The Elbe cycle route, regularly voted Germany’s favourite, is an 800km descent from the Czech border through Dresden and Magdeburg to Hamburg and the coast.
There’s a cycleway on each side of the river: this map shows the left bank (heading downstream) but we’ve mapped the right bank separately. The route is some 60% traffic-free, but the other 40% is on little agricultural roads where bikes outnumber motor vehicles. This isn’t a pure riverside cycle path: the signposted route flits back and forth, sometimes a couple of kilometres from the water, sometimes right beside it on a high dyke. If anything, that makes this route through what would otherwise be fairly flat country more varied.
The rural reaches of the upper Elbe take their character from the vineyards – think Riesling and Müller-Thurgau. The Saxon capital of Dresden, despite the devastation of WWII, is a cultural and artistic hub. Magdeburg’s historic centre, too, suffered in the war: its subsequent communist past and 21st century revival has gifted it an unusual mix of architectures that rewards exploration.
The lower river is rich in wildlife including beavers and storks. This has been a busy trading river for centuries, and the villages are each miniature ports with riverfaring heritage. Hamburg, of course, remains Germany’s busiest port, and a true ‘water city’ with some 2500 bridges over its rivers and canals.
The route is signposted throughout with a curly ‘e’ symbol. Surfaces are in general very good with only the occasional gravel section. Accommodation is plentiful, but this can be an exceptionally popular route in the summer, so consider booking in advance – particularly at weekends.
The gradient is gentle enough that there’s not much to call between riding downstream and upstream – if anything, the wind is kinder heading upstream from Cuxhaven.