Located at the confluence of three rivers, the Inn, Ilz and Danube directly on the border between Germany and Austria, not far from the Czech Republic lies one of the most lovely little Old Towns in Germany. You’ve probably never heard of this charming town as it is easily overlooked by some of the more popular towns in Bavaria. If you’ve heard of Passau, you’ve likely visited via a river cruise. But there is so much to love about Germany’s postcard peninsula town!
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History of Passau
Ever since 80 AD Passau has been inhabited, beginning with a Roman fort that had been founded here. Later in 739 AD, a bishopric was established raising the status and importance of the town until it was secularized and annexed at the beginning of the 19th century during the secularization of Bavaria.
Wedged on a narrow strip of land between the Inn and the Danube, the Altstadt (Old Town) grew up to be a blend of Central European and Italian Baroque architectural influence after a devastating fire broke out in 1662 which destroyed almost the entire city. As the town is located where three rivers converge, Passau is nicknamed “The City of Three Rivers”(Dreiflüssestadt) which has been known to cause havoc during rainy seasons.
Passau is one of the few towns in Germany that suffered little to no damage during the Second World War, therefore, the Old Town is practically unchanged since the fire of 1662! Today, Passau is one of the best Bavarian towns and makes for an easy day trip from Munich and is defintiely one of the most authentic, off-the-beaten-path towns in Germany you’ll find!
So, What’s to love about Passau?
St. Stephan’s Cathedral
If you’re wondering where to begin your Passau sightseeing, then starting at St. Stephan’s Cathedral is the best option. Dominating the Passau skyline with it’s pristine white towers topped with copper domes, standing in the center of the Old Town is the Dom Sankt Stephan, also called the Passau Cathedral. Having sustained damage during the 1662 fire that destroyed most of the city, the cathedral’s current appearance shows signs of Italian influence from Carlo Lurago while blending in its old Gothic characteristics. While there are many things to see in Passau, this is the best thing to do in the town as it will leave you slack-jawed!
While the outside might look like just any ol’ generic church, the inside is so opulently decorated in rich Italian stuccowork by Giovanni Battista Carlone, it’s bound to leave you in awe for hours and a neck ache!
Of importance inside the cathedral is the world’s largest cathedral organ built in 1928 incorporating 17,774 pipes and 233 registers which can be played with a five-manual general console. The echo organ in the attic behind the „Holy Spirit Hole“ in the ceiling in the middle of the nave allows the music to bellow throughout the cathedral.
Organ Concert in the Cathedral
From May to October, as well as the Advent season, the cathedral holds regular organ recitals. Should you be in Passau during these times, I HIGHLY suggest enjoying the 30 min -1 hr concert. I sat quietly on a pew taking in the thunderous strokes of the organ to the barely audible lullaby-like performances while taking in the magnificence of the cathedral. By the end of the 30 minute concert, my neck ached from looking up in awe.
- Adults: 4 €
- Children / Students 2 €
Entry to the cathedral begins at 11:20am for the 12pm show and lasts 30 minutes. An evening performance is also possible with entry beginning at 6:45pm and lasts for roughly an hour. During the performance, the cathedral is closed to visitors without a ticket. Tickets can be bought in the inner courtyard. Photography and videos are not allowed during the concert and trying will only get you scolded! Trust me, I tried before I learned it wasn’t allowed. Perhaps you saw my short clip on Instastories?? Photography and videos are allowed only before and after the concert.
Cathedral Treasury & the Diocesan Museums
If you know me, and know me well, you should know I don’t visit museums unless there is something pretty inside. I know, shallow of me, but hey, what can a girl do?
Directly behind St. Stephan’s Cathedral is the Neue Residenz, the former residence of the prince-bishops which dominates the Residenzplatz, a charming little square. The facade displays more Italian influence while the inside has a beautiful winding square staircase leading you to the top floor. You’ll eventually come to the Cathedral Treasury in an elongated room with beautiful ceiling frescoes and books lining the walls. This is WHY I came! The airtight cases have old Bibles and violins on display while at the back of the room, you’ll find a glorious monstrance – a vessel used to display an object of piety. Visiting the Cathedral Treasury is definitely one of the unique things to do in Passau.
Exiting through the side door by taking an elevator up one floor, you enter the Diocesan Museums lined with religious artwork. A quick glimpse and exiting through yet another backdoor led us to the High Alter – a private viewing room for aristocracy which offered a view of the alter inside St. Stephan’s Cathedral. Following a staircase down, we exited the museums and entered the cathedral once again and were welcomed by yet another fantastic view of the cupola and had a glimpse of the church in its crucifix form.
