Freshwater Revelry Bathing Fever in Zurich
It’s a hot day in Zurich, on the cusp of summer, and many of the locals have emerged with their swimming gear under their arms. Indeed, bourgeois Zurich, set atop the podium of the cities with the best quality of life in the world, does not only display economic prowess, picture postcard beauty and a national pride for the punctuality of its transport. Zurich is, above all, the paradise of “badis”, which is what they affectionately call their open-air public baths dotted across the whole city on the shores of the Zürichsee (Lake Zurich) and the Limmat and Sihl rivers, like some sweetwater alter ego which rises year after year when the temperatures hits the highs.
Be Water my Friend!
You only need about five minutes to realise that here water is king. They keep it clean, flaunt it and pay homage to it. Not only is this the city with the most drinking water sources in the world – about 1,200 of them. The water that is dispensed is also of unbeatable quality and its flavour up there with the top gourmet mineral waters.
With some thirty bathing facilities, plus nearly twenty open-air swimming pools, no other city in Europe can boast such a high concentration of public baths per capita. Open daily from May to September at sunrise, the badis are the focal point of social life. Each facility has developed its own character over time and there are options to suit all audiences and pockets. And, there’s more! At nightfall, a large number of these pools take on a new life, being transformed into badi-bars serving drinks and dinner, as well as hosting film screenings and providing music until well into the wee hours.
Inspired by the modest size of this small-scale metropolis and determined to save a few francs on transport, we decide to hire a bike at Züri rollt, the free municipal service which, by depositing 20 francs, enables you to enjoy the city on wheels. In the spirit of “do as the locals do”, we set out on our tour.
The Romans Bathed Here!
Zurich’s bathing tradition is no recent fad. Its history goes back 2,000 years, when the Romans unveiled the first public baths in ancient Turicum, Zurich’s Latin name. The ruins of Thermengasse, in the heart of the old town, can still be visited, and detailed information on this ancestral tradition is provided there.
But, it was not until the early-19th century that the bathing scene really took off and the city became swamped with badis. What to begin with emerged as an alternative to providing homes with running water soon spread like wildfire, and by 1900 there were already 20 public baths in existence, although with gender separation, of course!
With such precedents, no wonder that open-air bathing has become ingrained in Zurich’s DNA. The locals take visits to their badis very seriously, while visitors soon find their niche amid such alluring offerings.
Women and Men and Vice Versa
We went on a stroll through the calm waters of the historic centre. The first stop on our route was the veteran Frauenbadi. Built in 1837 on the banks of the river Limmat and reserved exclusively for women ever since its inception, there is no better place to sunbathe if you want the finest views of the Grossmünster, Zurich’s striking cathedral. Rebuilt in Art Nouveau style, the baths preserve all the character of the Belle Époque, with a large timber cloister surrounding the pool, sunbathing platforms and accesses to the crystal-clear waters of the river. By night, this classic badi turns into an elegant Barfussbar, featuring live music, literary nights and dancing, where men and women sip their cocktails, on condition they go barefoot.
And, just as opposite poles attract each other, a few minutes away stands the Flussbad Schanzengraben, the latter’s male counterpart, an oasis of tranquility for men only. This charming badi is the oldest bathing facility in the city as it has been operating since 1864. Surrounded by the remains of an old city wall, the current here is slow and swimming is risk-free. Outside of swimming hours, the premises turn into the Rimini Bar, a highly popular restaurant with an intimate atmosphere in summer, when men and women relax in the chill-out area while dinner is being barbecued. The venue, in discrete, glamorous, 100% Swiss style, is the perfect spot for snacking and having something to drink al fresco, dancing to the rhythm of guest DJs and shopping in their weekly market, featuring local designs and vintage apparel.
Alps, Sand and Sport at the Zürichsee
After a dip in the heart of Zurich, we head for the lake, where you can swim in the company of ducks and swans. The history of the Zürichsee is closely linked to that of the city. The jetties and walkways fringing the shores, inaugurated in 1887, marked Zurich’s entry into the modern era – the city thereby reclaimed land from the lake, decongesting the crowded medieval city.
