Lakes, Rivers And Lidos: Nowhere Does Summer Swimming Quite Like Switzerland

Perfect for a summer break, Switzerland’s cities combine culture and cuisine with crystal-clear lakes, lidos, rivers and fountains. One writer takes a dip in the country’s best city swimming spots

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clued-up traveller knows that Swiss cities are having a
moment, which is perhaps unsurprising considering how they
overdeliver on architecture, history, contemporary culture and
culinary experiences. But there’s another major draw that has
remained something of a secret: Switzerland’s most appealing cities
Zurich, Geneva, Basel and beyond – straddle swimmable rivers and sidle
up to pristine lakes, making the country a paradise for travellers
who crave wildness and water alongside the more urbane pleasures of
a city break.

Internationally spirited Geneva is loved by travellers for its
abundance of restaurants, museums and markets, so it’s fitting that
it also offers its water-loving inhabitants and visitors both a
serene lake and the confluence of two major rivers. Workers from
all over the world now call Geneva home, and throughout the year a
global community of locals flock to Bains des Pâquis, where you can follow up a
lakeside dip with a sauna and a bowl of fondue at the much-loved
social enterprise café next door. Another must-visit is La
Jonction, where the differently coloured waters of the Rhône and
Arve meet, a natural phenomenon best observed with a post-dip beer
at bar À la Pointe.

Bains des Pâquis, Geneva, Switzerland
Bains des Pâquis, Geneva, Switzerland

Bains des Pâquis | Photo credit: Charly Derouet

Less than an hour by train north-east around Lake Geneva sits
the university town of Lausanne, a luxurious lakeside resort that has
seduced everyone from Coco Chanel to David Bowie in its time. The
nearest city swim spot here is at Ouchy, where swimmers,
paddleboarders and foilboarders launch themselves into the water
from a new boardwalk. A 20-minute drive further east is the
Montreux Riviera, where, in the foothills of
the Alps, belle époque mansions and palace hotels line one of the
most scenic stretches of Lake Geneva’s shore. A desirable European
holiday destination since the 19th century, French-speaking
Montreux was enticing writers, actors, musicians and artists
including Leo Tolstoy, F Scott Fitzgerald, Igor Stravinsky and
Charlie Chaplin to the lake long before the Montreux Jazz Festival began bringing in a
stream of 20th-century music legends. In the summer months, the
lakeshore brims with sophisticated swimmers sunning themselves; in
winter, hardy locals leap into the lake and shelter in saunas at
Steam on the

A swimming spot in Montreux, Switzerland
Steam on the Water, Montreux, Switzerland

Steam on the Water | Photo credit: Charly Derouet

The Montreux Riviera is known for its mild climate, but if
you’re seeking out an even more uncannily Mediterranean flavour,
you’ll want to head to the Ascona-Locarno district of Ticino. The geographically blessed Italian-speaking
region of Switzerland is nestled in the southern foothills of the
Alps. Sip an Aperol spritz in the glossy and glamorous resort towns
of Ascona and Locarno on Lake Maggiore, before sunbathing on the
sands of Lido di Ascona, one of Switzerland’s prettiest sandy
beaches. Those feeling more adventurous should make tracks to the
Verzasca Valley, where the incredibly
picturesque Ponte dei Salti stone bridge straddles turquoise waters
and pools hewn from grey and orange rock, making for an idyllic
wild swim spot.

True to Swiss form, there’s a strong swimming tradition in
Lucerne, Basel and Zurich, too. In Zurich, Switzerland’s German-speaking creative
powerhouse, a “work hard, play hard” ethos sees locals,
post-logging off, leaping into the lake or lounging at a lakeside
bar. As with Geneva, there are lido and sauna complexes aplenty,
most notably Frauenbad Stadthausquai, an art nouveau,
women-only pool complete with a library and unbeatable views of the
Grossmünster spires. You’ll also want to check out the Barfussbar
(Barefoot Bar), which opens after sunset.

FrauenbadStadthausquai, Zurich
The river in summer, Zurich, Switzerland

Frauenbad Stadthausquai, left, and Zurich | Photo credit:
Judith Linine

Lake Lucerne is just south of Lake Zurich, and the photogenic
city of Lucerne is a smaller, easily navigable
destination dotted with lakeside spots for relaxing by the shore,
absorbing the spectacular views, and perhaps plotting lazy
adventures into the mountains of Rigi, Pilatus and Stanserhorn.
, Lucerne Lido and Ufschötti are local favorites for a swim
backdropped by perhaps Switzerland’s most famous mountain

And what Basel lacks in a lake, it more than makes up for with
the Rhine. In the summer months, buvettes (riverside food and drink
shacks) line its banks, and the after-work crowd stuff their
belongings into a waterproof Wickelfisch bag, which protects their
laptops while also serving as a float to drift downstream clinging
onto, beer in hand. The city is also home to some 300
well-maintained historic fountains, the larger of which serve
(legally and intentionally) as community dipping pools in the heat
of the summer. Cavorting in a fountain with a few cold beers might
sound downright debauched and decidedly un-Swiss, but in
Switzerland, getting into the water is considered natural, normal
and necessary. It’s this dedication to the good life, as well as
the ravishing lakes and rivers, that makes Switzerland such a
paradise for swimmers.

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The Lowdown

How to Get There

Fly with SWISS from across the UK and Ireland to various
airports in Switzerland.

The Swiss Travel System covers more than 29,000km with its
extensive public transport network of trains, buses, cable cars and
boats. Book your tailored Swiss city package and get unlimited
travel on public transport with a Swiss Travel Pass at

Keen to dive into Switzerland’s best city swimming spots?
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