Snuggled between the towns of Melk and Krems, Wachau Valley in Lower Austria is one of Austria’s oldest cultural landscapes. It is a 36 km (22 miles) narrow stretch along the Danube River lined with stunning vineyards and orchards, charming little towns, hills, forests (Dunkelsteiner Wald and Waldviertel), impressive castles, monasteries, and medieval ruins.
Wachau is a unique blend of intriguing culture, enchanting river landscape, and virgin nature.
The most important towns in the valley are Krems, Dürnstein, Spitz, and Melk. Other small municipalities in the valley include Weißenkirchen in der Wachau, Mühldorf, Maria Laach am Jauerling, Aggsbach, Emmersdorf an der Donau, Schönbühel-Aggsbach, Bergern im Dunkelsteinerwald, Rossatz-Arnsdorf, Mautern an der Donau, Furth bei Göttweig, Joching, Oberamsdorf, Oberloiben, Ruhrsdorf, Schwallenbach, Unterloiben, Willendorf, and Bachamsdorf.
Krems marks the beginning and Melk the ending of Wachau, World Cultural Heritage Region.
Wachau – An Easy Day-Trip from Vienna
Just an hour drive away from Vienna makes Wachau Valley a must-taken day trip destination. It is known to be Austria’s most famous wine-growing region plus a great historic and cultural destination.
Wachau Valley is famous for the apricot and grapes farming. High-quality wine and liquors are prepared from a different variety of grapes and apricots.
Why do you visit Wachau Valley? Well, the valley made to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2000 for its architectural and agricultural heritage and is inscribed as Wachau Cultural Landscape.
Also, the National Geographic Traveler Magazine chose it the Best Historic Destination in the World in 2008. You can’t help but fall into the spell of the beautiful Wachau Valley.
Travel Guide to Wachau World Heritage Region
This travel guide to Wachau has all the tips, information, and facts needed for you to plan a perfect trip to one of the loveliest river valleys in Europe.
Best Time to Visit Wachau
Wachau is magical no matter when you visit – summer, autumn, or spring. The best time to visit the valley is between May and September. We visited during June when the region was crowded and the days were warm. So, I’d recommend visiting during spring or autumn.
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How to Get to Wachau Valley
Wachau can be easily reached from Vienna. You can rent a car and drive all the way to Melk. It takes just an hour or so to reach Melk. This option gives you an opportunity to stop at multiple vantage points.
You can travel from Wein to Melk on ÖBB trains. ÖBB is Austria’s largest rail services provider.
There are two train options:
- A direct train that leaves from Wien Westbahnhof to Melk. The single journey ticket costs from €9 to €24 depending upon how advanced you have booked the ticket.
- A train from Wien Hbf to Wachau that needs a change at St. Poelten Hbf. The single journey ticket costs anywhere between €17.00 to €24.00.
There’s an option of Kombitickets by OBB Rail Tours. It includes a second-class train ride from Vienna and back, Cruise from Melk to Krems or vice versa, and the entrance ticket to Melk Abbey.
Protip: The best way to explore Wachau and its gems is to reach Melk from Vienna by train, bus or car; explore Melk Abbey, cruise down the river to Krems and drive back or catch a train or bus from Krems to Vienna.
There are direct trains to and from Krems to Wein Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof or you can make a change at St. Poelten Hbf to arrive at Wien Hbf.
You can make use of the combination of buses and trains if time is a constraint. There are many bus connections operated by ÖBB Postbus GmbH.
We chose to drive in our rental car. The entire 36 km stretch winds through photogenic historic towns with the numerous vantage points over the Danube. It’s inescapable to not stop and take in the views.
Our wise decision to start early saved us from the tourist crowds at Melk Abbey. After touring the abbey, we had snacks at Stiftrestaurant Melk and spent the rest of the day winding down the Danube all the way to Krems making stops at the towns and attractions on the way.
Getting Around Wachau
There are numerous ways to travel between Melk and Krems – hiking, biking, canoeing, cruising, and driving. Cruise your way down the Danube or bike along the banks of Danube or walk the Wachau World Heritage Trail or drive the scenic stretch – whatever way you do, the picturesque Wachau Valley unfolds its magic.
Walking the 180 km well-marked Wachau World Heritage Trail is probably the finest way to experience Wachau provided you love to hike. The trail beautifully connects the 13 villages in the Wachau Danube Region.
Cycling comes in at a close second. You can rent a bicycle from nextbike and take the Danube Bicycle Path along the river Danube. E-mobile and Segway can also be rented.