On the right bank, having passed by the Opera and the emblematic Bellevueplatz, stands the coolest badi of all, the Seebad Utoquai. A bathe in its waters is like travelling back to the 19th century. Having first opened in 1890, this historic badi is a veritable institution in Zurich. Stretches of the original timber building are still intact and the set of pools there makes up one of the trendiest corners in town. There are areas for men, women and mixed, direct accesses to the lake, floating platforms and terraces for sunbathing, all patronised by seemly guests sipping on drinks, chatting congenially or heading to the massage area. If you’re feeling peckish, the restaurant serves dishes and tapas with Mediterranean aromas. But, if what you’re seeking is peace and quiet, you won’t find it here. The surrounding area throngs with boats, yachts and stand up paddles until well into the night. But, it is definitely the place to be for sybarites eager to catch the last shafts of sunlight before the sun sets into the lake.
Cut to a different setting as we switch to the opposite, left bank. We bathe while gazing at the Alps in the Seebad Enge! Open all year around, in summer guests can enjoy mixed pools and floating platforms on the lake, while the sauna is set aside for the colder months. Truth be told, not much swimming gets done here. What with beauty therapy and yoga sessions, relaxation techniques and stand up paddle classes, this badi is first and foremost a social precinct for folks in their thirties where they can show off their latest models of swimwear as well as stare and be stared back at. At the weekend it fills up with youngsters who come for brunch. The badi does not close at night – the bar and barbecue grind into motion, while open-air concerts, poetry slams and cocktails take over.
A beach of fine sand with a Mediterranean air? You have come to Strandbad Mythenquai, the ideal spot for families with children, as it boasts shallow waters and a deep-green lawn where you can lay down your towel, have a picnic or read. The bravest among you can leap off the formidable diving boards, with 1, 3 and 5-metre-high platforms, into the outrageously crystal-clear waters in this urban lake.
Downstream in Zürich West
Welcome to the freestyle paradise! We have arrived in Zurich West, the hyper-creative district and bastion of the young, cool set. Here, anything goes although, if you don’t fancy sticking out like a sore thumb, jump in and let the current carry you downstream.
The badi par excellence is the Flussbad Oberer Letten, an urban venue plastered with graffiti on the banks of the Limmat where there are no written rules – follow the locals and judge for yourself. Whether you choose to sunbathe on the platforms, have a picnic or a refreshing spritz at the Primitivo at Happy Hour – coinciding with afterwork at around 5 p.m.– make sure you are sporting a very fit body and dressed in line with the latest trend. You have come to the heart of hipsterland! If you’re feeling hot, leave your “rags” right where you are and leap into the water – you have four hundred metres of free swimming ahead of you. By night it is the turn of the highly popular Panama Bar to come alive. They serve food and DJ dance music at what is one of the best rave-ups in town.
If you still have an ounce of energy left, continue downstream with your sights set on the Silo, a concrete behemoth unveiled in 2016 for grain storage which is now the second tallest tower in the city. Half way along you will come to the Flussbad Unterer Letten. Here, the current is faster, as attested by the hordes of youngsters who descend on the spot with their airbeds and inflatable dinghies ready to sail downstream. Bathers who jump in are abandoned to their fate, being willy-nilly dragged along by the current. Some struggle in vain against the current in an attempt to swim upstream, but few achieve this. Those who remain on the riverside sit around chatting, drinking wine, unwrapping their picnic baskets or relaxing on the lawn. Oh, yes – in summer, the badi hosts two weeks of open-air independent cinema.
This is Zurich’s “dolce vita”, which reaches its peak during the bathing season – a microcosm which first-time sightseers are amazed at. If you’re thinking of visiting Switzerland’s biggest city in summer, book your Vueling here.
Text by Núria Gurina i Puig
Photos by Zürich Tourism/Caroline Minjolle; Tourism/Elisabeth Real; Zürich Tourism/Martin Rütschi; Roland Fischer; Núria Gurina
The Wild Wild West Zurich’s Trendiest Hotspot
Welcome to Zurich West– the trendy, creative, gastronomic, nocturnal district of Zurich! It may not seem so, but this is Zurich, too! Forget everything you have learned and discard your picture postcards – no lake with crystal-clear water, no quaint streets or luxury stores; just brick, concrete and cranes surrounded by hoardings. Where’s the catch? Well, this is the anti-Zurich,the more casual, urbane and cosmopolitan precinct.
The fact is that all-powerful Zurich has undergone a radical facelift and its flagship is none other than Zurich West, its former industrial district. In less than two decades, it has become Switzerland’s engine of modernity, imbuing it with a trendiness on a par with Berlin, London and New York.
