Zurich is a waterside city. Crystal-clear Lake Zurich and the two rivers that run through the town cheerfully enrich both the cityscape and the lives of its inhabitants.
Not for nothing is Zurich also known as the “City of Water”. It runs, laps and spouts everywhere. To the south extends deep blue Lake Zurich, while the Limmat and Sihl rivers run right through its heart. The city also boasts over 1,200 fountains, all of them offering free and excellent drinking water, along with no fewer than 17 lakeside and riverside lidos for a welcome cool-off on a hot summer day. No wonder Zurich summers are such an aquatic affair!
A long bathing tradition
The people of Zurich love their open-air lidos, or “Badis” as they are affectionately called. The cult of bathing here dates back to the Romans, who built the first public baths on today’s Weinplatz 2,000 years ago. As bodily hygiene gained in importance, bathing houses sprouted up all over the town, where the locals – separated by gender, of course – could each bathe for an hour. The separate-sexes approach is maintained to this day at two of the city’s lidos. During the day, the “Frauenbadi” on Stadthausquai permits only women to enjoy a sunbath with a wonderful view of the Grossmünster cathedral. The oldest “box lido” in the city, it was built in 1837 as a small “bathing house for females”. The riverside lido on Schanzengraben takes the opposite approach, and is a male-only preserve during the day. In the evenings, though, both establishments transform themselves – as do many of the city’s lidos – into popular “badi bars”. And as dusk falls, women and men meet up here to bring the day to a relaxing end beside the shimmering waters. The city’s badi bars also serve as venues for concerts, readings, theatre and parties.
Events on the water
It’s not just through bathing that Zurich and its people affirm their affinity to water. Countless further events make use of this fluid facility, too: the “Kino am See” lakeside cinema, the “Filmfluss” river equivalent at the Unterer Letten lido, stand-up paddle board city tours and sightseeing aboard the “Felix” and the “Regula”, two riverboats named after the city’s patron saints that ply the Limmat’s waters. A further Zurich water tradition is the annual summer Limmat Swim, when thousands of bathing fans float the 2 kilometres downstream through the heart of the city, from the Frauenbad on Stadthausquai to the Oberer Letten lido. It’s a popular event – not least because swimming is otherwise strictly prohibited in this stretch of the river.
A source of sustenance
Zurich’s various waters also provide the city with more material fare. Numerous restaurants along the banks of Lake Zurich feature fresh fish on their menus; and the city’s Turbinenbräu beer is brewed using pure Zurich water. So where would the locals be without their water resources?
Text: Gretta Bott