Located along the Danube River, the Wachau Valley of Austria is a picturesque countryside renowned for its stunning landscapes, hilltop castles, and vibrant culture.
Known as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000, this breathtaking travel destination is about 35 kilometers long valley situated between villages of Krems and Melk, and boasts charming stone villages connected by sprawling vineyards and fruit orchards.
A visit to the region would not only give you plenty of opportunities to explore its villages but to also sample its delicious local produce and even take wine-tasting tours.
Not to be missed is the Melk Abbey in Upper Austria, an iconic structure with great historical significance looking out over the river with views of terraced hillsides that are nearly impossible to forget.
The lure of Wachau Valley has been pulling visitors to this part of Central Europe for centuries—come and experience it for yourself!
Keep reading this blog post to find out why so many adventurers know that when it comes to must-see places in Austria, the Wachau Valley is one that is almost always on their list.
1. Melk Abbey and Melk's Old Town
Melk Abbey, located on a rocky outcrop along the Danube River in Melk Austria, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Wachau Valley. Founded in 1089 as a Benedictine monastery, this impressive vivid yellow baroque-style structure boasts breathtaking views and an incredible legacy.
Originally constructed to house religious communities, Melk Abbey now serves as a monument to not just its historical and spiritual past but also its aesthetic elegance.
Visitors can explore the stunning Baroque church, Abbey library, Stiftsmuseum, Marble Hall, Benedikti Hall and its iconic galleries, which contain some of Austria's finest Baroque artwork. A testament to its lasting importance, UNESCO declared Melk Abbey an inscribed World Heritage Site in 1997.
Melk's Old Town is an enchanting destination that should not be overlooked during your visit to Melk Abbey. Stroll along the Rathausplatz (Town Hall Square) and marvel at its exquisite windows, before taking in the regal city coat of arms on display at the nearby Town Hall.
Just a short distance away lie more historic gems - such as Haus am Stein and Altes Posthaus – for visitors to explore from Main Square also known as Hauptplatz!
Read also: Places to visit in Vienna
2. Schloss and Abbey of Schönbühel
Located on the right bank of the Danube and approximately 40 meters above it, Schloss Schönbühel is one of the many remaining medieval castles with a rich history stretching back to the 12th century.
Unfortunately, tourists are not able to explore the grounds from within, but just 800 meters away lies Abbey Schönbühel monastery which offers a glimpse into the colorful past of the region and breathtaking views of the river from its rock-based setting.
There are guided tours available at Abbey Schönbühel for those curious enough to take a step into history.
Both Schönbühel Castle and Abbey Schönbühel are situated only 10-minute drive away from Melk Abbey (Stift Melk) and can be seen from afar, immersed in their surroundings while you cruise along Donava river.
Read also: Visit Dachstein Krippenstein in Obertraun, Austria
3. Aggstein Castle
Embark on a journey of the past and discover Aggstein Castle's hidden treasures! With its 300-meter elevation, this 12th century ruin stands majestically above the Danube River.
Along your venture explore secret stairways, courtyards, towers with dungeons to navigate through and knight’s hall – you'll be amazed at what tales are left behind within these walls!
Explore the breathtaking scenery that Aggstein Castle has to offer - from the misty Rose Garden (Rosengärtlein), to countless panoramic viewpoints where you'll be immersed in nature's beauty.
Visitors are invited to partake in historic festivals at their popular spring medieval festival and Christmas market!
And those looking for an adventure-packed experience should not miss out on outdoor escape room games – fun for all ages!
And if all that exploring makes you hungry - no worries because there are authentic taverns inside for delicious local delicacies to refuel during your exciting trip back in time.
Read also: Top Attractions & things to do in Salzburg, Austria
The next noteworthy place not to be missed in the Wachau Valley is Dürnstein, an idyllic village straight out of fairytales, located just about 8 km from Krems.
Boasting UNESCO World Heritage status, the Medieval village is graced with quaint houses and alleys lined in cobblestones!
At its heart lies the iconic blue baroque bell tower from their historic monastery - definitely worth paying a visit for those blessed enough to have the time.
