Danube River Cruises
A cruise up the Danube to the Wachau Valley is a tonic in any season. A parade of storybook-worthy sights—fairy-tale castles-in-air, medieval villages, and Baroque abbeys crowned with "candle-snuffer" cupolas—unfolds before your eyes. Remember that it takes longer to travel north: the trip upstream to Krems, Dürnstein, and Melk will be longer than the return back to Vienna, which is why many travelers opt to return to the city by train, not boat. Keep your fingers crossed: rumor has it that on some summer days the river takes on an authentic shade of Johann Strauss blue.
Brandner Schifffahrt. Leapfrog ahead by train from Vienna and start your cruise in Krems. A short walk takes you to the Schiffstation Krems piers, where river cruises run by Brandner Schifffahrt from April through October depart at 10:05 am for a ride to glorious Melk Abbey, via Dürnstein. It's €26.50 one way, or €31.50 return. Other options include special day and evening cruises with oompah band concerts, wine cruises, and the like. There is an occasional "crime cruise" (in German) with a murder mystery to be solved. Welterbeplatz 1, Krems, Lower Austria, A-3500. 07433/259021; www.brandner.at. €26.50 one way.
DDSG Blue Danube Schifffahrt. If you want to start your Danube sightseeing cruise in Vienna, DDSG is the company to go with. Boats depart from the company's piers at Handelskai 265 (by the Reichsbrücke bridge). There are thematic and brunch cruises as well, and you can also get trips from Krems to Melk. The ticket office is at the Vienna piers (take the U-Bahn line U1 to Vorgartenstrasse). Wannabe captains can also steer the ship for 15 minutes, while the real captain observes. Handelskai 265, Vienna, Vienna, A-1020. 01/58880; www.ddsg-blue-danube.at. €59 round-trip. April-October.