Bright lights and fireworks over the lake? Not something you’d associate with Vienna. Except once a year in July, when the Radio Wien Lichterfest (Festival of Light) takes place on the Old Danube.
- Venetian atmosphere on an old arm of the Danube river
- Lighted boats, Chinese lanterns and a firework display
- 2020 date: Provisionally July 25 (Aug 1 as substitute date if postponed because of bad weather). May fall victim to a broader event ban.
- See also: Events in Vienna | How to see the Danube
A watery Festival of Light
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 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 Licherfest (Festival of Light).
On a balmy (hopefully) evening in July, scores of boats, gondolas and decorated rafts head out onto the water, 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.
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).
2020 dates and tickets
If (and only if) such outdoor events are allowed in summer, the 2020 Lichterfest is set for Saturday, July 25th around 7.30pm to 10pm (the fireworks finish the event). If the weather turns unfortunate, then the festival moves back a week to August 1st. No tickets are required to watch from the shores.
How to get to the festival
The Old Danube (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 (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. I turned up quite late (9.45pm) and was stuck behind a dozen rows of eager onlookers. So if you want a good view, get there early.
Address: Alte Donau, 1220 Vienna