Since it’s hundreds of kilometers from the coast, you don’t associate Vienna with beaches, bathing, and boats. Step forward the Alte Donau (Old Danube) to correct your assumptions.
- Huge lake created in the late 19th century
- Easily reached from Vienna’s centre
- Many seasonal activities possible:
- Lakeside walks
- Boating & water sports
- Beaches, bathing, lidos, & similar
- Cafés & restaurants
- See also:
Boats, beers & beach balls
Look closely at a map of Vienna and a thick ribbon of the indomitable Danube seems to split off for a while before curving back down to rejoin the main river.
That meandering semicircle is actually the Alte Donau: a long and large 1.6km2 recreational lake entirely unconnected to the Danube.
Public bathing jetties, lidos, meadows, water sport venues, restaurants, and lakeside paths line the banks, as do (inevitably) a fair few private residences with aggressively tall hedges and fences.
A quick history
Alte Donau translates as Old Danube, which hints at the origins of this rather conveniently-placed lake; for much of the 19th century, this was the actual main channel of the Danube.
Rivers back then were fickle beasts, prone to switching course on a hydrological whim (much to the frustration of the locals).
However, the end of the 1800s brought major water management projects that created, for example, the Donaukanal channel of the Danube that drifts around Vienna’s old town.
The changes also forced the Danube down a different fixed route and split off the section that then became the Alte Donau by name and a lake by nature.
Bathing and boating
Most visitors to the Alte Donau go for the waterside leisure activities (be aware that many/most of these will be seasonal).
A glimpse at Google Maps reveals boat hire facilities and sailing schools, and busy times see the water peppered with paddle boats and similar.
You can find a small cluster of boat hire opportunities around the lake’s centre at the U1 Alte Donau subway station, for example.
The city authorities also provide a range of bathing options (and they keep the water quality high). The alternatives range from simple lakeside seating to full-blown leisure complexes.
These opportunities include freely-accessible bathing jetties. Find a row of them along the eastern side of the lower part of the lake (look for An der unteren Alte Donau on a map).
(View across to the beach at the Angelibad)
You may also discover meadows with lake access that anyone can drop into.
The Dragonerhäufel area at Romaplatz in the 22nd district, for example, has picnic facilities, parking, toilets and a nearby snack bar.
Many folk, though, gravitate to the public lidos requiring an (inexpensive) ticket.
These federal or municipal “Strandbäder” offer various managed facilities, such as toilets, a beach area, lockers, cafés, sports fields and courts, etc.
You find three of these off the Arbeiterstrandbadstraße road that runs along the southern side of the upper part of the Alte Donau: Strandbad Angelibad, Strandbad Alte Donau, and Bundesbad Alte Donau.
The state first created these lidos many decades ago to improve the health of the population, so the trees planted back then now provide wonderful shade.
The most popular public option, though, is the Strandbad Gänsehäufel, which occupies its own island in the lower part of the Alte Donau, accessible from the western bank via a foot and road bridge.
Among the delights at the Gänsehäufel: a climbing park, beach, swimming pools, mini golf, basketball and beach volleyball, tennis courts, a stand up paddling and kayak centre, various places to eat, and even a naturist zone.
The tickets to these public facilities really are inexpensive, though some aspects inside may incur an additional fee (such as certain activities or hiring a locker).
In 2022, a standard day entry ticket for an adult for the Gänsehäufel, for example, cost just €6.20.
Riverside walks & restaurants
You can walk or cycle around the entire lake, which I roughly guess at somewhat over 12km in circumference.
(Fish of some kind; I’m a writer, not a zoologist)
I wasn’t counting, but it took us around 4 -5 hours to do the full circle slowly on foot, but that included significant breaks for lunch and photos.
My two recommendations for nice walks along waterside footpaths are below.
Other parts are eminently walkable, but may involve long stretches of roadside pavement or be prone to lakeside houses, fences or other obstructions blocking your view of the lake.
(You will still find the occasional restaurant, though, that takes you down to the waterfront.)
Alte Donau walk
For a scenic walk, take the U1 subway line to Alte Donau and cross over the water to the other bank via Wagramer Straße (go the other way down the road and you reach the headquarters of the UN).
Once on the other side, head east all the way to the southernmost tip of the lake. Continue around and work your way past the Dampfschiffhaufen half-island and back up to Strandbad Gänsehäufel.
This route is almost continuous foot/cycle paths largely away from motorised traffic and running alongside the edges of the lake.
(The Bootshaus restarant)
We had a fine lunch, for example, at the Restaurant zum Schinakl, which lies just a bit further on past Gänsehäufel on the western bank.
Despite the heavy recreational use of the lake, it supports plenty of wildlife (Vienna’s not bad at balancing nature and humanity).
We spotted waterfowl during our walk and, of course, fish (some rather large ones, too) and I read that the lake even has a handful of beavers.
For a quick and quiet walk, try the small 0.144km2 Wasserpark pond area at the western tip of the Alte Donau (close to the Neue Donau U6 subway station: leave by the exit marked Strandbäder).
This is a more isolated area known for its water birds. We saw a heron, for example. The eastern edge, where the Alte Donau proper begins had a couple of nice-looking restaurants: the NEUERWirt and La Crêperie.
If you visit the Alte Donau in the colder seasons, then check whether restaurants and similar are actually open.
How to get to the Alte Donau
As indicated above, the lake has nearby subway stations: at both ends and one in the middle, too.
The Neue Donau station on the U6 line marks the NW end, while the Donaustadtbrücke station on the U2 line marks the SE end.
The Alte Donau station on the U1 line brings you in among the main hotspots and sits in the centre of the lake (with a nearby bridge linking both banks).
You can join the U1 from the very centre of town (Stephansplatz or Schwedenplatz, for example) and reach the Alte Donau in under ten minutes.
The 20A and 20B buses also run, for example, between the Alte Donau and Neue Donau stations along the southern side of the upper part of the lake.
Address: reaches from the Floridsdorfer Hauptstraße in the 21st district to Am Kaisermühlendamm and the Donauufer motorway in the 22nd district | Municipal website