All aboard: what not to miss on a river cruise through Austria

Mary Novakovich

Mary Novakovich

The Danube and river cruising were made for each other. A languid, relaxing way of getting to know some of the landscapes and cities of Europe.

Schönbühel Castle in the Wachau Valley
Schönbühel Castle in the Wachau Valley © Freesurf - Adobe Stock Image

In Austria*, it's pure enchantment, from the Habsburg elegance of Vienna to the fairytale castles of its riverside towns in the Wachau Valley. Here's how to make the most of a Danube cruise gliding through Austria.

Getting to Austria: if a river cruise sounds like your kind of leisurely break, check out the latest deals on itineraries from TUI River Cruises*, which offers routes taking in many of the Danube's best sights including those in Austria.


Somewhere in Vienna, in many places, in fact, there's a cup of coffee with your name on it. And probably a fat chocolatey slice of Sachertorte to go with it.

What could be more civilised, chilled out and downright indulgent than enjoying a hot drink and cake in one of Vienna's many sumptuous coffeehouses?

Indulge in a slice of Sachertorte
Indulge in a slice of Sachertorte © Barmalini - Adobe Stock Image

It's hard to resist the vaulted marble ceilings of Café Central, Vienna's best-known Kaffeehaus.

You'll find it in the Innere Stadt, Vienna's central part which is also home to the Hofburg, the former imperial palace of the Habsburgs.

Explore the palace's baroque interiors and museum exhibitions before wandering through the neat greenery of the trio of parks surrounding it: Burggarten, Heldenplaltz and Volksgarten.

Then cross the boulevard into another collection of imposing 19th-century museums housing the fine arts collection in one and natural history in the other.

Majestic Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
Majestic Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna © Anna Lurye - Adobe Stock Image

If you need more Habsburg splendour to glory in, head south of the Innere Stadt to Schönbrunn Palace, where the imperial family built its summer residence in the 18th century. Leave yourself plenty of time to roam through its lavish apartments and enormous landscaped gardens.


Cruise along to Krems an der Donau northwest of Vienna and discover a medieval town surrounded by sloping vineyards.

It's actually three towns knitted together; Krems, Und and Stein, with charming Renaissance and baroque palaces and townhouses lining the hilly streets.

To get a handle on the history of Krems, visit Museumkrems housed in a former Dominican monastery. It makes an atmospheric setting for displays about the town as well as its history of winemaking.

Come closer to the present day in Kunst-Halle-Krems, which shows that the town can do modern as well as anyone else.

What was a tobacco factory in the 19th century was transformed in the 1990s into an art gallery showcasing contemporary art, along with a sleek new arts venue to go with it.

Wachau Valley

Krems marks the start of the Wachau Valley, which winds along the Danube for 22 miles as far as Melk.

There's a sense of timelessness about this UNESCO-listed valley of hillside vineyards, which look as if they haven't changed since the Middle Ages.

Typical village in the Wachau Valley
Typical village in the Wachau Valley © Stefan Rotter - Alamy Stock Photo

It's here that you'll be grateful to be on a boat; moving slowly and gently through this serene landscape that happens to produce some top-class wine.


This jewel-like walled town is one of Austria's most photogenic, and it's from the Danube that you get the best view of one of its chief sights.

You'll spot the blue and white baroque bell tower that rises above the 13th-century Dürnstein Abbey, which is certainly worth a visit. Take in the view from the Danube Terrace once you've explored the wonders of the abbey church.

Dürnstein played a part in Britain's history when Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in the 12th-century hilltop fortress Burgruine. Eventually, a ransom was paid and the king was freed. Follow the uphill trail from the town to the ruined fortress for wide-reaching views.


The Wachau Valley comes to an end at Melk, but not before another of Austria's most illustrious landmarks comes into view.

You can't miss the compelling sight of Melk Abbey, which was founded in the 11th century as a Benedictine monastery but was completely remodelled early in the 18th century in full-on opulent baroque style.

Painted in various shades of yellow and ochre, it looms over the town from its perch on a bluff above the Danube. The monastery is still in use today, educating hundreds of boys and girls.

Set aside a good amount of time to visit the abbey's museum, chambers, Marble Hall and library. Your ticket also includes a visit to the abbey church (Stiftskirche) as well as the gardens and picnic areas of Stiftspark.

The historic Old Town of Melk on the Danube in Austria
The historic Old Town of Melk on the Danube in Austria © Pytyczech -

Afterwards, take a walk along the cobbled streets of the Old Town, whose squares have enticing café terraces tucked in among the beautiful baroque buildings painted in soft pastel colours.


Austria's third-largest city was the European Capital of Culture in 2009, and two of its biggest cultural sights come as a bit of surprise in this city of cobbled squares filled with baroque architecture.

Facing each other on opposite sides of the Danube are the Lentos Kunstmuseum and Ars Electronica, both ultramodern, shiny glass structures that glitter over the Danube.

Check out the huge collection of art at Lentos, including works by Klimt and Schiele, before crossing the river to the futuristic world of Ars Electronica and its fascinating virtual reality exhibits.

In Linz's Altstadt (Old Town), you'll find the immensely pretty Hauptplatz, a cobbled square ringed with exquisite baroque buildings in pleasing pastel shades, including the town hall and regional parliament.


From Linz you can take a day trip to Salzburg and transport yourself to one of Austria's most magical cities.

It's not just The Sound of Music that will be ringing in your ears - Mozart's birthplace is a heady collection of gorgeous baroque squares, streets and alleyways, with a magnificent cathedral and an imposing hilltop fortress standing guard over the Altstadt.

Signature gate posts in the Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg
Signature gate posts in the Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg © Elenaphotos -

Like Vienna, Salzburg's coffeehouses will lure you into their cosy interiors and buzzing outdoor terraces, and the Mirabell Gardens on the right bank of the Salzach River will remind you of a certain Julie Andrews film.

Weather in Austria

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The above shows the weather in Linz. Find out more about conditions across the country in our complete guide to the weather in Austria.

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Mary Novakovich

Mary Novakovich

Mary Novakovich is an award-winning journalist, travel writer and author. She often writes about Croatia, France, Italy and Greece for the likes of The Independent, The Guardian and The Telegraph. Mary has also written numerous guidebooks and a travel memoir, "My Family and Other Enemies: Life and Travels in Croatia's Hinterland".

Posted on Thursday 15th September 2022 in: City Cruises Europe Excursions

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