As a wanderer with a Catholic background, I’ve found no better day trip from Vienna than Melk Abbey. It’s truly one of Austria’s gems, offering a unique blend of spirituality, history, and beauty.
Actually, even if you’re not Catholic, I’d still highly recommend a visit. The place is simply stunning.
The sheer size and beauty of this monastery might make you think you’ve stepped into a palace. The grandeur of its Baroque architecture is everywhere you look, and it’s hard to believe it wasn’t a residence of a monarch. A unique experience.
Just an hour from Vienna by train, Melk Abbey is surely a must-see for travelers visiting the Austrian capital.
Once you uncover what makes this abbey so unique, you’ll understand why it’s such a compelling attraction. Interestingly, Melk Abbey isn’t just a place of religious devotion, but also a beautiful intellectual preservation. We’ll dive into those details later in this blog post.
Before we dive in, let me tell you the story of Melk Abbey. Understanding its history will help you appreciate Melk Abbey as a travel destination.
Picture this: the year is 1089, and Leopold II, the Margrave of Austria, has a grand vision. He gifts one of his castles to Benedictine monks from Lambach Abbey, and thus, the story of Melk Abbey begins.
Fast forward to the twelfth century, the abbey is not just a place of worship, but also a beacon of knowledge. A monastic school is founded, the precursor to the Stiftsgymnasium Melk, illuminating minds for centuries to come.
Fun fact: Stiftsgymnasium Melk is the oldest continuously operating school in present-day Austria.
As we move into the fifteenth century, the abbey becomes the epicenter of the Melk Reform movement. This movement breathes new life into the monastic culture of Austria and Southern Germany.
When the 18th century dawned, the old abbey made way for the new, as the Baroque abbey we know today starts to take shape between 1702 and 1736. The architect, Jakob Prandtauer, along with artists Johann Michael Rottmayr and Paul Troger, create a masterpiece that inspires awe to anyone who sees it.
Thankfully, despite the tumultuous times of the Napoleonic Wars and the Anschluss in 1938, the abbey remains unscathed.
This is why, today, Melk Abbey still ranks among the most outstanding examples of Baroque architecture. It’s now also a part of UNESCO’s world heritage Wachau, preserving its authenticity—a beautiful experience to anyone who visits.
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Should You Visit Melk Abbey?
If there’s one thing you should know before visiting Melk Abbey, it’s this: You’re not just limited to the Abbey’s magnificent church.
You can also explore architectural marvels like the library, marble hall, and imperial staircase. This place is considered an architectural highlight of Austria, and that alone is reason enough to go.
But then again a visit to Melk Abbey isn’t just about architecture. The tour includes museums and exhibitions that house remarkable treasures and artifacts. You can also access the Abbey park with its beautiful gardens.
Indeed, when it comes to the value you’ll get, Melk Abbey is undoubtedly worth it.
Particularly if you opt for a guided tour, a visit to Melk Abbey promises a wealth of new knowledge. The tour covers the history, construction, functions, and even the political significance of the abbey.
All these—that’s why I’m recommending Melk Abbey to everyone, not just to my fellow Catholics.
And for the photographers out there, Melk Abbey won’t disappoint. Situated on a hill overlooking the Danube River, it’s not just a romantic destination, but also a picturesque one that’s begging to be photographed.
Many travelers describe Melk Abbey as a visual feast, and I can’t agree more. However, it’s unfortunate that photography isn’t allowed in certain parts of Melk Abbey. Despite this, you’ll still find some daring visitors sneaking a few pictures.
Here are some of the eye-pleasing views/parts of Melk Abbey:
Make the most of your trip to Vienna by checking out my Vienna Travel Inspiration posts. They’ll help you find the perfect experiences to suit your preferences
Melk Abbey as a Day Trip from Vienna
One of the advantages of taking a day trip from Vienna to Melk Abbey is that you’ll be visiting an area that opens up more travel opportunities. Melk Abbey is located in the town of Melk within Wachau Valley, which, as you may already know, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Wachau Valley, stretching from Melk to Krems, is rich in history and dotted with hidden gems, from charming villages to the ruins of medieval castles. Some people take a boat cruise along the Danube River to see some of the highlights of this area, including Melk Abbey.
If you are staying in the Wachau Valley for a couple of days, you can rent a bike and cycle along the scenic paths between destinations in the region. Among the scenery you’ll encounter throughout your adventure are the vast vineyards, which suggest more activities available for you, such as wine tasting.
The Wachau Valley is famous for its wines, particularly the Riesling and Grüner Veltliner varieties. If you finish visiting Melk Abbey a bit early during your day trip, wine tasting activities and tours can fill up the remainder of the day for a well-rounded visit to the region.
