10 things to love about Lake Constance on a bike

 Bruce Robertson

Lake Constance (or Bodensee in German) is the third largest lake in central Europe and second in Switzerland (after Geneva). It is the major hub of recreation and tourist activity in northern Switzerland, southern Germany and western Austria, having some of its shoreline in each country. There is plenty to see and do whether you’re there for a few days or even a few weeks.

Lake Constance map

1 Konstanz
The largest town on the lake and just across the border from Kreuzlingen in Switzerland, Konstanz is a great base for exploring the area. There is plenty of accommodation and is it far more suitable for tourism than the next biggest town, Friedrichshafen.
Not having been bombed in the War, much of the old town (Alt Stadt) is genuinely old and historic. Picturesque, it’s great for shopping (especially from expensive Switzerland) or just watching the world go by.
The Roman Catholic cathedral (Münster) dominates the skyline and actually dates from the 11th century, although has undergone many additions and redesigns over the centuries since.
2 Reichenau and Mainau islands
Both are within easy reach of Konstanz and can easily be well covered on a day trip by bike. Connected to the mainland by an 1830’s causeway Reichenau is by far the larger at 4.3km2 and nowadays best known for its extensive vegetable farms. There are two historic churches but it is the 8th century Abbey that led it the island's UNESCO world heritage listing.
Mainau is a popular tourist spot being a garden island with parkland, an arboretum and an attractive palace. It is free of vehicles - even bikes.
3 Arenenberg
A lesser known stop but very beautiful palace on a hill  overlooking Lake Constance, Schloss Arenenberg was the childhood home of the future Napoleon III. It is now the very interesting Napoleon museum - where you are given oversize slippers to wear over your cycling shoes! It also has stunning views of the lake from  the highest point around (so involved a rather steep but well-worth climb from the lakeside bike path).
4 Stein am Rhine
At the point where the Rhine resumes its flow out of the Untersee at the west end of Lake Constance, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped into a medieval theme park. The town is immaculately preserved and also pedestrianised which makes it very easy to navigate (despite the many tourists!). Many of the buildings sport historic frescoes and murals. The renovated Hohenklingen Castle sits on a hill overlooking the town.
5 Rhine Falls
While not high on the world scale Rhine Falls is the largest waterfall in Europe and one of the most popular sights around. The Falls are near Schaffhausen at the western end, where the Rhine leaves the lake. You can take a boat trip just below the falls but the much cheaper shore access can also get you up close and personal.
Stein am Rhein   Arenenberg Palace   Reichenau Island
Stein am Rhine   Arenenberg Palace   Reichenau Island
6 Bodensee Radweg
There is an excellent and popular 270km bike path around the lake that can be cycled in its entirety in anything from a few days to a week, depending on your pace and stops made. It would be a pity to rush this and the vast majority of cyclists will only ride a section – you can tell when you’re near a tourist area! There was a surprising range of age and ability of riders – I’ve also never seen so many e-bikes out and about (and often passing me). There are a couple of alternative routes at the quieter northern end of the lake and the many ferries on the lake also allow you to take shorter routes or design your own itinerary.
7 SlowUp
Lake Constance is ideally suited to slow travel with the bike paths being almost totally flat and there being so many entry and exit points with great public transport – trains and ferries in particular. However if you’re there on the last Sunday in August, 40km of roads  are closed for SlowUp Bodensee. This is a circular route centred on Romanshorn and Arbon on the Swiss shore of the lake – attracting thousands of cyclists (and skaters) of all ages and abilities. It’s a great day out and way to experience the Swiss at play.
8 Lindau
Although the town has spread onto the mainland, the old town is actually on an island. A beautiful and historic place, it’s great to relax along pedestrianised Maximilianstraße with a coffee or good Bavarian beer. Lindau is very popular for its gardens and outdoor attractions and especially the pretty and historic harbour.
9 Bregenz
The shoreline of Lake Constance is in either Germany or Switzerland except for the very eastern end which is in the Austrian province of Voralberg, of which Bregenz is the main city. Very much a resort town, Bregenz was buzzing – although this was a hot weekend at the height of summer! There were so many people out on bikes it was a joy to see. Despite not having a beach there were plenty of swimming areas to bring much needed relief on a hot day. The world famous outdoor opera at the Bregenz festival is a must – mid-July to mid-August with Bizet’s Carmen being the 2017 attraction.
10 Get on the water
Although you can’t do this on a bike you also can’t visit this area without getting out on (or in) the water. I have mentioned many times above the multiple ferries that make getting around so easy. However equally popular is cruising on the lake – mostly between April and October. Unsurprisingly water sports are also very popular with choices between canoeing, stand-up paddling, sailing or windsurfing. And of course there’s also swimming from the many beaches or swimming places around the lake.
That’s 10 things but there’s plenty more if you have more time or come back. Friedrichshafen is most famous as the home of the Zeppelin airship and you can go for a flight or visit the museum. It also hosts the annual Eurobike show at the enormous Messe Friedrichshafen. Meersberg’s gorgeous medieval centre is largely pedestrianised with two town gates, two castles – one old, one new(ish) – and the famous Meersberg vineyards. Überlingen is another German city on the north shore of the lake well worth a visit.
Lindau harbour   Ferry from Freidrichshafen to Konstanz   SlowUp Bodensee
Lindau harbour   Ferry Freidrichshafen to Konstanz   SlowUp Bodensee

[Main picture is the marina at Bregenz, Austria]