Donauturm: Vistas of Vienna and the Danube from Austria’s Tallest Tower

We visited the Donauturm on Monday the 29th of July, 2022.

Why did I want to visit the Donauturm?

When we paddled into Austria’s capital, we left the Danube river a bit early. That’s because in Vienna, the Danube splits in three ways: The Neue Donau (New Danube), Donau (Danube), and Donaukanal (Danube Canal). We exited the river at the start of the Donaukanal because we’d have to portage yet again and after that, the options to get out of the river aren’t great. Here’s an overview of the messy Danube situation in Vienna. To continue paddling on to Slovakia, we scouted an adequate spot elsewhere on the Donaukanal. In total, we skipped 6.4 kilometers.

As something of a completist, I did like the idea to get an overview of the three river branches of the Danube and still see the sections we missed. The best place to do that is… from above. Lucky for us, Austria built a gigantic observation tower right in the middle of the section we missed. And it’s called the Donauturm (Danube Tower).

I love an obvious name.

Getting to the Donauturm

We couldn’t really figure out a way out of Mariahilf by public transportation, so we took a Bolt. Yes, zero points for creativity, but at 8 kilometers on foot (one-way), we found this the best option. I thought we might still give the bus a try for the return trip.

But before committing to the trip, there was just one thing that bothered Jonas: the price. At €14.50 for what essentially amounts to a paid elevator ride, the price to go up the tower isn’t cheap. It was possible to use my old student ID to get a small discount. I wanted to go with or without him, so eventually he decided to join. Besides, it was almost my birthday, so that’s one way to justify the expense.

We ordered the Bolt and slowly crossed the city and the many branches of the Danube. Not that it’s possible to see much of the river from the car. But the doomsday-sized tower with a very 20th-century concrete facade came closer and closer.

High-Speed Elevator to the Observation Deck

Upon arrival at the Donauturm, we bought tickets and followed a group into one of the high-speed elevators. Things worked very efficiently. In towers like these, there’s always someone riding the elevator and pushing buttons for people so they don’t get funny ideas. Quite an interesting and odd job to have.

The elevators are special because they have some tech from the previous millennium that made them very fast. By now, that kind of tech is omnipresent in any super-tall building. I needed to pop my ears on the 150 meters up.

There’s some information about the tower on the display. The Donauturm is the tallest building in Austria at 252 meters, but the general public can only visit up to the fancy restaurant that’s at 170 meters. After that, it’s hard-hat people only (probably). And though the Donauturm looks like a TV tower, it only transmits radio and telecom. The main purpose is still entertainment for tourists and people who want to eat at great heights while slowly revolving.

We got out at the viewing deck. It’s like a gigantic bird cage for humans that goes around in a donut. This is out in the open and a very windy place. But, there are great views from here that are unobstructed if you put your face close to the bars. Especially on the northeastern side, there are nice views of the Alte Donau (Old Danube), which is a dead arm of the river that’s now used for watersports and recreation. From our side of the river across the Neue Donau, there was also a floating pedestrian/cyclist bridge that closed off an area for watersports. So that only leaves the actual main Danube for shipping traffic.

And yes, we could also see the entire stretch of river that we skipped on our Kayak + Work Trip. The northwestern side of the tower has good views of the hills from whence we came by Zucchini. The only side of the tower that didn’t appeal much was the southern and southeastern direction, which is just full of soulless glass window office skyscrapers.

Weizenbier at the Donauturm Café

The Donauturm has two restaurants. One is fancy and is of course on the top floor. The other one is just one floor up from the viewing platform and is a more generic Kaffee Restaurant. A bit of an identity crisis.

We went to the latter at 160 meters to sit down for a wheat beer. It costs €5.20 per half-liter glass, holy shit, but okay it’s sort of my birthday. We sat down at a table on the revolving platform to enjoy the city passively. What’s kind of special about this revolving restaurant is that the windows turn with as well. Not sure how it works, but it’s cool.

We received our beers and spent the 52 minutes for a full rotation enjoying the views. There are signs on the (stationary) ceiling that tell you what you’re looking at when you gaze out the window. It wasn’t the most engaging way to display such info. I was very impressed that the windows were rather clean.

Unfortunately, this restaurant was also where all the small children were running around.

After drinks, we also quickly went up to the fancy restaurant just to look in. It looks pretty much the same as the less fancy café restaurant, but there’s more white tablecloth. The 10-meter increase in altitude doesn’t improve the vista by much, but there were no children.

Observation deck round two, returning to Mariahilf

We also returned to the observation deck since many people had left. I even got changed into more festive clothing in the hope that the photos would turn out nicer (they didn’t). I tried hard to look for Bratislava more than 50 kilometers away, but the day was a little too dusty or moist for that. Donauturm management claims it’s possible to see up to 80 kilometers far on a good day. I think we could maybe see 30 kilometers far—maybe. But anyway, as long as you don’t go on a rainy day, paying the price to go up the Donauturm is worth it for the view.

On the way down, the elevator felt even faster. We decided to walk a bit through the park just below the Donauturm, which is a very pleasant area to be in. We were also far away enough to have a good view of the Donauturm. It doesn’t look so tall from here.

On the way back to our Airbnb (and kayak), we actually used an express bus to get back to the other side of Vienna. And from there, we still walked a few easy kilometers home.

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