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 & a big firework display
- Numerous foodtrucks, too
- 2024 dates: TBA (was July 22 in 2023)
- gets put back a week if the weather’s bad
- 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 river 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 waterway left Vienna with a couple of excellent recreational areas that mimic lakes and beachfronts.
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 & 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).
2024 dates, tickets & tips
I don’t have dates just yet for the 2024 edition. Watch this space or the Alte Donau website (see below). If bad weather strikes, the date normally shifts back a week.
Those fireworks tend to appear late in the evening, around 9.45pm. Other activities start from the afternoon. The last event had a small festival area with food trucks, mobile coffee stations, drinks booths, and regular salsa displays and drum band marches.
No tickets are required.
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 (just in time for the light show) back in 2019 and ended up stuck behind a dozen rows of eager onlookers. So if you want a good view, get there earlier.
Address: Alte Donau, 1220 Vienna | Website