Discover the Wachau Region – A True Gem in Lower Austria
When you think of a vacation in Austria, the first thing that comes to mind are images of the breathtaking Alps, crystal clear lakes, and big cities. Apart from the most famous Austrian destinations, there are even more treasures that are worth a visit – such as the beautiful Wachau region in Lower Austria.
Are you wondering what makes the Wachau region so special? Simply put, its diverse. It is not just one city, but a whole region along the Danube River. This means that you can discover many exciting places during your visit, such as ruins or monasteries, as well as culinary specialties. The region is so special that it is even a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Where is the Wachau Region?
The Wachau is a region shaped by the Danube between the towns of Krems and Melk and is about 35 kilometers long. Located about 80 kilometers away from the capital of Austria, it belongs to the vast Austrian granite and gneiss highlands. Well-known towns in this region are Dürnstein, Weißenkirchen, Spitz, and Emmersdorf.
Due to its excellent location, it is easily accessible by train, making it suitable for backpackers. Another advantage is that there are many regional bus connections and a special Wachau Railway that makes it easy to reach sights in the valley. With these options, you don’t need your own car and can travel sustainably.
What can I do in the Wachau Region?
Depending on your own taste, you can experience many adventures in the Wachau valley. You can either take part in sports and use of one of the wonderful hiking or biking trails, visit the magnificent historical ruins and monasteries, or stroll through the small historic towns. There is even something for foodies since Wachau is famous for its apricots and vineyards.
To give you a better overview of the sights and activities in the Wachau region, we have chosen the coolest places for you to discover on this list. It is impossible to say which one is the most beautiful, since each one has its own unique charm.
Melk is a delightful little town, which is also called “the gateway to Wachau”. In the city, there are several walking trails that you can use to explore the best spots. These paths will take you by the historical buildings in the city center and will also get you to the Danube River or to the city park.
The highlight of the city is without a doubt the impressive Melk Abbey, which towers above from its pedestal of granite rock. It not only looks breathtaking from the outside, but also invites you in for a tour. To do so, you will need to walk up the so-called golden staircase.
Inside this baroque monastery of Melk there is a lot to see. Unique finds here include the mineral collection, the in-house museum, the church, and the beautiful marble hall. You will also get a picture-perfect view of the city from above. After the visit, numerous pubs and restaurants are ready to serve you a delicious bite to eat.
Krems on the Danube
If you are up for fun, Krems is the place to be. This city boasts a caricature museum which regularly offers new exhibitions. But that’s not the only thing for art lovers to get their money’s worth because Krems is also home to its own art gallery and the State Gallery of Lower Austria.
An interesting fact about the city is that it’s one of the oldest in the country. If you are interested in the history of the city, then the Krems Museum is worth a visit. Here, you will also learn about the culinary specialties of Krems such as its famous wine and mustard.
If wine is now on the mind, you should plan a visit the Winzer Krems. You can take a guided tour through the beautiful vineyards, learn more about the wine and, most importantly, taste a glass. Of course, you won’t starve in Krems either, as the many Heurigen, or wine taverns, offer delicious regional cuisine.
Would you want to dive into the Middle Ages and learn more about Richard the Lionheart of England and his capture? Then the exciting theme trail in Dürnstein is ideal for you. It runs from the town’s beautiful blue collegiate church to a magical ruin. Surrounded by ancient walls, you can relax and enjoy the view from here.
The nice thing is that it can be visited year-round. On particularly hot summer days, we recommend a visit to the Kuenringerbad. This is a naturally occurring outdoor pool where you can enjoy a quieter day.
Two is often better than one, which is why a visit to the Aggstein castle ruins is a must. The imposing ruin is located on a huge rock and is over 800 years old. You can listen to the educational story about the Aggstein ruin during a guided tour, or you can also explore it on your own. A fascinating place in this town is the prison, which is also called Rosengärtlein (the little rose garden).
Not only can you take yourself back in time with a ruin visit, but you can also book an Escape Room that makes use of the outdoor area of the ruins. And of course, don’t forget the unbelievably beautiful view of the Danube and the surrounding area. It will absolutely be a time of pure nature and excitement in Aggstein.
