The sinuous Danube twists through a landscape of steep terraced vineyards, rolling forested hills, and rocky spurs crowned with medieval castles.
The banks of the river are dotted with riverside villages and carpeted in apricot groves and vineyards. Nature and humanity have shaped this UNESCO World Heritage Site hand-in-hand, creating a romantic river valley that celebrates architecture as much as agriculture.
There are many ways to explore the Wachau Valley, including cycling along the Danube, hiking the World Heritage Trail, eating and drinking in wine taverns (Heurigen and Buschenschänke), and touring baroque monasteries.
Whether you’re planning a day trip, or a weekend getaway, this Wachau Valley travel guide will help you find out when to visit, what to see and do, and where to stay.
How to Visit the Wachau Valley in Austria
- When to Visit: All year round, though Autumn is the most memorable season.
- Top Attractions: Melk Abbey, Göttweig Abbey, Dürnstein Castle Ruins, and Aggstein Castle
- Top Hikes: Vogelbergsteig, Seekopf, and Dürnstein to Krems
- What to Eat: Marillenknödel (dessert apricot dumpling)
- Guided Wachau Day Trips from Vienna: Wachau Valley Winery Biking Tour, Dürnstein and Wachau Cruise, Wachau Valley Day Tour with Wine Tasting, and Wachau, Melk Abbey, and Danube Valleys Tour
- Where to Stay in Krems: Gästehaus auf der Kunstmeile (budget), Hotel Unter Den Linden (midrange), or Klinglhuber Suites (midrange-luxury)
- Where to Stay in Weissenkirchen: Hotel Garni Weinquadrat (midrange) or Hotel-Restaurant Kirchenwirt (midrange-luxury)
- Where to Stay in Dürnstein: Bioweingut Schmidl (midrange), Hotel Schloss Dürnstein (luxury), or Hotel Richard Löwenherz (luxury)
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Wachau Valley Map
When to Visit the Wachau Valley
The best time to visit the Wachau is in Autumn.
In mid-late October, vine leaves turn yellow. As a result, the entire Wachau countryside looks like a vast sea of yellow. This captivating scene casts a spell, especially in the hours before sunset.
Our favorite places to experience fall colors are in Spitz, Weißenkirchen in der Wachau, and along the Dürnstein-Krems vineyard trail.
The Wachau is also home to mixed forests of beech, birch, and oak, all of which lose their leaves in late October and early November. If you want to hike beneath a colorful canopy of orange, red, and yellow, check out the Vogelbergsteig Trail and the Seekopf-Hirschwand Trail.
Related: Austria in Autumn
Winter begins with the Advent season. Across the Wachau, there are Christmas-themed festivities and markets in castles, monasteries, and villages. Many of these events only occur on weekends, or on specific days, starting in mid-November.
After Christmas, tourism dies down in winter. Many hotels and restaurants close down for the season. Kati and I still enjoy visiting the Wachau in the dead of winter, especially when we’re in need of long walks in the fresh countryside air.
Here are some popular Christmas markets in the Wachau which take place annually. Please double check exact dates and times. We’ve linked to the German websites, because the English websites are often outdated.
Aggstein Castle Advent: Arts & Crafts Market
The Aggstein Advent Market comprises an open-air medieval market and an arts and crafts market of 60 exhibitors, located in the knight’s hall (Rittersaal) and in the gallery of the Aggstein castle ruins. At 6 pm, there are fireworks.
Dates | The first three weekends in November, 10 am – 7 pm
Entrance Fee | Adults: 6.5 EUR, Children ages 6 – 16: 3.5 EUR, Children under 6: Free
Shuttle Bus Up and Down | 3 EUR per person
Location | Burgruine Aggstein, Kuenringerstraße 13, 3394 Aggstein
More Info | Ruineaggstein.at
This atmospheric advent takes place on four weekends in the old town of Melk, home to the famous Melk Monastery. If you’re visiting with children, consider coming on December 6th when St. Nicholas visits the market, or on December 20th when Christkind brings presents to children.
Dates | Fridays – Sundays, November 25 – December 18, 2022
Entrance Fee | Free
Location | Altstadt (Old Town) of Melk
More Info | visitmelk.com
Krems Advent Magic
The Krems Christmas Market (Kremser Adventzauber in German) is open daily and offers a rich program, including musical events, carriage rides, workshops, Santa Clause, etc..
Dates | November 24 – December 24, 2022
Entrance Fee | Free
Location | The pedestrian zone of the old town of Krems
More Info | krems.info
Wachau Advent in Dürnstein
This open-air advent market in Dürnstein takes place in the inner courtyard of both the Dürnstein Abbey and the Schloss Dürnstein Hotel.
Dates | December 3-4, 10-11, 17-18, 2022, 1 pm – 8 pm
Entrance Fee | Free
Location | Dürnstein Abbey / Hotel Schloss Dürnstein
More Info | donau.com
Spring in the Wachau is marked with the blooming of apricot trees. The Apricot blossom period varies each year, but it’s usually sometime between the end of March and mid April. You can monitor the blossoms by checking out this webcam. A lovely place to experience the apricot blossoms is along the Marillenweg (Apricot Trail) in Rossatz.
Tourism starts to pick up in late Spring, when temperatures rise.
There are a few notable events in Spring, including:
The Wachau GOURMETfestival comprises the Vinaria Fair WEIN & GENUSS Krems festival and a series of one-off culinary and wine events, which are collaborations between renowned chefs and regional winemakers.
Dates | March 23 – April 6, 2023
Event Calendar | vinaria.at
Vinaria Fair WEIN & GENUSS Krems
This Wachau wine festival showcases 70 top winemakers from Lower Austria
Dates | March 31 – April 1, 2023, 2 pm – 8 pm
Entrance Fee | 28 EUR in advance
Booking | Book Tickets Here
Location | Dominikanerkirche Krems, Körnermarkt 14, 3500 Krems
In early May, there’s a spring wine event called Wachau Weinfrühling, in which participating wineries offer wine tastings of their current vintage in their cellars, vineyards, or Heurigenstüberl. On Saturday evening (5 pm – 1 am), there’s a special celebration of dance and music at Schloss Spitz called Steinfelder Night.
Dates | May 6 – 7, 2023, 10 am – 6 pm
Entrance Fee | 25 EUR
Pre-Booking | Not required
The Wachau Valley comes to life in summer. The banks of the Danube are verdant and everything is open.
It can get really hot, so we recommend booking accommodations with air-conditioning (e.g. Klinglhuber Suites in Krems).
Each year, Summer solstice (Sonnenwende) celebrations take place across the Wachau Valley. One of the highlights is the firework display In Krems.
There’s also the annual Glatt & Verkehrt music festival in Krems featuring traditional and contemporary world music.
Related: Summer in Austria
Best Hikes in the Wachau Valley
Wachau World Heritage Trail: 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 this trail in either direction.
Starting Point | Paid P2 Car Park / Bus Stop, 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
Learn More: Dürnstein to Krems Hike
The Vogelbergsteig trail is a short, scenic circuit hike starting in Dürnstein. It strings together the Dürnstein castle ruins, the Fesslhütte mountain hut, the Kanzel viewpoint, and the partially-secured Vogelbergsteig trail.
Trailhead | Paid P2 Car Park / Bus Stop, Dürnstein
Distance | 6.7 km circuit
Time Needed | 2:45 hours
Elevation Gain/Loss | 424 meters
Difficulty | Moderate
Learn More: Vogelbergsteig Trail
Seekopf and Hirschwand Circuit Trail
The circuit hike to the lookout tower of Seekopf and the summit of Hirschwand is a standout trail in the Wachau Valley. Though it links several outstanding viewpoints overlooking the Danube River, this is largely a forest hike.
Locals enjoy hiking here on hot summer days, because much of the route is shaded.
This Wachau hike begins in Oberkienstock village on the Danube and steadily ascends the Meurersteig trail to Seekopf hill (671 meters), crowned with a large lookout tower. From Seekopf, the hike continues northeast in the direction of St. Lorenz. Along the way, there’s an optional detour to the Hirschwand rock wall, which involves some secured scrambling.
A few more viewpoints await you as you descend to the riverside village of St. Lorenz. To complete the circuit, follow the bike path along the river back to Oberkienstock.
