1. Wachau Valley
Fans of the 1965 movie “The Sound of Music” may find it hard not to burst into song when visiting Salzburg, the Austrian city that served as the backdrop for the much-loved film. From the baroque architecture and picturesque gardens to the blue Salzach River and surrounding snow-capped mountains, the place that the singing Von Trapp family called home is simply enchanting. As the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg is a popular travel destination for lovers of classical musical too. With its beautifully preserved medieval quarter, hill-top castle, Renaissance churches and charming array of specialty shops, the fourth-largest city in Austria is a day trip from Vienna not to be missed.
A two-and-a-half-hour drive east of Vienna along the Danube takes travelers to Budapest, where the river divides the capital of Hungary into two distinct districts. The hilly Buda section boasts the 13th-century Royal Palace, a mammoth structure that has been destroyed and rebuilt six times over its long history. The complex is now home to the Budapest History Museum and Hungarian National Gallery. The flatter Pest side of town features the city’s revitalized Jewish quarter, which has the second largest synagogue in the world. With more than 100 natural thermal springs in the city, no visit to Budapest is complete without enjoying a relaxing dip in one of the city’s spas.
4. Melk Abbey
The wealth of Austria during the 18th century is on full display at the magnificent Benedictine monastery at Melk in the Wachau Valley region west of Vienna. With its 20-story-high dome, ornate towers and opulent interiors, the abbey is a gorgeous example of High Baroque architecture. The original structure was built in the 11th century as a castle on a rocky outcrop overlooking the valley, but most of the current buildings were constructed between 1702 and 1736. Standout attractions include the abbey church of St. Peter and St. Paul, the baroque ceiling frescoes by Austrian artist Paul Troger and a library that houses more than 100,000 books and manuscripts.
Easily accessible from Vienna by rail, bus or car, the capital of Slovakia can also be reached by taking a scenic hydrofoil ride down the Danube River. Ancient Bratislava has been occupied since the Neolithic era by a seemingly endless number of conquerors. Now one of the most prosperous cities in Europe, Bratislava has recently renovated its medieval Old Town quarter to a nearly pristine condition, with the addition of many outdoor cafés, pubs, shops and restaurants. The district is dominated by the hilltop Bratislava Castle, a structure first built in the 13th century that has also undergone extensive renovation.