Known as the City of Three Rivers, Passau is the meeting point of the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers. It is also a university town and the home of the University of Passau, a renowned institution known for law, economics, theology and other academic areas.
Situated in the south-east of Bavaria, Passau city centre is about a 20-minute walk from Austria. The city is just east of the Autobahn 3, which runs between the border with the Netherlands in north-western Germany and the Austrian border. Passau’s main rail station, the Hauptbahnof, links the area with destinations across Germany and beyond including Munich and Vienna.
What to see
Passau’s winding cobbled streets and riverside setting combine to create a romantic and beautiful place to explore. Nestled between the three rivers that meet here, the old town’s scenic streetscape is filled with spectacular Gothic and Baroque architecture. Pretty squares and splendid bridges add to the romantic feeling Passau exudes.
The city’s skyline is dominated by Italian Baroque churches and Passau’s imposing cathedral. The Dom St. Stephan (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) dates from 1688, although a church has been on the site since the eighth century. With 17,774 pipes and 233 registers, the cathedral’s organ is the largest in the world. St. Michael Church and the Mariahilf monastery is a magnificent hilltop pilgrimage site overlooking the old town. If you walk up the rococo stairway of the New Bishop’s Residence at Residenzplatz you will find the Museum of the Treasure of the Cathedral and the Diocese, a fabulous museum with about 200 masterpieces and other works of art on display.
Situated atop St. Georgsberg mountain, Veste Oberhaus sits between the Danube and the Ilz rivers. The historic fortress dates from 1219 and was once the stronghold of the Bishop of Passau. Today, it is home to a cultural museum as well as a restaurant and youth hostel. An open-air theatre has also been at the site since 1934. Other highlights in Passau include the Scharfrichterhaus, the thirteenth century residence of Passau’s executioner. It is now filled with the sounds of jazz and hosts political cabaret shows. There is also a Viennese-style coffee house and a restaurant.
Best time to visit Passau
Over the centuries, Passau’s rivers have seen crusaders and traders on their way to the Middle East and beyond. The Danube plays an important role in the city’s history and its life today, and many commercial and leisure boats roam along the river. A popular summer destination in Bavaria, Passau is renowned for its riverboat culture and a cruise during a sunny spring or summer day is a must for any visitor.
The European Weeks Festival in late July and early August celebrates the cultures of Eastern Bavaria, Upper Austria and Bohemia. The festival honours Passau’s unique position close to Austria and the Czech Republic and is one of the region’s top cultural events. From Balkan brass bands to gypsy jazz, there is an eclectic mix of performers and live music along the Danube.
Although summer is a popular time to visit Passau, the city also comes alive from late November to late December as its Christmas Market brings the smells of the season to the cathedral. About 70 stalls sell arts and crafts in the heart of the old town, including special Christmas treats and gifts. You can also sample local favourites, including Lebkuchen (gingerbread) and Glühwein (mulled wine). Each day choirs perform and concerts entertain people of all ages.
Typical regional dishes
From wild boar and venison during hunting season to seasonal fish dishes, Bavaria is a foodie’s paradise. Famous menu items in Bavaria include the roast pork dish Schweinsbraten and the meatloaf-like Leberkäse. Another famous dish is Schweinshaxe, which is grilled pork knuckle. Kartoffelsalat potato salad is also a delicious side order found with many dishes. Kässpatzen is a traditional food made with Bavarian cheese.
Where to stay
In the heart of the old town is the four-star Hotel Residenz Passau. Situated on the banks of the Danube, the superb hotel is a few steps from St. Stephan’s Cathedral and Residenzplatz. Hotel König is another four-star option in the old town with views of the Danube. Schloss Ort is a romantic family-run hotel with charming rooms just five minutes from the cathedral.
The Hotel Wisser Hase is a lovely four-star hotel at a historic building that dates back to 1512, and its inviting restaurant serves authentic Bavarian dishes. Another historic property is Hotel Wilder Mann, which shares the same building as the Glass Museum. Its majestic breakfast room offers panoramic views of St. Stephan Cathedral and the old town.
IBB Hotel Passau City Centre is just outside the old town and offers modern accommodation. Exceptional facilities at this great hotel include a spa and swimming pool. Dormero Hotel Passua also provides a more contemporary setting and comfortable rooms a few minutes from the Danube. Rooms at the four-star hotel boast modern décor and superior amenities.
Although much of Passau is easily explored on foot, there are convenient public transport options in the city. Affordable buses run until 11 p.m. and serve destinations throughout the city, including between the Hauptbahnhof and the historic old town. If you are travelling to other destinations in Bavaria, the Bayern-Ticket gives you unlimited travel on regional non-express trains for a day.
If you are looking to buy an original Lederhosn or Dirndl, you will find plenty of shops around Passau and its historic old town. The old town’s alleys and streets are filled with shops for virtually any taste and budget. Bahnhofstresse alongside the main railway station is lined with familiar shops, whether you are looking for books or the latest fashions. With more than 80 big name shops and restaurant, Stadtgalerie Passau at the eastern end of Bahnofstrasse is the city centre’s main shopping centre and a popular destination for locals and visitors alike.
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are the most popular nights for going out in the city. Popular spots include Shamrock, an Irish pub with quizzes each Thursday and bar staff from all over the world. Hossi’s Bar is a small cocktail bar close to Shamrock. Innstadt has a great selection of drinking spots, including Bluenotes, Colors, Garage and Joe’s. If you want to sample one of Bavaria’s many beers, Passau has authentic beer gardens and five breweries. The Hacklberg Brewery serves a menu of traditional Bavarian dishes and has its own beer garden, which fills up quickly on warm nights.
The Bavarian Forest, or Bayerischer Wald, offers unspoilt woodland and picturesque mountain ranges. The beautiful region is home to the Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald, the oldest and largest national park in Germany. Outdoor enthusiasts will fall in love with stunning hiking and cycling trails that offer breathtaking views of glacial lakes and mountain ranges.
The Danube bike trail passes through Passau. The trail runs along the river towards the Black Sea, and the stretch between Passau and Vienna is one of the most travelled sections. The route is well signed in and around the city, and there are many hidden side trails to explore on the main path. You can also experience the river on a boat with short trips starting at just an hour or longer multi-day journeys to Austria.