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I had the most fantastic time exploring the Wachau region of Austria with the Wachau ticket, a special train, boat and admission offer by OBB, the Austrian rail network. So much so that I just had to sit down and share the details with you so that you can all enjoy these fabulous sights too the next time you find yourself in Vienna. After all, sharing is caring, right?
What is the Wachau ticket?
OBB has several special offers to make it easier for you to explore some of the top sights around the country. The Wachau ticket gets you your train ride from Vienna to Melk or Krems, admission to Melk Abbey, your boat trip between Melk and Krems, and your return train journey from either Krems or Melk to Vienna (depending on which town you decide to start with).
How do you get the Wachau ticket?
You can either book it online, or do what I did and just purchase it from the ticket reservations centre once you get to Vienna. There’s no difference in cost whether you decide to purchase the ticket in advance or not, so I suggest waiting until you get to Vienna so that you can check the weather forecast and pick a nice sunny day for your trip.
How much does the Wachau ticket cost?
€59 per adult. Bargain huh? I certainly thought so, considering the admission to Melk Abbey is already €11, the boat ride from Melk to Durnstein is €25.50, and the boat ride from Durnstein to Krems is €13.50. And yes, you’re allowed to break up your Melk-Krems boat trip into 2 with a stopover at Durnstein! Awesome!
Note that the price that comes up online when you search for the Wachau ticket says €52. This is only if you have an OBB card, which most tourists wouldn’t have. Once you click through, if you don’t have an OBB card, you will be charged €59. So, like I said previously, same price whether you prebook online or buy it at the train station in Vienna.
How do you use the Wachau ticket?
You will receive a train ticket, a voucher to exchange for an admission ticket to Melk Abbey, and a voucher to exchange for a boat ticket.
For the train, just check your train times and hop onto any train you like between Vienna and Melk or Krems, then show your ticket to the conductor when prompted.
For admission to Melk Abbey, just hand your voucher over to the person at the ticket counter and they’ll swap it for an admission ticket which you use to enter both the panoramic terrace and the abbey itself. Don’t do what I did and get so excited about visiting the abbey that you forget you already have an admission voucher! True story! If you do forget, just offer your voucher to someone on the way in at a slight discount, say €10. This is an extremely popular tourist spot, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding someone that needs a ticket, and the offer of a €1 discount worked for me. Phew!
For the boat ride, head towards the river and turn right until you see the signs for all the sightseeing cruises. Do NOT cross the metal bridge directly opposite the abbey as this will take you towards the large multi day river cruise boats. Instead, keep walking behind the bridge and car park towards the next boat ramp. Before heading left towards the river and boats, you’ll need to turn right towards the ticket booths where you exchange your voucher for your boat ticket. The ticket will say Melk-Krems and the boat conductor will tear off your ticket stub as you board. Don’t worry. You can get off at Durnstein and show the same ticket when you board again for your Durnstein to Krems leg of the journey.
What about a suggested itinerary?
Sure thing, that’s what this blog is for! I suggest you start your day at Melk because Krems is a larger town, and although I didn’t really explore it properly, it didn’t seem anywhere near as charming as either Melk or Durnstein. Furthermore, Melk Abbey gets a LOT of visitors. If you want any chance at all of getting a few photos without anyone in them, aim to arrive early. As in before official opening time. Yup, that’s how I roll. That being said, I arrived at 8am, a full hour before the opening time of 9am as stated on the website, only to snap about 2 people-less pics before a horde of about 4 different tour groups arrived. So be warned, they can and do change their opening hours as they feel like it!
In order to make the best use of your day, this is the set of trains I suggest you aim for from the main train station in Vienna (Wien hauptbahnhof or hbf):
-0655-0728am: Railjet RJ 542 from Wien hbf platform 7C-E to St Polten platform 5
-0734-0756am: Regional R 2004 from St Polten platform 4C-F to Melk platform 2
Upon arrival at Melk, exit the train and keep heading straight ahead and upwards through the old town (Altstadt) and follow the signs for the abbey (stift) towards the big yellow building on a hill. It’s the dominant feature that you’ll see from anywhere in town, so you really couldn’t miss it even if you tried!
Once you get to the square in front of the abbey, you can either turn left straight to it, or turn right towards the restaurant and adjoining garden, where you’ll get nice views of the abbey and town. This part is free to enter even if you decide you don’t want to pay to visit the interior of the abbey.
Past the entrance gate, the 2 main courtyards of the abbey are actually also free even to those without tickets. The ticket counters are to the left of the first courtyard. Once you’ve got your ticket, you can either head straight (from the ticket office) towards the North Bastion with its panoramic terrace, or left towards the second courtyard. The way into the abbey is at the end of the second courtyard, up the stairs on your left and before the toilets at the top of the long corridor with arches. There’s no need to walk down the corridor at this stage as you’ll exit the abbey this way.
As usual, I picked the less crowded option and decided to start at the panoramic terrace. From the terrace, there are steps leading into the Abbey Park, at the end of which stands the cake-like Garden Pavillion. I mean, look at that shade of pink! I was unable to resist the allure of that icing-like hue and made a beeline straight for it.
After playing around with selfies at the Garden Pavillion, I took a quick stroll through the park, then wandered through the shop and exhibit at the North Bastion.
Seeing that the crowds had thinned a little, I decided it was finally time to head into the second courtyard for the official visit of the abbey.
Apart from the North Bastion and adjoining park, your ticket gets you entry into the Abbey Museum, Marble Hall, Library and Church. It’s all very beautiful, but also crowded and no photography is allowed indoors, so I ended up whipping through most of these fairly quickly, pausing mainly at the balcony linking the Marble Hall and Library to enjoy the views of town and for some respite from all those people.
Once you’re done at the abbey, I suggest taking a leisurely stroll through town towards the river. It’s really quite a charming place with lots of chic boutiques and cute little eateries, so you might as well grab lunch here and soak up the atmosphere. Some suggestions include the Rathauskeller near the abbey, Zur Post Restaurant near the Catholic Church, or Backerei Konditorei Mistlbacher roughly in the centre of town for their apple strudel, jelly cookies and Mozart balls. Just make sure you’re done by about 1pm.
Although it’s an easy walk from town towards the river, it’s also rather picturesque with awesome views of the front facade of Melk Abbey, so I suggest you leave yourself enough time to enjoy your riverside walk towards the boat. Once at the river, turn right. Do NOT cross any bridges over the river or you may find yourself trying to join one of the large multi-day cruise boats. Just keep the river to your left, the road and abbey to your right, and you can’t go wrong – simply keep walking until you see the Brandner or DDSG boat. The ticket booth where you exchange your Wachau ticket voucer (remember that?) for your actual boat ticket won’t be far from the boat.
You might like to check the timetable online before you go in case of seasonal/annual variations, but this is the schedule I stuck to:
-1345-1500pm: Melk to Durnstein
-1730-1755pm: Durnstein to Krems
This gives you just under 2.5 hours in Durnstein, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but was enough for me to climb all the way to the top of Kuenringer Castle ruins, visit Durnstein Monastery, take a quick look in a couple of shops in town, and reward myself with some ice-cream from Strand Cafe right next to the boat dock for managing to blaze through my itinerary so efficiently.
If you think you’ll only have time for one thing in Durnstein, make the climb to the castle ruins your first priority. It’s hard work, but the views of the surrounding valley, the river bend and, on a clear day, even Melk Abbey in the distance, are breathtaking and the highlight of my entire day. To get to the castle ruins, simply turn right past the monastery as you leave the boat dock. Follow the path until you reach a signposted paved pathway on your left, which you will take uphill all the way to the ruins. The path is clearly marked the whole way.
If you find yourself with time to spare, head straight to the Monastery next. Admission costs just €3.50, an absolute bargain in my opinion.
The only annoying part of the day is the 1.6km roughly 20 minute walk northeast from the Brandner boat dock in Krems to Krems/Donau bahnhof, where you catch your train back to Vienna. Depending on how fast you walk, your train options are:
-1819-1855pm: Regional R 6050 from Krems/Donau platform 3B to St Polten platform 7A-B
-1902-1930pm: Railjet RJ 69/869 from St Polten platform 3 to Wien hbf platform 9C-E
Unless you’re intending to run to the train station, the more realistic option is an hour later, so you might as well take a leisurely stroll through Krems and buy something to eat along the way:
-1919-1955pm: Regional R 6054 from Krems/Donau platform 3A to St Polten platform 7A-B
-2002-2030pm: Railjet RJ 167/567 from St Polten platform 3 to Wien hbf platform 9A-C
And there you have it, a complete itinerary for a 13.5 hour day trip from Vienna to the Wachau Valley for just €59 excluding the admission to Durnstein Monastery and any food/shopping you choose to indulge in along the way. I thoroughly enjoyed my time exploring Melk Abbey, the castle ruins, Durnstein Monastery and both towns, and highly recommend this trip if you have a day to spare the next time you’re in Vienna.
Have you visited the Wachau Valley? What was the highlight for you? What other towns did I miss that I should visit next time? Can you suggest any other day trips from Vienna?
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