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Everything you need to know about Switzerland’s outdoor pool culture

With temperatures in Switzerland forecast to climb closer to 30C this week, many Swiss residents are looking forward to kick off pool season with a visit to their local "badi" or "bain" this weekend.

Girls swimming
Girls swimming in a pool, Photo by Juan Salamanca:

Swimming pools, or Badis, as they are affectionately called in Swiss-German (bains or piscines in French), are deeply embedded in Swiss culture, with children enjoying weekly trips to their local pools as part of their school curriculum from a young age.

Switzerland’s outdoor bathing culture dates to the 19th century when the Swiss still swam in gender-segregated pools. Back then, outdoor swimming pools featured mostly classic box baths made of wood with flat roofs and were a lot less sophisticated.

Though the majority of outdoor swimming pools welcome both genders today, there are still some examples – like the Utoquai in Zurich – where men and women bathe separately to this day.

Yet, new – and expensive to build – swimming pool facilities do not often see the light of day as swimmers are increasingly turning to lakes and rivers to cool off.

Today, Switzerland has around 600 public open-air, lake and river pools and a further 260 indoor swimming pools across its 26 cantons.

But with so much choice, where can you find Switzerland’s ‘best’ outdoor pools?

If you are new to Switzerland’s pool culture, your local municipality’s outdoor pool facility is likely the best place to start. It is true that most Swiss pledge lifelong loyalty to their local outdoor pool facility, however, if you’re feeling adventurous, Switzerland has many iconic outdoor pools across its cantons that are well worth a visit.

For those who enjoy to gaze at unique architecture while splashing around, the Häädler Badi in Appenzell dates back to the 1930s and is even under national protection.

Facilities include a sport swimming pool, a diving pool with diving tower, a pool for non-swimmers and children’s paddling pool with slide and play creek. Guests can also join other players at the beach volleyball court or for a round of table tennis.

If you lack the funds to travel across the border this summer but would still like to treat yourself to a getaway, then a trip to Lausanne’s Bellerive-Plage, which opened in 1937, is sure to make you feel like you’re on a mini vacation.

Often referred to as the jewel among Lausanne’s outdoor pools, the Bellerive-Plage is situated by the lake and attracts up to 8,000 visitors to take a dip in not one, but three large pools on hot summer days.

Meanwhile, in Valais you can slide down the longest water slide (182 metres) in the canton while surrounded by fantastic views of the Valais and Bernese Alps. The water slide is only one of the many features belonging to the Brigerbad thermal baths so entry fees will vary.

Speaking of bathing with a view, you may also like to consider a ‘historic’ dip in Aarburg’s the newly renovated swimming pool. The facility, which opened in 1931 and was renovated for a cool 6 million francs, features an outdoor bar by the river Aare and overlooks the 12th century Aarburg Castle.

How much is a daily ticket?

Though it is up to the swimming pool facility to set their individual prices, adults in Switzerland usually pay less than 10 francs for a day ticket. 

According to the Aarburg swimming pool 2023 pricing, an adult ticket will set you back 6 francs, while students pay as little as 4 francs for a daily visit. 

You can also pay 5 francs to use a towel for the day. Luckily, sunbeds are free of charge.

Kids under the age of 7 can visit for free while those aged 7 and over pay 3 francs to use the facilities.

But when are kids considered old enough to visit one of Switzerland’s outdoor swimming pools on their own?

Though it is up to the parents to judge their child’s swimming ability, many swimming pools in Switzerland (though not all) have set an age limit – usually around 10 years old – for unaccompanied children.

Beware the swimming pool etiquette

Due to the high number of daily visitors in Switzerland’s outdoor pools throughout the summer, there is usually high humidity in the changing rooms of the facilities. When combined with heat, such places offer an ideal breeding ground for germs and bacteria.

Therefore, a number of rules apply to visitors to ensure appropriate hygiene is maintained when visiting outdoor pools.

Firstly, showering (preferably with shower gel) is obligatory prior to jumping into the water as well as right after your swim. It is also advisable – though not a must everywhere – to wear slides when walking around the pool area to prevent the spread of fungi.

Since public space is limited, swimmers in Switzerland should also ensure they don’t take up more room than necessary. It is therefore encouraged to always keep a distance of at least one metre between yourself and the person in front of you.

This also goes for those hoping to dive or jump off a diving tower: always ensure there are no other swimmers in your immediate vicinity so as not to endanger other guests and yourself.

