It is maddening when you plan an activity that a million, gazillion people have done before you, and there is scarcely any mention of it on the Internet. Such was the sad sate of affairs when I decided to bike along the Danube River between the Austrian cities of Melk and Krems. In response to the collective laziness of the Internet on this topic, I am going to tell you what to do in excruciating detail. You are welcome.
Step 1: Get Excited
I read a draft of this post to my husband. He said that I provided no overall sense of why people should embark on this trip. So, here is his contribution:
“You ride next to a river through miles and miles of woods and vineyards. There are medieval Austrian towns with castles, abbeys, and churches around every bend. Really, you could take a week to explore the whole thing. It is a feast for the senses unlike any others.”
Step 2: Don’t Be Scared
For regular bike riders, just skip right over this pep talk. The rest of you — listen up! This bike ride is approximately 24 miles long. Don’t panic. The bike path is called the Donauradweg in German. It is primarily flat, and, if you ride in the direction from Melk to Krems, then it is slightly downhill in parts.
I love to impress people with my athletic prowess by saying that I often bike 20 miles on my bike path back home. I am totally cheating. Lazy people who don’t ride bikes have no idea how easy and fun it is to ride on a flat bike path. If you are extra lazy, rent an electric bike, and you barely will exercise at all. (Warning: Although I often look up medical ailments on the internet, I am not a doctor. You should not trust anything I write when it comes to your health.)
Step 3: Take the Train to Melk
Go to the main train station (Hauptbahnhof) in Vienna and find a train to Melk. We took the 10:30 AM train. I highly recommended going straight to the dining car and being served a civilized breakfast for the approximate one-hour journey to Melk. Disembark from the train and pick up a rental bike from the nextbike rack located directly in front of the train station.
Nextbike provides non-electric rental bikes at stations across many European cities. You can rent a bike when you arrive using the nextbike app on your phone, and then return your bike to a different nextbike station. No round-trip necessary! The bike comes with a basket, a lock, and there are tools at the bike rack to adjust your seat.
I worried that all the bikes would be rented by the time we arrived, but we had no problem at 11:30 AM on a Monday in May. My back-up plan was to use the nextbike app to locate one of the other nextbike staging areas in Melk. See, I am even giving you back-up plans! You are so lucky to have found this blog post.
Tip: Download the nextbike app and register on their website before you leave home.
Step 4: Have a Look Around Melk.
Melk is home to a gorgeous abbey, which happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site. I had seen the abbey on a previous trip, so we took a few pictures, bought some bottles of water, and headed for the bike path. The bike path is easy to find–just head to the river parallel to Melk’s main street.
Tip: Download a Donauradweg bike path map before you leave home. It seems almost impossible to get lost on this bike path, but having a map is always a good idea. If you forget, you can take a photo of the bike path map at the nextbike rental racks.
Step 5: Ride Your Bike to the Ferry in Spitz
There are bike paths on both sides of the river, but we followed the path to the right side of the river heading in the direction of Krems. I was told that the path on the right was more picturesque than the path to the left side of the river for the first part of the trip. We rode for approximately 1.5 hours until we reached the ferry that transports bikes and their riders across the river to the town of Spitz. The bike path is well-marked, so you would need to work hard to get lost.
Step 6: Have a Drink in Spitz
Obviously, after this much exercise AND a ferry ride, you deserve a drink. Spitz is a pleasant spot where you can drink Austrian wine overlooking the river. Delightful!
Step 7: Eat Lunch in Weissenkirchen
Upon departing Spitz, follow the path on the left side of the river as you head in the direction of Krems. Take the path until you reach the absolutely adorable town of Weissenkirchen.
Weissenkirchen is a picture-perfect Austrian town surrounded by vineyards. We took a small tour of the local church; road our bikes along the winding roads of the town; and then stopped for lunch in the courtyard of a restaurant called Weingut Heuriger Ferdl Denk. We had a gorgeous meal comprised of wine, meat and cheese. It was one of our best meals in Austria.
Step 8: Climb to the Castle in Dürnstein
Continue on the bike path to the left side of the river until you reach Dürnstein. In 1192, King Richard I of England was imprisoned in a castle here. I’m not going to lie – the street leading up to Dürnstein is one of the steep bits in this ride. On the plus side, the uphill climb is short. I gave up and walked my bike. No one laughed.
By the time we reached Dürnstein, it was late afternoon and much of the town was shutting down. However, it was still worth a stop, because tourists can hike to the top of the castle ruins. This hiking path was steep, but the castle ruins provide a stunning view over the river.
Tip: The good people of Dürnstein posted many signs warning us not to leave our bikes leaning against walls of businesses and homes. The fact that there were no bicycle racks made the situation a wee bit difficult. My exasperated husband, realizing his rule-abiding wife would never leave a rental bike where expressly forbidden to do so, finally found a set of bike racks well-hidden next to the monastery.
Step 9: Return Bike in Krems and Hunt Desperately for Food
To reach our final stop of Krems, we again took the bike path on the left side of the river. My friend Jennie insists that Krems is wonderful. I have to trust her on that one, because the entire town was shuttered by the time we arrived at 7:00 PM. We effortlessly checked in our bikes via our nextbike phone app at the nextbike racks in front of the train station. We found the last open restaurant in Krems and enjoyed a traditional meal of schnitzel to end our day in the Austrian countryside. After dinner, we ran to catch the train back from Krems to Vienna.
Conclusions: Enjoy the Journey
I had heard that this bike ride would take 3-4 hours. We meandered, stopped for meals and photos, and did a little sight-seeing. We picked up the bikes at 11:33 AM, dropped them off 7.5 hours later at 7:05 PM, and it wasn’t enough time! And, remember, we didn’t even tour the abbey at Melk. If I could do anything differently, I would catch an earlier train in the morning. However, that’s the only thing I would change.
I know this will sound cliché, but a bike ride is all about the journey and not the destination. If we had raced through the ride to get to Krems, we never would have spent time in Weissenkirchen, which I loved. We wouldn’t have stopped for lovely photos amidst the vineyards along the way. We certainly wouldn’t have climbed to the top of the castle in Dürnstein and discovered that amazing view.
There! The Internet now contains way more information about this bike ride than it did before I started writing this post. Don’t say I’ve never done anything for you.
Note: I have no affiliation with any business listed in this post. Although I might sound like an advertisement for nextbike, I simply enjoyed the service they provided.
For additional travel information in Austria, please see:
Books! A Reading List for Austria
Vienna Day Trip: The Pan-European Picnic Memorial
Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest: Looking Back While Moving Forward (Day trip from Salzburg)