The Parish Church of St. Paul
Exiting the cathedral once again, we found ourselves walking though the Domplatz, down a side street to the pastel pink Pfarrkirche St. Paul which sits high on a hill overlooking Rindermarkt, a long street lined with more pastel colored houses.
The Smell of Cinnamon & Gingerbread Wafting from Simon Confiserie
If you’re looking for the best cafe in Passau, then look no further. We came here for the smell of warm cinnamon and gingerbread wafting down the street making a rubble in our tummies. Simon Confiserie is a confectionery sweet shop founded in 1903 and is renowned for their delicious gingerbread (lebkuchen) which is strictly made from honey, flour and spices. We sat down for a warm cuppa coffee, bought some lebkuchen and warmed up from the crisp autumn morning prior to the organ concert.
We would return later in the evening for a slice of their delicious Thanksgiving Strudel (Erntedankstrudel). While it is still too early for an American to celebrate Thanksgiving, Germans give thanks towards the end of September for yet another successful harvest season, called Erntedankfest. Devouring one of these is one of the best reasons to visit Germany in autumn as you’ll definitely want more than one!
Artist Street “Künstlergasse”
Stretching from just behind the Parish Church of St. Paul towards the direction of the Rathaus (City Hall), you’ll find a street lined with artists display their handcrafted work in their shops. From jewelry to antiques, you can find many shops offering unique items. What I found interesting was the plethora of arched buildings lining the street at the beginning of the path.
The Charming Rathaus
Down along the banks of the Danube River, you’ll find the single towered Rathaus (City Hall) with a fabulous view of the Veste Oberhaus opposite the river. The City Hall is not just a singular building, but instead an amalgam of eight buildings incorporated over various stages throughout history and is one of the most unique city halls in Germany.
The facade of this City Hall is by far one of the most interesting in Germany with the historic flood marks at the base of its neo-Gothic tower which recently added the devastating floods of 2013, the worst in 500 years to the frescoes on the wall. Passau has been known to be 40 feet or more underwater during previous historic floods. To give you a sense of the height, I’m 5’5″ and its hard to imagine that at one point, I wouldn’t have even been able to stand here. The facade also has frescoes between the windows as well as a plaque commemorating the future Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as Sisi before she crossed into Austria to marry Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.
The Glass Museum of Passau
Germany is loaded with routes combining multiple towns together, each encouraging tourism to the region. Similar to the Romantic Road, Passau sits along the winding path known as the Glass Route, beginning in Passau and stretching to Weiden. The eastern region of Germany that borders the Czech Republic has a long history of making glass. Here, the highlight is the Glass Museum often nicknamed “the most beautiful Glass House in the World” which can be found in the Hotel Wilder Mann, directly next to the City Hall. The museum has a display of over 30,000 pieces from the baroque, classical, art-nouveau and art-deco periods.
Here, you’ll also find a display of elaborate replica dresses once worn by Empress Elisabeth of Austria as she was a guest of the Hotel Wilder Mann from September 8 – 13th, 1862 during her last stop in Germany before crossing the border into Austria. You can also have a glimpse into the historic living rooms of the Empress which also displays a coat jacket worn by Romy Schneider in the 1955 film “Sissi”. Many non-German speaking people are likely to have never heard of Sisi, but in the German speaking world she was the much beloved Bavarian Duchess who was unlike any other royal as she despised the rigid court life.
- Adults 7 €
- Children free
Photography inside is only for personal use, therefore, I can not share my photos of Sisi’s clothes, her room or the plethora of glass.
Walking along the shore of the small strip of land or through the winding streets of Passau, you can walk to the very tip of the peninsula called the Dreiflüsseck. Here, you can enjoy a leisurely picnic or lounge in the grass while soaking up the views of the three rivers merging into one. You’ll find a lovely little children’s playground, a few people strumming their guitars and lovers cuddling on a park bench. It’s one of the loveliest areas in Passau to relax and you’ll also have a fantastic view again of the Veste Oberhaus.
If you continue to wrap around to the southern side, you’ll eventually come upon the Schaiblingsturm which was built as a stronghold in 1250 to protect the city against attacks and was later renovated in 1481. The tower was used as the residence of the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) in 1935. In 2004 the tower underwent extensive renovation. If you plan to visit Passau, taking a casual walk around the peninsula is a lovely way to explore the town.
On the Opposite Side: Innstadt
Quite often overlooked by day trippers, the Innstadt also has some sights of interest. And I’m certainly not going to lie, I, too didn’t make it over although I had every intention.
Perched high on the hill, the Wallfahrtskirche Mariahilf is an abbey located just at the border to Austria which was founded in 1622.
