Island landscapes tend not to be the first thing you think of when visiting Vienna. But the Donauinsel river island that spans the city has all sorts of recreational surprises for visitors.
- Huge, long island on the Danube
- Water and nature reserve
- Also entertainment hub
- Watersports & bathing
- Bars & restaurants
- Cycling, skating…and more
- An event location, too
- See also:
Fun on the water
(Donauinsel walking routes give views across to the Vienna hills)
If I told you Vienna has an island, you’d first guess at some concrete monstrosity in the middle of a city park, perhaps with a lone duck eyeing tourists grimly.
You’d certainly not expect one around 21km long and just under 4km2 in area. Rich in shrubs, trees and meadows (and even beaches). With some 135km of cycling and walking routes. Filled with a host of (water)sports, restaurants, and other recreational opportunities.
Oh, and about a 6 minute subway ride from the central cathedral.
Seems implausible; last time I checked, Vienna was landlocked.
Ah, but the Danube is rather big. Wide enough, in fact, to have the Donauinsel running down the middle of the river as it passes through the city.
A stroke of geological luck?
This Donauinsel (Danube Island) is an artificial construction built in the 1970s and 1980s as part of a river and flood regulation project. An almost unimaginably mammoth undertaking that proved quite contentious back in the day, given the cost.
Danube and New Danube
(Part of the flood management weir at the tip of the island)
The Danube sort of splits in two as it reaches the Donauinsel from the west.
The Danube proper continues flowing around the bottom (left) side of the island. The water on the top (right) side is known as the Neue Donau (New Danube).
Large weirs control the water flow from the Danube into and out of the Neue Donau part, and these weirs normally remain shut. This creates a long, broad stillwater channel along almost the entire top edge of the Donauinsel.
The weirs only come into operation when the Danube risks flooding; the top channel then relieves the main river of excess water.
Given the rarity of floods, the Neue Donau essentially forms an enclosed lake-like environment. Which is good news for the Viennese and others looking for some water-based relaxation.
Boats and beavers
The Donauinsel and Neue Donau serve as one of the city’s main recreational areas, particularly during the summer, offering both natural and man-made fun. The island also hosts some important outdoor events.
The natural world
(Beavers were here)
Nature rules over swathes of the Donauinsel, particularly the parts away from its middle section. These include formal water and land conservation areas, as well as naturist zones for textile-free sunbathing.
Paved or gravelled paths allow you to enjoy the plant and animal life. Beavers live on the island, for example, though they rarely appear in the daytime.
The artificial world
(The Neue Donau)
The island and the banks of the Neue Donau feature numerous recreational facilities and activities (some free, some not), such as barbecue, beach and bathing areas, restaurants and bars, beach volleyball courts, a climbing park, skatepark, trampolining, cycling parcours, etc.
Not to mention, of course, numerous watersports, such as stand-up paddling, boat hire, sailing courses, and even wakeboarding & waterskiing.
The event world
(The Veganmania festival)
All that space and infrastructure gets put to good use for large outdoor events in warmer seasons.
Notable annual examples include:
- The Donauinselfest (June): huge, free weekend music festival that attracts around 2.5 million visitors
- Afrika Tage (August): African festival with concerts, food, shopping and more
- Veganmania (August): large vegan open-air market and streetfood festival
How to get to the Donauinsel
Various bridges take you out onto the island, but the easiest access points via public transport are probably through the subway. Your best options are:
- The U1 has the handily-titled Donauinsel station in the middle of the island. That line leaves from the very centre of Vienna
- Take the U6 subway line to Handelskai or Neue Donau (on opposite banks of the Danube), then walk across the connecting bridge
Address: look for the Danube in Vienna | Municipal website