Named Ovilava circa-15 B.C., Wels burgeoned as a Roman trading center and provincial capital during Hadrian's imperial reign. Here one can retrace the original encirclement of Roman walls while learning about dozens of pre-Christian finds.
Enrichment, mainly resulting from agricultural bounty in the surrounding Innviertel countryside, peaked in the 17th and 18th centuries. That explains the long symmetrical Stadtplatz, lined with splendid Baroque house fronts and parapets, especially the stucco-encrusted Rathaus. Two towers serve as bookends for the square: the medieval Lederturm and the Stadtfarrkirche, first chronicled in 888, topped by an onion-bulb dome and admired for its Gothic stained-glass windows. Several arcaded courtyards branch from the Stadtplatz.
Find your way to the especially charming Haas-Hof vaulted passageway, an unchanged 16th-century Renaissance classic.
Closer to the Traun's banks (much-used by bikers, skaters, and joggers), rock-solid Burg Wels is now a local history museum, art gallery, and music conservatory. Audiences gather for summer concerts on the castle courtyard.
For a proper appreciation of ancient Roman influences on local culture and commerce, spend some time at the excellent Archaeological Museum, which fills a former Minorite monastery and includes excavations beneath a frescoed Franciscan church that adjoins this strikingly designed complex and is centrally located, overlooking Minoritenplatz.
Excursion to Kremsmünster
Dipping and rising by way of hilly terrain extending 18 km/11 miles south from Wels, farmland roads reach Kremsmünster Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded in 777, then expanded to colossal Baroque dimensions through the 17th and 18th centuries. Now it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Portraits of Holy Roman Emperors adorn the Kaisersaal; more than 140,000 rare volumes fill the library galleries. All that plus the abbey's eclectic collection of great paintings (among them: Jan Breughel the Elder's Four Elements) and ecclesiastical treasures epitomizing the achievements of goldsmiths and silversmiths. Sizable wine cellars are on the premises, too.