When mom and I travelled to Austria, Wachau Valley caught my attention. I love wine, and we both have a soft spot for small towns. I wasn’t wrong in planning two days of strolling and sailing through the quintessential charming towns by the Danube side because it happens to be my mother’s favourite place in all of Austria. (But I have given away my heart to Tirol more, and then comes Wachau)
So this post helps you plan your Wachau Valley wandering for two details with all details of why/where/how, and what to do.
- Why Visit
- How to reach Wachau Valley
- How to get around
- Where to stay
- How many days to spend here and best time to visit
- Best things to do
- The thing that I regret doing.
Is Wachau Valley worth visiting?
Wachau valley is that perfect painting from the “Naturalism Era” – The group of brown riled roofs are lined with rolling green lands. In the end, you see the shimmering Danube. The backyards of those sloped roof houses are either vineyards or apricot farms.
The valley is layered – There is a rich layer of heritage and architecture of monasteries and castles. The blissful layer comes with the sound of the Danube river at the castle’s foothill. The two layers of farms and graceful houses encircles each other. Like a datum, the cycling path and pedestrian track connect all these. If you like to take your days slow by unfolding these layers relishing and rejoicing with nature, you must visit Wachau Valley.
Where is Wachau?
The beauty amplifies because Wachau valley is a 40km stretch starting from Melk to Krems. There are more than ten small towns along the stretch. So it is bashful, kind of the opposite of bold Vienna. These towns, with their little squares, house a dozen cafes and shops. So after that full day of walking, you can always feel at some and meet with like-minded people with good wine and great Austrian delicacies.
No wonder why this region became A UNESCO World Heritage site in the year 2000
How to reach Wachau?
I could imagine how blissful the road trip would be until I realized how expensive it is to rent a car and pay a high fuel price. So let’s say you don’t want to use public transport and want to go by car.
The hideously overpriced private taxis are the option for those who don’t mind spending a part of their fortune.
Wachau Valley by train?
Located in Lower Austria Province, the hilly region is well connected by railways from major cities in Austria, which is the cheapest way to get to. The state’s capital city Saint Polten marks the end/beginning of most train journeys. Besides that, Melk and Krems are the major railway station in the Wachau Valley.
How do I get from Vienna to Wachau Valley?
Every 20 minutes, a train leaves from Vienna to Wachau Valley. The direct trains from Vienna to Melk mostly depart from West Bahnof. And if you head to Krems, the direct trains will likely leave Vienna from Franz Joseph Bahnof. So I recommend you take the direct trains. Because changing over time, you get five minutes most of the time.
Vienna to Melk train journey was neither exotic nor boring. It is an hour’s journey through smaller towns besides the maize field.
How long does it take to get from Salzburg to Melk?
We took a 3hour train journey from Melk to Salzburg. There are no direct trains between these two cities, and you must change over at St Polten. This journey is gorgeous because you see those alpine meadows as you get closer to Salzburg.
How do you get around Wachau Valley?
The VOR buses that run almost every 40 minutes are the best way to travel between Melk and Krems. They halt at many villages, and you can easily carry your cycles /pets on the bus. Buy a daily pass from the driver to save more.
The Danube river throughout the valley makes you wonder if you can get around ferries and boats. But that is not the case. It is mostly cruises to experience being on the Danube or private speed boats. So boats aren’t the way to get around the valley.
Some Pensions are located away from the main roads. However, most owners offer a pickup service. So ask them in prior when you are using only public transport.
Wachau Railways operate through the valley nestled between two gorgeous towns. Taking the train here is more of an experience than commuting. I recommend this for a short journey as part of your experience; because the train goes through many tunnels, you miss the quintessential feature of the valley – Vineyards and Danube.
Where can I sleep in Wachau?
Pensions, Gästehaus and typical hotels of the valley give you bicycle parking areas. And may whine a little about car parking.
Comfortable options for finding accommodations in Wachau valley are :
Weibenkirchen, Spitz, Emmersdorf an der Donau, Durnstein – These are smaller riverside villages, and you are just a 10-minute walk from vineyards. Most famous wineries are located near these villages.
Krems – If you want to get back to a bit of nightlife after soaking yourself in nature for the whole day, you must choose Krems.
Melk – This is what I chose. It is convenient because it has one of the major train stations in the Wachau Valley. It neither has a big city vibe like Krems nor is as sleepy as the small towns. Mind that this is not exactly located by the riverside like Durnstein. The square is around a km from the Danube cruise boarding point and 400m from the Melk river bank.
In general, you don’t find many people in Austria. So it was a good choice to stay in Melk, where it isn’t crowded nor empty, yet is closer to the river and valley. We stayed at hotel Wachauerhof near the town centre – it was comfortable.
What is the best time to visit the Wachau Valley?
Except during winter, you can visit the region in any other season. I wandered by the riverside in hot-hot July, where grapes were yet to ripen and hills were lush green. I could touch the berries and could not see the winery as they were inactive. If you wish to visit wineries in the making during their busiest time, visit the valley post-October.
