Lifestyle & Culture

Thom Harding: Put away your snow boots, put on your flip-flops and explore the tropical side of Vienna

As with other parts of Europe, Vienna experienced a small taste of spring recently, with the frozen temperatures of winter lifting and blue skies starting to show themselves after the interminable grayness of the winter months. So as the sun begins to show itself and we stretch ourselves awake after hibernation, naturally our thoughts drift to warmer days, sunglasses and cocktails besides gently lapping water.

Although a few hours drive from the beautiful coasts of the Mediterranean or Adriatic seas, Vienna has done a great job of bringing the coastal beach vibes to the shores of the Danube River. Beach bars and eateries have sprung up in a few different areas of the city, and are incredibly popular during the spring and summer months. New locations are opening all the time as these waterside chill-out zones
surge in popularity, especially as many of them served as escapes during numerous Austrian Covid
lockdowns.

Most of these are situated either on the canal that snakes through the centre of the city, or along the banks of the Danube itself. Both have their own benefits, and their own gems to be found.

So pack away your snow boots and take out your flip-flops and get ready to explore the tropical side of Vienna!

Along the banks of the Danube

The mighty Danube is the literal life-blood of Vienna. Once the artery which provided trade and imperial riches to the city, the river is now more focused on sport, leisure and relaxing in the summer. One of the best things about Vienna for me is that the river is still incredibly clean, and so is very popular with swimmers and boaters.

For people looking for a really coastal vibe, nothing beats sitting at a beach bar and then walking down to the water to dive in and cool-off. There are a few larger locations, but also many small pop-up bars that seem to spring out of the ground season by season.

Most of these smaller pop-up bars are located in the 22nd district, along the eastern shore of the Danube. The general area (which is also home to the cities tallest skyscrapers and the centre of the United Nations in Austria) is known as Kagran, and so the beachside area has become colloquially known as “Copa-cagrana,” an homage to the famous beach in Brazil.

Conveniently, the U1 station is also located right there, making it only a 7-to-8 minute ride on the underground from the city centre to the tropics of the Danube.

Sand, sun and shisha

Bahía Vienna, Havana Beach Bar and Aperitvo e Amore all offer cocktails and snacks (and imported sand and beach chairs for the authentic vibe), and are situated right beside the water so that you can sit in the sun in your swimwear, place your cocktail in the sand beside you and jump right in!

• Across the pontoon bridge (Ponte Cagrana) connecting this shore to the Danube island are more bars and restaurants in the area called Sunken City, specializing in different cuisines from Colombia, Greece, Italy and Morocco. While they are not the highest-rated restaurants in Vienna, they are definitely fairly priced for good quality food considering their popular location and waterfront properties.

Sansibar is especially popular for it’s shisha bar, so that you can sit in the sun with your condensation-bejewelled beer and puff away on a hookah with friends.

• Slightly removed from this tropical beach area, but equally popular (especially with the younger crowd) is Vienna City Beach Club and USUS am Wasser, located respectively slightly south and north of Copa-Cagrana. Both have a more ‘Club-Med’ party vibe and often host DJ’s and dance concerts.

If you’re looking for beautiful people drinking beautiful cocktails next to the beautiful river, that’s your spot!

Diverse offerings along the Danube Canal

Although the Donaukanal that winds through the heart of Vienna lacks the opportunity to jump in and cool off (you definitely don’t want to swim in the canal, although occasionally some brave characters on a bachelor’s party float through the city on inner tubes.) It is extremely popular in the city as a centrallocation to meet friends for drinks, and to sit around for hours chatting and watching the world flow past.

Although a little too hot for most during July and August, the canal is especially crowded during Vienna’s gorgeous spring and autumn days. Conveniently passing through the 1st and 2nd districts, the bars and restaurants along the canal could not be more centrally located. The stretch of canal walls through the centre of the city is also colourfully and artfully bedecked with graffiti and murals, giving the area a down-to-earth urban feeling.

The new quay-side park and shared community gardens along the water also add to the well-used, lived-in feeling of the place.

The best thing about visiting the Donaukanal is the diversity of locations. Ranging from fancy restaurants to boat bars to party clubs, within a 10-to-15 minute walk there is a little something for everyone.

I highly recommend visiting the canal during the Donaukanal Treiben Festival at the end of June, a large street party/music festival that packs the canal area with party-goers and visitors and demonstrates the Donaukanal at it’s most playful, busy and cultured.

• For food, my greatest recommendation goes to Neni am Wasser, an Israeli restaurant that has been wildly popular in Vienna for years, and which has now opened a new location along the edge of the canal.

• For a fancier experience, eating on the top floor of the moored boat named Motto am Fluss provides a classy, highly-rated fine dining atmosphere.

• And for an equally exciting location, but a cheaper and more diverse menu, I always like to visit Badeschiff Wien, a boat with a swimming pool on the rear deck and an awesomely diverse and international restaurant stretching across it’s 3 floors.

• For casual drinks in a prime location, I love sitting at Adria Wien, a low-key and unpretentious bar on the canal’s 2nd district side.

Strandbar Hermann

From Schottenring to Aspernbücke

All along the stretch of water between the Schottenring train station and Aspernbrücke, there are many small bars playing host to sand covered floors, deck chairs and as much people-watching as you can stand. It doesn’t really matter which ones you visit, they are all regular bars with all you need – cold beers, comfy chairs, snack food and a good view.

For dancing and parties, there are a few options depending on your appetite:

Strandbar Hermann is a unique place covered in sand, deckchairs and hammocks to really give you that vacation vibe. Hosting DJ party nights, Silent Discos and late-night food and drinks, wandering around the beach bar here one could almost forget they are in the middle of the city.

• For fantastic music and concerts ranging from rock/folk to full-on techno rave parties, there are a few famous locations along the canal worth checking out. For a classic Viennese with a long legacy, Flex has been hosting parties for years and now attracts a much younger crowd for more rock or pop focused soundtracks.

Das Werk is a 10-minute walk north from the centre, and has a lovely at-home and comfortable vibe while offering diverse music and party nights.

• And the jewel of partying at the canal, Grelle Forelle, hosts some of the hippest and most popular concerts and techno parties in the city, with one of the best sound systems I have ever heard.

Vienna’s relationship with warm summer days and the water that flows beside and through the city was the most pleasant surprise I received when moving to the city, and still makes it one of the best places I have ever lived.

Whether it’s jumping into the clear water of the Danube from a beach bar in Copa-Cagrana, or chilling with friends for hours on the roof of a boat moored at the canal, Vienna’s secret tropical side hiding in plain sight only adds to the variety and life of Austria’s capitol.

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Read more about Vienna here in Dispatches’ archives.

Read more from Thom here.

Website | + posts

Thom Harding was born and raised in the UK and USA, sharing his time between Bath and Boston. Upon completing his studies in Art History and Painting in Florence, Thom travelled around Mexico and India before moving to New Mexico to start his career as a Primary school teacher.

After completing his MA in Education, he now lives and works in Vienna, Austria and enjoys spending his free time hiking, reading, travelling and exploring around Europe.

See more of Thom’s work here in the Dispatches archive.

You can read more about Vienna here in the Dispatches archives.

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