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:
The Danube canal
(The Urania building on the left marks where the River Wien merges into the Donaukanal)
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 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. Regardless, the channel’s size and route make the waterway’s banks natural locations for urban riverside activities.
What to expect?
Nature, walks & rides
(One of the more appealing riverside paths)
The banks of the river turn largely manmade where it runs across the middle of town, but trees and shrubs still line much of the route.
The south bank riverside footpaths east of 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.
(The Zaha Hadid Haus)
Several striking buildings appear along the route. The municipal incinerator, for example, with its iconoclastic Hundertwasser façade. Or the remarkable Zaha Hadid Haus.
For more details, see The Donaukanal: architectural highlights.
Art & entertainment
(The channel has hundreds of metres of street art. Some legal, some less so)
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.
(The Motto am Fluss restaurant)
Food and drink round off the menu of entertainment: various (often open-air) bars and restaurants occupy riverside spaces, especially in summer.
Among the more well-known are Motto am Fluss (in a ship-like docking complex) and the Badeschiff Wien (with an onboard swimming pool).
I’ve enjoyed a cold drink or two at Strandbar Hermann (which has a beach area) and Klyo up in the Urania building (nice views over the channel and across to the giant Ferris wheel).
For more details, see The Donaukanal: street art, bars and restaurants.
(This way for summer recreation)
The excitement peaks at two particular events:
- The Donaukanaltreiben: a festival along the Donaukanal celebrating urban riverside life (though this did not take place in 2022 or 2023)
- Summerstage: an area around the north 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)
- Roßauer Lände (U4)
- 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.