How many days to spend here?
You find hundreds of blogs that talk about Melk day trip from Vienna. Then some dozens of hikers suggest a week itinerary for cycling and hiking. But, of course, none of them is wrong.
What is Wachau famous for? – The picture says it all, to sit back and relax.
After spending two days here, I find spending two to three days in Wachau valley is ideal because you can see the region by boat, go hiking, cycle and experience the small-town vibe. A day trip should be your last choice. You must explore the place multiple ways to rejoice in it, at least on the surface.
Best things to do in Wachau Valley
The list of to-do things may seem shorter for two days. Because you walk, sit back and relax a lot in the valley. Here we roll –
Take a quiet saunter down the vineyard.
The whole story of the region revolves around wines. So there is no way you should leave Wachau without touching the grapevines.
The arrays of plants create an avid pattern – Something like a maze that is easy to go through that ends at the river bank or touches the compound wall of a pretty Wachau house comprising a sharp slope with a soaring hipped roof.
What wine is Austria famous for?
The grapes grown here are called Gruner Veltliner. It is one of the finest I have ever had.
There are at least 50 wineries in the region. Post-October is the season when they harvest and make wine. In the other seasons, you can go on wine tasting and for a delicious lunch tour in places like Weingut Hermenegild Mang and Domane Wachau. Make sure you call them up and take appointments prior.
Roam around in “Not So” famous villages in Wachau Valley.
Often we tend to make a list and visit certain places. Nothing wrong with it! But the valley towns are so enticing that you feel like getting off at every village you pass by when you sit on the bus. And do that!
You find pretty houses and get to see the owners adjusting the Zaunhocker in towns like Unterloibe or Emmersdorf.
Another charm about such a town is locals are happy to talk to tourists with no intention of selling business. So if nothing works out, you will always get plenty of time to admire the windowbox flowers of their balcony, wonder what those agriculture machines fitted on that tractor is or sip a coffee in the small cafe until you catch the bus after 40 minutes.
Hike to Melk Abbey.
As you approach Melk during your train journey, a monumental yellow and white striped building on the hilltop appears as if it is touching the sky. That will be your “Love at First Sight with Melk.”
You can’t stop wondering what it is and can’t wait to get there. So the Melk Abbey enchants you from its first looks. A hike through the Wachau houses and their beautiful gardens takes you to the entrance, where you can sit and relax for a while. Or fill your bottle with fresh water by the spout near the seating.
Why is Melk Abbey famous?
Is Melk Austria worth visiting?
Melk Abbey existed in 1089, but you see now a Baroque grandeur built in 1736. So there is history here and fantastic architecture, and a fabulous view of Melk town. There are multiple courtyards and collonaded corridors whose walls are adorned with Imperial paintings and sculptures. But the real magic happens when you go to the terrace.
You see, the twin-towered church rises above a semicircular terrace. This is the closest view of the abbey’s octagonal domed entrance gate.
Rejoice in the magical view of Emmersdorf’s arched bridge and the point where Melk river meets the Danube as long as you want.
The next room from the terrace shocked me the most! As I entered the palatial library that houses more than 90k rare manuscripts, I saw two scholars dressed in old imperial style sitting by the table and smiling at me!
Before I smiled back, I realized they were cutouts and not the real ones. It took me a few seconds to acknowledge and observe the fresco-painted ceiling and that enormous collection of manuscripts!
The functioning monastery’s church is nothing less than extravagant and elegant grandeur. The worship services and holy mass happens on specific days ( I believe once a week) at 9 when only limited people are allowed. So plan accordingly, and don’t forget to wander in the Baroque pavilion.
Eat and smell fresh Apricots.
Referred to as the “orange gold of Wachau valley”, the apricot farm covers the Danube bank along with grapes. To see grapevines, you may have to enter the vineyard. But to see the apricots on trees, sometimes you just have to look around your bus stop! For example, we could touch the plant near Nah & Frisch supermarket. The harvesting season is between March to April. But in summer, you see the green growing ones.
Take a cruise on the Danube river in Wachau Valley.
Walking in the towns versus seeing them from afar are two different things. Plus, you may not be able to roam in every town. Fortunately, the Danube cruise river lets you see those towns. The cruises have an upper open deck where every tourist wants to sit to have the best view. So sit there with a glass of Apricot juice, listen to the water splashing and happily sit back, seeing the villages and castles pass by with the vineyards rolling up and down to infinity.
Another advantage is the cruises play commentary at every town, narrating the history and specialities of the places. That way, you will know which pretty village inspired which artist. Or why a king built a crazy prison that looks like a castle and what happened to those prisoners during the 1700s plague.
There are two routes to take the cruise
- The Red route starts from Krems to Melk
- The Blue route starts from Melk to Krems.
You can buy a combo ticket for to and fro (which I don’t recommend- You must experience Wachau by road too). Or a one-way ticket and return to your town by bus later in the evening. You can get the timetable at tourist information centres in the towns as it varies with the seasons. I wish they had either sunset or sunrise tours instead of starting at 11 in the morning or 4 in the evening in summer.
