Switzerland city living: the best places to swim, dine and explore

The movie Bend It Like Beckham would not normally spring to mind when talking about Switzerland. The 2002 film is about a talented Indian football (soccer) player living in London, who went on to become the first Asian female to be a professional player.

The movie was based on a real person, Permi Jhooti, who lives in the Swiss city of Basel. She credits her adopted hometown for igniting her love for art, and has become an enthusiastic ambassador for the destination. A scientist, heart specialist and highly awarded sportswoman, Permi is now known for her distinctive art style – creating works from digital data in her harbourside studio in the artsy Three Countries Corner – and has even presented live at the prestigious Art Basel.

Basel is culture central, with 40 museums – the highest concentration in Switzerland. The city also has a charming old town, complemented by striking, modern architecture as well as the famous waters of one of the great rivers of Europe, The Rhine, running through it.

Stand Up Paddling Shop BIRS73 in Basel
Stand Up Paddling Shop BIRS73 in Basel © Jasmin Frei

City swimming

Like Basel, many Swiss cities are quite compact and have river or lakes at their heart, ensuring that urban living is mixed with the benefits of nature’s wonders. You’ll find leafy parks and gardens and gurgling fountains, all co-existing with historic centres, sleek buildings and trendy shops.

In summer, locals and visitors alike head for the water to bask in the sunshine and enjoy a splash – whether swimming or a glass of wine. In Basel, join locals and dive into the river from bank-side platforms, before stopping for a drink at one of many hangouts on the trendy Kleinbasel side of the Rhine. The Rheinbad-Breite platform is a favourite for sunning, swimming and dining at its Le Rhin Bleu restaurant.

In lovely Lucerne, go for a dip in the historic Seebad baths on Lake Lucerne’s National Quay. These 19th-century baths offer spectacular views over the water to the Swiss Alps beyond. In Zurich, there is a pool just for women – the Frauenbad Stadthausquai on the Limmat river. This art nouveau pool delivers vistas over the old town and to the Grossmünster church spires, and it even comes complete with a small library in case you forget to bring a book. After sunset, the pool transforms into the Barfussbar (‘Barefoot Bar’) and unlike the daytime hours, men are welcome.

Then there’s the Lido Ascona, which boasts one of the largest beaches in Switzerland; the Bellerive-Plague swimming pool in Lausanne; La Jonction in Geneva, where the rivers Rhône and Arve meet; and the Marzili pool in the river Aare in Bern. Locals love jumping in the glacial-melt-fed waters and floating down river with the current, exiting at marked areas. Some locals even use it as a way of getting to work, towing their clothes behind them in a waterproof bag.

Basel Rhine bath
Basel Rhine bath © Armin Smailovic

River deep, mountain high

With the compact nature of Switzerland’s cities, you can be floating down the river in Bern one minute and heading for the hills – the Bernese Oberland – the next. There are 12 carefully planned excursions from 10 Swiss cities, from half-day tours to full-day excursions. From Zurich, catch the train to Arth-Goldau, then a cog railway up to the Rigi Kulm for astonishing panoramas over 13 lakes and the majestic Alps. If time permits, you could even squeeze in a soak at the Mineral Baths & Spa Rigi-Kaltbad.

Wellness is also on the agenda at the revered Bürgenstock Resort, on the banks of Lake Lucerne. This historic property perches on top of a ridge with astounding views over the water. There has been a hotel in this location since 1873, when the Grand Hotel welcomed guests such as Charlie Chaplin, Sofia Loren and Audrey Hepburn, who married in the on-site chapel. Following a major overhaul in 2017, the 60-hectare resort now has four hotels, world-class wellness and dining facilities, as well as the enticing Felsenweg hike.

Read: The best hiking trails in Switzerland

Seebad Luzern, Lucerne
Seebad Luzern, Lucerne © Beat Brechbuehl

A taste of Switzerland

Locals always know where the best places to dine and drink are, and the My Switzerland website has information on excellent self-guided culinary city tours using insider knowledge. These ‘Taste My Swiss City’ experiences have been put together by local characters, with up to six restaurants, bars, bistros and cafes visited on each tour.

In Geneva, sample the favourite places of local watchmaker and enthusiastic cyclist Olivier. Olivier loves the Eaux-Vives area, mainly for its restaurants and bars, and thinks the Villereuse district is a hidden gem with authentic streets and buildings. Follow Olivier’s advice and start off at Chez Philippe, a New York bistro-style restaurant in the heart of Geneva. Order a hamburger and a glass of wine or two, and make sure you sample ‘Denise’s sauce’, named after the chef’s mother.

A true Geneva institution, the Brasserie de l’Hôtel de Ville is next on the tour and combines history with delicious traditional dishes. Around the year 1600, the spot where the restaurant stands was the city’s guard room and soldiers in armour gathered here. These days you are likely to see local politicians, actors and celebrities tucking into a cheese fondue or lake perch fillets. A designer cocktail is on the menu in the cosy bar of the grand Hôtel Metropole, located by the lake, and the final recommendation from Olivier is to have a homemade pastry at Café du Remor.

In Fribourg, follow artist Michel’s favourites including Les Trentenaires restaurant and Brasserie de l’Epée. And in Basel, drink and dine on local suggestions from Lukas, who likes nothing more than a swim in the Rhine. Like Permi Jhooti, Lukas loves that Basel has the benefits of both a town and a village, with plenty of charm and friendly people.

Swiss cities are authentic, with heart, culture, history and nature’s best all wrapped up in one place. And being Switzerland, you can rest easy knowing that the air is clean, the water pure and the country safe. It really couldn’t be any better.

Read: The most unique places to sleep under the stars in Switzerland

Chez Philippe - Bar Grill in Geneva
Chez Philippe – Bar Grill in Geneva © Andre Meier

This article was produced with content supplied by Switzerland Tourism and is a Vacations & Travel digital exclusive. Be the first to see more exclusive online content by subscribing to the e-newsletter here.

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