As a wanderer, I prefer visiting the quaint villages, which are quite scenic with mountains and hills in sight. Although these villages aren’t as stunning as the Swiss Alps (for example, Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald), the villages along the Wachau Valley have a different charm with their cobblestone streets, baroque architecture, and unique landmarks.
One village worth exploring is Dürnstein, which is only a 45-minute bus ride (#715) from Melk. It has a church with a beautiful blue spire and quaint houses. However, the highlight is definitely its ruined castle on a hilltop, which overlooks the village and offers panoramic views of the valley.
If you are interested in discovering more about the Wachau Valley, I have linked some helpful articles in the resources section at the end of this post.
Looking for another day trip from Vienna, besides Melk Abbey? Consider Liechtenstein Castle. This medieval castle is one of the many stunning sights around Vienna and a must-visit for explorers and history buffs alike.
Things to Do & Places to See in Melk Abbey
Melk Abbey is unlike any other abbey I know, such as the Senanque Abbey in the South of France or the Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg. The size of Melk Abbey is astounding – it’s massive!
It’s comparable to a small village or even a palace, with hundreds of rooms tucked away inside. The official website states that it has close to 500 rooms.
What’s exciting about a trip to Melk Abbey is that you can access some of the most beautiful spots within the abbey. Some of these are so unique, they’re unlike anything you’ll find in most other places.
If you’re planning to visit Melk Abbey in the shoulder seasons or summer, you’ve got two options. You can either explore the abbey on your own or join a guided tour. The rest of the year, the only option you got is the guided tour.
With the guided tour, you won’t miss a thing. It covers all the highlights and must-see spots in the abbey. But if you’re more of a DIY explorer, don’t worry. I’ve got a list of attractions in Melk Abbey that will help you get the most out of your trip.
Just a quick tip: Make sure to download the audio guide onto your smartphone if you’re going solo on your Abbey tour. I think it’s a must for deeper insights into the abbey’s history and functions. Check out the resources section of this post for the link.
1. Imperial Corridor — History Immersion
A visit to Melk Abbey isn’t complete without a stroll down the Imperial Corridor. This significant part of the monastery’s interior offers a glimpse into the abbey’s rich history and the legacy of the Habsburg Empire.
Stretching nearly 200 meters, the corridor spans almost the entire length of the southern wing of the monastery. It looks as though it stretches into infinity when you look at it from one end.
As you walk, you’ll be greeted by numerous portraits of Austria’s rulers, from Leopold I to the last Habsburg Emperor, Karl I. These portraits, some of which date back to the 18th century, adorn the corridor’s walls and show the different personalities of the empire’s rulers.
2. Imperial Staircase — Fairytale-like Scene
If you’re visiting Melk Abbey in search of beauty, you may already feel accomplished when you see the Imperial Staircase of the Melk Abbey.
In my opinion, the Imperial Staircase is an architectural highlight of the abbey. With the beauty it possesses, I’m sure you’ll be inspired to take photos once you see it, especially if you look at it upwards or downwards directly from the center.
Actually, there’s a mirror at the bottom of the staircase which will help you appreciate the architecture and details of the staircase.
Located in the southern side of the abbey, it’s one of the places in the abbey that you can easily find if you are currently in the Imperial Corridor.
3. The Marble Hall — Mesmerizing Frescoes
Still on the southern side of the abbey, you’ll come across the Marble Hall, another breathtaking part of the abbey. This space made me feel as though I was in a palace rather than a monastery.
It brought to mind the Marble Hall in Vienna’s Upper Belvedere Palace. The exquisite gilded baroque elements on its marble columns, and especially the enormous fresco on the ceiling, left me breathless for a moment.
Actually, the name “Marble Hall” is a bit of a misnomer. Only certain parts of the room, specifically the door frames and the insets above the doors, are actually made of marble. Interestingly, they aren’t just any marble, but Salzburg Marble to be precise.
In the Marble Hall, you’ll also find inscriptions that confirm you’re indeed in a Benedictine monastery. These inscriptions, located above the door, are written in Latin and taken directly from the 53rd Chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict.
They translate to something along the lines of: “Guests should be received as if they were Christ, and each should be given the honor that is due to them.”
The booklet guide from the Abbey tells us that the fresco has different symbols that can be interpreted in various ways. But one thing is clear: it has characters from Greek mythology.
Athena is there, riding a chariot pulled by lions, which is a symbol of wisdom. Hercules is also depicted, shown as he kills the Hounds of Hell.
People often speculate that the fresco was a tribute to the ruling family, who governed their land with the wisdom of Athena and the strength of Hercules.
This theory emerged because the fresco was painted during the reign of Karl IV, a member of the Habsburg dynasty. It’s interesting to note that the Habsburgs frequently associated themselves with ancient mythologies and legends.
After taking in the splendor of the Marble Hall, make your way to the Balcony, conveniently located right next to the hall. This Balcony serves as a connection between the Marble Hall and Melk Abbey’s Library, another standout feature of the monastery.