Trailhead | Parkplatz Seekopf, Oberkienstock
Distance | 9 km circuit
Time Needed | 3:30 hours
Elevation Gain/Loss | 544 meters
Difficulty | Moderate
Learn More: Seekopf and Hirschwand Circuit Trail
Stunning Viewpoints and Photo Spots in the Wachau
Rotes Tor Viewpoint in Spitz
The Rotes Tor (Red Gate) is a historic monument above the town of Spitz, only accessible by foot. It delivers a sensational view of Spitz, bounded by sloping vineyards, and backed by the Danube and rolling hills.
The Rotes Tor was the site of a vicious battle between the locals and the Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War (1618 – 1648). According to written records, the enemies (the Swedes) invaded the village, leaving only death and destruction in their wake. The outnumbered locals put up a heroic fight. It’s said that the gate was stained red with the blood of the brave. Hence, this crumbling fortification is proudly called the Red Gate.
The Rotes Tor is a short walk from the village center. First, walk to Spitz Kirchenplatz (church square) and follow the sign to Rotes Tor (15 minutes).
Walk up the Rote Torgasse and later the Marstal road to the Rotes Tor.
To return to the village, follow the trail that descends into the vineyards, directly from Rotes Tor (see map).
This short 2.9 km circuit walk takes 1 hour.
Rotes Tor Location | Google Maps
Weissenkirchen Bench Viewpoint
Weissenkirchen in der Wachau is one of the most picture-perfect villages in the Wachau Valley.
You can admire the village from a slight elevation if you follow the World Heritage Trail in the direction of Dürnstein. Initially, this trail runs between vineyards and offers unobstructed views of the Danube Valley.
Along the way, there are several viewpoints, marked with benches. Follow the trail for as long as you want.
Bench Location | Google Maps
Aggstein Castle Ruins Viewpoint
Aggstein is a medieval castle dating back to the 12th century. The castle ruins are located on a rocky spur, about 300 meters above the Danube.
The castle hosts events throughout the year, including an Advent-themed arts and crafts market in November and medieval festival in May. You can also visit the castle on a classic guided tour, a fairytale tour, or a tour for children.
One of the most beloved vantage points of Aggstein is from a nearby Druiden Türme rock towers. From the upper car park at Aggstein, follow the trail in the opposite direction of the castle. The trail leads into the forest and approaches the viewpoint from the east. There’s no need to scramble up the rock formations, unless you want to.
Upper Car Park | Google Maps
Aggstein Viewpoint | Google Maps
Where to Stay in the Wachau Valley
Weissenkirchen in der Wachau
Midrange | Hotel Garni Weinquadrat is a very friendly B&B with 12 rooms set in the heart of Weißenkirchen, close to the Danube. This superb guesthouse offers a rich breakfast buffet featuring local and homemade products. Guests can rent bikes and e-bikes directly at the B&B and select wines from the 24-hour, self-service wine cellar (Kellerstüberl).
Midrange-Luxury | Hotel-Restaurant Kirchenwirt is a traditional hotel with an on-site restaurant in the center of Weißenkirchen. Widely praised for its comfortable rooms, excellent breakfast buffet, and courteous staff, Kirchenwirt is an ideal base for exploring the Wachau. Guests can also relax in the spa, housed in the nearby 16th century Winzerhaus, at a surcharge.
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. new bathrooms, functional 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.
Spitz an der Donau
Midrange | Barock-Landhof Burghardt is a fine country house with rooms and apartments in the center of Spitz.
Midrange | The top-rated Appartements Adam-Mühle offers lovingly furnished apartments, 1.1 km (14 minute walk) from the village center of Spitz. Breakfast is available upon request.
Midrange | Gasthof Prankl is a guesthouse located on the Danube, close to the village center. Guests love the atmosphere, breakfast on the terrace (included in the room rate), and the on-site restaurant.
How to Get to the Wachau from Vienna
From Vienna, you can take a train to the Wachau Valley.
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).
From Krems, you can take regional buses to different destinations in the Wachau.
Guided Wachau Day Trips from Vienna
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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.
More Romantic River Valleys in Europe: