Tucked away in southeast Germany on the scenic Danube River, Passau was built on its ancient medieval roots and flourished as a buzzing port town. Arriving in Passau for the first time, you could be forgiven for thinking you had landed in Italy instead of Germany. Passau is strategically located at the confluence of the Danube, Inn, and Ilz rivers, near the Czech and Austrian borders. This City of Three Rivers is a popular stop on any Danube River Cruise itinerary. It is a picturesque and worthwhile place to visit, with lots for tourists to see and do. It was our first stop on our Viking River Cruise.
A devastating fire in 1662 caused severe damage to the city. Italian Baroque masters were brought in to rebuild the town. The city of Passau is located where two of the rivers meet, so it’s no stranger to flooding. In fact, 2013 brought the worst flood disaster the city had seen in more than five centuries. The marker on the wall lists the different water levels of the past floods.
As soon as we left the ship with maps in hand, we followed our guide through the winding cobbled streets towards Old Town’s highest point—Stephansdom or St. Stephan’s Cathedral named for the patron saint of Passau.
First, we passed a beautiful garden of flowers and plants. Our guide mentioned that it was an old burial site. At the end was a tunnel so narrow that a bus could hardly fit through it.
The Parish Church of St. Paul
The Parish Church of St. Paul is a beautiful pink colored building which dates from the early Middle Ages. It’s the oldest parish church in Passau. A statue of St Paul stands outside.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Besides housing what might be the biggest church organ on the planet, St. Stephen’s Cathedral with its three characteristic green onion-domed towers is another of Passau’s highlight attractions. The cathedral contains one of the largest church organs in the world with an astonishing total of 17,974 pipes. If you are there at midday between May and September, you can enjoy an organ concert performed by these mighty pipes for a half hour. Be warned, these performances are very popular: you need to get there early to get a seat because the cathedral can get packed.
Der Passuer Tolpel
This strange figure that can be seen on the wall close to St Stephen’s Church attracts a lot of attention and speculation concerning his history. The most quoted says he was once atop the tower of the church but a fire in the late 17th Century was the cause of his fall to earth. Since his return to the precincts of the Church in 2003, he has become a landmark on the trail of tourist attractions .
Passau Town Hall
Passau’s Town Hall is situated near the banks of the Danube River. The outside of the town hall is covered with paintings. There is also a little courtyard with a statue within the town hall complex. Like much of Passau, the old town hall was rebuilt in the 17th century by Italian baroque masters after a devastating town fire.
Veste Oberhaus is a medieval fortress that dates from 1219, it sits up top of the hill overlooking Passau below. It contains a regional history museum. We were told it’s a fairly steep climb to get there, but the views over Passau and the three rivers confluence from there are spectacular. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to go this time around since we were tight on time.
Danube River Cruises
Tourism revolves around people arriving on river cruises, but since Passau is close to the Czech Republic and Austria, coachloads of tourists arrive from these countries as well. Passau is also a popular holiday destination for Germans. At the Donauschiffahrt pier, you can book Danube riverboat trips and excursions. There are also many river cruises from Passau all the way to the Black Sea, and a steamer service to Vienna.
Wear your most comfy walking shoes to amble along the cobblestone streets — many of which are closed off to vehicles — and enjoy views of 17th century churches and quaint houses.