Small river boats glide up the Danube to this tiny 15th-century Austrian town, home to just 1,000 residents. The first sign you’ve arrived is the bright white and blue Stiftskirche, an imposing baroque-style church overlooking the river. Here is the center of the Wachau wine region, and the cobblestoned Hauptstrasse (the main street) is lined with bars and cafés to savor a crisp Riesling, the area specialty. It’s a welcome drink after a trek to the castle where King Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in 1192. Most stops are a half-day, plenty of time to experience the town’s treasures.
What We Love
The View: After exploring the Stiftskirche, climb 500 feet up to the castle ruins. The sweeping vista is the best perch to gaze upon Dürnstein and the Danube.
Bike Tours: Walking excursions are popular (especially during the October harvest season). Ships tend to dock in the morning for early guided strolls. For a more adventurous excursion, take a riverside bike ride from Dürnstein to historic Melk (20 miles away), where you can meet up with the ship.
Best Known For
All Apricot Everything: The Wachau region is renowned for white wine and sweet apricots. The revered fruit is found in all forms from simple jams and delicate dumplings to brandy and schnapps.
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Who It's Best For
Wine Lovers: Despite the city’s name — translated it means “dry castle” — white wines, especially Grüner Veltliner and Reisling, flow freely here and are highly regarded for their quality. Plan on bringing back a bottle or two.
Walkers: The town is small enough to throughly enjoy its splendor on a guided or solo walking tour. Wear sturdy shoes, cobblestoned streets lead to some narrow paths and loads of hills. The scenery is a bonanza for over-posting on Instagram. Note: The path leading to the castle is steep, and parts of it rocky.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Seasonal Crowds: During the early summer and fall harvest season, Dürnstein morphs from a quiet town to a crowded mini-city. Hundreds of river cruise passengers and Vienna day-trippers change the whole vibe. Patience is key.
Low River Flow: The Danube has had bouts of low water, resulting in some cruise lines canceling sailings or converting to a bus tour. Consider travel insurance.
Chanize Thorpe is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Brides and Uptown.