Once Upon a Time There Was An Industrial District…
Running alongside Hardbrücke, on the western side of the city, Kreis 5 or Industriequartier, as the area is also known, emerged as an industrial site in the 20th century. However, industrial activity in the area went into sharp decline in the late 1980s, after which derelict warehouses, factories and workshops were soon reclaimed by artists and designers from the underground scene. Alternative art venues were opened and illegal parties were hosted which became celebrated in half of Europe.
Full-scale change, however, arrived with the new millennium and Kreis 5 (meaning “District 5” in German) underwent a feverish transformation, which continues apace today. Now, where ships, soap and turbines were once manufactured, the machines have gone quiet and given way to art, design, gastronomy and music, as well as to businesses, flats and hotels. Attesting to the area’s industrial past is the overwhelming size of the streets, the monumental factory structures and the colossal railway tracks.
With an unabashed eclectic mix of past and future, brick buildings with steel and glass skyscrapers and a cityscape constantly being redefined, Zurich West exercises a magnetic pull that attracts the Swiss and foreigners alike, turning it into a seething, multicultural melting pot. Seduced by its alternative atmosphere and its formidable terrain, we start off on our journey!
Im Viadukt – Shop Till You Drop!
Chic, local designer stores, architects’ studios, cafés and organic food stalls rub shoulders in Im Viadukt, a vibrant shopping paradise built under the arches of the old rail bridge. Here you will find everything, from cut flowers to bicycle bells. Beware, though – you won’t pick up any bargains, as the idea of “cheap” is not included in the Swiss dictionary.
If you’re feeling peckish, the Markthalle offers zero-mile products, and its restaurant, fresh lunch fare at reasonable prices. Sundays are devoted to brunches, but book ahead it you want to avoid being crowded out. The upbeat ambience dovetails into the night and bars are full to bursting of young people sipping Prosecco in the Ambrosi, biding their time for some concert in the Bogen F.
Around Frau Gerolds Garten
A jumbled network of gardens, designer stores and dance clubs range back-to-back along Geroldstrasse. In the middle, a pile of transport containers reminiscent of a Lego on a grand scale, abandoned to their fate – this is Frau Gerolds Garten, an urban oasis which smacks of DIY and a hipster hubpar excellence. In summer, an open-air market springs up here on Saturdays, to be replaced in winter by fondues to beat the cold. It fills up at midday with people having coffee among plants and graffiti, and at night with those having their “first” before descending on the neighbouring clubs. Be sure to soak up the panoramic views from the upper terraces – the trains pass by on eye level and, if you’re lucky, you can make out the Alps in the distance.
A stone’s throw away lie two institutions of alternative clubbing. The iconic Hive is a temple of electronic music, while the veteran Supermarket attracts youngsters who dance to house and techno until dawn. Indeed, when it comes to clubbing, Zurich is queen and Zurich West the base camp for the electronic and experimental scene.
Before leaving the area, we do a spot of shopping. At Bogen 33 and Walter you can pick up vintage furniture. And, in a 25-metre-high tower pile of containers, the Swiss label Freitag flaunts its recycled bags made of truck awnings. A recycled building for a recycled product – Freitag has become a veritable symbol of Zurich West’s contemporary industrial style and its leading ambassador. The views from the rooftop are amazing; there is even a telescope if you want to capture things in detail!
Touching the Stars in Prime Tower
126 metres and 36 storeys establish Prime Tower as the tallest building in Zurich. The green-skinned building was unveiled in 2011 and towers over the city, acting as the new standard-bearer of modern architecture and economic development in the area.
Set on the top floor is the Clouds restaurant, which does its name proud – touching the sky looks more feasible from here! The views over the lake, the old town and the Alps are breathtaking, as are their prices. On the ground floor, Hotel Rivington & Sons takes us back to the 1920s underground in New York, when the sale of alcohol was banned under the Prohibition and bars were camouflaged under the hood of shops and hotels. Treat yourself to a cocktail at any hour – the selection is enormous.
Schiffbau and Puls 5 – Avant-garde and Tradition
Not far from here stand the shipyards of Schiffbau, where vessels were once built to order from around the world. They now host the most avant-garde events in the famous Schauspielhaus Theatre, and the best jazz concerts in the city at Moods, while the glamorous La Salle offers French and Italian cuisine in an outdoor area surrounded by glass walls. Drinks are served in the popular Nietturm Bar, a stunning glass cube crowning the building, with spectacular panoramic views.