Cruising is the most common and most accepted mode of transportation to explore Wachau and its treasures. BRANDNER Schiffahrt and DDSG Blue Danube are the two major shipping lines in Wachau. The cruise timings are aligned with train and bus schedules. The cruise runs between Krems and Melk or vice versa with stops in Dürnstein, Weißenkirchen, and Spitz. They also make a stop at Aggsbach Dorf and Emmersdorf upon request.
You can take the panoramic Wachau Railway (Wachaubahn) from Krems to Emmersdorf (a village across from Melk) riding your way through rugged slopes, terraced vineyards, and rustic settings.
The towns of Krems, Durnstein, Spitz, and Melk are very much walkable. In fact, the essence of these little villages lies in exploring on the foot.
Krems – The Entrance to Wachau
Krems is the largest town in the Wachau Valley but smallest enough to be easily explored on foot.
The twin towns of Krems-Stein are a delight to explore. The medieval cobbled streets, charming cafes, and diverse cultural attractions make them worth a while.
The UNESCO Marine and World Heritage Center right at Danube’s waterfront in Krems houses Brandner cruises and DDSG Blue Danube Cruises ticket counters and Wellenspiel restaurant.
Krems and Stein count with many churches and museums.
Pfarrkirche St Veit aka ‘Cathedral of the Wachau’ swanks vibrant frescoed ceiling by an artist named Martin Johann Schmidt (Kremser Schmidt).
Gothic Piarist church Krems is the oldest church in Krems which is often compared to the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna because of its shape.
Bürgerspital church, Dominican Church, Göttweigerhof Chapel of Stein, Church of St. Nikolaus & Frauenbergkirche Assumption of Stein, Gothic Matthias Chapel of Förthof are other notable churches.
Art Miles Krems (Kunstmeile Krems) is a one mile stretch between the two historic old towns of Krems and Stein. It combines the Minoritenplatz, Museumplatz, and Dominikanerplatz. A haven for art lovers!
Kunstmeile Krems features museums, art galleries, and festival venues. To name a few – The Cartoon or Caricature Museum Krems, the Kunsthalle Krems, Klangraum Krems Minoritenkirche, the Landesgalerie Niederösterreich, Artothek Niederösterreich, the Forum Fohner, and the museumkrems in the Dominican monastery. It leads to Steiner Tor Gate, the most significant landmark of Krems.
Krems Mustard is famous across the world. You can see an exhibit dedicated to Krems Mustard in museumkrems.
You can’t talk about Krems without mentioning “Venus vom Galgenberg” or “Fanny von Stratzing“. It’s considered to be Austria’s oldest and world’s second-oldest female statuette (almost 32,000-years-old).
That’s not all. Krems holds some amazing monuments along the Steiner Landstrasse like Gozzoburg city fortress, Town Hall Square, Johannes Nepomuk monument, Baroque town hall, and Mauterner Bruecke, an old bridge (1938) in Krems across the Danube that connects Stein and Mautern.
Take the walk along 4.5 km circular Krems-Angern Trail to see and taste the original Wachau apricot. The trail starts and ends at Weinhof Aufreiter. Klosterneuburg Apricot is the most dominant variety of Wachau Apricot.
Alles Marille (Krems Apricot Festival) in July and Marillen Kirtag (Spitz Apricot Festival) attracts tourists from all over the world.
Dürnstein is one of the most-traveled destinations in Wachau. The village is stunningly beautiful with its striking blue bell-tower of the church of Augustinian Monastery of Dürnstein Abbey that can be seen from far away.
Dürnstein Abbey (Stift Dürnstein) is Wachau Valley’s best-known landmark. The guided tours are available on Sundays or if booked in advance. A guided tour takes you through a beautiful Courtyard, Collegiate Church, baroque Cloister, Crypt, Exhibition about Saint Augustine, and a picturesque Danube terrace.
Dürnstein Castle (Burgruine Dürnstein or Kuenringerburg Castle) is where the King of England, Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned around the 12th century for disrespecting the flag of Austria and Leopold V, Duke of Austria. A royal ransom of 35,000 ton of silver as negotiated by Blondel granted him freedom. The people of Wachau celebrate the romantic legend of King Richard the Lionheart and Blondel.
The romantic legend and the viewpoint make the ruin of Dürnstein a beautiful place to visit. A 25-30 minutes walk (from Kremser Gate or Altstadt) takes you up to the ruins.
Loiben, a former municipality with Oberloiben and Unterloiben districts is now a part of Dürnstein.
