Best Lesser-Known European Cycling Destinations 2023

By Megan Flottorp

Congratulations, you have almost made it through January! The first month of the year can be a tough one for many, so remember that you are in good company if that prior statement is music to your ears. What’s more, if you have not already, now is the time to start planning your 2023 European cycling getaway.

With spring just around the corner in much of the continent, you could be sipping an expertly prepared cafezinho or munching on a fresh baguette before you know it. Of course, that would be in addition to cycling gorgeous miles in some of the world’s most beautiful locations.

There are indeed some mainstay cycling destinations that consistently provide excellent options across Europe. In addition, though, new hot spots creep onto the radar of cycling enthusiasts each year. So let’s take a look at the top cycling destination picks for 2023!

Wind along Albania’s untamed waterways

As recently detailed in the New York Times, Albania is looking ripe to become a major cycling destination. In June of last year, the government signed a commitment to create the Vjosa Wild River National Park, protecting the river and creating a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

Part of this effort is the newly opened UNESCO Cycling Route, a circular biking itinerary starting from Tirana and covering the Southeast territory of Albania. With a recommended length of 15 days, the route covers a total distance of 1,080 km and an accumulative elevation gain of 20,753 m. Over this immersive journey, you will discover the gems of Southeast Albania while cycling through stunning scenery along peaceful mountain roads and the turquoise coast of the Ionian and Adriatic Seas. In addition to the magnificent views, you can expect a warm welcome from the locals, whose open-hearted Balkan culture is a true delight to witness.

Discover the diverse geography of Slovenia

In addition to contemporary superstars like Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar, Slovenia has a long legacy of producing top cyclists. So, it is only natural that the rest of the cycling community began to get curious about where these talented racers first learned to ride. And indeed, if you are looking for a challenge on your next cycling vacation, Slovenia can provide plenty.

You will find genuinely spectacular climbs along the Italian and Austrian borders in the Julian Alps. Meanwhile, the Vršič Pass and Mangart Saddle offer stunning views of the surrounding nature. For something more leisurely, Slovenia also provides accessible routes in the valleys at the foot of the Alps or in the Mediterranean region. Overall, this small country punches above its weight, allowing you to enjoy various landscapes whether you have two days or two weeks. The roads are generally of good quality, and the country, which has been actively investing in ecotourism, is happy to welcome more cyclists.

The Jasna Lake near Kranjska Gora in Slovenia. © Profimedia

Explore the passes and valleys of Switzerland

Italy and France get a lot of well-deserved attention for being dreamy places to explore by bike but more and more enthusiasts are discovering the pleasure of cycling the Swiss mountains. With endless possibilities for adventure on lesser-known terrain, the hills of Switzerland also provide impeccably maintained roads and courteous drivers.

Switzerland has many valleys where you can recover in between two climbs. Still, to truly get the most out of this destination, you should have experience and feel confident tackling difficult passes. Take, for example, the following three-peak combo itinerary — start with the Susten Pass and make a loop by linking with the Furka Pass, then polish it off with Grismel Pass. Three peaks over 2,200 m on a route 120 km long. Not too bad at all! Thankfully, there will be no shortage of rich chocolate and luscious cheeses waiting for you at the end.

Get lost in the magical landscapes of Ireland

If you caught The Banshees of Inisherin in theatres recently, chances are you have already been dreaming about exploring the luscious green hills and valleys of Ireland on an upcoming cycling trip. If you have been unsure about where to begin, though, allow us to suggest Galway.

A harbour city on Ireland’s west coast, Galway sits directly where the River Corrib meets the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to the charming city hub, the surrounding area provides some of the most serene views you can imagine. There are also several experienced tour operators in the region, so you can outsource the planning and still enjoy a multi-day guided tour in less touristy parts of Western Ireland. The summer months are best suited for a visit. However, be mindful that the country is notorious for rainy days, so be sure to pack some reliable rain gear regardless of the forecast.

Get year-round sun and challenging routes in the Algarve

At first, the Algarve may conjure images of sun-burnt snowbirds dotted along the coast. If you turn your back to the water and head into the Serra de Monchique, though, that is where the real fun begins! A gorgeous 32-kilometre mountain range runs down the country’s southwest coast, delivering jaw-dropping views across the Atlantic Ocean and back across the country to the east.

There is a superb 80 km circuit for which Monchique serves as a nice departure point. Although, depending on where your accommodation is, you can pick up the circuit from any direction! When planning your routes, also be sure to check out the “Volta ao Algarve”, one of the first professional races that bring together a great gathering of cyclists every February.