Exploring Passau, Germany: A Bavarian Treasure

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Passau, Germany, is a charming town steeped in history. The City of Three Rivers sits on the banks of the Danube, Inn, and Ilz Rivers. Read on for why you should plan your trip to Passau, in the heart of Bavaria. 

When people think of Germany, they usually think of visiting more popular cities, including Berlin, Munich, Leipzig, and Cologne. Yet the country is filled with so many great places to explore. On a recent Viking River Cruise on the Danube to visit Christmas Markets, I spent a couple of days in Passau. This was my third visit to Passau, and this Bavarian enclave on the banks of the Danube still enchants me. Here is why you should plan a trip to Passau, Germany.

Getting to Passau

Passau is located about 2 hours east of Munich. If you are spending a few days exploring Passau, there is no reason to rent a car. You can fly into Munich directly from the US. I flew on Lufthansa’s beautiful A380—the world’s largest airliner with a full upper and lower deck. The flight from Los Angeles to Munich is 12 hours. There are also direct flights from Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Denver, New York, Houston, Charlotte, and more, depending on the time of year.

Once you’ve arrived in Munich, the best way to travel to Passau is by booking transportation through 12Go. You can choose a luxury motor coach from Munich to the Passau Train Station or book private transportation directly from Munich to your hotel in Passau.

I love Passau, which is in the heart of Bavaria and situated at the confluence of three rivers, including the Danube. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Passau Offers a Rich History

Passau is known as the “City of Three Rivers” because it sits at the confluence of the Inn, Danube, and Ilz Rivers. Founded by the Celts more than 2,000 years ago, it is one of the oldest cities in Bavaria. It is also on the Austrian border. If you visit in the summer months, I recommend heading to the park to see the confluence of the rivers. Dreiflüsseeck is where the three rivers meet. There is a monument marking the spot and a peaceful park where you can watch the comings and goings along the rivers.

During the summer months, wander to the park at the confluence of the three rivers. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Because of its location on the three rivers, Passau became an important trade and shipping center. The area was known for its salt trade and intricately carved knife and sword blades in medieval times. After exploring the park, stroll along the Danube Promenade, where the tranquil waters gently lap against the shore, offering a sense of serenity that is hard to find elsewhere. Admire the elegant architecture that lines the riverfront, from medieval buildings to charming cafés with outdoor seating, providing the perfect vantage point to soak in Passau’s scenic splendor.

Danube Promenade. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Hike to Veste Oberhaus for More History and Views

Situated on the hill overlooking the Danube and the old town of Passau is Veste Oberhaus, a medieval fortress from 1219 that sports impressive architecture and breathtaking views of the city and the river valley.

Veste Oberhaus in Passau, Germany. By Aconcagua – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

You take the 200 steps from the Schanzlbrücke Danube bridge to reach the fortress. It’s worth the climb for the views. Inside is a museum that uncovers the city’s rich history.

Veste Oberhaus ofers great views and the museum uncovers the history of Passau. Photo by William Graham

Wander to St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Back in the Old Town, stroll along the city streets and make your way to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The 17th-century baroque cathedral, designed by Carlo Lurago and Giovanni Battista Carlone, houses the world’s largest cathedral organ. It has 17,974 pipes, and if you are lucky enough to hear the organ play, you will understand the magnificence of this instrument.

I wandered through the town early one morning. It was quiet, but as I neared the square outside the cathedral, I heard music coming from inside. I slipped in during service, situated myself on a back pew, and let the music envelop me. It moved me to tears, and I will forever be grateful for that early morning exploration.

The organ isn’t the only treasure in the cathedral. Wander through, enjoying the intricately designed interior adorned with stunning art and ornate decorations.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Passau, Germany. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Passau is Home to Hidden Treasures

Passau holds a secret charm that captivates and enchants visitors. Each time I visit, I discover something new down yet another cobblestone passageway. The courtyards hold beautiful flowers in the summer, and artists often sit along the sidewalks painting. In winter, plan your visit around December to see the Christmas Market.

I followed the colorful cobblestones in Passau to discover several little galleries. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Exploring the Glass Museum

One of my favorite hidden treasures in Passau is the Glasmuseum Passau. The museum, situated on the banks of the Danube in Old Town, is the world’s largest collection of European glass and is listed as a Cultural Property of National Significance.

