Should you wish a glass of something cold while you watch the sunlight sparkle on the water, the centre of Vienna might not jump to mind as a strong option. Ah, but we have the Donaukanal: a long slice of river that skirts the old town and even has its own beaches.
- Home to bars, restaurants, cyclists, walkers, artists (and beavers)
- Hotspot for Vienna’s younger generations
- Notable street art along the route and some architectural highlights
- Riverside greenery in parts
- Easily reached on foot or by subway
- See also: Where to see the Danube
The Danube canal
Donaukanal translates directly as Danube canal, which conjures up entirely misplaced expectations.
This is no thin stretch of water squeezing its way through cluttered historical streets. Nor is it a trade route plied by narrowboats bearing coal between the high walls and smokestacks of industrial premises.
The Donaukanal is actually a decent-sized river channel that breaks off from the mighty Danube at the northwest entrance to Vienna, curves around the edge of the old town, and then continues out to the far east of the city where it rejoins the main river.
Since it looks rather like a river and passes through the centre of Vienna, many mistake the Donaukanal for the Danube proper. But even if it’s not, the channel’s size and route make the waterway’s banks natural and convenient locations for urban riverside activities.
What to expect?
Nature, walks & rides
The banks of the river turn largely manmade where it runs across the centre of town, but trees and shrubs still line much of the route.
The south bank riverside footpaths east of the the centre take you through a sliver of greenery that screens you from nearby traffic. And the north bank promenade west of the centre allows an escape from city stress.
The urban location places limits on the wildlife you can expect but you may enjoy a few surprises. For example, the Donaukanal provides a home for a few beavers. You might see the evidence in half-chewed trees.
A network of bike and walking paths means you can follow the entire 17km length of the channel on foot or two wheels.
Various boat services also leave from the central part of the Donaukanal, inviting you on trips into Slovakia, along the Danube or over to the Lobau national park.
For more details, see The Donaukanal: walking, cycling, and river trips.
Several striking buildings appear along the way. The municipal incinerator, for example, with its iconoclastic Hundertwasser façade. Or the remarkable Zaha Hadid Haus (pictured above).
Catch some turn-of-the-century classics, too. For example, Otto Wagner’s 1908 Schützenhaus (now a restaurant), the Urania observatory, or the line of Jugendstil buildings along the Weißgerberlände.
For more details, see The Donaukanal: architectural highlights.
Art & entertainment
An abundance of walls, embankments and the like has invited appropriate embellishment with spray paint. Tracts of street art line long stretches of the Donaukanal, particularly near the centre and around bridges.
Food, drink and travel rounds off the menu of entertainment.
Various (often open-air) bars and restaurants occupy riverside spaces, especially in summer. Among the more famous are Strandbar Hermann (which includes a beach), Motto am Fluss (in a ship-like docking complex), Tel Aviv Beach, and Badeschiff Wien (with an onboard swimming pool).
For more details, see The Donaukanal: street art, bars and restaurants.
The excitement peaks at two particular events:
- The Donaukanaltreiben: a festival along the Donaukanal celebrating urban riverside life
- Summerstage: an area around the top end of the city centre transforms in summer into a collection of bars with concerts, readings, and even outdoor art exhibitions
How to get to the Donaukanal
If you’re anywhere in the old town, just head northeast on foot and you’ll soon reach the channel.
Various subway stations emerge onto or close to the river, too. Use the map to chose one close to where you want to be.
Heiligenstadt station (on the U4) drops you very near the start of the Donaukanal in the northwest. Then we have (in order as we move along the river) Spittelau (U4 and U6), Friedensbrücke (U4) and Roßauer Lände (U4). Then the old town stations of Schottenring (U2 and U4) and Schwedenplatz (U1 and U4).
After that it gets a little spartan, though Schlachthausgasse (U3) and Erdberg (U3) drop you further east.
Beyond Erdberg you’re looking at buses: the 76A and 79B bus lines take you out to the Margetinstraße stop, which is pretty much at the easternmost end of the waterway on the south bank.
For the downstream end of the north bank, we took the U2 out to Donaumarina station, then caught the 79A to Kraftwerk Freudenau. I’d only recommend going that far out if you want to see what working docks looks like, since the Donaukanal here runs adjacent to the Vienna port facilities.