Upon reaching the Balcony, you’ll be treated to a breathtaking view of the Wachau Valley, including a bird’s-eye view of the town of Melk. But don’t forget to turn around — the stunning facade of the abbey church awaits, perfectly framed by the buildings that house the Marble Hall and the Library.
4. Melk Abbey Library — An Extraordinary Place
If you think the Marble Hall of Melk Abbey is breathtaking, just wait until you see the abbey library. It’s one of the most magnificent libraries in all of Austria. It’s so enchanting, it could bring anyone’s Hogwarts dreams to life.
The architecture of this library is a total showstopper – from the bookshelves to the gilded sculptures and to the fresco that graces the ceiling. This might just be the most distinctive feature of Melk Abbey, making it an absolute must-see, especially if you’re an explorer at heart, just like me.
Interestingly enough, this library is still actively used by researchers from around the globe. With over a hundred thousand books, manuscripts, and incunabula spread across 14 rooms, it’s a veritable treasure box of knowledge. Just on the first floor alone, visitors can lay their eyes on roughly 16,000 books.
If you’re on the hunt for something intriguing to uncover, you’ll want to spend some time here.
You can take a look at the rare medieval manuscript collection in the abbey library. Here, you’ll find a fragment of a renowned early erotic work — Der Rosendorn, or The Rose Thorn. Fascinatingly, research suggests that this piece could date back to as early as the 1300s.
By the way, the Melk Abbey Library isn’t the only beautiful library you’ll find in Austria. There’s another one in Vienna that might even outshine it. It’s the National Austrian Library, located within Hofburg, or Imperial Palace.
5. Abbey Church — Spectacular God-Inspired Art & Architecture
Just like the other remarkable features of Melk Abbey, the church, nestled between the library and the Marble Hall, never fails to impress.
Opulence and magnificence — those are the best words to describe the abbey church. The church is filled with them.
The church, resplendent with gilded Baroque features and statues, clearly showcases its divine creation and its intent to instill a sense of awe in its worshippers. I spent several minutes, captivated by every detail.
The gilded pulpit of the church, the high altar, and the colorful frescoes that adorn the entire ceiling stood out as exceptionally impressive to me.
The abbey church is not just an architectural marvel, but also a source of life lessons through its symbolism. One such symbol is the Latin inscription on the high altar: NON CORONABITUR NISI LEGITIME CERTAVERIT, which translates to ‘Without a legitimate battle, there is no victory.’
Guide books explain that this victory is depicted by the large victory gilded crown on the high altar, the dome frescoes where the heavens open, and the victor’s laurels over the monk in the nave fresco.
Did you know that Vienna is home to some truly awe-inspiring churches? You don’t even need to step outside the city to see them. There are three in particular that I highly recommend, and you really shouldn’t miss: Stephansdom, which is the largest; Karlskirche, known for its unique architecture; and Peterskirche, a splendid example of Baroque design.
6. Abbey Park — A Beautiful Touch of Nature
Usually, you’d spend about an hour touring the grand interiors of Melk Abbey if you’re with a guide. If you’re going it alone, it might take a bit longer.
If you find yourself with some extra time, I’d suggest checking out Abbey Park. It’s home to quite a few attractions. The park is pretty expansive – so much so that a leisurely stroll could take you about an hour to complete.
One of the must-sees in the abbey park is the Baroque Garden Pavilion. It’s a work of art, with frescoes on the walls and ceiling that make you feel like you’re in paradise.
In the summer, it even hosts concerts. You might want to check the schedule before your visit – attending a concert could make your trip to the abbey even more worthwhile.
Another nice spot in the abbey park is the Cabinet Clairvoyé. It’s got these tall hornbeam hedges that grow on arches. It’s a great place to take a walk, especially on clear days or at sunset. The mirrors at the west end of the alley create some really dramatic light effects.
If you’re looking for some peace and enlightenment, you might want to check out Saint Benedict’s Path in the northern part of the abbey park. It’s got 12 stands with quotes from Saint Benedict and some reflections on them.
The idea, according to the books, is to inspire us to set boundaries, respect rules, but also keep learning and moving forward. It’s all about finding your own way in your own unique situation.
On top of everything else, you’ve got beautiful art, adorable animals, and of course, breathtaking panoramic views of the town of Melk. The landscaping is something to see, and there are plenty of great spots for photos.
There’s a small fee to get into the abbey park, but it’s totally worth it. You can think of it as a donation to help keep the park looking its best.
If you’re searching for the perfect spot to get a panoramic view of Vienna, look no further than the Danube Tower. Not only is it the tallest building in Austria, but it also features a rotating restaurant and coffee shop. Here, you can savor delicious food and drinks while enjoying the scenery of the city.
