It is no secret that Bavaria is a land of many wonders. Indeed, this state hosts some of Germany’s most renowned sights and attractions. And yet, there remain places in Bavaria that are still unfrequented by the eager tourist crowds. One of those is Passau, an incredibly charming town on the Austrian border. In this article, I explain what makes Passau so special and why it is well worth visiting.
- The City of Three Rivers
- Why Passau Is Worth Visiting
- Planning a Trip to Passau
- Conclusion – Is Passau Worth Visiting?
The City of Three Rivers
When they hear about Bavaria, most people probably imagine Munich and Octoberfest. Some might recall Nuremberg or castle Neuschwanstein. And while these are undoubtedly famous for a reason, southern Germany has a lot more to offer.
To me, one of the remarkable places in Bavaria is further east, near the Austrian border. Here, on a narrow peninsula at the confluence of the Danube and its tributaries Inn and Ilz, lies Passau, or “The City of Three Rivers”.
Why Passau, you might wonder? Well, many things. You see, Passau is not a destination you go to for a particular well-known landmark. There are no breathtaking views or world-famous attractions here. It’s charming and picturesque, sure, but there’s no shortage of that in Germany.
Yet for many, Passau is their favorite spot in Bavaria. And after spending a few days there, I too fell in love with it. There is something very unique, authentic, and accommodating about it that you instantly feel but can’t quite put a finger on.
There are plenty of reasons why Passau is worth visiting. Neither one is particularly preeminent on its own. But together, they might just account for a truly unforgettable and enjoyable trip.
Why Passau Is Worth Visiting
Everybody is different and interested in different things. Yet Passau is a diverse and multifaceted destination that has something for everyone. Here are but a few of my favorite reasons to visit it.
Unique Geographic Location
Passau is located on a small peninsula framed by the flows of Danube, Inn, and Ilz. The three rivers not only serve as natural borders to how far the city can grow but also create the distinctive atmosphere inherent only to Passau.
Be that the long walks along the riverside promenade, fresh breeze in the heat of the summer, or leisurely boat excursions, water is an integral part of the Passau lifestyle.
The tip of the peninsula, where the three rivers meet (the Dreiflüsseeck) is one of the most prominent spots in Passau for locals and tourists alike. It’s a perfect place to spend a relaxed afternoon in the park, meet up with friends, or simply watch the water flow by.
Although the three streams here converse into one, each is still clearly distinguishable. The narrow dark stripe to the west is Ilz. The wide pale-green band to the right is the Inn. In the middle, the Danube shimmers deep blue. It’s a mesmerizing sight worth stopping by for.
But the three rivers giving Passau its unofficial name are not always peaceful and calm. Over the centuries, Passau had experienced some severe floods that molded and shaped the city into what it is today.
The last one (and the worst in nearly 500 years) happened only recently, in 2013. And if you watch carefully, you can still notice some of its marks as you walk the narrow streets of the old district.
This is something I find most fascinating about Passau. No matter the chaos or the destruction brought by nature, it has always bounced back stronger, livelier, and happier than before. To me, that’s a true testament to the determination and tenacity of the people who live here.
Rich and Vibrant History
Despite its modest size, Passau is ancient. The first settlement here dates back to the 2nd century BC. Later it became the Roman colony and subsequently the largest bishopric of the Holy Roman Empire.
Inevitably, a long and rich history such as this leaves its marks. Some of it is obvious, be that the Passau fortress, the old facades, or the museums. But much more is inconspicuous, hidden in symbols and tales, or even plain invisible.
For example, in the middle ages, Passau became famous for its swords stamped with the city’s emblem – the red wolf. The wolf was believed to bring invulnerability, and many warriors craved getting their hands on such a blade.
Fast forward to the 20th century, and wolves play an important role in the mythology of Nazi Germany. The party’s initial symbol was a Wolfsangel, and Adolf Hitler’s code name was “wolf” (hence for example the Wolf’s Lair). Is it a pure coincidence given that Hitler actually lived in Passau as a boy, from 1892 until 1894?
But here’s a real kicker – he also almost died in Passau in the winter of 1894. At the age of four, the future führer fell through the ice and was about to drown when a local priest rushed to the rescue.
The world of today could’ve been drastically different had those events played out a little differently… All I want to say with this is – there is more to Passau than meets the eye. Uncovering these hidden layers is part of the fun.
Beautiful Old Town
And since we started talking about history, I’d be remiss to not mention the incredible old town. It is the most picturesque part of Passau, and no trip is complete without walking its narrow streets.