The parish church Unterloiben (Parish Loiben), a Gothic church dedicated to the St. Quirin and Göttweig Abbey aka Austrian Montecassino, a Baroque Benedictine monastery founded in 1083 are two important sites here that attract tourists.
You can sample Wachau saffron red wine chocolate, saffron honey, saffron bear, and saffron vinegar at Wachau Saffron production and show garden in Unterloiben.
Just opposite to Spitz, Weißenkirchen, and Dürnstein unfolds the market community of Rossatz-Arnsdorf, the largest apricot farming community in Austria. A visit to Rossatz-Arnsdorf is all the more worthwhile during apricot harvest in July when you can taste and buy fresh produce directly from the farmers.
Things to see in Rossatz-Arnsdorf include St. Johann in Mauerthale (Filialkirche St. Johann), the Church of St. Lorenz, the intense art piece called Wachau Nose (Wachauer Nase), St. Catherine Gothic Chapel in Mitterarnsdorf, and the Roman watchtower of Bacharnsdorf.
The best way to explore Rossatz-Arnsdorf and its attractions is by walking the Rossatz-Arnsdorf Apricot Mile through the apricot orchards. Bike Ferries from Durnstein to Rossatz are available from March until October.
Right opposite to Spitz, a beautiful hamlet of Hofarnsdorf has St. Rupert’s parish church and castle right on the Danube.
Weißenkirchen in Waldviertel is a market town and Wachau’s largest wine-growing community consisting of four wine-growing villages – Joching, St. Michael, Weissenkirchen in the Wachau, and Wösendorf in the Wachau.
There are many beautiful churches in Weißenkirchen.
Wehrkirche St. Michael (the fortified church of St. Michael) is a lovely 500 years old church majestically placed on a small hill in Weißenkirchen.
Parish Church Weißenkirchen in the Wachau Assumption of the Virgin Mary is a late Gothic and Baroque church from the 14th century.
Kirche Wösendorf (Parish Church Wösendorf) in the village of Wösendorf is a late baroque church.
Teisenhoferhof, a part of Weissenkirchen fortified church is a Renaissance-style courtyard and two towers house a Wachau Museum. The courtyard because of its romantic setting is used for various events.
A town around Tausendeimerberg (Hill of a Thousand Buckets) vineyard is Spitz.
The Hinterhaus Castle Ruins or Ruine Hinterhaus or Ruin back house is a hill fort lying on the local mountain Hausberg, a part of Jauerling above the Danube in Spitz. The fortress is said to be haunted by the spirit of Adelheid, the wife of Henry the iron.
Heinrich didn’t mourn the death of her wife, married another girl but died soon after. The legend has it that the spirit of Adelheid comes every year on the same day her husband died on the Hinterhaus ruins.
Parish Church Spitz, Castle Spitz, Red Gate (Rotes Tor), Maritime Museum Spitz, Aggsteinerhof, Old Town Hall, and the historic merchant shop by Hambergers are other major attractions here.
Burgruine Aggstein(the castle ruins of Aggstein) that traces its origins to the early 12th century is beautifully placed on the hills of the Dunkelsteinerwald Forest 300 meters high above the Danube in the town of Schönbühel-Aggsbach.
The castle tour takes you through the hidden stairways, courtyards, towers, a dungeon, a chapel, and a knight’s hall. Rosengärtlein (Rose Graden) is the most famous attraction in the castle. Unlike the name suggests, Rosengärtlein is an escape-proof prison.
If you have time, I strongly recommend you to take a Fairytale tour with a storyteller Dena Seidel. Kids would love it.
Aggsbach Markt in the village of Willendorf is well-known for being a place where the Venus of Willendorf was found.
Dating back to the 12th century, the medieval castle of Schönbühel is strategically placed on a cliff above the Danube in the town of Schönbühel-Aggsbach. It’s just 10 minutes drive away from the Stift Melk. You also get to see it on a Wachau Valley Cruise.
Emmersdorf offers a beautiful view of Melk Abbey. The parish church of St Nikolaus, Rothenhof Castle, Vintners Houses, a town hall with a 500-years old vaulted ceiling, ruins of Gossam are some of the interesting places to visit in Emmersdorf.
Melk and Melk Abbey
The historic town of Melk on the Danube with its 1000 years old history and culture unclothe like an old storybook.
It’s best known for its huge Benedictine abbey, Melk Abbey (Stift Melk). The vivid yellow of the abbey perched on a cliff overlooking the river catches your sight as you approach the otherwise sleepy town of Melk.
A UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, Melk Abbey is one of the biggest Baroque monasteries in Europe.
Other attractions near Melk (a little detour) are Schallaburg Renaissance Castle in the village of Schallaburg in Schollach municipality and Schloss Artstetten Castle, a history museum in Artstetten-Pöbring. The castle park of Artstetten ( Schlosspark Artstetten ) and Schlosspark Artstetten are worth exploring.
Wineries and Wine Tours in Wachau
The Wachau Valley is the origin of the most cherished dry white wine varieties of Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings.
Wachau aka Danube River Valley is where numerous small family farms grow grapes, hand-pick and ferment them. Up to 70% are the white wines made from indigenous Grüner Veltliner and 30% are the red wines made from Blaufränkisch.
There are around 200 or so heurige ( pronounced HOY-reh-ga ) in Wachau that can be easily visited on a guided bike tour along the Danube from Krems to Melk.
Domäne Wachau, just outside Durnstein is one of the biggest wine exporters in Wachau. It offers wine tours that include a visit to its wine shop and underground cellars, and baroque Kellerschlossel (a scenic spot). You can taste the local wines such as Gruner Veltliner and Blauer Zweigelt.
Further down the river, Winzer Krems brings together nearly 1000 small-scale Wachau producers; its authentic Wine Experience SANDGRUBE 13 wein.sinn takes you on an 8-stop trail from inviting vineyards to cellars through the multimedia presentations while you taste local wine and Wachauer Laberl. An absolute odyssey into past and present of wine culture in Wachau.
Other notable wineries in the region include Vinothek Wein & Wachau in Melk, Vinothek IWB Fohringer in Spitz, Vinothek Thal Wachau in Weißenkirchen, Domäne Wachau in Durnstein, Weingut Holzapfel Prandtauerhof in Weißenkirchen, Vinotake Durnstein-Loiben, and Weingut Stadt Krems (one of the oldest wineries in Austria).
Where to Eat in Wachau
Wachau is one of the top culinary regions in Europe. There’s umpteen number of Wachau Delicacies you can savor.
- Try Benedictine Torte, nut cake stuffed with apricot jam and chocolate glaze at Stiftsrestaurant.
- Sample GöttweigKalmucktorte, an artistically crafted cake filled with chocolate mousse at Cafe Konditorei Elisabeth in Weißenkirchen.
- Taste Wachauer Kugeln (Wachauer ball), a nougat center coated with apricot marzipan and chocolate at Cafe Konditorei Raimitz in Krems.
- Try apricot liquors and brandies at Bailoni Apricot Distillery. Marillenschnaps or Marillenbrand is a fruit brandy made from apricots.
- Marillenknödel, the cinnamon coated apricot dumplings at Restaurant Kirchenwirt Wachau.
- Heuriger Höllmüller for dinner with wine in Austrian way. Wachau is best known for its wine and heurige culture, after all!
- Try Wachauer Laberl and Apricot Strudel at Bäckerei-Konfiserie Schmidl, a traditional bakery, and confectionery in Dürnstein.
- Restaurant Loibnerhof – Knoll, WACHAUERSTUBE Loiben, Zum Kaiser Von Österreich are some of the good restaurants.
Souvenirs from Wachau
- Take back home Wachau Chillies from Gärtnerei Hick in Weißenkirchen.
- Buy Wachau Saffron from Crocus-Austriacus.at.
- You can purchase different varieties of cheese at Organic Cheese Diary in Emmersdorf.
- You can buy mouth-melting chocolates that too without preservatives at Cafe-Konditorei Hagmann GmbH.
- Wachau Wine
- Buy the Wachau apricots and products (jams, juices, liqueurs, distillates, strudels, and cakes) directly from the apricot farmers.
- You can buy homemade schnapps, jams, and chocolates from Wieser Wachau GmbH in Wösendorf.
Where to Stay in Wachau
Wachau has no dearth of places to stay. The region offers everything from luxury to budget to family accommodations. Here are our recommendations:
Best Value Hotels
Didn’t find your style of the hotel? Find the one that suits you with the help of the map below!
Best Tours from Vienna to Wachau Valley
Self-planning isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Do you agree? Here are the hand-picked tours from Vienna to Wachau that saves you from the hassle of planning and let you enjoy the place instead. Just click on the links below and book the tour you wish to take.
Most travelers take a day trip from Vienna to Wachau. We were no different. Though I feel the mesmerizing Austrian countryside and its quaint vibes deserve at least a day or 2 to catch those vibe.
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