This romantic region is defined by terraced vineyards, medieval villages, wine taverns, monasteries, and castle ruins.
Over the years, we’ve visited the Wachau about a dozen times, because of its close proximity to Vienna. Our absolute favorite thing to do is walk along the Wachau World Heritage Trail (Welterbesteig in German) from Dürnstein to Krems.
The Wachau World Heritage Trail is a 180 km long-distance hiking trail along the Danube River Valley, which is broken down into 14 stages.
The first stage (Krems – Dürnstein) is particularly scenic, because of its sweeping views of the Danube and the riverside villages. It’s an easy, undulating trail, suitable for everyone. The trail leads initially up to the Dürnstein castle ruins and then through terraced vineyards, pockets of forest, and ultimately through the cellar alleys of Stein and Krems.
You can hike in either direction, though if you’re arriving in the Wachau by transit, it makes the most sense to start the hike in Dürnstein. We’ll explain why later.
Wachau World Heritage Trail Stage 1
- Starting Point: Dürnstein
- Ending Point: Krems
- Distance: 12.5 km point-to-point
- Time Needed: 4 – 4:30 hours
- Elevation Gain: 357 meters
- Elevation Loss: 361 meters
- Difficulty: Easy
- Minimum Elevation: 197 m
- Maximum Elevation: 356 m
- When to Hike: All year round
- Best Time of Day: Late Afternoon
- Where to Eat: Krems or Dürnstein. There are no places to eat along the trail.
- Where to Stay: Bioweingut Schmidl in Dürnstein or Hotel Unter Den Linden in Krems
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Dürnstein to Krems Hiking Map
When to Hike in the Wachau Valley
You can hike in the Wachau Valley all-year-round.
The most beautiful season to hike in the Wachau is in Autumn, during the grape/wine harvest, and after, when the vineyards and trees turn fiery shades of gold and orange.
In Summer, the Wachau is verdant and warm. It’s also a wonderful time of year to hike in the Wachau.
In Spring, the apricot trees begin to bloom, but the scenery is still very wintery.
In winter, the landscapes are quite barren. However, it’s still a lovely day trip from Vienna, when you crave fresh air and a long walk in nature.
How to Get to Dürnstein
Vienna to Krems by Train
Take a direct REX Train from Wien Franz Josefs Bahnhof, Wien Spittelau or Wien Heiligenstadt to Krems. It takes around one hour to reach Krems. The ride costs about 20 EUR (one way).
Krems to Dürnstein by Bus
When you arrive in Krems, we recommend taking the bus to Dürnstein right away. That way, you can walk back to Krems train station, stress-free. Trains depart from Krems to Vienna hourly.
The bus station is just outside the train station. When you exit the train station, turn left and head to the bus station. Take bus 715 to Dürnstein/Wachau Parkplatz P2 (17 Minutes) in the direction of Melk Bahnhof. The bus ride costs 2.50 EUR per person. You can buy your ticket from the bus driver.
Wachau World Heritage Trail Waymarks and Signage
This trail is marked by white “W” waymarks, which are painted on tree trunks, utility poles, and fences.
The trail is also clearly signed with yellow “Welterbesteig” trail signs.
Pay close attention to the waymarks and signs, because it can be easy to follow other roads, especially those that lead downhill to the river.
The trail leads through vineyards, forests, and cellar alleys of Stein and Krems. The path alternates between packed dirt, gravel, and pavement roads.
Dürnstein to Krems Trail Description
Dürnstein Village to Dürnstein Castle (20 minutes)
When you arrive at the Dürnstein bus stop, cross the road, turn right and walk through the tunnel towards the village.
Just before the city wall and Kremser Tor (Krems Gate), there are several yellow trail signal, indicating two ways to the Dürnstein Castle Ruins:
- Easy way: Burgruine Dürnstein Leichte Variante – 25 minutes
- Scenic way: Burgruine Dürnstein – 20 minutes
Head straight, passing through the Kremser Tor gate, and into the village. This is the more scenic approach.
Walk along the cobbled street into the heart of the old town (Altstadt).
Turn right, following the cobbled path between Gasthof Goldener Strauss and the Kunigunde Church, the oldest church in Dürnstein, dating back to around 1200. There’s a sign to Burgruine Dürnstein (20 minutes).
The path steepens and you’ll see the blue tower of the Dürnstein Abbey church, rising above the village, along the river.
A series of steps bring you to the base of the Dürnstein castle ruins. The castle was built in the mid 12th century. It’s a famous landmark, because King Richard the Lionheart was held prisoner here in 1192, after being captured on his way home from the Third Crusade.
Moreover, the views of the river valley are fantastic, especially in the late afternoon.
