From early spring to late fall, the typically buttoned-up city of Zurich presents itself from its more relaxed side. Featuring more than 40 river and lakeside lidos, the town’s bathing culture takes center stage in summer, luring residents and visitors to its pristine shores and riverbanks.
To be sure, when thinking of summer destinations, Zurich does not necessarily spring to mind. It is, however, the city with the highest density of river and lakeside public bathing areas in Europe. While “urban beaches” are common across the continent, Zurich’s public open-air pools and riverside swimming venues are a far cry from the trendy, man-made pop-ups with imported sand so popular in many other landlocked cities across the continent.
Since the time of the Romans, when the city was known as Turicum, there has been an outdoor swimming culture in Zurich. In the 19th century the local council decided to build these public bathing facilities for residents, and today, the so-called “badis” have become the undisputed epicenter of social life.
During the hotter months, busy executives change from business suits into bathing suits to mingle with perky daytime folk and visitors during quick lunch-break swims in the refreshing waters of Lake Zurich.
As the sun sets these venues shift into popular outdoor bars, often with live music, entertaining crowds with al fresco drinking and dining from the city’s revered apéro happy hour until late into the night.
Hand over your 8 Swiss Franc entrance fee and join in on some serious fun in the sun — Zurich-style.
Built in 1837, the first public bathhouse for women is a ladies-only spot by day, with historic vistas over the adjacent Old Town. As dusk falls, the stunning art nouveau construction transforms into “Barfussbar” (barefoot bar), making it a perfect place to while away the hours on balmy summer nights.
The lake lido of choice for Zurich’s sophisticates: Open from spring to early fall, this badi offers more than just a platform to show off summer bodies. For a small entrance fee, visitors enjoy yoga classes, ving-tsun classes and swimming lessons with on-site coaches. At night the venue turns into a hip bar with DJs and live music.
Sheltered from the financial district’s humming streets by lanky trees and Zurich’s old, ivy-trailed city walls, the male-only Schanzengraben badi is a more intimate location that also turns into a bar at night.
Rimini, as this badi is known during its nocturnal incarnation, is the natural habitat of snappily dressed yuppies with mogul aspirations, lounging on rugs and floor cushions scattered around the wooden decks to the tunes of electronic beats.
For more than 120 years, the historic Seebad Utoquai has welcomed guests to the tree-lined lakeside promenade between Bellevue Square, just behind the Opera House, and Zürichhorn.
Swimmers jump from the diving boards into the lake to reach pontoon rafts anchored some 130 feet away from the shore for that perfect tan. This badi is popular with the boho-chic crowds of the nearby Seefeld district and an excellent spot for a casual lakeside lunch of tapas with the snow-clad Alps in the distance still clearly visible.
Flussbad Oberer Letten
Not far from Zurich’s main train station, or Hauptbahnhof, Oberer Letten is the river bath of choice for scantily clad, tattooed hipsters who swim against the current only to jump back into the Limmat River and be carried downstream by the vigorous current.
Late-night screenings of Swiss indie films take place during the season, and it’s not uncommon for sun worshippers to spend an entire day here.
Tiefenbrunnen is the perfect badi for families with young children. Flawless greens stretch all the way down to the shores of Lake Zurich, where sunbathers cool off in the clear, calm waters.
While crowds of sun enthusiasts and their offspring play both in and out of the water, ducks and swans remain unimpressed as they go about their business. For early risers, daily yoga and Pilates classes are available followed by morning dips to kickstart a glorious summer day comme il faut in Switzerland’s postcard city.