Cycling the Danube from Budapest to the Black Sea

20 days; 1,470 km

See below for map, elevation profile and GPS tracks.

Beginning in late August we set out to cycle through Eastern Europe along the Danube River, one of the continent’s major waterways. We started in Budapest, Hungary and wound our way through Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania to the Black Sea. Cycling the Danube is a pretty common itinerary among touring cyclists, especially on the initial leg from Germany through Austria to Budapest. South of the Hungarian capital the path becomes poorly marked and conditions become increasingly more adventurous, but don’t let that deter you. This long, flat itinerary is a great way to see Eastern Europe and offers much in the way of cultural and natural beauty.

When to Go

As is the case for many bike tour itineraries, late spring and late summer provide the best weather. The high heat of July and August can be difficult though are by no means extreme in this part of the world. June and September are probably the best months to balance long days, dry weather and cool evenings.

Our trip from August 28th to September 20th afforded us excellent weather with warm though not hot temperatures and only a few rainy days. Many things start to close in mid to late September so be prepared to keep riding if the campground on your map is no longer accepting visitors.

Accommodation

The diverse countries visited on this itinerary each offer their own accommodation options. Compared to Western Europe, organized campgrounds are relatively rare. In Hungary and Serbia they begin to close in the beginning of September. We didn’t find a campground in Bulgaria or Romania until we arrived at the Black Sea. Even then the beaches and amenities were closing for the season leaving us with limited options. Camping on the beach is illegal and we found ourselves in a pension for a few days after our campground closed. On our tour we primarily free-camped, but we stayed in hostels, hotels or holiday cabins when we needed a shower.

In Hungary we easily found places to stealth camp when needed and in one instance were offered space to camp in the empty lot adjacent to the restaurant where we’d had dinner.

In Romania it is legal to camp anywhere that is not private land and you see many locals camped out along the Danube. Armed with the confidence that the law was on our side we took to asking local cops for advice on where to pitch for the night and were always personally shown to a campsite.

Serbia can be a little tricky because they technically require all foreigners to register with the police every night they are in the country. We almost found this out the hard way when we tried to leave Serbia to enter Romania. No one had informed us about these regulations when we entered the country and we didn’t have the papers they wanted.

Turns out each hotel/hostel/campground owner must register every guest and give you a small slip of paper in return. Even when we did pay for accommodation the hotel owners did not always give us the paperwork and we were unaware we needed to ask for it.

The border guard let us go without incident despite the ominous sign describing penalties of 400€ or 14 days in Serbian prison for violations. From what I have read since this regulation is rarely enforced, but I would advise you to always ask for the registration receipt and stealth campers should be aware of potential consequences.

Hotels cost anywhere from $80 for a double room in Bulgaria to $12 for a two-bed cabin in Romania with equal levels of variety in quality and services available. Relying on hotels for accommodation on this route will require set distances and land you in some expensive rooms. This especially holds true in Romania where you will be lucky to find more than one hotel in most towns.

Food and Water

Tap water is safe to drink in Hungary but only in some parts of Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. In many small towns, especially in Romania you will find springs where the locals go to collect drinking water. I am sure it varies spring to spring, but we generally decided this was safe and had no health issues as a result, although we found ourselves purchasing water more often than not.

Small towns on the route will usually have little markets though the items available are very limited and rarely fresh. Big supermarkets can be found in the few large cities along the Danube. There are many bars open all day serving instant coffee and in larger towns you can usually find real coffee as well. Restaurants are relatively cheap and you can expect to pay $5 or less for a big meal.

Budget

We didn’t keep detailed accounting like we normally do, but overall we spent $1,200 for the two of us over the course of 24 days, including three nights in Budapest before we started riding. I estimate that we spent an average of $25.28 per person per day including food, accommodation and incidentals. We ran into some mechanical issues and some bad weather which drove us to relatively expensive accommodation several times, but these variables should be accounted for when planning any tour.

