You have just discovered the first extensive insider guide to the Vienna Danube. I’m going to share what the Donau in Wien looks like, the best places to explore and enjoy yourself and where you’ll likely arrive by cruise ship.
Danube River In Vienna
Approximately 23 km of the Donau flow through Vienna. The Danube river in Vienna as of today didn’t always look like this. It is the result of two regulations in the 19th and 20th centuries to control floods. Since 1875 the Danube Canal, instead of the main Danube, flows alongside the city center. The actual Donau now passes a few kilometres north east of the center. The long and narrow Danube Island (Donauinsel) splits the Vienna Danube into the Donau and the parallel side arm Neue Donau (New Danube). The crescent-shaped side arm of Neue Donau is the Alte Donau (Old Danube).
Local Map of Danube River
Check out my favourite places along the Vienna Danube, the Old Danube and the Danube Canal on this map. Click on the + sign at the bottom left to zoom in. You can read more about these highlights below.
Best Places On Vienna Danube, Danube Island And New Danube
The Wiener Donau has a few fabulous places to eat, drink, bike, swim and rent a boat. This list focuses on the Danube in Vienna, including Klosterneuburg. Many of them are not in tourist guides. Click for more information on Wachau Valley and Melk Abbey in Lower Austria.
Kritzendorf Riverside Resort is a charming old Danube resort and largely unknown to travellers. In the early 20th century it was known as the Riviera On The Danube.
I spent countless summers there staying at a typical stilt house, swimming in the Danube, walking among the willow trees, eating apricot dumplings and watching the adults sip red currant wine. Best things to do there are to explore the old riverside resort, take a shoreline walk and a careful swim, and lunch at riverside restaurant Fischer.
Klosterneuburg Abbey is one of Austria’s oldest monasteries, boasting a 900-year-old wine cellar. It is packed with medieval art treasures and stories about the very beginnings of Austria more than 1,000 years ago. Few people know that Klosterneuburg’s Imperial State Rooms almost became the Habsburgs’ summer residence, if there hadn’t been Schonbrunn Palace. You can see the abbey from the Danube, though the interiors are much more impressive. Find out about the art wine tour that I did there.
Otto Wagner Danube Weir And Schemerl Bridge: You can’t miss those Art Nouveau gems when cruising into Vienna, you’ll pass right under the bridge. Find out more in Otto Wagner in Vienna.
Donauinsel (Danube Island) stretches across much of the Vienna Danube. It’s great for biking, swimming and going round by electric boat in the New Danube arm. Sunken City is a buzzing summertime leisure area packed with riverside cafes, bars and restaurants. If you have adventurous kids, check out the climbing park just opposite Donauinsel.
I became aware of Donauturm (Danube Tower) when my father started to take all our visiting friends from abroad there. They loved the 360 degree rotating cafe and restaurant at 160 metres height, and the fabulous views over Wien. You will hardly get more breathtaking sceneries of the city of Vienna from the Danube.
If you don’t have much time and want to combine a Vienna sightseeing tour with a Danube boat ride, your best bet is the Vienna Danube boat ride (more in Boat Trips). It takes you along both the Wiener Donau and Donaukanal (Danube Canal).
In the very East the Vienna Danube turns into a nature reserve of wetlands with jungle-like side arms and great wildlife. The local boat tours and hiking trails are popular with children. Find out more about Nationalpark Donauauen and how to get there in my July travel tips.
If you arrive on the Vienna Danube by cruise ship, you will most likely alight at Wiener Schifffahrtszentrum on Handelskai (see map). Most cruise liners offer guided day trips and shuttle services. To explore Vienna on your own, take metro U1 from nearby station Vorgartenstrasse and whizz to the centre in less than 10 minutes.
Best Places Along Alte Donau / Old Danube
Small side streets often beat majestic broadways in charm. As for waterways, this rings true for the Vienna Danube and the Old Danube. At Alte Donau you enter a local riverside community that has successfully hidden from mass tourism over the past decades.