Wander in Durnstein.
Mom and I were happy to sit back and appreciate the castles and vineyards passing by while on the cruise. But, when I saw a French blue-coloured medical architecture-style church tower, my heart started pounding faster. When I say Wachau valley, you get the picture of Melk abbey or this unique church tower of Durnstein.
Soon after we left Krems that evening, I eagerly awaited to stroll through Durnstein. All my expectations were met reality as this small town with a population of less than 1000 charmed me with its narrow alleys and vineyards. It isn’t yet another medieval town – The backstreets are lined with stone homes as old as the 1700s. Instead of flower plants, these houses had Grapevines.
The alleys perpendicular to the river connected to a small town square. The riverside had a perfect path to saunter and pretty cast iron benches to snooze. Finally, I could get into the Danube and get rid of the heat with its chill water.
Go cycling in the Wachau Velley.
Most travellers who visit the valley come with a dream of going cycling – And they aren’t wrong. There are some uphill paths on the cycler’s way, but there is always shade. The route may be longer, but the home-run cafes exist throughout and help you banish the thirst. Summer heat may bother you, but Danube water is always there to cool you off (except when it floods)
I met a man from Vermont, USA, who cycled through the valley and was heading to Vienna, 100km away by his cycle.
Climb the castles.
On the cruise, I have seen four castles, and I am sure there are six more! Schloss Schönbühel in Aggsbach looked beyond beautiful, and I think it is in great shape compared to Durnstein ruin castle. All these castles hide some terrific stories behind them.
The Durnstein castle was built between the 1140s. It is famous as the place that imprisoned an English king who refused to share the “spoil of war” with the Austrian king in 1192! So his people were sent from England in search of him later. And his man found him in prison through a song they sang to each other! Anyways, the views from the ruins are fascinating.
Perhaps this is the easiest castle to reach with 30 minutes of hiking through a few steep hills.
Visit local markets.
Melk and Krems have amazing squares surrounded by local markets. Typical to any Austrian town, the markets revolve around homemade cakes and organically grown vegetables. Plus, Wachau’s famous brand, Wiener shops, grace most markets.
Clothes to ceramic, bed fabrics to fancy lights, fresh berries to baked cakes, and the local markets thrill locals and tourists. In addition, most towns hold farmer’s markets on Saturday or Sunday. Check with locals to get the exact information.
Munch on local delicacies in Wachau Valley.
Cities turning multicultural bring diversity. Residents will be more open-minded and receive everyone happily. So the factor of heterogeneity in food is high – Which is good. But when you want to learn about local traditional food beyond pizzas and pasta, you must go to small towns which aren’t multicultural yet.
For example, Melk, Durnstein, and Spitz have eateries where you find local food more than continental ones.
Apricot dumplings, wine-based food, poppy-seed-based cakes, and berry cakes are freshly prepared by cafes running for generations in the Wachau region.
Some of the fine restaurants we tried in Wachau are :
- Madar Café Restaurant, Melk.
- Rathauskeller, Melk
- Backerei Schmidl in Durnstein.
Relax by the riverside sunset and listen to the birds.
You may think it is a typical thing to do in any riverside town. But the Danube in Wachau valley is different! Some places in the valley are so empty that you feel good seeing people.
What river runs through the Wachau Valley?
The Danube riverside cycling paths are lively with the ding-dong sound from cyclers. From elders to teenagers, all go cycling. The parents cycling with kids will have a special bike with a baby carrier fitted. Sometimes, you find dogs in those carriers. The large breed dogs go running along the cycles.
Then there are private speed boat owners trying different things on the lake. Some dare-devils get bathing post sunset in that cold water. Then there are others- like me and mom who sit holding hands and chatting about why we should have started travelling with each other long ago.
The sun sets slowly, turning the sky purplish pink. The cafes back in the town square would be cooking something delicious for travellers us – A walk back to the room
The thing that I regret doing here.
You may be surprised that there is nothing about Krems in the list of Best things to do in Wachau Valley while most travellers talk about it. My brutally honest opinion is – We didn’t fall in love with Krems! The whole point of coming to the valley is to be closer to nature. Krems by the riverside must do that, you may think.
What is Krems known for?
Is Krems worth visiting?
Steiner Tor is a 15th-century preserved gate and the city’s symbol. The lanes through this gate show you new Krems full of shops for tourists. The Krems central plaza (Rathausplatz) is glorious with a white monument topped with golden high relief sculptures .
Basically, Krems felt like another city like Vienna, but smaller in size. We wanted to be near the river by the vineyards always. Instead of wandering in Krems city, I wish we had spent more time in smaller towns. Or could have bathed in the Danube till my fingers got wrinkled in water. I could have spent more quality time if we had walked in a different direction from the dockyard, towards smaller alleys or stuck to the riverside of Krems.
Did we inspire you to meander in the Wachau Valley? Let us know in the comment section below.