Melk Abbey in Austria was never one of those ‘must visit’ places on my European bucket list but as I was practically passing the front door, I felt it deserved a visit. I’d seen it featured many times in European river cruise brochures as it is perfectly situated alongside the Danube and, being about half way between Vienna and our destination of Niederranna, it made sense to enjoy our lunch stop at Melk that day.
The Abbey was well signposted as we approached Melk on the A1 motorway and a couple of minutes after taking the exit we found ourselves in a huge car park which already had its fair shares of coaches and cars. After parking our car, we followed the signs and soon found ourselves at the entrance to the Abbey.
Distinctly different with its yellow facade, the Abbey has a welcoming feel to it unlike lots of other Abbeys and churches in Europe which have a much more austere appearance. The Abbey dates back to 976 when Leopold I made it his residence.
In 1089, Leopold II gave the castle to the Benedictine monks from Lambach and monks have lived and worked at the Melk Abbey ever since. After a devastating fire in the18th century, the Abbey was rebuilt in the baroque style that we see today.
After buying our entry tickets, we followed the crowd (jumping ahead of a river cruise group, who were all hooked up to personal audio guides, as soon as we could) into the Museum. As we’d arrived just before 12 noon and there weren’t any more guided tours until 2pm, we opted to go it alone.
The Museum is housed in the former Imperial Rooms and as we walked through a series of eleven rooms, we could see sculptures, paintings and relics displayed. Descriptions were provided in English next to each display but as we visited on a Saturday (and in the height of summer!), sometimes we had to wait a few minutes to get close enough to the signs to read them.
Our self-guided tour then moved on through the Marble Hall, with its amazing frescoed ceiling, and then to the Terrace, a large balcony connecting the Marble Hall and Library. From here we had great views over Melk, the Danube and the Wachau Valley.
After taking some happy snaps from the terrace, we wandered on through the Library – again with stunning ceiling frescoes – and I was interested to learn that in the order of importance of the rooms in a Benedictine monastery, the library comes second only to the church.
There has been a school connected to the monastery since the 12th century and valuable manuscripts have been collected. The Library actually consists of twelve rooms containing over 80,000 books and manuscripts. Too many to read in one lifetime, that’s for sure!
The highpoint of our visit, though, was definitely the Abbey Church. A complete reconstruction of the original church was undertaken in the early 18th century and it doesn’t disappoint. Featuring a carved pulpit, high alter, Italianate frescoes, gilded stucco embellishments everywhere, and a huge dome, it has to be seen to be believed.
Keen to catch some daylight, we headed to the Abbey Gardens for a look around. The park was originally designed when the new abbey was constructed in the 18th century and was only opened to the public in 2000. Serving as both a place of relaxation for the monks and a popular picnic spot for visitors, the park offers magnificent views over the Danube and the Wachau Valley.
We couldn’t leave Melk without visiting the town itself so we followed a cobblestoned path downhill which brought us into the centre of town. With a population of only 6,500, Melk is not big by anyone’s standards but there were plenty of people around on the day we visited.
Melk is situated on the Vienna to Passau bike path and many of the day’s tourists were lycra-clad, no doubt pausing on their day’s cycling to visit the impressive abbey.
After checking out the menus available at the numerous cafes and restaurants, we settled on a hotel with an outdoor terrace. Sitting eating lunch we were gazing straight up at the imposing Abbey above, and not for the first time, marvelling at the sights and delights of Europe.
Need to know about Melk Abbey
- Entry fee is E10 per adult or E12 per adult with a guided tour.
- Between early November and the end of March each year, entry is only available with a guided tour at either 11am or 2pm (English language).
- It’s recommended you allow at least two hours to visit the Abbey and gardens.
- A restaurant and cafe are located on site (restricted opening times over winter) but the town of Melk is just a five to ten minute walk away.
- Free parking is available – follow the signs to the Abbey from the main road.
- For opening times, visit the Melk Abbey website
Getting to Melk Abbey
Melk is situated 88 kilometres (approximately a one hour drive) from Vienna on the A1 motorway. The town and Abbey are well signposted as you approach Melk.
Frequent trains also operate between Vienna and Melk, with a journey time of around 1 hour 15 minutes.