7. Museums and Exhibitions — Beautiful Insights and Interesting Discoveries
Similar to the huge historical sites in Vienna, for example, Schönbrunn Palace, Melk Abbey also has its museum within it.
Let’s say you’re now at the Imperial Staircase or Imperial Corridor; the Melk Abbey museum is just next to you. It’s situated in the former Imperial guestrooms. From there, you can see exhibits that talk about the abbey’s current purpose down to the very beginning of its existence.
In the museum, you’ll also learn about Saint Benedict. He is the patron saint of the monks living in Melk Abbey even today.
Interestingly, the museum also features exhibits about the architectural history of the abbey. I saw treasures there, really precious objects like crowns. I think these were used by the Habsburg emperors.
There’s also a very old altar and a reusable casket. These are undoubtedly unique. I wonder how the casket was used.
I wasn’t able to explore the museum in its entirety to provide a detailed explanation, but the following photos should offer a glimpse of what’s inside.
Hey, if you ever find yourself in Vienna, there’s one museum you absolutely can’t miss – the Kunsthistorisches Museum. This place is like a museum palace, filled with fascinating artifacts and art pieces from all over the world and from different periods in history. But what really takes your breath away is the interior of the museum. It’s one of the most stunning sights I’ve ever seen.
How Long to Spend in Melk Abbey
The official website of the abbey recommends a stay of at least 2.5 hours for a complete visit. An hour would suffice to see the highlights, such as the library, Marble Hall, balcony, abbey church, and museum.
However, the time you might spend in Melk Abbey depends on how quickly you check out different parts of it.
If you are a curious wanderer like me who likes to see everything in the place, it might take you three to five hours. The longer duration includes the abbey park, which I think is a great place to visit as well. It is beautiful and relaxing there.
That said, if you are going to visit Melk Abbey from Vienna, it would be practical to dedicate the whole day to a day trip and visit other attractions in the Wachau valley as well.
For example, you could leave Vienna by eight and reach Melk by nine. You could spend the rest of the morning in Melk Abbey until lunch. In the afternoon, you could make the most of your visit to the area by exploring other attractions, which we will discuss next.
Love photography? Be sure to factor in time for capturing the beauty of the monastery grounds. You’ll find countless spots to inspire you – get ready to snap some amazing photos!
What to Do after Melk Abbey
There are many activities and attractions in Wachau Valley aside from Melk Abbey. However, some of the things that a wanderer would like to do are listed below. Aside from visiting Dürnstein and climbing up to its ruined castle, they are:
- Take a stroll through Krems. It’s a lot like Dürnstein, which I brought up earlier. This town is filled with charming streets that are perfect for a leisurely walk, and the best part is, it won’t cost you a penny. Make sure to explore its pedestrian-friendly center and don’t miss out on Obere Landstrasse! The town is dotted with cozy wine taverns and historical landmarks that will take you back in time. One such landmark is the Stein Tor, a 15th-century gate that’s definitely worth a visit.
- Immerse yourself in the romance of the area by visiting the ruined castles scattered throughout. Honestly, it might feel like you’re exploring northern Italy right in the Wachau Valley, thanks to these castle ruins. Some are perched on hilltops, offering breathtaking views that are perfect for soaking in the dramatic golden hour over the valley. And let’s not forget about Dürnstein Castle, which was once the prison of England’s King Richard the Lionheart. You can also check out Aggstein Castle and Artstetten Castle. Both are home to medieval artifacts and offer stunning views.
- Take a bike ride along the Danube. If you’re making your way to Krems from Melk, cycling is a great way to do it! The path is mostly downhill and the views are scenic. You can easily rent a bike in Melk, and don’t worry about getting back — there are boats that can shuttle you from one side to the other, making it a breeze to return your rental.
If you want, there’s an available tour letting you see Krems, Durnstein, and Melk Abbey all on the same day without hassle. For more details about the Wachau Valley, feel free to check out the resources section below.
Resources: Visiting Melk Abbey
That wraps up everything about Melk Abbey! If you’re thinking about visiting, I highly recommend checking out Melk Abbey’s official website for the most current visitor information. Be sure to read the FAQs for guidelines on your visit.
Whether you’re traveling solo or in a group, you can grab your tickets right at the ticket office located in the first courtyard of the abbey.
To make your experience even better, convenient I must say, think about joining a guided tour day trip to Melk Abbey and Wachau Valley. Traveling in a group? This private tour on a car will spoon feed you the best experiences in Wachau Valley.
If you’re interested in exploring Melk Abbey and the Wachau Region on your own, the links below should come in handy.
- Danube in Lower Austria (official website) — Wines, bikes cycle paths, and other information in Wachau and surrounding area
- Bike Rentals in Wachau Valley (official website)
- Wachau Valley (UNESCO website)
- Melk Abbey Audio Guide (iPhone)
- Melk Abbey Audio Guide (Android)
- Best hotel deals in Vienna
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