Trip Diary

Over the next few weeks we will be posting entries from our daily touring diary with stories and information on our trip. You can find these posts here starting next week.

Until then here’s a map and elevation profile of our entire route and a link to the gpx track for download (right click-save as). Don’t let the elevation profile mislead you, the climbs are relatively small, they just look steep in the context of the obscenely flat route. The max elevation change from the highest point to the beach in Romania is only 260 meters.

danubemap

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19 Responses to “Cycling the Danube from Budapest to the Black Sea”

  1. Des and Jenan Cannon said:

    Excellent info. We Look forward to reading more, as we are looking to do this trip in 2012 or 2013. We did the Black Forest to Budapest in 2007 and have since cycled the Main, Elbe, North Sea Coast, Rhine, Saale, Ilm, Doubs, Saone and much of Provence. Our email address will be active from 26 Feb. 2011.


    February 18th, 2011 at 1:03 am

  2. Brian Wilkins said:

    Looking forward to reading more about your Danube holiday.My wife and myself with another couple are planning to ride the whole length of the Danube in 2013 over 10 weeks so it is good to get information on this ride


    March 9th, 2011 at 12:37 am

  3. Des and Jenan Cannon said:

    We are now planning on doing this ride in 2012, so look forward to any updates. Note we have had to change our email address.


    March 25th, 2011 at 4:07 am

  4. Luc Minnen said:

    Hi Briana,
    I read your log on the Budapest – Constanta trip with much pleasure. I am planning a trip from St Nazaire to Constanta in 2012. I collected all the gps files I need, exept for the route you did. I tried to download it from your site, but it didn’t work. Would you be so kind to sent me a file containing this gps route?
    Thanks in advance
    Luc Minnen,
    Eindhoven
    The Netherlands


    May 16th, 2011 at 4:34 am

  5. Kyle said:

    Hi Luc,
    I just tried the link and it appears to work if you “right click and save as”. If you are using a mac the “Ctrl + click” should activate the “save as” function. I have also emailed the file to you just in case.

    Best of luck on your trip!


    May 16th, 2011 at 8:29 am

  6. David Minett said:

    Great to hear about your trip but HOW DID YOU GET THE BIKES AND YOUR BODIES back to ……………..well, England from Constanta. Do buses carry bikes or are there airlines which will take them? Thanks
    Dave


    June 3rd, 2011 at 1:44 pm

  7. Kyle said:

    Hi David,

    You can read about our experience shipping our bikes home here http://www.rollglobal.org/2011/05/shipyourstuff/

    We were fortunate enough to have a packable bike which made it relatively easy. If you have a full size bike you can take it on an airplane with you. Usually you will need to procure a bike box from a bike shop and take off your bikes handle bars, pedals, and wheels.

    Airlines usually charge a fee for the oversized box, but it should be less than shipping a box that size using FedEx, UPS or other commercial methods.

    You might find yourself cycling back to Bucharest to catch a flight so plan accordingly and check with the airlines to make sure your bike makes it. Budget airlines will frequently guarantee your bike on the first flight, but put it on will call for connecting flights. It will eventually make it to your final destination.

    Let us know if you have any more questions.

    Good luck on your ride!


    June 3rd, 2011 at 3:02 pm

  8. Tim Salmon said:

    Bikes on trains! We did Constanta back to Budapest by train. It can be done, but you need to be determined. It is not illegal to take bikes on trains in Romania, but they won’t issue tickets for bikes. You have to deal with the ‘conductor’ – the guard – and he is on the lookout for money. Basically, that means bribing him. But on no account give more than €10. A guard may earn €140-50 per month, so €10 is a substantial addition. You may be asked for far more; don’t give in. Or ask for a ‘chitansa,’ a receipt: that cools their ardours. Another problem is there are no luggage vans, so you have to keep the bike with you and watch it. We bought a first class night sleeper ticket from Bucharest – not that expensive – and kept the bikes in our compartment, having bribed the attendant, of course. Veloteca – http://www.veloteca.ro – in Bucharest can do boxes for air travel.


