Passau’s people say that the city is located between three rivers and heaven. Though few people travel to Passau just to see Passau, they are either on their way to a Danube cruise or stopping off on their cruise for a quick tour of the city. Spectacular cycling routes along the rivers and through the forests also pull in cyclists. Passau is on few people’s travel bucket lists but once they are arrive they are pleasantly amazed by the city’s beauty. Two hours by train from Munich airport, with its railway station and harbour centrally placed, this very walkable makes life easy for visitors.
Straddling the confluence of the Inn, Ilz and Danube rivers, where reflections of colourful baroque townhouses ripple in waves of red rooves towards rolling green hills, Passau has a charming setting. The city is dubbed “Venice on the Danube” or “The Venice of Bavaria”. It’s proximity to northern Italy and narrow streets give parts of the city an Italianate ambience. Since Roman times the city has grown rich from river trade.
Although it is an uphill hike, the spectacular views from the 13th century Veste Oberhaus fortress, particularly from its observation tower, are ideal for getting a sense of both the city and its rivers. The fortress houses records and remnants of some of Passau’s history, but the city’s cultural highlights are probably the Glass Museum, home to the largest collection of Bohemian glass in the world, and the Museum of Modern Art mainly focusing on cubist and expressionist paintings.
The quirky Dackelmuseum celebrates the dachshund with art, ceramics and memorabilia paying tribute to Bavaria’s favourite hound. It took its co-owners over a quarter of a century to build the collection of 4,500 exhibits.
Before visiting Passau, it is worth looking ahead to the St Stephen’s Cathedral programme. It hosts Europe’s largest church organ with an impressive 17,974 pipes and sometimes hosts free concerts.
As a compact city it is easy to walk through the cobbled marketplaces, fortified by Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and maybe a slice of Schlosserbaum cake) whilst you watch the Bavarian world go by – sometimes even wearing lederhosen. Passau’s people enjoy their cafe life and linger long on the terraces into autumn. Wrapped up in their winter coats they venture outside at the merest hint of spring.
Window-shopping in Passau is different. The city is renowned for cuckoo-clocks, in fact there are even annual competitions for cuckoo clock makers. Chocolatiers also attract crowds around their tempting window displays.
Food is all part of the Passau experience. Don’t even think of ordering a starter. Hearty Bavarian recipes evolved from centuries of calorific refuelling after logging in the forests or hauling barrels of wine and hefty cargo on and off Danube ships. Menus in the biergartens, where the beers are huge feature Schnitzel, Spätzle, catfish from the Danube and other regional favourites. Such beercellars are rarely a place for cosy dining for two, large tables are often communal, social and buzzing.
Above all, the rivers are at the heart of the city’s life. You can walk along the riverside watching people board for their river cruise. Many of the chic river cruisers head on to Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and beyond. Other ships host weddings and parties. Even if you only enjoy a lunch or dinner cruise it wouldn’t seem right to visit Passau without taking to the water.
Passau fact file
If you enjoyed Michael’s ramble around this beautiful Bavarian city, you’ll find more of his European short break reviews on our Travel channel.
Images: ©Stadt PassauLast modified: August 4, 2023