Spitz on the Danube
All good things come in threes, and this is definitely true for Spitz on the Danube. The first thing you can do here is to take a walk to the Hinterhaus ruin. This is located on the edge of the Jauerling, which is the highest point in the Wachau at 960 meters. For the particularly adventurous, you can also climb the tower found here. Though this is not for the faint-hearted due to its design, but it will reward you with a beautiful view. According to stories, there are also ghosts in the ruins of the Hinterhaus.
The second thing you have to do is take the so-called hiking bus to the nature park Jauerling. It includes a total of seven regional communities and offers 350 kilometers of hiking trails. Additionally, there are bike paths and swimming areas in Emmersdorf and Raxendorf. You can also hike directly from Spitz to the Jauerling with the long-distanced 05 hiking trail.
Now for the third thing to do here. A first-class way to experience Lower Austrian is the Jauerlinger Gipfelrunde, also known as the summit excursion. This can be experienced with an app on your phone that will give you interesting information about the region. Once at the top, there is a viewing platform that rewards your ascent. In winter, you can hike through the nature park and even ski on the Jauerling.
As you may have figured out, Wachau is perfect for hiking. So, all you have to do is pack your gear and off you go!
A special route is the 180-kilometer-long World Heritage Trail, which includes a total of 14 divided routes and leads through more than 10 municipalities. To be exact, the entire hike lies between Krems and Melk. It crosses the Danube after Melk and goes back to the starting point, so you’ll get to walk along both sides of the river. Of course, you can also just walk for a part of the route.
Other notable routes include a visit to the way of St. James. Located between Göttweig and Melk, you can see the beautiful Melk Abbey as well as the Göttweig Abbey in addition to the pilgrimage site of Maria Langegg. The E5 trail is another worthwhile hiking trip. This 80 kilometer trek goes through Germany, Austria, and Italy.
While the incredible scenery invites you to take a wild camping adventure, there are strict regulations in Lower Austria. As such, camping is prohibited under the Nature Conservation Act and will be punished with high fines.
Danube Cycle Path
If you like cycling, the beautiful Danube Cycle Path offers wonderful sights. It runs right next to the Danube through Wachau and you can start from Emmersdorf near Melk and cycle to Krems or from Melk to Mautern.
No matter which route you choose, one thing is clear: you will see many sights in the region and have a lot of fun! We should also mention that you can rent both regular bikes and e-bikes in Wachau.
Just get on board a boat and enjoy the mighty Danube up close! Boat trips are magical way to discover the Wachau region. They are particularly great because they make it easy to go to the regional sights. Possible destinations are Melk, Spitz, Weißenkirchen, Dürnstein and Krems. Another fun way to get around in the Wachau is by water taxi, which will quickly take you to your next adventure.
What is the Wachau Region Known for?
What would the Wachau be without its tasty apricots and famous wine? You have to try both on your trip to get the full experience of the region’s specialties!
A fabulous spectacle in Wachau are the apricot blossoms. Every year, you can admire 100,000 trees in full bloom between March and April. However, depending on the year, this may be slightly earlier or later.
There are also numerous walking trails, such as the Marillenweg in Angern. This trail is also accessible by bus and once there, you are greeted by gorgeous trees. The blossoms not only make for a highlight for hikers but also for all photographers. Not to mention there are delicious treats such as cakes and dumplings nearby.
Thanks to the mighty power of the Danube, many places perfect for viticulture have been established in Wachau. Moreover, the climate is perfect for it so the grapes thrive under optimal conditions here.
The most famous vines in Wachau are the Grüner Veltliner and the Riesling; both vines are for white wines. In addition, three types of wines are unique to Wachau. Their classification is based on the percentage of alcohol, so the wines are distinguished with the names “Steinfeder”, “Federspiel” and “Smaragd”.
If you’re interested, you can also explore the wine trails in the area. One of them is in Spitz on the Danube and is about 5 kilometers long. This trail is signposted and provides a lot of information about the area. Plus, you’re not far from the winemakers so you can enjoy a refreshing glass of wine in just a few steps.
Wachau is not the most famous vacation destination in Austria but as you can see, it has so much to offer! Due to its natural conditions, it is the perfect place for extensive hiking tours, but you can also explore a lot by bike or boat.
It is also rich in sights such as the various ruins or the historic buildings which characterize the region in Lower Austria. Plus, the culinary side of Wachau has a lot to offer.
For backpackers, the easy accessibility of the sights is a good reason to visit. Thanks to the great connections by bus, train, and boat, it is very simple to get up and go discover the Wachau region.