If you’re looking for unique facts about Passau, it is also said that on this side of town, Adolf Hitler lived here when he was a child – a piece of history that the city is certainly not happy about. Even worse, Heinrich Himmler also moved to the town in 1902. What is interesting about this piece of information, is that when the Nazi-leader was just four years old, he almost drowned in 1894 only to be saved by a local priest. While it has not been 100% corroborated, it’s still interesting to think about the nine lives Hitler had and what would have been…
Veste Oberhaus & the Best View in Town!
Looming above the town on the north bank of the Danube river since 1219, the Veste Oberhaus is one of the largest remaining medieval fortress complexes in Europe and is one of the main attractions in Passau. It was built shortly after the town was raised to the status of prince-bishopric in 1217 as a stronghold against attacks. However, that didn’t stop people like Napoleon from utilizing its location. Today, it houses the city’s local history from the Middle Ages including Secret Brotherhoods to Myth and History in Passau. For the best view in town, you’ll need to pay to visit the museum.
How to Get There:
- Climb up to the fortress via a trail at the end of Luitpold Bridge up Georgsburg which should take about 15-20 minutes. A portion of the climb is paved with steps while other portions are unevenly manicured with lots of rocks. The path closes Monday-Friday at 5pm, while Saturdays & Sundays it closes at 6pm, however, during the winter months, the path is closes at twilight. Quite honestly, this provided one of my favorite views over the city!
- By minibus – Directly in front of the Rathaus there is a bus stop sign where you can catch a small minibus 1.80 € one way. If you choose to do this, you will receive 1 € off the 5 € entrance fee to the fortress museums.
- By Car – It is also possible to drive and park up at the fortress / Das Oberhaus Restaurant.
- Address: DAS OBERHAUS Oberhaus 1, 94034 Passau
However, should you not be interested in touring the museum, you have many other options for enjoying an amazing view over the town. Each of the following views have an amazing vantage point over the city, the Veste Oberhaus and the confluence of the three rivers.
- Look-Out Tower: Upon arriving at Veste Oberhaus, continue walking up past the Jugendherberge (Youth Hostel) and turn right where you will see a round metal staircase where you can climb the tower for 1 €. Children are free. Binoculars are available and free of charge as well. This was honestly the best thing to do in the City of Three Rivers!
- Once you come back down from the Look-Out Tower, continue walking up the dirt path that winds its way around. Recently built, you can have another amazing view of the town. This is also accessible by elevator.
- Das Oberhaus Restaurant: Recently built in 2013, Das Oberhaus serves traditional Bavarian cuisine, Augustiner beer from Munich and another great view over Passau! With killer views and lecker food, I’d say that this is the best restaurant in Passau!
The Confluence of the Three Rivers
From any of the look out points, you can see the confluence of the three rivers, Inn, Ilz and the Danube merge together into one, which has been known to cause occasional flooding. Each river has it’s own unique color which is best seen from above.
- The Ilz – often referred to as the “Black Pearl of the Bavarian Forest” due to its dark color and the occasional fresh water pearl mussels which can be found. This is the smaller river curving into the Danube.
- The Danube – has a dark green appearance and is the second longest river in Europe which flows from the Black Forest to the Black Sea.
- The Inn – gets its distinct light green color from Alpine melt off which flows through Tirol in Austria before reaching Germany.
Where to Stay in Passau:
⭐⭐⭐⭐ Altstadt-Hotel Passau – While we didn’t stay here, it is owned by the company by husband works for and many colleagues have expressed how wonderful this hotel is, right on the banks of the Danube and decorated in simple modern decor.
Getting to Passau:
By Car: Passau is only a 1 hr 20 min drive from Regensburg and I highly recommend parking at the Parkhaus Schanzl (Obere Donaulände 5, 94032 Passau) where you will pay 8,60 € for a full day’s parking!
By Train: the station drops you off at the Hauptbahnhof directly on the peninsula. From there, you will walk a simple 10-15 minutes into the Old Town past many shops and cafes.
By River Cruise: the boats will dock along the Danube and you will likely begin your tour through the town by starting at the Rathaus.
Having previously visited Passau in November 2013 on a cold & foggy day that we realized was a public holiday, just a short six months after the devastating flood of 2013, I was glad we finally made a return trip to the city. We had perfect autumn weather and the day couldn’t have been more wonderful to allow us to fall in love with Passau. The town itself had a fresh coat of paint on it, the cafes still had their tables and chairs set up outside and there was an air of happiness wafting through the air. Overall, I was so glad to finally get the chance to give Passau a second glance!
If you’re interested in visiting Germany and are looking for more information, I highly recommend using the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide! Without these guides, I would be lost! This is my travel Bible!
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Day Trips from Passau: