Top 10 Things to Do in Passau: Bavaria’s Venice

Welcome to my new German crush: the small Bavarian city of Passau.

The irony is that the City of Three Rivers (Dreiflüssestadt) was a random choice, a convenient place to stop as I travelled by train from Budapest to Aachen in Western Germany. But boy oh boy; what a good decision it was.

Passau’s fate has been determined by its staggeringly scenic location on the confluence of three rivers –  the Inn, Danube and Ilz – and art and culture collide in its alleyways, nooks and crannies. It is a cityscape like few others, characterised by expansive squares and dreamy waterfront promenades.

I fell so under its spell that I extended my stay.

From soaking up sensational views from the city’s castle to leisurely boat trips on the Danube, here are my favourite things to do in Passau.

panoramic view of two rivers meeting in passau germany

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1. Listen to Europe’s largest pipe organ

Also known as Passau Cathedral or Dom St. Stephan, St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a gem and a major Passau landmark. Blue-green domes crown this big Baroque beauty and its interior is a confection of gilt, stucco work and lively frescoes.

grey-white interior of church with stucco decorations and ceiling fresco
silver-coloured door handle in shape of an animal

It is famously home to Europe’s largest pipe organ, made up of over 17,000 pipes. If you visit Passau between May and October, you can hear it in action during its midday tune-ups (except for Sundays).

massive organ in passau st stephens cathedral

2. Bone up on Passau’s history at the Veste Oberhaus

Like Würzburg, Passau was a prince-bishopric and the Veste Oberhaus was the place they liked to call home. Dating from the 13th Century, it is one of Europe’s largest surviving castle complexes.

I whiled away a few hours at Veste Oberhaus, getting there by the shuttle bus that leaves from outside the Rathaus twice an hour. I walked back via the signposted steps and paths that led to the bridge.

stone steps leading to a castle in passau germany
The path leading to Veste Oberhaus

Its museum serves six centuries of the city’s history and is well worth visiting. Don’t know your Romanesque from your Baroque?  Fear not; the museum provides a crash course in architectural history.

Your museum ticket includes admission to the Observation Tower.

panoramic view of castle in passau and river
View over the River Ilz from the Observation Tower

I loved the frescoes in the castle’s chapel and its historic apothecary. But why did this have a stuffed crocodile?

faded wall fresco of christ

But for many people, the lure of Veste Oberhaus is the promise of the best views in Passau.

panoramic view of baroque town of passau altstadt and river
panoramic view of passau old town and river

3. Wander around the Old Town (Altstadt)

narrow street in passau altstadt with clock tower of church
large fresco painted over the arch of a building

Passau’s compact Old Town is a treasure.

Following the devastating fire of 1662, mainly Italian architects set about reconstructing the city, resulting in a Baroque cityscape with a Southern Mediterranean sensibility. Passau has been dubbed the “Venice of Bavaria”, thanks to its rivers, narrow alleys and Baroque buildings.

Take picturesque Residenzplatz for example. This square is flanked by St. Stephen’s towers and the Residenz, whilst the Wittelsbach fountain gurgles in the middle of the square.

elaborate baroque fountain with sculptures spouting water

The Old Town Hall is one of the Altstadt’s most important buildings. Built in the Venetian style, its frescoed exterior depicts Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria and four flag bearers and there are markings indicating where floodwaters have reached in the past.

flood marker along a wall in passau germany

4. Bid farewell to the river cruisers at Dreiflüsseeck

three rivers meeting in passau germany

The Inn, Ilz and Danube Rivers meet at Dreiflüsseeck, or Three Rivers Corner. It is also where the fancy Viking cruise boats park up and if you visit in the early evening you can wave them on their merry way up the Danube.

There’s a lovely park at this confluence point and it’s said that given the right light and weather, you can distinguish the colours of the three rivers before they blend. It didn’t work for me but this was my favourite evening spot in Passau nonetheless.

