Bicycle trips north of Munich
In the summer of 2020, we explored our backyard – places within a short driving distance from Munich. While many flocked to the Alps’ foothills, we decided to go north to avoid the crowds. We found natural wonders, ancient sights, and picturesque towns just around the corner. Find inspiration for your next day-trip, and don’t forget to get your bike ready for the next summer season.
Kelheim & Donaudurchbruch
The charming town of Kelheim lies in a hilly landscape about 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of Munich. The modern history of the settlement dates back to the 9th century. Because of its unique location on the confluence of the rivers Danube and Altmühl, Kelheim played a vital role in the Middle Ages’ goods transportation. Medieval houses surround the town’s main street. If the weather plays along, caffès and beer gardens provide fantastic rest stop opportunities.
Kelheim’s most famous landmark is a Pantheon-like structure on a hill high above the town. The rotunda is a monument commemorating the military victory over Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century. The Bavarian King Ludwig I commissioned its construction in the 1860s. Because in German, the battles against the French emperor are called Befreiungskriege (Wars of Liberation), the monument bears the name Befreiungshalle (Liberation Hall). You can enjoy an unobstructed view of the unique landscape created by the rivers Altmühl and Danube from the hill.
Kelheim lies in Altmühltal Natural Park and is a good starting point for outdoor activities in the area. There are hundreds of kilometres of bicycle roads for every fitness level.
Our easy bicycle trek started in Kelheim. Then we sweated our breakfast out on a short uphill ride to the medieval castle Prunn located on a fairy-tale-like limestone cliff.
After that, we continued in Hienheim, where we took a small cable ferry to the other shore of the Danube to Eining. There we said hello to the remains of an ancient Roman military settlement Abusina, and headed for Weltenburg Abbey situated on a Danube peninsula. From the pier of Waltenburg, a ship took us back to Kelheim. The mini-cruise passed through the narrow Donaudurchbruch (Danube Gorge) with up to 80 (ca. 260 feet) high limestone rock formations.
Good to know: The cable ferry between Hienheim and Eining operates (as of summer 2020) from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6:30 pm with a 30 minutes lunch break. It can carry bicycles, cars and even tractors. Only horses are not allowed. For updated times, check their website (German only). You can find the timetable for the Danube Gorge cruises here (German only).
The limestone in the area provides insights into the prehistoric times of our planet. During the Jurassic period, a subtropical lagoon covered the Altmühltal region. Nowadays, it’s a paradise for palaeontologists, both leisure and professional ones. The famous half-bird-half-dino Archaeopteryx is only one of the park’s fossil stars. Check the region’s website for more information: https://international.naturpark-altmuehltal.de/en/stars-among-fossils/.
Nördlingen & Ries
Nördlingen is one of the quirkiest German towns we ever visited. Because of its wholly preserved and to this day walkable medieval town walls, it has a perfect circular shape. The facade of its church contains microscopic diamonds. And last but not least, the town resides in the middle of a 1-kilometre wide meteorite impact crater, the Nördlinger Ries. In the summer, a bicycle tour offers an excellent opportunity to get to know the surroundings. The 15 million years old crater is still visible as a small circular mountain range.
Our tour on two wheels started in Nördlingen. From there, it took us to the eastern edge of the crater towards the medieval town Wemding, with a charming marketplace. After that, we headed for Öttingen on the crater’s northern edge.
Öttingen surprised us with a lovely town square surrounded by traditional timber-framed houses. Before we rolled back down to the very heart of the crater, we quenched our thirst in the shadowy beer garden of Maihingen Abbey.
After the about 60 kilometres long tour, we decided to stroll around Nördlingen for a little while. The history of Nördlingen dates back to the 9th century AD. During the Middle Ages, the town laid at the crossroads of two important German merchant roads, and trade flourished. After the 30 Years’ War in the first half of the 17th century, new trade routes appeared, and the town’s economic importance slowly declined.
The medieval charm remained to this day. Without a doubt, the city’s landmark is the 90 meters (almost 300 feet) tall church steeple called Daniel. People believe that the steeple got its name after a verse in the Bible from the Book of Daniel. Medieval builders used the suevite rock from the crater for construction. The meteorite impact created such enormous heat and pressure that quartz converted to microscopic diamond particles. If you look very closely, the church and other walls of Nördlingen sparkle. Scientists estimate that the Nördlinger Ries hides about 70 000 tons of diamonds. They are so tiny, though, that mining would be a waste of energy and time.
From the top of Daniel, the view over the Ries is supposed to be phenomenal. But, after our bike trip, we preferred to rest with an ice cream in the shade of a chestnut tree.
Tip: If you plan a day trip outside a big town in Bavaria, pay attention to schedule your lunch break. In smaller places, restaurants close their kitchens from around 2 pm till dinner time. As for transportation, we used a car and assembled our bicycles on arrival. However, we saw several bike rental companies in town. For more information, check the town’s official website with tips for many routes (German only).
Our little crowd-avoiding adventures north of Munich taught us that incredible places might await adventure-seekers or history-enthusiasts just around the corner.