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Two-wheeling on the best ocean and river cycling cruises!

Our bicycles crunch over yellow oak leaves as we pedal beside the Seine River to Villequier.

The river burbles gently, a soft choral accompaniment to the birdsong of robins.

Sunlight streams through a lacy canopy of leaves overhead, warming our backs on this glorious autumn day.

And we have this flat, paved, bicycle path all to ourselves – heavenly.

What better morning could there be on this French river cruise!

It’s a great “bike-and-boat” combo – one of the new cycling cruises that people favor as they seek out more active cruises.

Cycling Cruises

Cycling cruises

Our bicycle cruise in Normandy

Our Scenic Gem Seine River cruise? One of the best cycling cruises!
Our river ship – “Scenic Gem” – tied up to shore in Les Andelys village

Whenever we cruise, we personally try to be as active as we can – like tubing on our Star Clippers’ Caribbean cruise and hiking and snorkeling on our Costa Rica UnCruise Adventures’ trip.

On this cruise, we’re sailing the Seine in France’s Normandy region with Scenic Cruises.

Villequier is a speck of a hamlet along the route, home to the Victor Hugo Museum, and our destination on this guided shore excursion.

Our motley group of bike enthusiasts – and some not-so-experienced riders (us) – will tour the museum to view its artifacts and books celebrating the life of the famous French author and his family (including his mistress).

Guests get ready to ride e-bikes on a Scenic Cruises' excursion in France
Scenic guests get ready to ride e-bikes to the Victor Hugo Museum on our Seine River cruise

Then some of us will continue pedaling further on the Seine Valley Cycle Route – before whizzing back to the ship on our e-bikes in time for lunch and a well-deserved glass of wine.

Recommended reading: Love, life and death at the Victor Hugo Museum, Villequier

Boat-and-bike is a great combo

Boat and bike river cruises are popular in Europe
Today, you can find many European river cruises with bike tours

Bicycling on river cruises is becoming more and more popular.

A growing number of people want to discover a country in a fun energizing way.

In Europe especially, towns and cities are often bike-friendly, and many rivers have level riverside paths made for cycling and walking.

Ocean cruises have also jumped into the game and offer cruises with cycling too, though on a more limited scale.

Bike-and-boat river cruises

bike and boat cruises

Let’s start with cycling river cruises. Which river cruise lines have bikes?

Here are the best river cruises for exploring on two wheels.

AmaWaterways’ bicycle cruises

Bicycles for use on AmaBella, AmaWaterways
Bicycles for use on AmaBella

The first to get into the boat-and-bike biz, AmaWaterways packs more than two dozen bicycles and helmets on its river ships in Europe (except in Portugal).

You sign them out for free.

Complimentary bike tours:

Want lots of space and comfort? The AmaMagna is twice as wide as traditional European river ships.
Want lots of space and comfort? The AmaMagna is twice as wide as traditional European river ships

As well as free bikes to use on your own, one or two complimentary guided bicycle tours are also included on each AmaWaterways European river cruise.

Take Antwerp.

Does biking past Art Nouveau townhouses and 15th century Gothic churches (stopping to taste Belgian chocolates, of course) sound like an amazing vacay day?

Then check out Ama’s tulip-time Belgium/Netherlands itinerary.

Bonus: This cruise includes four guided bike tours.

The 164-guest "AmaSerena" is one of the river ships used for the "Tulip Time" cruises.
The 164-guest “AmaSerena” is one of the river ships used for the “Tulip Time” cruises

Bicycle-themed cruises with Backroads:

For keeners, AmaWaterways works with award-winning adventure company Backroads on a boatload of bicycle-themed cruises on the Rhine, Danube, Seine and Douro Rivers.

For example, AmaWaterways and Backroads offer several departures of their seven-night Douro River cruise bike tours in Portugal.

By day, you cycle with other Backroaders on the cruise (usually 20 to 60 per ship, each of which accommodates about 160 guests).

At night, you dine together onboard.

Backroads has teamed up with AmaWaterways on bike-intensive river cuise tours.
Backroads has teamed up with AmaWaterways on bike-intensive river cuise tours

Two Backroads trip leaders ride with you, and you can choose from different routes, based on distance and level of difficulty.

Ground crew members in support vans also shadow the groups, to help in case of a flat tire or offer a lift if you’re pooped.

And the Backroads bicycles are superior, with a choice of custom Titanium models, touring bikes with wide tires, upright versions and even tandem bikes.

Bicycling on Scenic’s river cruises

Scenic offers some of the most luxurious river cruises; their river ships are sleek and modern.
Scenic offers some of the most luxurious river cruises; their river ships are sleek and modern

Hills? No problem!

If you like your cycling easy, consider Scenic. Each Scenic river ship carries some 25 electric bikes.

Free e-bikes:

Complimentary for guest use, the custom-made bikes have seven “normal” gears for shifting manually plus eight levels of power assist.

At top speed, you feel like you’re flying!

The e-bikes come with GPS touring devices, programmed with maps and points of interest along the way.

Just tap, and you can listen to the running commentary as you cycle.

