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If You Have 3 Days
Start out early from Vienna, planning for a stop to explore the medieval center and contemporary art world of Krems along the northern side of the Danube. You can opt to spend a night in a former cloister, now the elegant Richard Löwenherz hotel, in Dürnstein, probably the most famous, if not prettiest, town of the Danube Valley. Here you'll find the ruined castle where Richard the Lion-Hearted was imprisoned—an early-morning climb up to the ruin or a jog along the Danube shoreline will reward you with great views. Take time to explore enchanting Dürnstein before heading west along the Danube, crossing over to Melk, one of the greatest abbeys in Europe. This is High Baroque at its most glorious. Follow the river road back east to Göttweig and have lunch on the terrace at the abbey. The abbey's 17th-century chapel is breathtaking. Continuing eastward, follow the river as closely as possible (signs indicate Zwentendorf and Tulln) to Klosterneuburg, the imposing abbey that was once the seat of the powerful Babenburger rulers, and onward to Vienna.
If You Have 5 Days
A more leisurely schedule would follow the same basic route but permit a visit at either the fairy-tale castle of Burg Kreuzenstein, near Korneuburg or the more staid and mammoth castle of Schloss Grafenegg, near Haitzendorf, before stopping in attractive Krems to tour its "Kunstmeile" (art mile) and then overnighting in Dürnstein. Spend the morning exploring Dürnstein, including the colorfully restored Baroque Stiftskirche. In the afternoon, discover the wine villages of Weissenkirchen and Spitz. Plan on two overnights in the capital city of the region, Linz, to tour the entire city. On Day 4 take in the spectacular abbey of St. Florian (where composer Anton Bruckner spent a good deal of time) and the palatial halls of the abbey at Kremsmünster, both southeast of Linz and south of the Danube; then proceed east to the grandest abbey of all, Melk. The fifth day will be full, but start with the Melk abbey, then continue east to the religious complex at Göttweig and move onward to the abbey at Klosterneuburg.
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