One street down, night owls are gearing up for night action.Exilfeatures a programme of alternative parties and concerts, ranging from rock to hip hop, while Blok Clubis dedicated to international electronic music.
A stone’s throw away lies Les Halles, a delightful bistro with Parisian flourishes. Housed in an old warehouse, this popular meeting point is raucous and unkempt, with second-hand artefacts and vintage publicity posters. You can purchase one of the host of bicycles scattered about the interior while ordering their speciality –moules-frites (mussels with French fries).
Modernity and tradition intermingle in the former steel foundry, the site of the Puls 5 complex, a colossal, 5000 m2 construction where the huge, erstwhile production floor is encircled by restaurants, shops, offices, a fitness club and flats. Enhanced by such features as steel girders, bare piping and a large industrial crane, this space hosts events of all kinds and embodies the alliances between past and future, as well as the merger between different uses that coexist in one place. If you happen to come here, be sure to try the Restaurant Gnüsserei, surmounted in the centre by the centennial steelworks dome.
Löwenbräu – Voguish Contemporary Art
Contemporary art has moved to Kreis 5 and set up shop in the former Löwenbräu brewery. Its red brick walls now enclose the Löwenbräukunst, a complex dedicated to cutting-edge art. Here, emerging artists from all over the world showcase their work in the Kunsthalle Zürich and Migros Museum of Contemporary Art. The building is also the site of several international art galleries, notably the acclaimed Hauser & Wirth, and of Zurich’s leading art bookshop,Kunstgriff,where you should make a point of browsing their extensive book list.
And here, with the colossal Swissmill as our guiding landmark, a concrete behemoth inaugurated in 2016 used to store grain, and the second tallest tower in the city, we wind up our tour. We have arrived at the river Limmat– time to have a dip!
Be sure to discover this alternative Zurich – you have daily Vuelings here!
Text by Núria Gurina i Puig for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
Photos by Zürich Tourism/Elisabeth Real and Núria Gurina
Langstrasse, Im Viadukt and other delights in Zurich
At first glance, Zurich would seem to be the city of money and private banking, nice shoes and the ultimate in education, the city of luxury and shopping, of lakes and parks. But Zurich is also a city with a very interesting cultural side to it and some daring designers.
A good reference point for finding your way around Zurich is the Hauptbahnhof or, in other words, the central railway station. This enormous station will be your starting point or destination on any trip to or from the airport and from where you can catch the urban trams and buses that travel around the city. In the Swiss capital, public transport is the best option. Forget the taxis unless you want to pay about 30 euros per trip. Speaking of money, the Switzerland still uses the Swiss Franc and paying for things in euros is expensive. We recommend you use a card whenever you can. The cost of living in Switzerland is approximately two and a half times that of Spain. For example, a breakfast of white coffee and a croissant will cost you about eight euros.
Old Zurich is close to the central station, just across the River Limmat. Pedestrian cobbled streets, many bookshops and perfect for a stroll around here.
After, I head over to Langstrasse between districts 4 and 5. A Swiss friend highly recommended it to me because it is the best place to find the most modern and exciting part of the city.
Langstrasse was once a rather vulgar street – if that word can be used to describe the this luxurious city– where you can still find the odd erotic cinema and presumably a few places devoted to decadence. However, the modern reality is completely different. Langstrasse is where we can find such original cultural offerings as Perla-Mode. I walk inside and allow myself to be seduced by the words of Stefan. Perla-Mode is, according to Stefan, a group of artists who have taken over number 84 Langstrasse to develop contemporary art, thought and culture. A series of different rooms enable artists to exhibit their works, people to attend informal talks and chats on culture, art and anthropology and also house an improvised cinema built using old seats from the football stadium and wooden palets to show films that are later discussed in a small room. Wonderful. Perla-Mode consists of the Corner College and Motto Books, where you can find numerous books and magazines on architecture, photography and design from all over the world. Stefan tells me that there are plans to demolish the building to build housing blocks and that Perla-Mode will most probably no longer exist in February 2012. If you are in the Swiss capital before then, it is worth calling by to meet this group of artists to see what they have done to the place.
