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The Blue Danube: The Austrian River That Inspired Strauss

Recalling a poem by Karl Isidor Beck, Johan Strauss ll was inspired to write what is now one of the world’s most famous and beloved of all waltzes. Written in 1866, ‘The Blue Danube’ ("An der schönen blauen Donau”) is Austria’s unofficial national anthem, intended at the time of its creation to capture the soul of Vienna and lift the country’s spirit following military defeat by Prussia. 

Although the original choral version was not an instant hit with the Viennese, The Blue Danube’s ethereal string tremolo and joyful melody soon won over the public when Strauss conducted the first orchestral version of his waltz at the 1867 Paris Exposition. Since then, it has become the symbol of Imperial Vienna and an integral part of the country’s culture.

the UNO City behind the Danube river in Vienna (c) VIENNA SIGHTSEEING TOURS_Bernhard Luck
Blue Danube in Vienna (c) VIENNA SIGHTSEEING TOURS/Bernhard Luck

Exploring the Danube River in Vienna 

The second longest river in Europe, The Danube rises in western Germany’s Black Forest mountains and flows for over 1,770 miles (2,850km), through ten countries, until it reaches the Black Sea. In the past, as it does today, the Danube played a vital economic role in Europe and it is now harnessed for hydroelectric power in Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade, as well as providing drinking water for approximately 10 million people. 

What surprises many people, especially given its prominence in Viennese tradition, is that the Danube doesn’t actually flow through the centre of Vienna, and - like most commercial waterways - it is certainly not blue. Nevertheless, it’s an incredibly beautiful, impressive and powerful river worthy of exploration beyond the man-made channel (Donaukanal) that borders Vienna’s inner-city old quarter. The Donaukanal is not the Danube - the river itself is a little farther out - so don’t be discouraged if you see this first!
MS Blue Danube boat ride on the Danube in Vienna (c) DDSG Blue Danube

Danube Island 

Beyond the city’s 2nd District, the river splits into two sections and flows either side of the long, slender Danube Island (Donauinsel). Here you will find 42 kilometres of beaches and stunning nature reserves, where you can cycle, climb, picnic, rent a boat, relax on the 250-meter-long family beach, or partake in any number of fun water activities. It’s a popular recreational site for many locals and well worth a trip when you’re exploring Vienna. There’s a great Information Centre on the island, as well as Wifi, so you won’t get lost and you can share all of your great holiday snaps online without using up your phone’s data.

Old Danube 

Further along and to the west of Donauinsel, just behind the United Nations Headquarters, you will find the Old Danube (Alte Donau). A recreational paradise that attracts around 1 million visitors a year, you can reach this charming with our HOP ON HOP OFF bus. Surrounded by beautifully preserved promenades, gardens and restaurant terraces, this calm body of water is a great place to swim, hire a pedal or row boat, laze on the Gänsehäufel beach facility, or experience a moonlight boat picnic on the relaxing former branch of the Danube River. 
Beautiful skyline of Vienna behind the Old Danube (c) VIENNA SIGHTSEEING TOURS_Bernhard Luck
Old Danube in Vienna (c) VIENNA SIGHTSEEING TOURS/Bernhard Luck

Danube River Cruises 

Taking a cruise along the Danube River is an absolute must when you visit Vienna. It’s simply the best way to experience this complex river and enjoy a completely unique panoramic perspective of the city’s landscape and urban skyline, including the Danube Tower, Danube Island, the Copa Cagrana, the Danube Park and the United Nations Headquarters. A little trip further afield to the scenic UNESCO World heritage site of Wachau Valley, just thirty minutes from the city, is also highly recommended. 

Danube Valley boat trip to Melk (c) DDSG Blue Danube

Whether you choose to take a day cruise or an evening boat trip (or both!), you’ll soon come to realise the importance of the Danube River and why it was such an inspiration to Strauss - and so many other artists and musicians who’ve been captured by its charms. A fun and amusing thing to do during part of your cruise is to listen Strauss’s waltz - it sounds a bit silly, but it really does add to the atmosphere as you gleefully sail along the ‘Blue Danube’ in the sunshine. Whether or not you’re a fan of classical music, we can guarantee that you’ll have an uncontrollable urge to start tapping your feet and swaying your head from side to side in time with the ridiculously happy melody!