Generally, beginner swimmers or those preferring to take it easy are encouraged to stick to the right side of the pool and leave the middle-end section of the pool ‘free’ so that swimmers have an easy time turning when doing laps.

Should you need to or want to take a break during a lap, always do so on the outer edge of your lane.

If you visit an outdoor pool with your children, remember to remind your child that the swimming pools should not be used as toilets (this goes for you too).

Likewise, if your children cannot swim, they may only bathe in the designated pool area for non-swimmers and must be supervised at all times.

Dress appropriately

If you’re planning to visit a Swiss swimming pool you may need to check what swimwear you are actually allowed to wear within that facility.

As with many things in Switzerland, you may be best off checking with your local pool facility directly before planning your trip as swimwear rules can differ not only from canton to canton, but from municipality to swimming pool facility.

In 2017, Geneva banned both burkinis and topless bathing in its swimming pools but has since lifted its ban on burkinis – but not on bathing half-nude.

The swimming pool facility in Basel’s Balsthal still dictates swimmers must wear a one-piece or two-piece swimsuit which comes down no lower than knee level, or you may just be denied access – and if you’re very unlucky, your money back. In 2019, cops were called to the swimming pool facility in Balsthal following an argument between a lifeguard and a woman dressed in a burkini.

READ ALSO: Everything you should know about public nudity in Switzerland.

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For members


‘Party after 10pm’: The 10 things that really annoy the Swiss

The Swiss are organised, live by the clock, and tend to micromanage everything around them – so it’s no surprise that it doesn’t take much to irritate them.

'Party after 10pm': The 10 things that really annoy the Swiss

Not respecting the proper train etiquette

If there is one thing the Swiss love, it is the practice of proper etiquette – be it in a social or business setting.

This means that every Swiss person tends to follow an unwritten set of rules when out and about, such as when catching a train on their commute to work.

While foreigners will swiftly (be forced to) embrace the silence that makes up social etiquette rule number one when travelling on Swiss trains, it may prove a little more difficult to refrain from eating certain (smelly) snacks on a packed train.

However, should you give into temptation and whip out a whole McDonald’s meal, know that your fellow Swiss travellers will not be impressed and may even have a word with you.

While eating hearty, hot foods on a train can result in complaints, you are more than welcome to eat cold foods and snacks whenever hunger strikes.

In any case, eating on Swiss trains is not forbidden, but if you fancy a real meal, you may want to consider boarding a SBB restaurant on one of their InterCity trains instead.

While on a Swiss train, it is also worth remembering that you will be expected to ask your fellow passenger(s) whether the seat next to them (yes, the one they are obviously not occupying) is ‘really’ free. You will then be graciously granted permission to sit.

Hosting a party past 10pm

One of the first things that strikes foreigners in Switzerland are the (sometimes very) long lists of rules governing life in apartment buildings in the country, which famously include the notorious (but very respected) ‘rest periods’ ‘rest periods’ (Ruhezeiten/ temps de repos).

Such quiet times are set by local authorities around Switzerland and differ slightly depending on where you live, however, most often than not the quiet time kicks off at 10pm. From that time onwards, you are expected to keep noise at a minimum – or there will be complaints.

The same goes for Sundays when you are expected to not engage in excessively noisy activities.

But what classifies as excessive noise?

While the Swiss Code of Obligations states (Article 257f Para. 2) that those renting apartments must show consideration for residents and neighbours, it doesn’t explain what exactly said consideration entails, relying instead on a person’s common sense to decide just what is an appropriate level of noise.

On a wider scale, unwanted noise can include anything from playing instruments, slamming doors during arguments, using a drill for home improvements, or emulating Heidi Klum in some fancy high heels.

If you’re still set on hosting a party on a Sunday or past 10pm, notify your neighbours first, and good luck – you’ll need it.

READ MORE: Six things you shouldn’t do on a Sunday in Switzerland

Dropping in without prior notice

The Swiss are very organised, timely, and love abiding by their (strict) rules.

Popular lore has it that this habit is not as entrenched in Italian and French-speaking regions as it is in the Swiss-German part.

But if you want to irk people, regardless of the geographical area, drop in announced. Don’t call or send messages telling them you’re coming — just show up at their doorstep.

And if you do tell them you’re coming…arrive late. Few things irritate Swiss people more than tardiness.

If you’re invited over for dinner and are on time, the only way to cause some upset is to arrive emptyhanded.

In Switzerland, most people choose to bring a bottle of wine or a seasonal bouquet of flowers as a small thank you gift.