On our Seine River cruise, we skipped the motor coach ride from Vernon to Giverny, signing out bikes to ride independently instead to Claude Monet’s house and gardens.

The suites are well-designed on Scenic's river ships.
The suites are well-designed on Scenic’s river ships

Guided bike excursions:

Complimentary guided bicycle excursions are also offered on some itineraries (like on our 10-night Seine trip from Paris to Normandy and back).

These cruise bike excursions have been amped up on the line’s Bordeaux cruises (see the “Bordeaux Affair” itineraries).

In Blaye, for example, there’s a guided 20-mile cycle along the “Captain’s Road,” passing unique fishermen’s huts on stilts, beautiful flowering gardens, troglodyte houses tucked in cliff caves and vineyards dating back to Gallo-Roman times.

Sign us up!

Bike-intensive cruises with Trek Travel:

On Scenic's bike-and-boat river cruises, a dedicated cycling specialist from Trek Travel  leads your rides.
On Scenic’s bike-and-boat river cruises, a dedicated cycling specialist from Trek Travel leads your rides

For a dedicated bicycling experience, Scenic partners with upscale cycling company Trek Travel on several “bike-and-cruise” trips.

Trek supplies the bikes (carbon fiber road bikes, hybrids and e-bikes), which they move from port to port.

You spend more time biking on these trips (daily rides of 12 to 60 miles), with picnics or pub lunches on shore and route support along the way.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Uniworld has beautiful suites on their ships.
Uniworld has beautiful suites on their ships

You also find complimentary bikes onboard Uniworld’s river ships.

One or two guided cycle tours are offered per trip.

For example, bike-focused city tours of Belgrade and Bucharest have been added to the “Highlights of Eastern Europe” Danube itinerary.

In Belgrade, you wheel past a former concentration camp, the Palace of Serbia and the centuries-old Kalemegdan Fortress, with a stop at a traditional fishermen’s bar.

Uniworld bike-and-boat tour
On Uniworld, you can take a bike out for free for a spin on your own or join a guided bicycle excursion

Bike boat tours:

Uniworld also works with luxury tour operator Butterfield & Robinson on three different one-week cruise itineraries on the Danube, Rhone and Rhine Rivers – similar to the AmaWaterways/Backroads and Scenic/Trek Travel trips.

See details of these bicycle-and-boat cruises here.

U by Uniworld:

Guests enjoying their cruise on U by Uniworld
Guests enjoying their cruise on U by Uniworld

And no worries about missing out on bicycling on U by Uniworld!

U by Uniworld is the hipper, lower-cost offshoot from Uniworld.

Its river cruises attract both millennials and young-at-heart boomers with neon-lit dance lounges, hammocks on deck and late breakfasts.

U by Uniworld has two ships geared for younger, more active guests.
U by Uniworld has two ships geared for younger, more active guests

The line stocks 50 complimentary “U bikes” on each of its two 120-guest river ships.

Avalon Waterways’ cycling river cruises

Avalon bike and boat cruises
Avalon Waterways has a great selection of boat bike tours on their river cruises

Avalon Waterways has pumped up the river cruise experience big-time on its Danube, Rhine and Rhone itineraries.

These trips now include complimentary “active” excursions in every port, like canoeing on the Danube and cave-hiking in Budapest.

Guided bike rides:

As for biking, Avalon’s new Arles-Lyon cruise on the Rhone River offers some unique rides.

How about cycling through Camargue Nature Park while keeping an eye out for pink flamingos and 400 other bird species?

And near Tournon, there’s a unique rail-bike ride along the historic 1891 Gorges du Doux railway in a four-seat rail-car with pedals.

Gorges de Doux railway in France
Biking a rail-car on the Gorges de Doux railway in France looks fun! (Credit: Ardeche Hermitage Tourism)

Explore on your own:

You can also use the bikes (carried on all Europe ships) to explore on your own.

New onboard “Adventure Hosts” help with maps, routes and directions to local cafés and attractions.

Emerald Waterways’ river bike cruises

Emerald Waterways, the 4-star sister brand to Scenic River Cruises, has free bikes too.

Active river cruise excursions:

Bicycling on a river cruise with Emerald Waterways
Bicycling on a river cruise with Emerald Waterways

Each Emerald Waterways cruise includes a guided “active” (hiking or biking) tour.

You’ll now also find an Activity Manager on all ships.

Guided bike tours are offered in Belgrade, Amsterdam, Vienna, Hoorn, from Tournus to Macon, along the Rhone River to Glun, and between Durnstein and Melk (the longest – a 23-mile ride past castles and vineyards).

Cycling-centric river cruises:

Active tours on Emerald Waterways include biking in Austria's Wachau Valley and canoeing on Portugal's Douro River.
Active tours on Emerald Waterways include biking in Austria’s Wachau Valley and canoeing on Portugal’s Douro River

Emerald Waterways has also ushered in new cycling-centric Danube River cruises in partnerships with VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations. See these Danube cycling-and-river cruises here.

There’s room for 24 VBT guests on several Nuremberg-Budapest departures.

Daily rides are mainly on paved and gravel paths, with a few climbs to reach riverside towns.

