Krems marks the beginning (when traveling upstream) of the Wachau section of the Danube. The town is closely tied to Austrian history; here the ruling Babenbergs set up a dukedom in 1120, and the earliest Austrian coin was struck in 1130. In the Middle Ages, Krems looked after the iron trade, while neighboring Stein traded in salt and wine.
Set at the center of a thriving wine-producing area, charming Krems is perhaps most famed for the cobbled streets of its pedestrianized Altstadt (Old Town), which is virtually unchanged since the 18th century. Highlights here include the Steinertor city gate, the Renaissance-style Rathaus and, up a steep hill, the 13th century Piarist Church, one of the oldest in Lower Austria.
According to Austrian law, any town that houses a jail must receive massive funding for the arts—and Krems fits the bill. Consequently, the town is brimming with culture, most notably with its Kunstmiele, or Arts Mile (www.kunstmeile.at). Starting at the Dominikanerkirche in the town center, it heads west for 1.6 kilometers (one mile) to the Minoritenkirche. All the big-ticket galleries, like the Karikaturmuseum, Landesgalerie Niederösterreich, and Kunsthalle Krems, are at the western end of the trail.