5. Walk along the Inn River

From the conjunction point, Innkal and Innpromenade skirt the River Inn. It’s a scenic spot for a stroll after you’ve said goodbye to the river cruisers.

Passing the 13th-century Schaiblingsturm (Schaibling Tower), the colourful buildings of Passau’s Old Town are to your right. Across the river (Innstadt), you can make out the towers of the Mariahilf pilgrimage church and the adjacent St. Paul Monastery.  

round white stone tower with a conical red roof

6. Visit the oldest church in Passau

pink and white church with bell tower

Established in 1050, St. Paul’s Church marks the entrance to the Old Town. Fire destroyed it in 1512 and 1662 and the current church was built in 1678.

Inside, it’s a Baroque symphony of white plasterwork and dark wood with gilded altars. When I visited, organ music provided the soundtrack.   

dark wood altar with paintings and gilded tabernacle
painted wooden carving of an angel

The church is next to Paulusbogen, the oldest preserved gate in Passau, dating to Roman times and a pretty garden overlooking the river.

7. Say hello to the Passauer Tölpel

stone sculpture of a smiling man

Also known as the Passau Booby, this curiosity is thought to be one of the figures from the cathedral, destroyed in the city fire of 1662.

From the Passau Cathedral I fell down, breaking my beautiful body. Am nevertheless kreuzwohlauf and lively, only in the head still somewhat weakly.

Anton Niederleuthner 

You’ll find him on the corner of the Landratsamt and Domplatz.

8. Explore Artists’ Alley (Höllgasse)

cobbled street in passau with squares of rainbow coloured paint in the middle and a clock tower at the end

Head for Höllgasse if you love art and craftsmanship. This rainbow-painted cobblestone street is an exceptionally photogenic corner of the Altstadt and is lined with artisan shops selling exquisite pieces, from sculptures to lovingly crafted jewellery.

It is also home to my favourite restaurant in Passau, Königlich Bayrisch, which serves traditional Bavarian nosh and has a beer garden overlooking the river. I had a fabulous schnitzel here.

9. Stop for tea and cake at the Cafe Stephan’s Dom

slice of strawberry and chocolate cake and cup of tea

This was a top recommendation from my lovely hotel receptionist. Visit for sinfully calorific cake in a beautiful setting with friendly staff.

You’ll find it through an arched entrance to the right of the cathedral.

10. Take the most bling boat along the Danube

large chandelier inside danube crystal ship

It’s gotta be done.

On the morning of my departure, I joined a two-hour cruise on the Swarovski Crystal Ship MS Donau to Pasten and back. In my view, it’s one of the best things to do in Passau, even if you are only there for a day.

This ship is an extraordinary crystal palace, featuring crystal-filled stone pavilions with illuminated water fountains and 12-meter crystal chandeliers. There are two interior levels, a sun deck and a waiter service for drinks and snacks.

The scenery was sensational, passing forested hillsides to Burg Krämpelstein and Obernzell with its small Renaissance church. Sit on the right-hand side on the outbound journey for the best views.

krampelstein castle on a hill
Burg Krämpelstein

The Crystal Boat departs from Pier 11 opposite St. Paul’s Church at the entrance to Passau Old Town. Your hotel may be able to give you a discount voucher.

How I visited Passau

I arrived by train from Budapest via Vienna. Passau’s busy train station has arrivals from cities such as Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Munich and Vienna. You can check train times here.

The train station is an easy 15-minute walk from Passau Old Town.

I stayed at the Altstadt-Hotel Passau, in a superb and quiet location on the river’s edge. Although it was a little frayed at the edges, it was wonderfully old-fashioned and staff could not have been more helpful. I would stay there again in a heartbeat.

room at hotel altstadt passau with large bed sofas and chairs and a table

Where to next?

And that’s a wrap. I hope you have found my guide to Passau helpful and have a wonderful visit.

Before you leave, check out a few of my other articles featuring beautiful Bavaria:

Happy travels!

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at or follow her on social media.

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