Swimming in the Rhine

Swim here if you like/dare.

This will fascinate no one but those who enjoy swimming in natural waters, as opposed to chlorinated, salt or ozone pools: We discovered that the Rhine is open for public swimming.

Being that it is such a major river, traversing more than 1,200 kilometres or 766 miles from Switzerland through Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France, Belgium and the Netherlands all the way to the North Sea, it might be thought natural that some of it is swimmable, however, it is precisely the Rhine’s enormous lengths that makes me averse to taking a dip, owing to the tremendous chance that the river’s current might just take me to places I had not intended to go, the worst being the bottom of the river, the second-worst being Liechtenstein, mostly because I have to repeatedly refer to other sources to spell it correctly.

Some signs you ignore at your own peril. This is one of them.

Other more bold swimmers than I might be a little put off by the swimming advisory signs to be found near the Swiss/German/French border city of Basel that show two broad lanes for swimmers, while the rest are for big boats. You don’t want to cross the invisible line into the boat lane. Just think of the propellers. On the positive side, the chances are almost nil that you will be overwhelmed by the flailing arms of other swimmers as happens so often in city swimming pools.*(see addendum)

Every August, at some horrifically badly concocted event, however, about 3,000 swimmers brave the Rhine, protected by boat-escorts.

Swimmers are advised to go with the current, a piece of useless advice if ever there was any, as from our vantage point along the shoreline, the strength of the current was such that it could not be challenged by any swimmer save those capable of strapping a 15-hp outboard to their backs. Ocean swimmers/divers might disagree with me.

Testing the Rhine’s waters is recommended only for “good swimmers,” for which I qualify, but for three near-drowning incidents that I do not tell my mother about. Nevertheless, it’s unlikely I’ll take a dip in this hallowed river, which, by the way, is reported to not be “too polluted.” I believe the Swiss on this count. They pride themselves on keeping their waterways clear, and the water sure looks clean.

If you go:

  • Only good swimmers should attempt the Rhine
  • Water temperatures are reported to be bearable only at the height of summer.
  • Numerous entry and exit points are recommended, but none by me. Visit the Tourist Office in Basel for advice. Never swim alone.
*Addendum: Despite my scepticism over the Rhine as a swimming hole, it turns out that I was wrong about that. Locals say it is a popular spot with swimmers. Go figure. 
Later this week: More on last week’s trip to Germany. 
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