    July 18th, 2011 at 4:42 am

  9. Briana said:

    Thanks for the comment, Tim. This is really useful information! We never attempted to put our bike on the train but several of our travel companions were able to take their bikes on shorter distance trains (Constanta to Bucharest and Drobeta Turnu Severin to Belgrade) without much trouble. My sense is that it depends on who’s operating the train.


    July 18th, 2011 at 8:38 am

  10. Clive and Victoria said:

    Many thanks for a brilliant website! We’re planning to do the Eurovelo 6 next summer so the information you give is invaluable. I’m sure we’ll be in touch again with lots of questions as our plans build.

    Again, many thanks


    September 9th, 2011 at 9:39 am

  11. John Miller said:

    Hi there. Liked the look of your bike. we are south african tandemers and think it will be somewhat difficult to get equipment from here to the start of our proposed trip from Germany to the Dead Sea along the Dnube. have you any suggestions? where did you get your rig? look forward to hearting from you.


    January 8th, 2012 at 12:38 pm

  12. Briana said:

    Hi John, Our bike is a Bike Friday Family Tandem Traveler. Bike Friday is a small bike company from Oregon, USA but they ship globally I believe. The unique thing about the bike is that it is packable. For more you can check out http://www.bikefriday.com/ or read our review of the bike http://www.rollglobal.org/bfreview2000m/. Overall we loved the bike but weren’t as happy about the Bike Friday Trailer system http://www.rollglobal.org/bftrailer.


    January 9th, 2012 at 9:12 am

  13. Geoff Bright said:

    Tardis bike bags (http://www.groundeffect.co.nz) are a great way to go with regard to shipping bikes. We have used ours until they gave out – but they fox the baggage handlers! Our bikes have always arrived in great order. The bags survived a harrowing ordeal – NZ to Libya as excess baggage!


    February 1st, 2012 at 11:09 am

  14. Mary Ryan said:

    Have cycled Passau to Vienna. A brilliant trip. would like o go now to the balck sea. I have cycled coast to coat in Australia and America, Vietnam and many more.


    February 7th, 2012 at 12:18 pm

  15. Lew Brown said:

    I’m planning a 6 week bike trip on the Rhine in spring/summer 2013. Are there any guides/maps in English? Which guide or guides are best? Which side is preferable, France or Germany?

    Thanks for any advice,
    Lew


    March 25th, 2012 at 10:31 am

  16. John Conway said:

    hey fantastic site very informative, can any one advise me please, im planning on going from constantja to france at the beginning of june for charity. i have set my self one month do it. as a first timer, do you think this is a realistic time frame? i will be doing it solo and super light weight.


    May 3rd, 2012 at 3:30 am

  17. Briana said:

    Hi John,
    We averaged roughly 80 km per day, but we never had strict distance targets or a fixed time frame. Whether you could make it to France in a month depends on how much ground you cover each day. It is ambitious, but possible. I couldn’t do it, but there are many bike tourists who could. I am not sure of your route but keep in mind that you will have large mountain passes around Croatia/Slovenia and on the French/Italian border. If you only have a month there’s no reason you shouldn’t try.

    Good Luck!


    May 3rd, 2012 at 8:46 am

  18. Leonie said:

    Can you tell me if the bike trail is tar sealed or if there are gravel parts?
    Can you bike it with aracing bike or do we need mountain bikes?


    March 24th, 2013 at 12:44 am

  19. Briana said:

    Hi Leonie,

    Nearly all of the bike trail is sealed though there are lots of rough patches the occasional dirt section,and stretches of cobblestone. Depending on your preference its possible to do it on 23mm tires, I would probably recommend something at least 28mm though.

    Hope that helps,
    Briana


    May 4th, 2013 at 8:17 am

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