My favourite place on the Old Danube is a boat. There is nothing better than floating on a large round sofa boat across Alte Donau in the summer. You can lunch or dine on your boat, jump into the water and exploring typical riverside cabins and tiny Gansehaeufel island. The electric boats use a simply joystick for navigation. Read more about my sofa boat experience in Vienna boat tour.
To discover the area on foot, stroll along the promenade ‘An der Oberen Alten Donau’ starting from Floridsdorfer Brucke. The local restaurant hotspot there is quirky landmarked (!) tavern Neu Brasilien. It was founded 100 years ago by naturopath Florian Berndl, creator of Vienna’s popular allotment garden culture. He called his restaurant and adjacent allotment club New Brasil because of the local sandy white beaches at that time. Unlike the name suggests they serve Viennese food.
The best places to take a swim in the Old Danube are quiet Kaiserwasser, the Old Danube Promenade and wild Donau-Oder-Kanal, a canal project to connect the Danube with German Oder which never finished.
If you’d like to become part of this authentic stretch of riverside Vienna, consider staying at Eva Elbaranes-Kolls eclectic Vienna Bed and Breakfast The Rooms.
Best Places Along Donaukanal / Danube Canal
The Danube Canal is much narrower than the Danube river in Vienna but flows right next to the city centre and is lined with a few impressive buildings. One of those is, weirdly enough, Vienna’s waste incineration plant in Spittelau. It was designed in the 1970s by Viennese artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser to increase the Viennese’s acceptance of waste incineration.
Watch out for the large golden stopper stuck onto the blue tower before artful checks and blotches of colour appear on the main building.
A bit further down you will find buzzing riverside hangout Summerstage. Between May and September locals love to relax with a glass of wine or beer on the large wooden terrace while listening to occasional live music. Summerstage is open from 5.00 pm on week days and from 3.00 pm on weekends.
Another lovely eye-catcher is Otto Wagner’s Schützenhaus, an Art Nouveau jewel that is now housing a restaurant. It was designed to cover and protect various lifting devices to help regulate the Danube Canal. In the restaurant you can still see some of them.
The Danube Canal’s most central part is at Schwedenplatz, a 10 minutes walk from St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the city center. From there you can also take one of the highspeed catamarans to Bratislava. Read my story about whizzing down to Bratislava in mini Danube cruise. The pier itself hosts riverside restaurant Motto am Fluss.
Probably the best place for rooftop views of the Danube Canal and the city is restaurant Le Loft at luxury hotel Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom. The dark shiny tower goes on the account of French star architect Jean Nouvel.
A few strokes further and you will land at Badeschiff, one of Vienna’s hippest location for dining out, swimming in the ship’s outdoor pool and dancing. You can also play bowling and do ice curling in the winter.
Since a couple of years Vienna has got its own riverside beaches. To be honest, the Danube Canal isn’t the most picturesque site for this but those sandy oases have improved the canal aesthetics a lot. The best spot to stick your toes into the sand while juggling a cocktail is Strandbar Herrmann, just opposite Wiener Urania planetarium.
You can see all these and more places during a one hour boat tour on the Danube Canal. If you are a group of max. eight people and like doing something authentic between 1st May and 26th October consider renting a Wiener Bootstaxi.
Best Vienna Danube Festivals and Events 2017
Donauinselfest: Europe’s biggest open air festival rocks the Danube Island for a weekend each June. Find out more in things to do in June.
Donaukanaltreiben: Between 25th and 28th May 2017 the Danube Canal makes waves. You can listen to live concerts, attend fashion shows, join in dance workshops and do sports at various locations.
Light Festival on the Old Danube: While the Donauinselfest rocks, the Lichterfest gently sways. Prepare for evergreens, decorated boats, illuminated shorelines and a massive firework on Alte Donau in the evening of 22nd July 2017. Be quick if you want to rent a boat there that evening. I tried to get a sofa boat last year.