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Boat on the Danube in Wachau

Vienna River Cruise Guide: A Warning, And 5 Best Boat Trips

Vienna River Cruise: Much like choosing a restaurant, cruising the Vienna Danube opens up a confusing choice. Do you prefer lush scenery over contemporary architecture? Enjoy the thrill of high speed transport or rather an elegant cruise ship, or chilling in a tiny ‘Zille’? One thing is for sure: You need to be selective to enjoy a boat ride on Donau.

Why Not All Vienna River Cruises Tick The Box

Contrary to Johann Strauss’s Danube waltz and most boat tour operators, the Danube river in Vienna isn’t always as scenic as you may expect, let alone of blue color. Unlike in Budapest, the Danube does not cross the city center. Instead, it separates the 2nd district Leopoldstadt from the 21st district of Floridsdorf. This means that a city cruise on the Danube usually introduces guests to the industrial charms of Handelskai in Leopoldstadt, and the contemporary high-rise buildings of Donau City on the Floridsdorf side. Hence, most city cruises include the more central Danube Canal, which highlights more landmarks. If you consider a Vienna river cruise, just adapt your expectations and go for a short evening cruise with soft light.

If you ask me, the best location for a truly scenic Danube river tour is UNESCO World Heritage site Wachau Valley. A top alternative is to travel to Bratislava, where you can choose between a majestic Danube cruise along the whole Vienna stretch to Bratislava, and an exciting high speed catamaran whizz. Here is my boiled down guide to the best boat trips on the Donau.

1. Wachau boat trip

Boat trips: Wachau shipFor a truly scenic Danube boat trip, consider cruising through UNESCO World heritage site Wachau Valley. The Wachau has earned a place in European history as the site where medieval crusader King Richard Lionheart was imprisoned at Dürnstein castle. Some boat trips also allow you to explore baroque Melk Abbey, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Besides, the Wachau is the home of award winning Austrian wine and of all things apricot. And it’s where you can float in a Zille! More information on doing a Wachau boat trip.

2. City Evening Cruise

Boat Trips: UN Headquarters, Vienna DanubeAs mentioned, taking a classical Vienna river cruise connects you first and foremost with contemporary sites. The boat ride departs from the Danube canal at the north-eastern edge of the city centre. The most impressive site during the Vienna Danube Evening Cruise is the United Nations building, the funniest Hundertwasser’s Kunsthaus, and the most relaxing the Prater woodlands and Danube Island. Do also watch out for Otto Wagner’s modernist Schutzenhaus, and the Zaha Hadid university library. On top, you’ll get to try the Otto-Wagner designed lock at Nussdorf!

3. Vienna To Bratislava Day Cruise

Boat trips: Vienna DanubeIn no other local day cruise the Danube shores change face so vividly as during this day trip. Personally, the best bit for me is passing through the Danube National Park. But cruising along Vienna’s favourite recreation spot Danube Island (see photo) is also quite fun. Before you leave Vienna you will pass the Danube lock at Freudenau. Some find this tedious but then again it’s just 20 minutes during a few hours of Vienna river cruise.

At noon you arrive in the Slovak capital of Bratislava. Since breakfast and lunch will be served on board the four hours for sightseeing go a long way: apart from the pretty historic city center you can see Bratislava castle as well. Find out more.

Here is a selection of more than a dozen cruises, boat trips, and even kayaking tours on the Danube in and around Vienna. The most picturesque stretch is definitely in Wachau Valley. When cruising in Vienna, prepare for an urban and contemporary experience. Check the list of best cruises and boat rides in Vienna and surroundings.

4. Quick Vienna To Bratislava Boat Ride

Boat trips: Catamaran to BratislavaIf you need a quick ride to Bratislava, mount this high-speed catamaran. After, all Vienna and Bratislava are the two most closely located capitals in Europe. In little more than one hour you can whizz to Bratislava and back with the Twin City Liner Vienna – Bratislava. I went there with my kids one summer Sunday. Certainly, the boat trip was exciting, though quite noisy outside.

Definitely, we found we had more than enough time in Bratislava to do sightseeing. Read my story about our catamaran ride and mini danube cruise.

5. Self-Guided Vienna Boat Tour

Boat Trips: Rental sofa boat, Old DanubePrivate trips by boat are possible in Vienna: On a hot August day, I chose one of Dr. Mai’s fabulous inventions – lounging on a sofa while floating across Alte Donau (Old Danube).

We gained so much insight into real Vienna that a regular Vienna Danube boat ride can’t provide. My kids loved it, and we had a good splash into the Danube, too. Read my review.

Vienna to Budapest

Note: The Vienna river cruise hydrofoil service has been suspended. There is a six hour Danube cruise that takes you from Vienna to Budapest and back on a high speed hydrofoil. This is the fastest of all boat trips between the two cities. It is a good option for people who want a day cruise on the Danube and visit Budapest. Added benefit: You are free to explore both cities at your own speed and taste. Go here for a review and more information on the hydrofoil Vienna – Budapest.

About The Danube River

Boat Trips: Danube seen from DonauturmThe river Danube is the second longest river in Europe, with more than 2.845 kilometres between the Schwarzwald area in Germany and the Danube river delta at the Black Sea. It is also the most international river in the world as it meanders through 10 different countries.

In Vienna, the Danube was regulated in the 1870ies to prevent Austria’s capital from being flooded. The original Danube bed was transformed into the Old Danube (Alte Donau), now a lake. South of it, the new Danube river bed was created. The long and narrow Danube Island (Donauinsel) separates the Danube from the New Danube (Neue Donau). Explore the best places on the Wiener Donau in my Vienna Danube insider guide.

Map Of Vienna Danube From Wachau To Budapest

The river danube map below highlights the area between the Wachau Valley and Budapest. Click on the placemarks below for more information about the marked cities and areas.

go to Wachau Valley Tour Review – Wine And Danube
visit Wachau Tour – Wine Tasting And Danube Biking
find out about a Burgenland Wine Tour – Wine Tasting Near Vienna
check Vienna Wineries  – Heuriger Guide and Map by Two Natives
go to Seegrotte Tour Review – Europe’s Largest Underground Lake
for easy sightseeing go t  Vienna Sights  by Car – What To See On A Private Sightseeing Tour
explore Vienna Travel Planning – Trip Planning and Travel Consulting by Vienna Unwrapped

back to What To Do In Vienna
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