Bright lights and fireworks over the lake? Not something you’d associate with Vienna. Except once a year in late July, when the Radio Wien Lichterfest (Festival of Light) takes place on the Alte Donau.
- Venetian atmosphere on an old arm of the Danube river
- Lighted boats, Chinese lanterns and a big firework display
- 2023 dates: planned for July 22nd
- See also:
A watery Festival of Light
(Photo © Arbeitsgemeinschaft “Die Schöne Alte Donau”)
Vienna is a surprisingly water-filled city. It helps to be built on the banks of the mighty Danube. And it also helps that the Danube used to shift position every now and then, creating new channels.
The Danube’s capricious nature and engineering efforts to tame this beast of a river left Vienna with a couple of excellent recreational areas that mimic lakes and beaches.
One of these areas is the Alte Donau (“Old Danube”), a self-contained 1.6km2 stretch of water with boats for hire and other water sports, lakeside bars and restaurants, and popular public bathing areas. And it hosts an annual Lichterfest (Festival of Light).
On a balmy (hopefully) evening in late July, scores of boats, gondolas and decorated rafts head out onto the water with lamps and light chains glowing to create an (almost) “sea” of light, helped by Chinese lanterns.
And at the end of it all, a proper firework display.
(View across the Alte Donau to the UN complex)
Radio Wien is Vienna’s local state radio station and adds an audio element to the event through their own party boat and DJ.
You can simply watch and listen from the shore, hire a boat yourself or sit outside one of the bars or restaurants to enjoy the view (needless to say, you’ll need to reserve a table early if you plan on a seat).
2023 dates, tickets & tips
The Lichterfest did not take place in 2020 or 2021, and roadworks prevented a 2022 return. Keep your fingers crossed for summer 2023 when the plan is to host the event on July 22nd. If bad weather strikes, the date goes back a week to the 29th.
Those fireworks tend to appear late in the evening. No tickets are required to watch from the shores.
How to get to the festival
The Alte Donau is the green stretch of water marked in the map below.
The easiest way to get there is with the U1 subway, which crosses the city centre (at Karlsplatz, Stephansplatz and Schwedenplatz stations) and goes out to the Alte Donau station, which is slap bang in the middle of (guess?) the Alte Donau.
Once you’re there, you need to head southeast after you leave the station to see the area with the boats and fireworks. We turned up quite late (9.45pm) back in 2019 and were stuck behind a dozen rows of eager onlookers. So if you want a good view, get there earlier.
Address: Alte Donau, 1220 Vienna | Website