Just opposite Perla-Mode, I find Soho – an enormous erotic clothing store with various fetish items, leather boots and, as Sonja explains (the girl who approaches me as I enter the shop), things to help make life a little less boring.
I make my way along Langstrasse and find many more shops, some more interesting than others. I’m heading towards Joseffstrasse, following the directions given to me by the people of Zurich. Langstrasse itself is home to all kinds of shops: shoe shops, food outlets, kiosks, fashion shops, etc.
Before stopping to eat somewhere that was recommended to me, the Bistro Föifi 30 at 48 Josefstrasse, I venture over to explore a curious-looking shop, Senior Design Factory. Seduced by the window display, I walk inside and speak to one of its creators, Deborah Biffi, who tells me the story of this social design project that she began in 2008 with her partner Benjamin Moser. The history of Senior Design Factory began with a university degree project they decided to move from paper to reality and which materialised in the space where I’m standing. The project seeks to work with older people no younger than 75. They work with them on the creation of hand-made craftwork designed by them. All the wisdom and experience of many years manifested in wonderful decoration items. Some of them are rather surprising: from kitchen items to lamps or household decorations. Wool is a main feature of the items on sale in this shop. On Saturdays, workshops are held in which the older people teach youngsters the secrets behind their creativity.
The shop itself and its social purpose fascinated me and I was chatting for a long time with Deborah. As I leave, I see that the Bistro Föifi 30 is full to bursting and I am recommended a Turkish restaurant on Gasometerstrasse, Bar Valentins. After a bite to eat, I head down Josefstrasse towards the viaduct. I am told there are some very interesting things to see over there, and they were certainly right.
Before reaching the viaduct, I find Josefwiesse – a lovely park where parents are playing with their children and where others can have a drink while the kids run around in the park. A touch of the mountain countryside in the heart of the city.
As I leave Josefwiesse, I come across the famous viaduct. It is right next to the park and called Im Viadukt on Viaduktstrasse. Each archway of the viaduct is home to a fashion shop, a bar or another of many varied businesses. I take a look around and decide to enter Famous Ape. An original Swiss shop with two establishments: this one in Zurich and another in Geneva. Anina tells me a little about the shop and lets me look around. Goyagoya is another of the shops I decide to take a closer look at. Women’s clothing from German designers and some hard-to-find brands because they produce their work using traditional methods. 52 different shops and a market, the MarktHalle. Accessories and bicycles in Velos, workshops like Daniel Blunschi, flowers in Marsano, hairdressing and clothing in Fashionslave or fashionable bars like Ambrossi Coffee Bar.
I leave the area to head over to the Cabaret Voltaire, temple to Dadaism and a must-see in Zurich. Before I get there, I stop off to visit the city’s great lake. I sit on a bench, like many other locals, and stare at the ducks, the Alps in the background and the edge of Zurich as it surrounds the lake.
The Cabaret Voltaire smells of history. In fact, it has a room containing exhibitions and where they offer performances that maintain the spirit that gave rise to the Dada movement. I like what I see and have a beer in the bar at the Cabaret Voltaire. Before leaving the culture centre, I visit the shop to buy a piece of history in the form of a souvenir.
In the evening, I go for a few beers at Sihlcity – a leisure centre that has risen out of the ruins of an old factory. In the middle of the square, they have kept the characteristic chimney that provides the industrial feel that the surroundings cry out for. There are hotels, shops, restaurants and a disco and concert hall, the Papiersaal, where you can have a few drinks of an evening.
Why not take a trip to Zurich? Have a look at our flights here!
In the district of Altstadt it is located this eclectic vintage boutique and hairstyling all at a time. It is a key place to drop in for all lovers of the second hand and antiquities. In this establishment you can find all kinds of furniture, clothing, jewelry and handbags from the seventies, endless sunglasses and even ancient Murano glass tableware. We may buy all these and many more accessories, always characterized by having a retro aesthetic and have been carefully selected in different countries.
There is always such a friendly atmosphere in this place’s hairdresser that you will sure want to tryone of those tweaks or get a cool haircut. Would you like to travel back in time?Get into the Time Tunnel because it is the right place!
The opening hours are Monday to Friday from 11:00h to 18.30h and Saturday from 11:00h to 16:30 h.
By Blanca Frontera
Why not take a trip to Zurich? Have a look at our flights here!