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Perched high on a hill overlooking the Wachau Valley, the winding Danube River and the small town of Melk is Austria’s prettiest and most impressive abbey, Melk Abbey. Impossible to miss  when approaching either by boat or by car, it’s sunshine yellow facade is a welcoming sight and has been home to Benedictine monks for over 900 years!

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The Opulence of Melk Abbey, Melk, Austria - Austria's Most Impressive Abbey - Baroque Abbey - California Globetrotter (2)

Just an hour away from Vienna, the UNESCO World Heritage Site was built in the 1700s first as a royal palace. The abbey was gifted to Benedictine monks in the 11th century by the Babenberg Dynasty and it quickly turned into a fortified abbey which managed to survive the Reformation and the occupation of both Napoleon and Hitler. 

By the 18th century, the monastery church was falling into disrepair and plans were quickly made to rebuild it in the glamorous baroque style we see today. The abbot at the time had grand plans that were more ambitious than just renovating it, but completely rebuilding it which lasted between 1700-1740, creating the ornate masterpiece shining brightly over the Austrian countryside. 

While today Melk Abbey is open to the public and is popular with river cruise tourists, it still serves its religious purpose of training hundreds of pupils to become monks. While spotting a monk might not be guaranteed, the abbey offers incredible viewpoints and stunning architecture and artwork!

You can chose between doing a guided tour or a self-guided tour with an audio guide. However, I recommend the guided tour, which begins through the northern bastion’s gargantuan archway before continuing on to one of the largest courtyards to reach the Melk Abbey Museum. Inside, you can find centuries old treasuries and artifacts like a book dating back to 1574 and jewel encrusted religious ornaments. 

Visitors will continue on to the Marble Hall, quite possibly one of the most opulent dining rooms in the world! Top notch artists and sculptors were tasked with creating this masterpiece of gold-gilded frescoes, equally, if not more impressive than the Sistine Chapel in Italy! What makes the Marble Hall so remarkable is the fact that its a visual illusion – while it might appear to curve upwards, the ceiling is actually flat while the frescoes are meant to represent the house of Hapsburg.

For any bookworm or library lover, the abbey’s library is a grand two-story room boasting bookshelves lined with around 80,000 leather-bound medieval manuscripts reaching from floor to ceiling. These handwritten manuscripts are still used by only a privileged few granted to the monastery’s scholars. What might just be a room to some, felt like a fairy tale library from Beauty and the Beast and I could hardly contain my joy and not jump up and down with excitement. Visitors are not allowed to take photos inside the library, much to my dismay! (More on Libraries in Europe)

The grand finale from inside the abbey is the resplendent Abbey Church (Stiftskirche). The interior is richly decorated with soft hues of rose and yellow marble, accented with touches of gold as well as a stunning 200 foot frescoed dome capping off the church. Quite luxurious compared to many dark and gloomy churches you can find throughout Europe.

Either side of the Abbey Church entrance is flanked by the equally stunning winding Imperial Staircase (Kaiserstiege) . Being under the impression, absolutely no photos were allowed inside, this was the one and only photo I snuck. If there was ever a stairway to heaven, I think it would look a lot like this, but in actuality, the staircase leads to two upper level reading rooms not open to the public.

Then you will exit the church and can meander the back terrace of the abbey and enjoy one last sweeping view over the Danube. Unfortunately, the left tower of the Abbey Church was covered in scaffolding (booo!).

Upon finishing the tour, you can head outside to explore the Abbey Park and Gardens which were only opened to the public in 2000. They were originally meant as an area of relaxation for the monks which features a pristine English Garden including a medicinal garden. Playful monkeys hang from the garden bush walls which I like to think some monks with a sense of humor scattered around the gardens. As you wander around, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views over the Danube and Austrian countryside!

A cotton candy hued Baroque Pavilion with a cafe sits at the end of the garden which features a whimsical and exotic fresco of animals and jungles. Definitely a first for me!

Opening Times:

  • April to October: 9am – 5:30 (last admission 5pm) 
  • November to March – Guided Tours only at 11am and 2pm in English and German

Prices:

  • Adults: with tour 13 € / without 11 €
  • Family: with tour 26 € / without 22 €

Overall Experience

I was quite excited to visit but didn’t realize that it was quite as popular with river cruise tourists. I would suggest visiting early in the day to avoid large crowds. I was also quite disappointed that we were told no photographs were allowed inside the abbey, yet, since our visit, I have come across a dozen posts all filled with photos of the church, the Marble Hall and the staircase, while I have to be content with the one and only photo I had of the staircase. Perhaps during the summer months when things are busier, they don’t allow photos. Be sure to ask when entering the abbey. For now, I’ll try to keep my memories of the interior alive! 

