Exploring Austria by River

Dürnstein and the Wachau Valley

Dürnstein in the Wachau Valley on the Danube River. PHOTO: RCL

The beautiful country of Austria is held with such high regard due to a wide range of factors. Its culture is vibrant and creative, while its food and drink is hearty and rich. Perhaps the most enchanting feature of Austria, however, is the tranquil rivers that drift elegantly throughout the cities and countryside. These rivers have been used to navigate the country for centuries, and are still essential for transportation as well as being fantastic to look at.

Travelling on Austria’s rivers can be a dream, allowing you to see the many hidden charms of the Central European country from the water. Float through the lush-green hills and valleys, or witness the enigmatic city of Vienna — these rivers couldn’t offer a better snapshot of Austria’s many wonders. But which rivers will offer you the most entertainment? Here are a couple of our favorites.

The Danube and Vienna

Vienna panorama view

The beautiful Austrian capital of Vienna. PHOTO: RCL

Measuring 1,780 miles in total, the Danube (die Donau) is the second-longest river in Europe. It flows all the way through Austria and several other countries before emptying into the Black Sea. The most picturesque section of the Danube can be found when travelling between Melk and Krems an der Donau — the area is decorated with quaint villages, vineyards, and glorious fortresses blanketed in forest and shrubbery. This stretch of river, known as the Wachau, is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its unique beauty.

Despite this beautiful section, the highlight of the Danube has to be Vienna. The path of the river allows you to travel straight through the capital city, experiencing the atmosphere as you go, or to stop off and take in the sights. Visit the Stadtpark, where a gilded statue of Austrian composer Johan Strauss sits proudly. Or perhaps catch a show at the esteemed State Opera. Austria has a rich history of cultural output, and its buildings and attractions reflect this. This Danube cruise from The River Cruise Line offers a great opportunity to travel the length of the Danube with stop-off points along the way to experience all the wonders of central Europe.

The charming Austrian city of Salzburg is sometimes included in Danube River cruise itineraries. The city of Mozart and “The Sound of Music” is about 80 miles south of the Danube, so you’ll be transported there by ground transportation. This former independent state has a complex political background, and is worth a visit for lovers of history and architecture — its historic city centre is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Vorarlberg and the Rhine River

Vorarlberg Austria

The remote Austrian province of Vorarlberg. PHOTO: RCL

By contrast, the Rhine river (der Rhein) measures just 766 miles long, but still manages to pass through six countries. The Rhine begins in the Swiss Alps as just a small, trickling stream, before growing larger as it reaches the Rhine Valley on the Swiss-Austrian border. This most-western part of Austria is a glacial alpine valley, and is renowned for its large, snow-tipped mountains, seemingly endless blue skies and geographical significance.

The Rhine river is hugely important in the development of modern Europe, sign-posting borders between Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, France, and Germany, as well as offering a broad waterway for navigating through the continent. As the Alpine Rhine, it passes the Austrian province of Vorarlberg, before flowing into scenic Lake Constance (der Bodensee) near Bregenz, Austria. The area is almost completely surrounded by mountains, which make for a great little hideaway for those looking to get away from the world for a while.

For lovers of cheese, the Vorarlberg has a famous cheese trail, where local delicacies can be sampled as you explore a mixture of traditional and modern cheese cellars — you can even have a go at making your own. All of the participants in this cheese trail are high spirited, and it is the sense of community in Vorarlberg that has made it thrive, despite such a small population.