Take a hike up to the historic ruins of Dürnstein Castle - which has actually been built as a prison in the 12th century for none other than English King Richard I (the Lionheart)!
While it requires around thirty minutes with some steep inclines, your effort will be rewarded by astonishing vistas of Donava river and Wachau valley countryside below.
Read also: Top Attractions & Things to Do in Hallstatt, Austria
5. Göttweig Abbey
Located on the other side of the Danube river from Krems on a hill that is wrapped around by forests and vineyards, Göttweig Abbey is a Benedictine monastery with a deep-rooted history. Founded in 1083, the abbey has seen many occasions of prosperity and destruction over its centuries of existence.
Its grand baroque library and chapel have been masterfully restored after fire, making it a popular tourist destination for those looking to dive into Austrian culture and explore some breathtaking architecture.
It should be noted that the staircase with the outstanding ceiling fresco by Paul Troger stands alone as a shining example of baroque architecture and is the most beautiful staircase as well as is one of the largest of its kind in the world – truly an architectural wonder that captivates visitors from all over the world.
A unique and unforgettable experience offered by Göttweig Abbey is to join the monks and experience a spiritual haven (yes they still live there and there are a little over 25 of them) to purify body and soul by going into prayer with the monks.
In addition, accommodation is offered, both simple and luxurious. Prepare to relax your body and soul while enjoying this unique atmosphere at Göttweig Abbey!
Read also: Places to visit near Salzburg, Austria
6. Krems (Krems an der Donau)
Krems is either a starting or ending point while you explore the picturesque Wachau valley.
From cobblestoned alleyways to vibrant cafes, this medieval city offers a captivating mix of cultural attractions that are sure to enchant your wanderlust spirit.
The city dates back to 1237 and was once a Roman settlement known as Carnuntum.
Today, it is one of the oldest cities in Austria and biggest in the Wachau Valley boasting an impressive array of attractions for visitors to explore.
One of the most popular places to visit in Krems is the Kunstmeile (Art Mile), which consists of several art galleries, including the Kunsthalle Krems and Karikaturmuseum. The Art Mile also houses several performance halls where you can watch concerts or plays.
Krems' most iconic monument, the awe-inspiring Steiner Tor Gate stands as a powerful symbol of this historic city's past and enduring culture.
Additionally, there are numerous churches throughout Krems that are worth visiting, such as Piarist Church of Our Lady and Dominican Church.
For those looking for some outdoor activities, there are several parks in Krems where you can go for a stroll or take part in other activities such as cycling, hiking around vineyards or boating on the Danube river.
When it comes to shopping and dining options, Krems has plenty to offer both locals and tourists alike. The city center is filled with shops selling everything from clothing and accessories to souvenirs and local handicrafts.
There are also plenty of restaurants serving up traditional Austrian cuisine alongside more modern international dishes – perfect for sampling after a day spent exploring all that Wachau Valley has to offer!
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7. Wine tasting in Wachau Valley
The Wachau Valley in Austria is renowned for its lush vineyards and exquisite wines. What better way to experience Wachau's charm than by tasting its award-winning wines?
Every year, people from around the world travel to this stunning region of Europe to experience a unique wine tasting adventure unlike any other.
Upon arrival at one of the many wineries located throughout the valley, visitors are welcomed with a warm smile and invited inside for a guided tour of the facility.
Here, they learn about how each bottle of wine is created using traditional Austrian techniques and get an up-close view of some of the most sought-after vintages produced in this area.
After touring the winery, guests can then move on to sample some of their favorite varieties during an exclusive wine tasting session led by expert sommeliers.
During these sessions, visitors will be able to savor different types and styles of white and red wines as well as sparkling blends all while learning more about how aging processes affect flavor profiles over time.
At the end of each session, guests can purchase bottles or cases directly from the winery should they wish to take home a piece or two from their unforgettable trip through Wachau Valley’s fascinating world of viticulture.
With hundreds of wineries in the region, we've hand-selected only a few of our favorites for you to experience.