Passau was largely spared the bombings of World War II, so many buildings here are from the 17th century. That’s when the last major rebuild happened following a devastating fire of 1662.
Getting lost in the cobblestone passages is one of the best things to do when in Passau. Marvel at the intricate tracery, the grandeur of churches, and the skills of masters of the past. And when you get tired, grab a coffee in one of the cozy coffee shops.
I especially recommend a stop at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It may not look all that impressive from the outside, but the internal decorations more than make up for it. Besides, it hosts Europe’s largest pipe organ. The organ actually consists of five smaller ones, each of which can be played individually.
The Church of St. Michael is also beautiful and worth checking out. And of course, be sure to walk the Inn promenade. It is a lovely and scenic path along the river and past the historic center up to the point where the Inn meets the Danube at the tip of the peninsula.
A Medieval Fortress
Another nod to Passau’s glorious past is Veste Oberhaus, a medieval fortress founded in 1219. The citadel occupies the hill between Danube and Ilz and is one of the landmarks and symbols of today’s Passau.
Visually, Veste Oberhaus has little in common with the famous fairy-tale castles of Neuschwanstein or Burg Eltz. To some, that might be a disappointment. But personally, I still find the fortress quite remarkable, just in a different way.
It is rough, functional, and imposing, as a proper stronghold should be. And it’s pretty formidable when you see it from up close. Besides, the views of Passau you get from up top are second to none.
Access to the castle is free and open to anyone, except for a section that belongs to the museum. The museum ticket costs €5 and includes entry to the observation tower. Inside, you will discover some cool installations, but overall, I think it’s completely optional.
You can drive right to the entrance if you want, but I suggest walking instead. It’s an easy 15-minute ascent from the historic center with some awesome viewpoints along the way as a reward for the additional exercise.
And when on top, try to get into the Oberhaus restaurant for a lunch on the terrace overlooking the old district. It’s a great experience, and the food is surprisingly good for such a seemingly touristy establishment.
Bustling Social Life
By this point, some of you might be thinking that Passau is some boring destination for history nerds. Luckily, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Like Heidelberg, Passau is a student town, with students accounting for almost 25% of the population. This brings diversity, multiculturalism, and the spirit of freedom so common in the student communities.
There are cafes, bars, restaurants and various activities going on. There are cultural events and festivals. But most importantly, there is a special vibe that you can instantly feel. Passau is not stuck in its past. It’s an eclectic modern town that lives and breathes and moves forward.
It’s this powerful combination of old and new, past and future, that creates a very unique and unmistakable character that you don’t witness too often. So whether you prefer museums or bustling nightlife, you’ll be right at home in Passau.
Excellent Local Cuisine
Passau is also an excellent destination for foodies. From various street trucks to cozy cafes, posh restaurants, and festive beer gardens, Passau has something for every possible taste.
For a hearty traditional Bavarian meal, head to Löwen Brauhaus, Wirtshaus Bayerischer Löwe or Das Oberhaus. And no matter what you order, be sure to include an Obatzda, a typical Bavarian cheese delicacy served with bread. It’s insanely delicious, especially when paired with a mug of local beer.
Speaking of which, all of the above have excellent regional beers on the menu. That said, only Oberhaus sells Augustiner – the beer from the oldest and last privately-owned brewery in Munich. If you go there, you have to try it!
But of course, Passau is not all about Bavarian food. There are vegetarian and vegan options as well as world cuisine restaurants. The Passau tourism board has kindly compiled an extensive list of recommendations to choose from.
Passau Is Still a Hidden Gem
One of my favorite things about Passau is that in a sense it is still a hidden gem. It doesn’t top the tourist destination lists and up until now managed to escape the attention of the attraction-seeking hordes.
There are visitors, of course, but Passau isn’t overcrowded like Bamberg, Rothenburg, or even Heidelberg. You can still relatively easily find hotels or book a table in a restaurant without a thousand people seemingly all wanting to be at the same place as you.
Most importantly, Passau doesn’t feel like a tourist trap. It’s not one of those destinations that spring to life during the high season but become desolate in winter. It’s a real town with real people that I could totally imagine myself living in.
Laid-back and Relaxed Atmosphere
Perhaps because of its large student community, the ambiance in Passau is very laid-back and relaxed. There is no sense of rush or urgency, and you immediately feel at ease. Quite frankly, it’s just a nice town to be in.
And so I challenge you to set aside a few hours to simply enjoy it without any specific plan. Read a book on the sunny riverbank, take a boat cruise, have a chat with the locals, or sip a beer in a beer garden watching the people around – it’s all good.