If you’re looking to up the ante however and really rile up a Swiss person, ring them up at dinner time and engage them in a lengthy conversation.

In Switzerland, dinner time is sacred, and you are commonly expected to cease all spontaneous contact from 6pm onwards.

Making fun of their army

To tell a Swiss person their military is not a ‘real army’, is sure to rub them up the wrong way.

They regard army service not only as their patriotic and civic duty, but also as a rite of passage of sorts.

True, not every country’s military has army knives, cutlery, watches, travel gear and fragrances attached to their name, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t fight if they had to.

Greeting the wrong way

In a country with four national languages, you may be tempted to think that the Swiss practice a laidback ‘anything goes’ approach – when nothing could be further from the truth.

So, which is it? Grüezi, Bonjour, or maybe just a simple Hallo?

Over the course of your time in Switzerland you will encounter many people, be it co-workers, fellow students or just strangers on the street – so it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed with figuring out just how to greet people properly. Yet, getting this right may just make you a friend or two.

As with many things in Switzerland, the way to greet people, too, depends on the canton you’re in. In casual situations, such as when riding lifts or meeting people out on hikes, usually a friendly Grüezi, Bonjour, or Buongiorno will get the job done. Greeting anyone that isn’t friend or family with a Hallo is not common in Switzerland and is often perceived as rude. So, as a rule of thumb, always stick with the formal way of greeting people you’re not close with.

In a business environment, always greet people with a firm (!) handshake in addition to addressing them formally – this is crucial until the other person initiates an informal approach.

When it comes to greeting friends, however, the rules are generally a lot more relaxed, depending on the closeness of the friendship. While many Swiss friends are content with a quick Hoi, Salut, or Ciao, some will favour a more physical approach, such as a hug.

Good friends also greet each other with three kisses (left, right, left) – but be careful when greeting a French person, they start with the right!

Not respecting wildlife

We know by now how much the Swiss appreciate their quiet times, but did you know their wildlife does too?

It is therefore recommended to be mindful of wildlife when out on hikes or busy enjoying a barbeque in a forest.

It’s generally advised to refrain from blasting loud music, shouting, or conversing in a loud manner so as not to disturb the animals and other hikers who may have ventured into the forest seeking peace and solitude.

Dogs walkers must also be aware of the local wildlife breeding season when some cantons have specified the months your dog must be walked with a leash, while again others forbid walking your pooch off a leash in and near forests altogether.

Remember, the Swiss love their hikes, and you will encounter your fair share of hikers while out exploring nature’s wonders, so be sure to follow the rules – the Swiss aren’t too shy to reprimand you.

Underestimating nature

One of the first things my foreign friends told me upon landing in Switzerland was that they cannot wait to go hiking in the Swiss Alps.

But while Switzerland is a perfect place to go hiking with its thousands of marked trails, every year, hundreds of people get into accidents while trekking, and some even die.

In the case of an accident, the last thing you will want is to be branded a ‘typical foreigner’, so make sure you wear appropriate clothing (specifically shoes), pack enough water, and download the Meteo Swiss App to stay informed on severe weather forecasts and other natural hazards.

READ MORE: Unwritten rules: 10 things you shouldn’t do in Switzerland

Asking inappropriate questions

It is no secret that the Swiss have an innate sense of privacy and breaching the wrong subject may (rightfully) make for a rocky encounter.

The Swiss have a range of topics – such as one’s salary – that make for an awkward discussion even among the closest of friends.

Generally, discussions around divisive topics, such as finances, politics, and religion, are best avoided.

Taking a long time to order at the bakery

If you happen to be a morning person who enjoys a yummy pastry in the morning – as many Swiss do – remember that hitting the bakery in Switzerland will require you to make up your mind about your order fast – and ideally before you get there.

Unlike in some European countries, the Swiss like to get on with their day’s work and prolonged chats paired with indecisiveness are generally not encouraged. That said, always feel free to ask for recommendations.

Making assumptions

Many people, especially foreigners new to Switzerland, believe that only the very rich live in wealthy Switzerland.

Foreigners can therefore be quick to assume that every Swiss person works as a banker, broker, or trader – or worse, is mega rich.

But this is actually not the case and could ruffle a few feathers.

In fact, the super-wealthy – those with assets worth more than 1 million  – account for only 15 percent of the adult population.

The largest group is middle-class, Switzerland also has people living under the poverty threshold.

In 2021, Caritas estimated that 745,000 people (134,000 children) were affected by poverty in Switzerland, while around 1.244.000 people living in Switzerland were considered to be at risk of poverty.