Domäne Wachau, located near Durnstein, ranks as one of the best Wine producers of the Wachau region. It offers wine tours that include a visit to the wine shop and wine cellars, as well as a tour through their baroque Kellerschlossel.
Taste local wines such as Blauer Zweigelt and Gruner Veltliner while learning about their production processes and history.
Domäne Wachau also features an expansive garden where visitors can explore and take photos while enjoying their wine tastings.
Next up is Weingut Hermenegild Mang in Weißenkirchen in der Wachau where you can sample delicious wines while enjoying delicious food.
Weingut Hermenegild Mang is known for its hospitality and warm atmosphere, making it an ideal spot for travelers looking for immersive experiences. Here you can explore the idyllic vineyards and taste special selections from their vast collection of wines.
Last on our list is Wein & Keramik in Weißenkirchen, where you can not only taste delicious wines but also see ceramic works made by family artisans. This charming winery also offers accommodation for travelers who wish to stay overnight and immerse themselves further into the culture of this region.
Read also: 19 Top places to visit in Austria
8. Hike the Wachau World Heritage Trail
Wachau hiking trails lead along the stunning banks of the Danube River, through vineyards and legendary wineries, castles and ruins full of legends, apricot orchards, and Austria's most impressive Abbeys, as well as the Jauerling, the highest mountain in the Danube region at 960 m, connecting picturesque villages which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Steeped in history, this Wachau World Heritage hiking trail is one of Austria's most spectacular trails and is therefore one of the best things to do in the Wachau Valley.
The trail spans approximately 180 km along both the left and right banks of the Danube, that is linked by ferry, and divided into several sections, making it accessible to all hike levels. Although experts can try its entire length, which could take about 2 weeks.
While hiking the Wachau World Heritage Trail, everyone will be rewarded with dreamy views of the picturesque Wachau Valley, with the opportunity to visit its historical sites, as well as the opportunity to enjoy the delicious local food and wine in one of the cozy pubs and terraces to the award-winning restaurants.
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9. Take a Boat Trips on Danube
The Wachau Danube Valley offers countless and exciting boat trips, from small boats that only hold a few people, to cruise-style ferries.
Enjoy varied landscapes of artfully landscaped vineyards, fortified castles and ruins rising above the green hills of the Danube on longer journeys from Krems and Melk and vice versa.
Or hop aboard a local operator's boat and take an exciting short trip between some of the welcoming villages that line the banks of the Danube.
Whether you choose a long or a short boat trip, a river boat trip is definitely one of the best things to do while visiting the Wachau Valley.
How to get to the Wachau Valley from Vienna and how to get around the Wachau
The Wachau Donava Valley is located only about an hour away from Vienna by car. Regardless of whether you want to start exploring it from Melk or Krems.
It should be noted that the Wachau Valley is often included as a day trip from Vienna due to its close location, with a great opportunity to relax from the hustle and bustle of Vienna in the embrace of nature.
There is a regular train service from Vienna to the both villages (with a change of train at St. Pölten), while buses operate between Krems and Melk, stopping at sights along the way.
To get the most out of what Wachau Valley has to offer, a car is definitely the most convenient way to get around, just keep in mind that if you like wine and want to enjoy it at the valley's great wineries, driving won't be the best option.
In the warm months, it is definitely a great option to rent a bike or even join a bike tour, and meander through the valley in leisurely peace and enjoy its beauty.
For leisurely travelers, one nice option to enjoy its scenery is to go by boat, or you can even choose a cruiz that runs along the Danube River.
Read also: 12 must-see alps villages in Austria
And Finally... the Wachau valley is a beautiful picturesque valley that is included in the UNESCO heritage list due to the great importance of agriculture as well as the architectural heritage that it has bequeathed to us.
It is a suitable destination for anyone interested in history and architecture, as well as for those who like to spend time hiking, and certainly for those who like the taste of wine.
If you fit into one of these types, then definitely put the Wachau Valley on your travel bucket list, whether you plan on your own or choose a guided tour, whether it's a day trip from Vienna or a multi-day trip, it's definitely worth it!