Sample ride: Cycle through the edge of Vienna and then out along the 13-mile strip of Danube Island.

Barge-and-bike on European Waterways

European Waterways is a leader in luxury barge-and-bike trips.
Slow-barging in Europe in style with European Waterways

European Waterways has been offering luxury barge holidays on its deluxe hotel barges for over 35 years.

The company has some 17 vessels.

Most barges have three to four guest cabins (for 6 to 8 people), but some carry up to 20 passengers.

Dining is a multi-course affair on European Waterways.
Dining is a multi-course affair on European Waterways

Bike-and-barge tours:

European Waterways is a leader in luxury barge-and-bike trips.
European Waterways is a leader in luxury barge-and-bike trips

Each barge carries enough all-terrain bicycles for every guest to use.

Crew can unload the bikes at one of the barge moorings or the next lock so you can pedal along the towpath running beside the canal.

The barges travel along narrow scenic canals (not rivers) in 9 countries, mostly in France.

Bike-and-barge cruises: The towpaths running alongside the canals are ideal for easy biking and walking forays.
The towpaths running alongside the canals are ideal for easy biking and walking forays

“Biking plus”

Several barges include an additional “biking plus” option.

You get maps and backpacks so you can cycle for a couple of hours on a roundtrip route, exploring local villages and the surrounding countryside.

"Biking plus" options on European Waterways allow you to do more bicycling on their bike and boat cruises.
“Biking plus” options on European Waterways allow you to do more bicycling

“Biking plus” is available aboard Anjodi, Enchanté, Finesse, L’Art de Vivre, La Belle Epoque, L’Impressionniste, Renaissance and Panache.

And don’t worry about missing any of the excursions!

The itinerary is arranged so you can bicycle and tour that castle you want to see.

Luxury barging is more intimate than river cruising, and the pace of travel is deliciously slow.
Luxury barging is more intimate than river cruising, and the pace of travel is deliciously slow

Specialized cycling barge trips:

Want even more cycling?

Bike-and-barge tours can be booked by chartering the barge. You get a specialist cycling tour guide and the bikes onboard are upgraded.

Other river cruises with bike tours

Crystal River Cruises: 

Crystal River Cruises offers Trek bikes for complimentary guest use.

The bikes are delivered to the line’s four all-suite, butler-serviced yachts at each port (they’re not stored onboard).

Several cruises include guided bicycle excursion too (e.g., a bike tour to Veitschochheim Castle in Wurzburg, Germany). 

Tauck: 

Tauck (rated one of the best river cruise lines by Travel+Leisure readers) has several river ships featuring lots of wrought iron, brass and teak

Tauck’s river ships carry 12 to 15 bicycles, which you can sign out (complimentary).

And Tauck has also recently bumped up the number of its guided bike excursions (included in cruise rates).

Must do: Pedal past the vineyards and medieval fortresses of Austria’s UNESCO-listed Wachau Valley on Tauck’s Danube cruises.

Vantage Deluxe World Travel: 

Vantage Travel carries between 15 and 20 unisex, three-gear bicycles (designed for paved city trails) on several of its ships.

They can be reserved (free) for up to four hours at a time. 

Active river cruises

Active river cruises are on the rise as travelers today seek more adventurous ways to discover Europe.

And like wine and cheese, bicycling and river cruising in Europe is a natural pairing.

The tough part? Deciding which bike-and-boat cruise to pick from so many great new choices!

Ocean cruises for bicyclists

There’s biking to be had on ocean-going cruises too, though it’s more limited.

Which cruises have bikes?

Some lines like Celebrity and NCL allow you to bring your own folding bike onboard for use in port (not, of course, on the ship).

The hitch?

You have to store it in your stateroom.

Windstar Cruises makes it easier by transporting several of its own bicycles on each of its six yachts.

Windstar carries bicycles on its yachts

You can rent the aluminum-frame folding bikes for a full or half-day at most ports to explore on your own.

(Book the same way as you would regular shore excursions.)

Bike-oriented ocean cruises:

2019 was the first year to usher in bike-focused ocean cruises.

Backroads has partnered with several ocean-going cruise lines for sea-based bicycling trips.

For example, Ponant has new bike-and-cruise journeys with Backroads in New Zealand, Iceland, the Baltic, Galapagos and Croatia.

Ponant Cruises - Le Lyrial stateroom
Ponant offers deluxe cruising with a French twist

The Baltic Sea ocean cruise bike tour (see here) is on the new Le Dumont-d’Urville, one of Ponant’s new “Explorer” class luxury expedition yachts.

Think French service, wine and cuisine.

And no guilt eating all that delicious French cheese!

Because you’ll be bicycling around St. Petersburg’s grand avenues and, in Pavlovsk, through the countryside to Catherine the Great’s opulent summer palace.

What do you think of these cycling cruises?

Which of these floats your boat? Or bicycle? Oh, whatever..


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Photo credits: 2, 3 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 4 AmaWaterways | Remaining images courtesy of the respective cruise lines and bike tour operators (except where noted)


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews and information, insanely useful travel tips and more!