The Glassmuseum Passau houses everything from decorative items to glasses and even glass buttons. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Bavaria was a center of glass production throughout the years, and the area supplied glass to the world for centuries. It is only fitting that Passau houses this remarkable museum. You can’t see it all in one visit, but I recommend wandering through for a couple of hours. The collection includes over 30,000 pieces of glass, about half of which are displayed at one time. The glass dates from 1650 to 1950 and is an excellent way to explore the history of glass. Interestingly, US Astronaut Neil Armstrong officiated the museum’s grand opening on March 15, 1985. Don’t forget to make your way to the museum’s rooftop terrace, where you can admire breathtaking city views while sipping on a glass of local wine.

The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Regular admission is €7, in cash only.

Exploring Passau’s Art

In addition to glass, another hidden treasure in Passau is the Museum Moderner Kunst Wörlen.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Passau, this museum showcases an impressive collection of contemporary art, including works by renowned artists like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. As you wander through the exhibits, you’ll encounter thought-provoking pieces that challenge conventions and inspire new perspectives.

Museum Moderner Kunst in Passau. Photo by Konrad Lackerbeck via Creative Commons

Exploring Passau’s Christmas Market

As I mentioned, my most recent trip was exploring Christmas markets along the Danube. If you go to Passau in the winter, you must visit the Christmas market. Of all the markets I visited during the eight days, I enjoyed the Passau market the most. An authentic Bavarian experience awaits you, where the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures combine to create pure magic.

Passau Christmas Market. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

It was cold the day we strolled through the market, and the crisp winter air was perfect for getting into the holiday spirit. We could smell mulled wine, bratwursts, and assorted pastries as we strolled past the wooden booths with Christmas music filling the air. The market sits in the square in front of the cathedral with twinkling lights and Christmas decorations as far as the eye can see.

I love the variety of handcrafted goods at the Passau market, from delicate ornaments and intricately carved wood toys to cozy knitted scarves and warm woolen mittens. We watched schoolchildren laugh and sing as they wandered around the stalls. It was a Bavarian Christmas, as you’d find in a storybook.

Of course, there were plenty of treats to eat at the market. My husband, Bill, enjoyed a bratwurst with mustard. I chose a delicious pastry. There were gingerbread hearts, roasted almonds, and freshly baked pretzels. Try the marzipan-filled chocolates or a traditional stollen—rich, buttery fruitcake that is much better than our American version. You could pick up a mug of steaming hot chocolate or opt for Glühwein—a warm red wine blended with cinnamon, cloves, and orange zest, served piping hot in a souvenir mug.

Sweet treats in the Passau Christkindlmarkt. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

This market felt more authentic than the larger markets in Vienna. It was about the joy of Christmas rather than an over-commercialized experience with large crowds. I loved shopping for handcrafted ornaments to take home while in Passau, and as we wandered through the market, I really felt the spirit of Christmas.

Shopping and Eating in Passau

My favorite part of Passau is wandering through the hidden passageways and stumbling upon little boutiques and unique cafés tucked into a hidden courtyard. There are several adorable antique shops in Passau and artists often have tiny workshops in the ground level of their homes. As you wander the passageways, be open to exploring and stopping in to chat with the shop owners.

Hidden passageways in Passau, Germany. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

I love exploring the traditional taverns known as Wirtshäuser. These charming eateries, usually tucked down one of the narrow passageways, offer traditional Bavarian flavors. Indulge in bratwurst and sauerkraut with a glass of local beer or a German wine. I also recommend the Weisswurst, a traditional Bavarian white pork sausage.

There are also shops selling local pastries. I’ve enjoyed many a pastry sitting on a corner in Passau. Order a coffee and situate yourself to watch people coming and going. You might try an Apfelstrudel or one of the chocolate offerings.

I love the little cafes tucked into passageways throughout Passau, Germany. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Where to Stay in Passau

There are many places to stay in Passau, but I recommend getting an accommodation in the Old Town. Hotel Wilder Mann is adjacent to the Glasmuseum Passau and the Altes Rathaus, putting you in the center of everything. Your room includes free entry to the glass museum, and this historic hotel once housed Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria when she traveled from Vienna to meet her mother.

Hotel Wilder Mann and the Altes Rathaus Passau. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Another option in the Old Town and overlooking the Danube is Hotel Passauer Wolf. The rooms are quite spacious, and there is a spa available. I love the location of this hotel, and either would be a great spot to call home while in Passau.

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No matter when you choose to visit Passau, it is a lovely small town steeped in history. There is always good food and drink as you wander the colorful streets. With it being so easy to get between Munich and Passau using 12Go, you can reduce the travel stress and enjoy seeing one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. We invite you to explore Wander With Wonder for more of our favorite destinations in Germany.


Exploring Passau, Germany: A Bavarian Treasure