Some of Europe’s most beautiful countryside, towns and architecture are just a day trip from Vienna, Austria. Find inspiration with our insider’s guide.
There’s no denying that Vienna is awash with wonders, and it can be hard to think of why you should leave it. But right on Vienna’s doorstep, you’ll find breathtaking country retreats, charming towns and villages, glass-like lakes, and calming castles. The choices are endless when it comes to day trips from Vienna. Here’s where to find storybook European escapes, just a short drive from the famous city itself.
Wachau Valley, Vienna
With its sensational scenery, natural diversity and picturesque riverside towns, Wachau Valley – a jaw-droppingly scenic, two-hour drive away –truly deserves its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. But, it’s not just a pretty face; there are tons of things to do in the valley, too.
For a closer look at the valley’s natural fruits, follow part – if not all – of the Wachau World Heritage Trail, hiking through the wine country and surrounding communities. The 112-mile route is divided into 14 sections, and there are plenty of quaint, roadside taverns in which to stop off and relax. A number of the routes are loops, so you can park without worrying how you’ll get back to your car. Don’t forget to visit one – or both – of the valley’s most popular towns, Melk and Krems, listed below.
Looking for lakes? Aim for Lunzer See, a two-hour drive from Vienna. It’s Lower Austria’s largest lake, and is surrounded by lush forest. You can walk or cycle around the whole thing, or head out on to the water in a rented boat.
Hidden among the Wachau region’s craggy and ragged hills, the small town of Dürnstein is well worth the one-hour drive from Vienna. Just follow the A22 north out of Vienna, and then take the S5.
Park in the center of the sleepy streets, then stroll the 20-minute ascent to Burguine Dürnstein, the ruins of the town’s medieval castle. Built between 1140 and 1145, it affords panoramic views across the town and the rest of the valley, and today forms one of the Wachau World Heritage Trail’s 14 legs.
The town’s history – including a model of how it once looked – is detailed in the beautiful Dürnstein Abbey. The blue and white church tower is the town’s defining landmark, and sets the scene for what lies inside. Guided tours run between April and October, and are a wonderful way to see the abbey’s ornate and intricate interiors, taking in the courtyard, Collegiate Church and Saint Augustine Exhibition.
It likely won’t take all day to explore Dürnstein, so keep following the Danube to see the market town of Spitz. Drive a little further, and you could even combine it with our next day trip.
Arguably Austria’s most famous abbey, Stift Melk is one almighty masterpiece. The Baroque masterpiece stands on a rock overlooking the Danube, and is just over an hour’s drive from Vienna. It’s open throughout the year – between November and March, it can only be seen with a guided tour, but for the rest of the year you’re able to explore under your own steam.
Originally a castle built by the Babenberg dynasty, it was turned into a fortified abbey in the late 11th century by Benedictine monks. It received its stunning Baroque styling in the 1700s, after the original facade was destroyed by a fire. Inside its 500 rooms – built using an estimated 9 million bricks – you’ll find the wooden and gold-gilt library (with an atlas painted on the ceiling), exhibitions, the grand and splendid marble hall, and more.
If the weather allows for it, explore the abbey’s gardens, where there’s a mix of European styles, such as the neat, English-style area and the blossoming Garden of Paradise. Inside the beautiful Baroque pavilion, you’ll also find a calm and pleasant cafe in a rather beautiful space.
Vienna to the Vienna Woods
Escape from the hustle and bustle of the capital’s streets by doing one of the top day trips from Vienna: Vienna Woods, just an hour’s drive from Vienna. This lush UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve, spanning some 24,500 acres, contains more than 2,000 different types of plants, along with 150 species of bird and endangered animals, including the Ural Owl.
It’s not hard to see why these creatures all call it home; steeped in vineyards, sweeping hills and gorgeous green groves, Vienna Woods’ lush countryside feels like it’s come straight from a fairytale. Immerse yourself in the magic with a walk down one of the many marked paths, which snake through the woods.
If you’re feeling particularly energetic, hike up the neighboring Kahlenberg mountain. Once you reach the top, the views of Vienna and its surrounding verdant landscape will leave you speechless. Before you set off, top up with some carbs at Josefinehutte, a quaint wooden inn and eatery that’s been operating since 1935. They serve delicious Viennese staples, boasting one of the most beautiful guest gardens in all of Austria.
Head to the reserve early and you could even enjoy a quick breakfast picnic at the Föhrenberge Nature Park en route – the road cuts right through it.
Have you taken any day trips from Vienna that we didn’t list here? Tell us about them on our Facebook page.