Stift Melk makes an immediate impression when viewed from the outside. But what do you actually see if you take a look around the inside of the abbey?
- Museum full of historical treasures
- Views across the Danube valley
- Astonishing library & church
- Relaxing park and gardens
- Book a tour* leaving from Vienna
- See also
Baroque beauty and bounty
(The view from the riverbank)
Elsewhere, I have a summary of Melk abbey for visitors, including its history and potential as a day trip. But here some more detail of what you actually experience inside with a ticket or tour.
Imperial Wing & Museum
The first of the ticket/tour-only parts takes you into the wing once reserved for visits from the nobility and Imperial court, including a 196m corridor lined with portraits of rulers from Babenberg times onwards.
This “Imperial tract” houses the museum, which introduces you to the history of the abbey and its role in social, cultural and economic life.
Highlights include various treasures, such as sacred relics, the 13th-century Benedictine book of rules, gold chalices, silk & gold vestments from the early 1700s, an 8-panel altarpiece from 1502, and similar.
The items on display all have English labels, even if some of the broader text appears in German only.
Look, particularly, for the two large models of the abbey, including one showing the layout before the 18th-century reconstruction work.
(Inside the abbey museum; press photo by Brigitte Kobler Pimiskern and © Stift Melk)
Look also near the model of today’s abbey for an aerial view painted by Franz Rosenstingl in 1736.
The painter got the proportions correct, despite the lack of drones and photographs back in 18th-century Austria. Remarkably, he got the look right, too, even though the new Baroque abbey was still a few years from completion.
Marble Hall & Balcony
The end of the museum brings you out into the marble hall: a large room full of illusionist ceiling frescoes and reminiscent of its namesake at Upper Belvedere in Vienna. Given the regional scarcity of the material, most of the “marble” is actually stucco.
Leaving the marble hall takes you onto a wide terrace with some quite spectacular views across the Melk river and Danube valley (and the older parts of the town of Melk itself). The view of the end of the abbey also reveals the inherent symmetry of the Baroque design.
Abbey Library & church
(The library; press photo by Peter Böttcher and © Stift Melk)
Then you pass into the abbey library, which regularly appears on those “most beautiful libraries in the world” lists. It matches Vienna’s own Baroque bibliophile beauty (albeit in miniature), even down to the Coronelli globes.
Many of the books on display in the two rooms you can enter feel like the kind you almost fear to open, lest you release incantations and trapped spirits (and then find yourself having an awkward conversation with the abbot).
The abbey collection includes around 750 books printed before 1501 as well as hundreds of manuscripts from the early 800s onwards.
As you might expect, the church bursts with Baroque and ecclesiastical glory…full of frescoes, niches and golden decoration.
Altars dedicated to various saints line the church sides. One holds the remains of the local patron saint, St. Coloman: an Irish pilgrim who died in 1012.
Northern Bastion, Gardens & Park
(Baroque pavilion in the abbey park; press photo by Brigitte Kobler Pimiskern and © Stift Melk)
An abbey ticket also gets you access up the northern bastion, which has mildly panoramic views to the west of the complex, and to the gardens and park.
The lawns, shrubs and woodland offer a tranquil escape from bus groups and existential angst: my bird song app picked up the calls of a European bee-eater, marsh tit and nuthatch, for example.
Be sure to pop into the pavilion in the sculpted gardens; frescoes from 1763/1764 by Johann Wenzel Bergl cover the inner walls. The various themes include Bergl’s trademark landscapes of foreign climes, painted with a heavy dose of imagination in places.
You can see more of Bergl’s work in, for example, the Children’s Museum at Schönbrunn.
Check the Melk abbey overview for general ticket and visitor tips. But for English-speakers, I’d certainly recommend enlisting help in understanding all you look at, given the vast historical, architectural, artistic and religious treasures within. For example:
- Buy the Melk Abbey guidebook in the shop before you go into the ticketed areas. Or…
- Upgrade to one of the in-house tours, which include English-language or multilingual options (tours are the only way to see the insides on some off-season days and months). The abbey also has a downloadable audio guide you can purchase through the Heromymus phone app. Or…
- Consider an organised tour* direct from Vienna, which has the added advantage of removing travel organisation from your trip