Depending on the itinerary that you choose, a Danube river cruise can be your gateway to some of Austria’s most iconic cities and historic places of interest. This beautiful river passes through the northeast of the country after beginning its journey in Germany and indeed, it’s fitting that Strauss who composed his Blue Danube in honour of the river, was born in Austria. Whatever your itinerary, you can experience the country’s musical pedigree with a port call at its capital Vienna, while your Danube cruise can also offer you the opportunity to see some of Austria’s other celebrated cities and prestigious landmarks. The legacy of the Habsburg dynasty, an unrivalled musical pedigree and the influence of numerous past empires and rulers can all be uncovered on an Austrian river cruise.
Austria’s enriching capital has so much to offer, there’s simply too much to take in during just one visit. A great place to start however is the city’s historic centre, which acts as the perfect showcase for some of its finest architecture. The Ringstrasse is where you’ll find much of this, including the neo-romantic Vienna State Opera, Austrian Parliament Building and the Flemish-gothic Town Hall. Another key landmark in the city is St Stephen’s Cathedral, with its distinctive multi-coloured roof. Often, your river cruise operator will offer an excursion to Shonbrunn Palace, which lies a little way out of the city itself. The palace’s immaculately-kept gardens are free to enjoy but there are a number of tours available exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site palace itself, on which you’ll learn all about the lives and history of the Habsburgs and see some of the beautiful artefacts they left behind.
Usually your first Austrian river cruise stop if you’re entering the country from Germany, Linz is Austria’s busy and vibrant third-largest city and the capital of its Upper Austria State. You’ll dock right in its centre, perfectly placed to explore the key attractions. One of which is the spectacular New Cathedral, which is a real gothic masterpiece and a joy to explore, alongside the Alter Dom, which is the city’s largest baroque church, which boasts some beautiful stonework. The Schlossmuseum is another popular tourist attraction, offering a wealth of fascinating exhibits from numerous historical periods as well as some excellent views of the city below it.
One of the smaller Austrian stops on your river cruise is Melk, which is most famous for its spectacular abbey. Situated on a rocky outcrop overlooking the town, it’s quite simply one of the most beautiful baroque buildings in Europe and still an active place of Benedictine worship and study. While there, you can explore the museum, the expansive library and the park, where guided tours are available. The town itself is relatively small, so you’ll still have time to take in most of its key sights during your visit, including the historic town hall, which dates back to 1575.
This small picturesque town is situated in the heart of Austria’s Wachau wine-growing region, making it the perfect port of call for those who enjoy an authentic taste of the destinations that they visit. Indeed, Reislings are the prized vintages here, and there’s every opportunity to visit a local winery to sample them for yourself. The not-to-be missed attraction however, is Kuenringer Castle, where none other than Richard the Lionheart was once held after being taken prisoner when returning from a crusade. It’s little more than a ruin now, but a hugely important slice of history and a must-see when in port.
Not a port in itself, Salzburg is nevertheless a coach journey away from the port of Linz and often a popular excursion for a number of river cruise lines. It’s most famous for being the filming location for The Sound of Music but its musical legacy dates back much further, as it’s here that the legendary composer Mozart was born. The house of his birth is one of the city’s most popular attractions but there’s certainly plenty to see in beautiful old town too, with striking architecture awaiting around every corner.
Austria travel tips
The currency in Austria is the Euro and the national language is German. Many people you may encounter will speak English, though it is not as widely used as in Germany. Temperatures are similar to those which you’d expect in England, though as a largely Alpine country, Austria can get particularly cold during the winter months.