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 P2 Car Park / Bus Stop | Google Maps
- 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 meters
- Maximum Elevation: 356 meters
- When to Hike: All year round
- Best Time of Day: Late Afternoon
- Where to Stay in Dürnstein: Bioweingut Schmidl (midrange), Hotel Schloss Dürnstein (luxury), or Hotel Richard Löwenherz (luxury)
- Where to Stay in Krems: Gästehaus auf der Kunstmeile (budget), Hotel Unter Den Linden (midrange), Klinglhuber Suites (midrange-luxury)
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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 Valley 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 underpass 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 Eselsteig (Donkey Trail) 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 church. 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
Midrange | Bioweingut Schmidl is a family-run, organic winery with a small guesthouse (3 spacious rooms), located just outside the historic town center of Dürnstein. They offer a bicycle rental service, breakfast (included), and wine tasting (upon request).
Luxury | Hotel Schloss Dürnstein is housed in a historic castle built in 1630, overlooking the Danube. This classic hotel features grand interiors, an excellent on-site restaurant, and a wellness area (two swimming pools and two saunas). Though this is a fine hotel overall, it does need some updates (e.g. bathrooms, air-conditioning). Breakfast is included. Book a room with a view of the Danube.
Luxury | Hotel Richard Löwenherz is a charming old-world hotel which commands a romantic view of the Danube. Stay here for the fairy tale setting, garden outdoor pool (not heated), and gourmet restaurant and terrace.
Krems an der Donau
Budget | Gästehaus auf der Kunstmeile is a guesthouse located on the Kunstmeile (Art Mile) in the old town of Stein, which is part of Krems, though 1.5 km from the city center. Cyclists love staying here.
Midrange | Hotel Unter Den Linden is a 5 minute-walk to the Steiner Gate and the Krems pedestrian zone. This lovely hotel offers modern and airy rooms with parquet floors and a delicious breakfast buffet.
Midrange-Luxury | Klinglhuber Suites is a top-rated, dog-friendly (12 EUR/day) accommodation in Krems, featuring spacious rooms with air-conditioning, Nespresso machines, mini-bars, and a seating area. Breakfast is included. Guests also have access to an outdoor pool.
Luxury | Boutique Gästehaus Guestel is a stylish holiday home in Krems with three bedrooms.
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.
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Austria Trip Planning Essentials
When to Visit Austria
Summer and early Fall are our favorite seasons in Austria.
Getting around Austria
Austria has an excellent public transit system. We’ve used it extensively to travel throughout the country. We highly recommend using transit if you’re visiting cities (Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Graz, etc…), and/or doing hut-to-hut hikes.
Some areas like Mayrhofen, Schladming and Lech am Arlberg have wonderful seasonal transit systems in place (e.g. summer hiking buses). However, if you’re not visiting during the high season, bus frequencies are significantly reduced and it’s far easier to get around with your own vehicle.
If you’re planning on visiting multiple destinations across Austria, we recommend renting a car.
Use these road trip itineraries for trip planning inspiration:
- 2 Week Austria Road Trip – starting in Vienna
- 1 Week Austria Road Trip – starting in Salzburg or Munich
- 10-Day Bavarian Alps & Tyrolean Alps Road Trip – starting in Munich
We recommend using the Discovercars.com car rental reservation platform to search for and book car rentals. This easy-to-use booking platform compares car rental deals from 500+ trusted providers, so that you can choose the best option for your trip.
If you’re driving into Austria from a neighboring country, don’t forget to purchase a vignette at/near the border.
Hiking in Austria
Where to Hike in Austria
Read Austrian Alps Hiking Destinations for an overview of where to hike in Austria, with tips on specific trails and where to stay. Also check out Best Day Hikes in Austria and these region-specific hiking guides:
- Salzburg Hiking Guide
- Filzmoos, Salzburg Hiking Guide
- Schladming, Styria Hiking Guide
- Lech am Arlberg, Vorarlberg Hiking Guide
- Vorarlberg Hiking Guide
- Vienna Mountains Hiking Guide
Hut to Hut Hiking in Austria
Austria is a premier hut-to-hut and long-distance hiking destination. The quality of the mountain huts are superb. We particularly love the high-alpine trails, which are called Höhenwege in German. We’ve summarized our favorite multi-day hikes in Trekking Austria. If you’re new to hut hiking, read this in-depth guide to Hut to Hut Hiking in Austria.
- Day Pack: Osprey Tempest 30 Women’s Backpack / Osprey Talon 33 Men’s Backpack
- Grade B/C high-cut hiking boots: Meindl Schuhe Island Lady (Kati’s Boots), Women’s Hanwag Tatra II GTX (Sabrina’s Boots), Men’s Hanwag Tatra II GTX (men’s equivalent)
- CAT 4 Sunglasses: Julbo Shield Mountain Sunglasses
- Hiking Poles: Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles
- Backpack Camera Clip: Peak Design Camera Clip
What to See & Do in Austria
- Visit a gorge like the Liechtenstein Gorge in Salzburg.
- Bathe in the thermal pools of an Austrian Therme like Aqua Dome in Tirol
- Stay in a thermal spa hotel like Rogner Bad Blumau (designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser) in Styria, EurothermenResort Bad Ischl in Upper Austria, or the Aqua Dome Hotel in Tirol.
- Hike to a mountain lake like Lake Tappenkarsee in Salzburg or Lake Drachensee in Tirol.
- Go Wine Tasting in South Styria.
- Marvel at the culture, music, and architecture of Vienna.
- Eat heartwarming mountain food in an Almhütte at Grosser Ahornboden in Tirol or Ursprungalm in Styria.
- Drive the Grossglockner High Alpine Road in Hohe Tauern National Park.