my parents really wanted to go to Melk via a Danube cruise from Vienna, but alas, they are all shuttered for the winter, so we had to take the train (more on that later). i didn’t know much about Melk, having left all the planning to them for this trip, but the girnomous baroque abbey is quite a sight to behold, both inside and outside.
note that during the winter months (November to March — check their website for details), visits to the inside of the abbey are only via guided tour. there’s a PDF buried on their site that says you need to make advance bookings but i didn’t see that until i was on the train. i called and it didn’t seem like you really had to, as they didn’t take my name or anything, and people were buying tickets without reservations at the window anyways. it’s €12 per person including the tour, and €10 per person without the tour (when it’s possible, i.e., not during the winter months). while you can indeed visit just the outside without paying, it’s definitely worth it to go in — some very sumptuous and impressive interiors.
if you’re arriving by train, the abbey is a 10 minute walk or so through the cobblestone pedestrian section of town, filled with cafes and restaurants (and a small Christmas market now). there are directions and a map on their site, but basically find the narrow alleyway that has stairs leading up to the right hand side of the abbey.
the (dare i say high-concept) museum you go through before you get to the glitzy “show-off” rooms is pretty interesting. while you get a good overview of the complex and its history with a guide who can also explain a lot of the…design choices (you’ll see what i mean if you visit)…it was a smidge on the rushed side, especially if you are trying to take pictures at the same time. this just goes for the museum section, though — the marble hall, church, and library were well-paced.
definitely an easy day trip from Vienna — a little over an hour each way by train (less if you go via Railjet service), though i wish we could have done this as part of a Danube River cruise!