To me, Passau is not only about sightseeing or marking another tick in the list of places to visit. It’s also where I would go to disconnect, give my mind a bit of rest, and spend some quality time in a pleasant environment.
Passau is Extremely Photogenic
Last but not least, Passau is extremely photogenic. If you’re the kind of person that carries a camera everywhere, you will surely find no shortage of inspiring compositions to shoot.
There are many locations to flex your photography muscle in Passau, but my favorites are Prince Regent Luitpolt bridge over the Danube, the fortress, and the riverside promenade. Head there early morning or during sunset to capture the burning light.
If you’re interested in learning more about the best photography spots in Passau, let me know. I might write a separate article about them in the future.
Planning a Trip to Passau
Honestly, I would almost advocate going to Passau without a particular plan in mind. It’s so lovely that you would undoubtedly make up one as you go. But to those who prefer to come prepared, here are a few simple tips to consider.
When to Go to Passau
As is the case with most European destinations, summer is generally considered the best season to travel to Passau. The weather is sunny and warm, the days are long, and a cheerful mood fills the air.
Not surprisingly, summer is also the busiest period. Late spring and early autumn provide a perfect alternative for those looking for a calmer experience (and slightly lower prices).
Winter is the quiet season. While the weather is mostly mild, it is nonetheless too cold to sit outside. Many students are gone home for a break, so things are much more mellow.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, however. Passau is beautiful when covered in snow. And in December, the Christmas market near the St. Stephen’s Cathedral lights up the dark evenings bringing the festive vibe.
How Long to Stay in Passau
I recommend two days for a well-rounded visit that allows you to see most of what Passau has to offer without the unnecessary rush.
On day one, walk the historical district and the Inn promenade, visit the cathedral and perhaps take a river cruise before dinner. On the second, tour the castle, enjoy lunch in Das Oberhaus with a view over Passau, then head to the Pilgrimage Church in the afternoon.
You can condense this itinerary and cover most of it in one day if you are in a hurry. It’s a valid option, and the decision essentially boils down to how quickly or slowly you prefer to move.
If you have more time, I suggest renting a bicycle and exploring the surrounding areas. With a car, you might also consider a sally to Regensburg or Salzburg. Both are some 1.5 hours drive away.
Where to Stay in Passau
Passau has accommodations for all tastes and budgets. From shared hostel rooms to AirBnbs, and hotels, you will find everything here. I suggest looking for something in the center, on the Passau peninsula.
That way, you won’t need a car or any other transport for your entire trip. Everything is within walking distance, and you won’t have to worry about schedules, parking, or bus tickets.
In particular, I had a splendid stay in Hotel Passauer Wolf and would gladly choose it again if I travel to Passau in the future.
Getting to Passau
When traveling from abroad, the closest airports are Linz and Salzburg in Austria and Munich in Germany. All three are connected to Passau via trains and buses. You can check the details here.
To me, Munich would be the preferred option, as you can tour the capital of Bavaria before departing to Passau. Direct trains to Passau leave from Munich central station hourly, and the journey lasts approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes.
If you are coming with friends or family, consider the Bayern-Ticket. It allows unlimited use of all regional trains in Bavaria for up to 5 adults, so you might save quite a bit of money.
Conclusion – Is Passau Worth Visiting?
Absolutely! Passau is one of the most charming and authentic towns in Bavaria. With its distinguished character and unique atmosphere, it will make a perfect addition to any itinerary. Be that the history, the nightlife, or the views, you will find all that and more in Passau.
What makes Passau so special is a combination of its deep legacy, true Bavarian authenticity, and exciting modern trends. It is this extraordinary blend of past and present that makes a trip there so unforgettable. I had a terrific time in Passau and am sure you will too.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to Passau. If so, please share it with your friends and on social media to help spread the word. And if there are any questions I can help with, please reach out.
As always, feel free to also check the other articles on the blog. I’m passionate about traveling and photography, and you will certainly discover something to your liking. Here are a few recommendations of mine:
- The Best of Heidelberg – 13 Top Things to Do and See
- How to Photograph Burg Eltz – Best Locations, Tips, and Tricks
- A Perfect Holiday: Top Things to Do and See in the Mosel Valley
- Sunrise on Top of the World: Photography Guide to Mt. Pilatus
- Lisbon Photography Guide: 10 Fabulous Spots to Capture
- Mallorca Best Photo Spots and How to Plan A Trip
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