Vienna boat tour. Vienna boat trips on the Danube sound like fun and romance. Until you realize that neither Ringstrasse boulevard nor Hofburg, let alone Schönbrunn Palace, are anywhere near Donau.
There is one boat trip on the Vienna Danube, though, that has thrilled me, and I will show you why. Read on if you like authentic places, charm, design and style, fun, and taking things into your own hands.
The Old Danube
Vienna boat tour. The Old Danube is located North East of Vienna’s city centre. Just 150 years ago, the Old Danube (‘Alte Donau’) formed the main river. The Donau was regulated from 1870 to 1875. Since then, the Old Danube was transformed into a separate lake next to the newly created Danube river bed. Today it is one of our most loved summer leisure spots. The shores are lined with charming tiny summer houses. The little island in the middle hosts green lawns and a public bath. Swimmers, boat people, and stand up surfers criss cross the Old Danube’s pure green water.
Vienna boat tour. I love boats, and I love cosy sofas. But I had no idea the two can go together so well. Discovering those floating lounges was a lucky strike. They were brand new and just on the verge of becoming the next big leisure attraction on the Danube. We rented ‘Meine Insel’ (My Island), a larger lounge oasis with ample seating for up to eight people, and its own palm tree. My 15-year old nephew took over the steering soon. He moved our boat with a simple joy stick (see photo). For lunch, two tables were brought back on the boat. For nightly outings a ‘cypress’ lamp on the boat illuminates the scenery.
Meine Insel floated along smoothly. We could stand and walk without seeming drunk. A member of staff instructed us how to navigate and deal with occasional entanglements of water grass in the ship’s propellers. (I was concerned about that. It happened once but we managed without problems.) Getting in and out of the water was fun: I would slide in from the front and use the ladder in the back to get out. The kids just jumped and pulled each other out.
Our Real Vienna Boat Tour
Vienna boat tour. Exploring the Old Danube was immersing into a local microcosm. I had long forgotten that fascinating mix of green outskirts bliss, community waterside living, fragrant willows and grilled food, paired with a scenery of modern international urbanism. We were as far from the beaten tourist tracks as we could possibly be. It felt like being back home.
Most of the waterside houses are weekend homes. Each one is individual and reflects the character of its owners.
From the boat you can see the Vienna International Centre, which hosts one of the three United Nations headquarters in the world. The area is known as Donau City, and the most modern part of Vienna. The DC tower with its wavy façade is Vienna’s highest office building.
Navigating our boat in the midst of other water sport activists was an easy way to connect with the local community. In this photo you can see a traditional Danube boat, called Zille. This type of boat has been used on the Danube for hundreds of years. It has no keel and is usually five to ten metres long.
The little island in the back is called Gänsehäufel (goose stack). Make a stop to sun bathe in the grass or explore the forest rope park.
In the summer, the Old Danube reaches 21 to 24 degrees Celsius. Reason enough for us to take a plunge. The water was excellent. Slight caveat: There were occasional water plants, cultivated to additionally enhance water quality. We chose a plant free area to swim.
Before boarding we had ordered lunch in the restaurant next to the boat pier. Lunch would be served on the boat. Five minutes before returning to the pier, I notified the boat operator. On arrival, two tables were quickly set up, while the waiters were about to serve spare ribs, Wiener Schnitzel and salad. If we hadn’t been too busy eating navigating the boat out for a truly floating lunch would have been easy.
The Old Danube also boasts a number of charming riverside restaurants. Feel free to drop anchor where ever you please.
Having said that you’ll likely miss the surprise trump card of your boat experience: We steered out for a last round. My son turned to look back and shrieked. The helicopter boat we had admired on the pier was following us. Out stepped no one else than Dr. Martin Mai, Viennese ship architect in second career and mastermind behind the sofa boats, and the ‘Speed Needle’ or helicopter boat.
After a frantic photo shoot of a likely future James Bond vehicle we were handed over a bag with two litres of fine ice cream, along with half a dozen cones to fill. “We deliver ice cream to all our guests who order lunch or dinner on the boat. It’s always the first time they receive ice cream by helicopter’, added Mai with a boyish smile. (Even if it’s not always him delivering it.)
Vienna Boat Tour: How To Rent
You can rent Meine Insel, a smaller sofa boat, and soon an electric water bike and a ‘paper boat’, for EUR 20 to 60 per hour. Payment is in cash upon arrival. In case of bad weather there are no cancellation costs, simply send an email notification.
You can rent boats between 1st May and the end of September. For further information please visit the boat rental website.