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Guide to Vienna Christmas Markets

A Delicious Guide to Coffee and Cake in Vienna

Autumn in Hallstatt – Austria’s Most Beautiful Village

The Colorful Town of Innsbruck

The Charming Town of Salzburg

New Year’s  Eve in Salzburg

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Replies to Melk Abbey

  1. The place looks stunning and a must see. That staircase is just WOW! I would risk a telling off for that picture too! I loved your pictures throughout. Wilbur #citytripping

  2. Great post. I visited a few years ago and also went on a tour, although I’d forgotten a lot since then so it was good to recap. In terms of photographs maybe the rules have changed as when I visited the only place I wasn’t allowed to take photographs was in the library. Maybe they were having too many problems so had to become more strict. Photos or no photos it’s still a beautiful place to visit and explore though.

  3. What an incredibly opulent abbey! I don’t think I’ve ever heard of one so impressive. Even though you only have one photo you’ve done an excellent job of describing the interior! It’s definitely somewhere I’d like to see for myself! Thanks for linking #citytripping

  4. WOW that picture you look of the stairwell is absolutely lovely. I LOVE it. This abbey is huge!! I wonder how it felt to know that you were actually living in a former palace… I love the ceilings with the light and airy colors – quite a contrast from the dark, rich tones that you typically see in Vienna!

  5. For some reason I think of Abbey’s as cold and austere. This one certainly isn’t. Such opulence and decoration. And of course, that staircase! Loved seeing your photos and taking a tour with you.

  6. Oh isn’t this amazing, Lori! I’ve been looking forward to reading this post after your Instagram pictures. This really is gorgeous and fascinating too. What an amazing place to begin your monastic training. And you’ve got me very excited about seeing that beautiful library. #FarawayFiles

  7. This is such a wonderful place! I got to visit as a day trip from Vienna. Well, it was part of an excursion around the Wachau. The tour company was super disorganized so, we should have visited on our own. However, we cannot complain about this beautiful place. You would not believe it but we had the best meal of a two week trip at the restaurant located on the Abbey grounds. #FarawayFiles

  8. The staircase photo might be the only one you got of the interior, but it’s a very good photo! I admit at first I wasn’t sure I would be interested in reading about an Abbey, but wow this place is fascinating and the views, architecture and candy coated colors are all so lovely I couldn’t help but be pulled in. I hope I can visit this lovely place someday! #farawayfiles

  9. How did I miss this when I visited Austria? I think it’s just the “beautiful building” overload! But I could have checked out the dining room. And the library! When I was a teen I read a bunch of books about the Hapsburgs as well. It would have been so cool to see that ceiling! #TheWeeklyPostcard

  10. Wow, that is the fanciest abbey that I have seen. Makes sense that it used to be a palace. I can see why it’s so popular with tourists! I agree it would be nice if they let you take photos inside. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  11. Melk is just soooo pretty! Been way too long since I’ve visited for the last time. Thanks for putting it back on my radar. Might have to plan a daytrip there again soon 🙂 #FeetDoTravel

  12. I mean, that staircase! At least you were able to snap a shot of that, and of all the photos you could have taken this would probably have been the one. But I know what you mean – frustrating when you see everyone else with photos and you just got one. A gorgeous one though! #farawayfiles

  13. We visited Melk Abbey many years ago. We got lucky, I think it must have been quite early in either the day or the season, I can’t quite remember, but there was no-one else about. It was stunning. I am not sure it would be quite the same with hordes of group tours though. Its location is just too perfect for river boats.

  14. What a wonderful place! And those blue skies make the colour of the buildings even more impressive! Thank you for sharing, I really haven’t explored Austris as much as I would like to…. this is definitely an incentive!

    #FeetdoTravel #TheWeeklyPostcard

  15. Incredibly opulent! I guess the Benedictine monks were very lucky to have this beautiful palace donated to them. It must be so much more beautiful in real life. Melk Abbey is definitely worth exploring. Hope to visit it someday. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  16. I’ve been looking at Danube cruises just this week and Melk Abbey has been an option for shore excursions on all of them. I was going to give it a miss but you’ve made me rethink that. I’ve pinned it for future reference. Thanks for the info.

  17. The Melk Abbey looks amazing along especially with your stunning photos especially the staircase photo. When I was in Austria I can not believe I missed this amazing site. Glad they renovated the abbey to such an amazing site and opened up the park and gardens. Great information! Thanks for sharing. Pinned for later. #feetdotravel

  18. Melk really is such a beautiful spot and the abbey is wonderful, especially that library. In fact the whole Wachau Valley is such a beautiful area and so close to Vienna! Some fantastic photos here too Lori! #TheWeeklyPostcard

  19. It’s so romantic, almost Rococo! I hear you about respecting the no pictures requests. I felt the same in the Sistine Chapel and didn’t take any pics although I have also seen several blogs with images of the iconic ceiling. Looks like a seriously lovely day out, but good tip on the get there early before the tours start to pour in. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

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