Lovin’ the Lido Life
It’s not only the Viennese who love summer, sunshine and sandy beach vibes. And thanks to the blue Danube, that’s precisely what the Austrian capital has to offer. Vienna’s waterways enrich life in the city in their own unique way. Boat trips on the Alte Donau, a stroll on the Danube Island or sunbathing and swimming at one of the riverside inlets transforms the summer in Vienna into a seaside getaway. The typical riverside lidos are the best places to experience the city’s authentic charm. And there really is one to suit everyone: anyone who loves river swimming but does not want to go without the welltended lawns, amenities, and restaurants offered by the outdoor pools can simply go for a dip in the Alte Donau. Strandbad Gänsehäufel, Strandbad Alte Donau, and the Bundesbad are Vienna’s bestknown lidos.
Gänsehäufel: the apotheosis of Viennese lido culture
The Alte Donau – a former arm of the Danube – was turned into an oxbow lake around 150 years ago and has been Vienna’s most popular summer holiday destination ever since. And Gänsehäufel – an island in the middle of it – is synonymous with open air bathing in Vienna. The project to regulate the flow of the Danube resulted in the creation of a 330,000-square-meter island covered in trees and grass and more than a kilometer of sandy beaches – to this day it is accessible by a single bridge. This heap of sand would later become the Strandbad Gänsehäufel lido, which is the heart of the capital’s bathing culture. For more than 100 years now, urban sun worshippers and holidaymakers of all ages have been flocking here every summer. Young visitors love the wave pool and the different waterpark facilities, while older patrons prefer the quiet, spacious lawns.
Although the center of the island is dominated by a 27-meter-tall clock tower, time is something of an irrelevance here. It’s a place to get away from your everyday life and leave your cares behind. And you barely want for anything either. The lifeguards – fondly referred to as Badewaschel by the Viennese – make sure everyone is safe with their eagle eyes and shrill whistles.
With 2,000 trees dotted around the site, there’s also plenty of shade. If you get hungry, you can check out the snack bars and beach cafés which offer everything from full meals to ice creams. There is also crazy golf and beach volleyball to help keep boredom at bay. And if you simply want to do nothing, then there’s no one stopping you! “Shift down a gear” and “take it easy” really are the watchwords here. As demonstrated to impressive effect by the tanned pensioners who tend to gravitate towards the western side of the island. This is where you will find the little beach huts – a total of 290 brightly decorated tiny little houses. Reminiscent of allotment garden sheds, they are available to rent for the duration of the summer. Measuring just three square meters, it is not unusual for them to remain with the same family for generations. So it’s hardly surprising to hear that some people wait up to ten years for one of these summery homes from home to become available. But you can’t stay overnight – when the traditional closing song plays each night just before 7:30pm, it’s time to start heading for the exit. The PA plays the melancholy song Badeschluss by Viennese band 5/8erl in Ehr’n, bringing another day’s bathing to a close. But it’s never long before you return.
Safe from flooding. And boredom, too.
It is just a short distance from the Alte Donau to the Neue Donau where a section of the Danube Island has been transformed into a contemporary city beach. Copa- Beach teleports you to the Copacabana with its loungers, fine sand and street food. Admission is free and the location right next to the Donauinsel station on the U1 subway line makes it ideal for spontaneous sunseekers – it only takes six minutes to get from Stephansplatz to Donauinsel by public transportation. Stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing, and climbing are among the sporting activities on offer. In fact, there is never any shortage of people out exercising on the Danube Island. All year round, joggers, cyclists, and inline skaters are out on their favorite routes up and down the 21-kilometer-long island. 50 floating jetties as well as stony beaches and grassy areas make it easier to get in and out of the water. You shouldn’t be shocked if someone rides past you in their birthday suit, either. The three nudist beaches are among the most attractive in the city, and can clearly be identified by the FKK markings painted on the asphalt paths.
From the moment it was completed in 1988, it was always hoped that the Danube Island would become the outdoor paradise that it is today. Primarily, though, it is designed to keep the city safe from flooding. And for 32 years now it has not only protected the Viennese from high water, but boredom, too.
Text: Karoline Gasienica-Bryjak
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