. If you have your bike with you, it's best to walk your bikes through this part of town before pedaling through the less crowded streets away from the promenade.
The town of Konstanz is home to the Münster Cathedral, a towering structure in the center of Münsterplatz (€2). Here, find a number of architectural styles dating back to 1100 AD, when the north tower was originally built.
Top Sights in the Swiss Portion
Visitors to the Swiss side of Lake Constance are well-advised to venture slightly off-course from the water to visit the Abbey of Saint Gall, a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site and Roman Catholic complex dating back to the Middle Ages. The structure boasts an impressive Medieval library, one of the richest in the world with over 160,000 priceless tomes.
Tack on an additional 74 miles round-trip to visit the magnificent Rhine Falls -- 450 feet wide and 75 feet high --near the Swiss town of Schaffhausen. Tip: Ascend the steep and narrow stairs that lead to several access points along the Rhine for better views of the falls. Wörth Castle is also located nearby and can be visited on the same day.
Top Sights in the Austrian Portion
Bregenz is the main town in the Austrian section of the bicycle path, and many cyclists choose to stop here for a break as it offers the most amenities in the region. Try to time your visit to Bregenz during the Bregenz Festival, held every July and August, in order to catch a spectacular theatre production at the Seebühne -- the 7,000 seat amphitheatre and floating stage.
If you have the energy, hike to the top of Pfänder mountain to take in the impressive 360-degree views. Too tired from all the cycling, or simply don’t have the two to three extra hours to spare? There’s a cable car that will zip you to the top (€12.50 in summer and €10.40 in winter round-trip).
Although there's no official start point, the German side of Bodensee seems to be the most accessible and popular. Friedrichshafen International airport and train station are located just a 45-minute drive from Meersburg, the main town for travelers to base themselves in Bodensee. Ferries are also readily on hand for crossings into the major port cities that dot the lakeside. (Check the ports for listed departure times, which vary throughout the year.)
Other Insider Tips
There are a few tour companies in the area that will help transport baggage for a small fee per bag per stop. Enquire at your starting point for rates and relieve yourself of the extra burden so that you can focus on the ride itself.
The summer months are the busiest of the year and hotels can book out early. Plan your route in advance and be sure to arrange for accommodations ahead of time. Some tour operators can offer hotel packages to help with the planning. Many families also offer vacation home rentals, which offer comfortable accommodations on a budget.