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Swimming in Zürich

The most obvious appeal for swimmers in Zürich is the lake: 40kms long and just 3kms at its widest point, it is a stunning stretch of clean, cool water with free access to swim at any point and at any time.

Switzerland is enjoying a heatwave when I arrive in Zürich. Like the UK and much of Europe, summers here are getting hotter; it is a welcome relief to be lakeside in less than 30 minutes from the airport. The most obvious appeal for swimmers in Zürich is the lake: 40 kilometres long and just three kilometres at its widest point, it is a stunning stretch of clean, cool water with free access to swim at any point and at any time.

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As with any city, there is an abundance of hotels and accommodation, but I am staying lakeside at the AMERON Zurich Bellerive au Lac, a newly renovated hotel offering Mediterranean charm in a landlocked city. Lake Zürich is south of the city centre and old town; the lake feeds the River Limmat and the teal coloured water offers as much beauty and joy as the Med.

From the hotel I watch as people swim and sunbathe on floating wooden pontoons. This is a city that takes swimming seriously and I want to get in. The best thing about a city break in Switzerland’s largest city, is that Zürich offers both lake and river swimming with both free and pay-to-enter facilities. Just across the road from the hotel you can dip off rocks beside the footpath or pay to enter the stylish Seebad Utoquai, one of many wooden bathing facilities on the lake.

Seebad Utoquai quickly becomes a favourite swimming spot. The historic wooden bathing platform has offered opportunity to swim in Lake Zürich for over 120 years. It was built in 1890 and was once known as the ‘Bathing Palace’ due to its ornate domed towers. While the towers no longer exist, due to renovation in 1942, it is still like a palace to me. You can jump, dive, or step down into the water. There are two platforms in the water for non-swimmers with gendered and mixed areas for sunbathing and socialising.

In the morning we attend a yoga session on the top platform with views of the lake and mountains. It is such a simple concept, popular and excellent value. We could learn a lot from the Swiss. There is a café, book box and you can swim in a roped swimming area or out into the lake – at your own risk! It is heaven.

I arrived in the city late afternoon and there is plenty to do: a city tour on hired bikes, walking, or using the fantastic tram system. If you purchase a Zürich Card at the airport, you can get unlimited travel on all forms of transport for 24 or 72 hours – it is even valid on boats! The card also gives you free or discounted admission to museums and other experiences. I love tram travel: it is a brilliant way to see the city and so easy to navigate.

I fill my water bottle at one of the 1,200 fountains in Zürich – top quality drinking water flows out of the city fountains free of charge. Again, we could learn a lot from the Swiss!

After a tram ride through the old town I arrive in the Industriequartier, a bit like Shoreditch in London. Very fashionable, lots of shipping containers turned into bars and shops, restaurants set up in the arches of a viaduct. A short walk and I am riverside with my travel companions. We watch with amazement as kids leap off the Lettenviadukt into the fast-flowing Limmat below.

We head to the Flussbad Unterer Letten, a river pool with a 100-metre swimming canal with a catch-screen at the end. Lifeguarded with safe entry and exit points, it is another free-touse wooden bathing platform. The river flows fast and isn’t for the faint-hearted; as soon as you get in you find yourself pushed against the catch-screen if you are not quick enough to grab a handrail at the side. It is a lot of fun. Much to the amusement of my fellow travellers I float down, get out and walk back to the top time and time again. The energy is high, with all ages enjoying the water. In my three-day visit I spend more time in the water than on dry land. I swim across the width of Lake Zürich and back again with a local swimmer; he tells me it is a rite of passage if visiting Zürich.

I also visit other bathing places like the popular Seebad Enge, a fancy bar, café and leisure facility. People sunbathe with ice coffees, occasionally dipping toes or diving off the platform to cool off . We hire paddle boards and swim. Some sit with laptops, this is the kind of work vibe I hope for.

On the last day, before an indulgent visit to the Lindt chocolate factory, I decide to get a later boat and experience Frauenbad Stadthausquai, a female only bathing spot at the top of the River Limmat. It is quite special. As soon as I step in, I am transported to a safe, calm space. There is a little footbridge over a floating swimming pool, a café and shop selling female-created items and a deeper river pool with easy access in and out.

Women chatter and bond over a shared love of the water, some work quietly at laptops and others sunbathe without suits. The Swiss have mastered a way to work in the heat: it is to have safe, clean and affordable or free bathing spaces that are designed for swimmers!

This article is from the September 2022 issue of Outdoor Swimmer.

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Ella is renowned outdoor swimmer and journalist. As well as leading the editorial, digital and experiential outputs for Outdoor Swimmer she is also Director of Dip Advisor, a swim guiding business helping people enjoy wild water. Ella also teaches swimming to children and adults, is an Open Water Coach and RLSS Open Water Lifeguard.