So why go bicycle touring in Switzerland? Switzerland has a reputation of being very mountainous. While that is true there are also many great Swiss cycling routes through the valleys.
Switzerland offers over 9,000 km of bicycle touring routes of which 9 are national and 55 regional.
The top 6 routes for bicycle touring in Switzerland
Rhone Route – at 350 km (217 miles) is the number one route for Swiss cycling and starts in Geneva and travels along the north shore of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) passing through Lausanne, Montreux and numerous vineyards around Sion before reaching the narrow Rhone River Valley to Andermatt. Flat to gently rolling terrain with a magnificent mountain backdrop along the entire route. With a short train journey you can also connect with the Rhine route.
Rhine Route – starts near where the Rhone Route ends at Andermatt and continues on a eastward loop for 430 km (267 miles)to the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and on to Basel. Of course this route continues into Germany and ends in the Netherlands. Flat to gently rolling terrain. Highlights include the Bodensee (lake), Rhine Falls, castles, vineyards, orchards and a possible sidetrip into Liechtenstein.
Lakes Route – For pure scenery it is hard to bead this route which starts in Montreux and continues for 505 km (314 miles) with some good climbs along the journey. You cross the country passing 10 lakes with stunning views of the Alps. Along the way stop in Gruyere best known for it cheese but with an interesting castle as well, Spiez on Lake Thun, Lucerne with its famous bridge before ending at Rorschach on Lake Constance.
Mittelland Route – this 370 km (230 miles) route starts in Lausanne and crosses the north shore of Lake Neuchatel continuing eastward into the Zurich area before ending at Lake Constance at Romanshorn. Mostly on traffic free roads and paths along rivers and lakes. Classified by the tourist office as easy I found there were some pretty significant hills on the first part of this ride. I loved the 3 lake section from Neuchatel to the Swiss watch center of Biel in particular. I also recommend a slight detour south from Neuchatel to visit Murten and the Swiss wine region on an excellent regional bike path.
Bodensee (Lake Constance) Route – cycle for 260 km (161 miles) around the lake visiting Switzerland, Austria and Germany. A fairly easy cycling experience taking 4 to 5 days. The lake is surrounded by vine covered hills and some interesting castles.
Aare Route – follows the Aare River from the Alps for 305 km (190 miles) to the Rhine River. We joined the route at Interlaken where it soon went along a nice bike path along the side of Lake Thun. We then continued across farmlands and through forests on quiet country roads and bike paths into the capital of Berne. Still following the river there were some modest hills as we continued north before reaching the watch center of Biel, a modern city with an old quarter.
Five things you must see while bicycle touring in Switzerland
Castle de Chillon – located lakeside in Montreux with excellent tour in English, this castle made famous by Lord Byron and others. The castle is the number one historical site in Switzerland.
Bernese Oberland – take a mountain railway to Grindelwald or Wengen for a walk in the mountains
Bern – the medieval center of the capital city is a delight with the famous bear pits located at one end of the main street
Lake Geneva – this wine region is scenic and great of cycling as well. Stay in either Montreux or Lausanne
Cheese – very famous and cheese fondue can be found in many restaurants. To see a factory head to the tourist town of Gruyere which also has an interesting castle with gardens. The chocolate is great too!
The best time for bicycle touring in Switzerland is during the months of May or June in the spring and September or October in the fall. Attractions are not as busy and accommodation is easier to find.
One option is to take a guided European bicycle vacation although there are not too many tours for English speaking cyclists. Companies offering tours include Exodus (Lake Constance), Headwaters (Swiss Lakes Jura), Explore (Lake Neuchatel) and Velo Quebec (tours in Lake Geneva and Ticino regions).
Along the way you will find most hotels along the major bike routes offer an area to lock your bicycle overnight and are used to and welcome cyclists. Accommodation can be expensive but I have found reasonable Bed and Breakfasts on the Swiss B & B association. The Swiss cycling association lists bike friendly accommodation by cycle route, type (camping, B & B, hotel, etc.)