Dürnstein Castle to Kuhberg Lookout (15 minutes)
After exploring the ruins, follow signs to Dürnstein Altstadt Leichte Variante (Dürnstein Old Town Easy Variant).
The path descends below the treeline.
After about 10 minutes, you’ll come to an intersection. Turn left in the direction of Krems. The right path leads back to Dürnstein.
The grassy path guides you to Kuhberg, Cow Hill. Take a quick detour to the viewpoint overlooking the Danube, marked by a bench and slab of granite.
Kuhberg to Ried Loibenberg Vineyard (1:30 hours)
From the Kuhberg signed trail juncture, continue left, away from the river. You’ll walk through a thicket of trees.
The path then clears the forest and meanders between terraced vineyards. The views open up to the river.
When the path eventually intersects with a road, head left and uphill (direction: Höhereck), following the yellow Welterbesteig sign.
The trail ascends away from the river for about 5 minutes, before veering right.
More delicious views of the valley await you along this flat, steady path. You’ll also see a number of statues along the route, as this Wachau trail overlaps with the Wine Sculpture Trail (Weinskupturenpfad).
Keep following the yellow Welterbesteig signs.
The path cuts across more vineyards with views of the river. At the Ried Loibenberg vineyard intersection, follow the sign to Steiner Kellergasse (1:30 hours) and Krems Hoher Markt (2:30 hours).
Ried Loibenberg to Stein an der Donau (1:30 hours)
The path leads easily between more terraced vineyards. Views extend now to the Göttweig Abbey, enthroned on a hill, and to Stein an der Donau.
Stein an der Donau is now a district of Krems, but for centuries, it was its own town.
The Wachau World Heritage Trail snakes its way around a few houses, descend a staircase to some train tracks, and then ascends another set of stairs.
A sign indicates 1 hour to the Krems Hoher Markt.
Our trail continues along the Steiner Kellergasse, the Stein wine cellar street.
Stein an der Donau to Krems (1 hour)
After about 7 minutes, our trail veers left onto the Philosophensteig path. There’s a white painted Wachau World Heritage Trail waymark on the fence post.
This path wraps around the residential area of Stein and then continues on Alauntalstrasse street, passing various buildings of the Danube University Krems.
Continue all the way to Bienenpark and then follow Stöhrgasse towards the Pfarre Krems-Sankt Veit and Stadtpfarrkirche Krems St. Veith churches. Make your way down to the Obere Landstrasse, the main commercial street of Krems.
Krems has a lovely historic center with gothic, renaissance, and baroque buildings. There’s also lots of dining options here, including authentic wine taverns (Heurigen).
To find your way back to the train station, we recommend using Google Maps, or Maps.me. It’s only a 7 minute walk from the Obere Landstraße street to the Bahnhof.
Where to Stay
Budget | Comfy apartments at Siebertgasse is a cheerful, and light-filled apartment-style accommodation in the 12th district, close to the Margaretengürtel U-Bahn station (U4). Each apartment has a kitchen and dining area. We love the airiness, the pastel accents, and the minimalist design of these apartments. This is a great place to stay if you’re an independent traveler, who craves exploring a city on your own terms.
Midrange | Hotel Schani Salon is an excellent hotel located on Mariahilfer Strasse, Vienna’s biggest shopping street, a few steps away from the Neubaugasse U-Bahn station (U3). We love this Vienna hotel, because of the bright, modern rooms, the friendly vibe, the communal lounge and bar, and the helpful staff. Breakfast is healthy and varied.
Luxury | Altstadt Vienna is a boutique 4-star hotel in the charming Spittelberg quarter, close to Art History Museum. This contemporary-art-filled hotel features uniquely designed interiors and a hidden rooftop terrace (open from March until October). A wonderful breakfast is served in the Red Salon daily. In the afternoon, complimentary tea and homemade cakes are served in front of the open fireplace.
Splurge | SO/ Vienna is a stylish and modern hotel located in the 2nd district, directly on the Danube Canal, at the Schwedenbrücke bridge. From this prime location, it takes only 10-minutes to walk to Stephansdom. Flaunting a 750 m² spa area and a panoramic rooftop bar and restaurant (Das Loft), So/ Vienna offers the discerning traveler a place to relax and savor the very heart of the city.
Wachau Valley Hiking Essentials
- Hiking Backpack: Osprey Tempest 30 Women’s Backpack / Osprey Talon 33 Men’s Backpack
- Comfortable sneakers or lightweight hiking boots
- Polarized, CAT 4 Sunglasses: Julbo Shield Mountain Sunglasses
- Camera Body: Sony Alpha a6400
- Mid-range Zoom Lens: Sony Vario-Tessar 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS ZEISS
- Wide angle Zoom Lens: Sony – E 10-18mm F4 OSS Wide-angle Zoom Lens
- Backpack Camera Clip: Peak Design Camera Clip
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