You may also wish to know there are over 200 bicycle rental locations, mostly at major train stations. Even better they offer 27 speed touring bicycles with locks, racks. You can pick your bike up at one location and drop off at another. Book online in advance as touring bicycle can be limited at some locations.
You may wish to see our other European bike routes as well. Bicycle touring in Switzerland, although not as common with North American cyclists is very popular with Europeans because of its scenery and great bike routes.
Most people assume that Swiss Bike tours are about crossing mountains over very hilly terrain. However, where there are mountains there are also valleys so you do have a choice of either type of terrain.
Rhone Valley Route in Switzerland
The Rhone Valley is the most popular of Swiss Cycling National Routes and is over a 320 km (200 mile) distance crossing parts of both the French and German parts of the country.
Swiss Bike tours tips for cycling vacation along the Rhone Valley:
• The entire Swiss cycling National route is signed. Where there is construction or connections with local routes it can get confusing so take a bike map.
• Hotels and camping particularly in the Lausanne and Montreux areas are very popular and it is advisable you make reservations.
A Swiss Rail pass permits easy connections to other Swiss cycling routes and also provides free entrance to most museums, Castle Chillon and discounts on lake ferries so is well worth the cost.
Along the Shores of Lake Geneva
You will be following the Swiss Cycling National Route 1 signs and the shores of Lake Geneva as you depart the international city of Geneva. The Rhone Valley route in this section runs along paved parks, quiet roads, promenades never goes too far from Lake Geneva with its palm trees and flower gardens.
Your first destination is Lausanne where we spent the night and you be passing the world headquarters of the Olympic Organizing Committee, right along the route and may wish to visit their museum. In Lausanne from the promenade known as Ouchy heading into the heart of the city is uphill but worth the effort. The Musee De L’Art Brut featuring eccentric artists or people from mental asylums offers some very striking art.
Your Swiss bicycle touring continues to Montreux with this section mainly on bike lanes along one side of the road with vineyards stretching up the hillside on the other side. You can expect a lot of turns and it does get confusing in this section. The town of Vevey is the heart of the Swiss wine industry and is also the world headquarters for the Nestle company. You are in the French speaking part of Switzerland and can expect excellent wine and food. Although only a short ride from Lausanne it is worth spending the night in Montreux.
In Montreux stop on the waterfront and admire the statue to the late Freddy Mecury, of Queen, who lived here. Another must see is the medieval Castle Chillon located steps from the Rhone Bike route. Side trips are also available to Gruyere in the mountains by train or cycling steep mountains to sample the cheese.
The Rhone River Valley
Leaving Montreux on your Swiss cycling journey you pass the Castle Chillon and soon the Rhone Valley Bike route turns into a paved riverside bike path.
A surprise is the World Cycling Centre, a veledrome located right beside the bike path where we stopped for coffee and to watch the cyclists. The valley is mostly fruit farms along the Thone river with steep mountain slopes on both side.
The city of Sion was our next stop and it is a trendy wine center. Continue your Swiss cycling along the Rhone Valley to Brig. If you wish to go hiking take the mountain train to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn which is what we did. You are now in the German part of Switzerland with the most significant different found on restaurant menu’s.
If you continue your Swiss cycling the route has a gentle uphill as you head to Andermatt. From here you can take a train a few kilometers through the mountains to reach the beginning of the Rhine Valley route which continues all the way to the Netherlands.
Swiss Bike Tours along the Rhone Valley route offers tremendous variety covering French and German parts of Switzerland, lots of vineyards, castles, museums, lakefront promenades, shopping along a gently rolling route.
Although the route is signed in sections some sections between Lausanne and Montreux there are many turns and local bike routes which can be confusing which is why I recommend the Cicerone Cycling Guide of Switzerland which covers all nine national routes.
Click on the link for other European cycling route ideas.Finally, I must say that the Swiss are the most polite people towards cyclists I have met anywhere in the world. Swiss Bike Tours are one of the most scenic anywhere, enjoy!